April 15, 2018
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
Gospel of Mark
Third Sunday of Easter
Did you hear the funny story about the skinny teenager named Billy? He was so thin he had to run around in the shower to get wet. Billy got a job at Six Flags sweeping the grounds, but there was a problem. Billy weighed so little that when the Texas wind would blow, he would lose his balance and couldn’t sweep the grounds. His boss saw the problem and told Billy to put a bunch of rocks in his pockets to make him weigh more. So, Billy started doing that, every morning before he swept he put rocks in his pockets. Now Billy was a religious guy, so as he put the rocks in his pockets, he would pray this prayer…. “Now I weigh me down to sweep.”
In our message today, I am not going to weigh you down, but lift you up. In fact, through God’s Word we will witness a transforming mountain top experience that only a select group of disciples witnessed. I think many of us have had a mountaintop experience at one time or another in our lives. Was it getting that first job? Was it the day you were married? Or the day your first child was born? Was it a time when God spoke to you? Or you saw an angelic being?
You see, the Bible records very few mountain top experiences, but they all have a strong and powerful message. The first mountain top scene we read is the one where Abraham takes his only “beloved son,” Isaac, the one who was promised by God to be sacrificed, so that God could fulfill his covenant with Abraham.
The second mountain top scene is where Moses is on Mount Sinai for six days and God speaks to Moses and has him deliver the Ten Commandments to the children of Israel. It’s also worth noting that years later when Moses died, God said in Deuteronomy 18:15 that “He would raise up for the people another prophet who would, like Moses, hear the voice of God and teach it to the people…. And when that prophet comes, listen to him.”
The third mountain top scene is the one in 1 Kings 19, as the great prophet Elijah was desperately seeking God. If you remember, Elijah looked for God in a strong wind, an earthquake, and a fire, but could not find him. He eventually found God in a still small voice and God sheltered Elijah as he passed by him. These were all God moments that culminate in our scripture story today: the beloved son, the cloud, Elijah, Moses, the command to listen.
And we must not forget the forewarning God gave to the prophet Malachi at the end of the Old Testament when he said, “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel. See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.” Moses represented the Law which established the norms of life in relationship with God. And Elijah represented the great prophets who served as the conscience of Israel.
Amazing, isn’t it, that we see all this coming together in our scripture today on the great mountaintop of Mt. Hermon, some 9,000 feet above the Jordan Valley in Palestine. Just a week earlier, when Jesus asked who he was, Peter answered Jesus and said, “You are the Christ.” Then Jesus began to teach them that he must suffer many things, and be rejected and killed, and after three days rise again. At this point in their time with Jesus, I’m sure the disciples needed a moment of encouragement. Little did they know that they were going to be bombarded with the most stupendous blast of encouragement mortals have ever witnessed! Would you pray with me?
As our scripture opens, Jesus tells the disciples as a precursor to the Transfