Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Transfiguration Sunday (Series B: Mark 9:2-9)

“This is my beloved Son; listen to Him!” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this Transfiguration Sunday comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the ninth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Mark. Dear friends in Christ, I’ve always been perplexed when I see a movie with a ‘special appearance’ by someone. It kinda makes me feel bad for the other actors- they are all just making ‘regular’ appearances, but that guy, he’s making a ‘special’ appearance. Or maybe I should feel bad for the actor or actress who is singled out. Maybe they have low self-confidence, or a big ego, and so they need to be called ‘special’ in the credits. Either way, I think it’s a bit odd, but we see it in our Gospel lesson for today, so I guess its okay. Here we have two people who make a ‘special appearance’ on the Mountain of Transfiguration. “And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.” You know Moses, of Ten Commandments fame? Or Elijah, who on Mount Carmel took on the prophets of Baal in a Rocky-esque battle royale? Both of these guys showed up on that day, they made their ‘special appearance’ with Jesus and the disciples.

But even if they were making a ‘special appearance’ that day, they were not doing anything different than they had done before. They were pointing to Christ, something they had dedicated their very lives to. Moses and Elijah pointed to Jesus with their writings, their preaching, and their very lives. They were there on the mountain that day as a proof to the disciples that Jesus was the One foretold in the Scriptures, the promised Messiah, the One who was to come. For Transfiguration day was a day on which Jesus was revealed for who He truly is, the Son of God, God in the flesh, on the top of the mountain in the presence of James, John, and Peter He uncovered His glory. “And He was transfigured before them, and His clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.” The glory that Jesus kept hidden throughout His time on this earth was revealed for brief moments on the mountain of Transfiguration, there He proved to the disciples that He truly was God.

Is it any wonder that Peter wanted to stay? He loved the glory of God, he wanted to bask in it forever, dwelling amongst Moses and Elijah, and God in the flesh, Jesus Christ Himself. “And Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He has seen the glory of God face to face, and this little glimpse convinces him to set up shop and stay. Peter wanted the glory- right now! We like to get after Peter, but as I have said before, his only problem is that he says out loud what everyone else is thinking. We too want to stay among the glory, we thirst for that glory, we want God to deliver us the glory right now! The glimpse of God’s glory we see on this day threatens to suck us in, to make us want to remain aloof from the problems of this world. We don’t want to leave the mountain, we don’t want to face the challenges of this world. Our sinful inclination is to want glory first and glory last- the glory of God is itself not bad, but Satan uses it to severely tempt us. It surely tempted Peter, and Satan worked through this apostle to tempt Jesus. That is why the gospel of prosperity and glory has swept through our world, extolled by Pentecostalism in South America and TV preachers here at home. That is why too many Christians avoid engagement with this sinful world, that is why we seek glory over others even in the church, that is why we expect the victorious life here on this earth. And this is only our more pious thirst for glory. We are too often tempted to seek out the glory of this world, whether it is money and fame, or reputation and how we look in the eyes of others. Glory can capture us with even a glance, even a glimpse, as it did to Peter in our text.

And Peter’s suggestion could’ve been the end of the story. Jesus, Moses, and Elijah could’ve stayed in their tents, with Peter, James, and John worshipping them, sitting in the glory of God forever. Two thousand years later they would still be there, a sight to behold, perhaps a permanent shrine to the glory of God in the flesh, perhaps even you or me would’ve traveled to Israel to see them. And we would still be in our sins. Thanks be to God that Jesus did not listen to Peter, but instead came down from the mountain and walked to Jerusalem and the cross! For a Jesus in glory on the Mountain of Transfiguration could not save us, only a Jesus hanging from a cross could do that. Suffering always comes before glory, no matter how much we humans want to turn it around. Before He went up onto the mountain, Jesus “began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Only then could Jesus reign in glory, only after He suffered and died, paying the price for our sin, for our thirst for earthly glory. He went to the cross because of His love for us, His love for you and me. This love was so overwhelming, so powerful, that it drove Jesus from the mountain, it compelled Him to come down. He had to face Pilate’s soldiers, He had to face the cross, He had to face abandonment by the Father because He did not want us to- His love refused to let us suffer the consequences for our sin, so He took it upon His shoulders. Only then, only after the suffering, could glory come. “And as they were coming down the mountain, He charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” Easter Sunday held the glory, and it only came after suffering.

It is the same pattern in our lives. Suffering comes before glory. We want to stay with Peter in the glory of God, but like Peter, we must come down from the mountain. For we too are to bear crosses in this life, our lives follow His pattern. This cross may be sickness or disease, it may be the raising of children, it may be care for aging parents. A cross may come from our confession of Christ to others around us, it may be persecution for the faith that mirrors Christ’s own suffering. Jesus says before our text: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Ultimately, the bearing of crosses comes from our Christian life, the fact that we deny ourselves and follow Christ, the fact that we put others in front of ourselves. This causes suffering, this causes heartache, this causes persecution. A Christian’s life in this world is characterized not by glory but by the bearing of crosses, with being shaped by the cross, shaped by Christ. We bear our crosses looking toward the glory that is yet to come. And we do not do this alone. The cloud of God’s presence surrounded the disciples on the mountain of Transfiguration, and even if they had to leave the mountain, God’s presence continued to surround them like a cloud. The disciples walked the way of the cross, but they did not walk alone. Christ walked beside and with them, just as He walks beside and with you and me in this life. We do not journey through this life alone, but instead we walk with Christ on the road He trod, and we journey with the cloud of God’s presence around us.

“And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to Him!’” The cloud of God’s presence declares to us what it first declared to the disciples. God had a point to make with the Transfiguration. He wanted to show the disciples that Jesus was true God, that He was the one foretold by Moses and the prophets, that He truly was who He said He was, the Son of God. But there is much more than that. For with the redemption of Christ by means of His suffering and death, God now speaks these words to you. He said it in your Baptism- “This is my beloved child!” He says it to you each and every day- “This is my beloved child!” For the sake of Christ, we have been adopted by God as His children, we have been incorporated into His family, the rift between God and man has been bridged by the blood of Jesus. It is for that reason that Jesus stands beside us and with us each and every day, it is for that reason that He helps us to bear our crosses. And it is for the sake of Jesus that on the Last Day God will look at us and say, “This is my beloved child!”

“And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to Him!’” God has a set of instructions for us all on the mountain of Transfiguration. If this is His beloved Son, then we are to listen to Him! It is only through the Word of Christ that we are incorporated into God’s family, it is only through His Word that we are adopted as His children. The Word of Jesus does this, the Word of forgiveness, the Word of life, the Word that applies His death and resurrection to you. It is through this Word that Jesus removes your veil of unbelief, as Paul says in our Epistle lesson: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” With the veil removed, we now believe, we are now God’s children, we can now face all the crosses that come our way because we are God’s children, and we know that suffering comes before glory.

For we are awaiting our own transfiguration. Paul says again: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” The word that Paul uses here for ‘transformed’ is the same word that Matthew uses for ‘transfigured.’ We will be transfigured, Transfiguration day is a picture of our future! Jesus on that day showed us what we will look like in the glory of heaven, in the glory of eternal life! We know that suffering comes before glory, we know that following Christ and denying ourselves is not an easy task, we know just how hard it is to tear our eyes away from the mountain top and go back to the world below. But go we must, for Christ has placed us on this earth to serve others and speak of Him. But my friends, never lose that picture of glory in our text today. We know that glory comes after suffering, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t look forward with eagerness to that Day on which we will be transfigured and glorified to live before God forever. Transfiguration Day is a glimpse of heaven, it is a glimpse of our future, and it is a glorious future. Suffering always comes before glory, but oh the glory that awaits us! Thanks be to God for His great gifts, thanks be to Jesus that He came down from the mountain for us and for our salvation, that we may look forward to the day on which God says to us as we enter His kingdom, “This is my beloved child!” Amen.

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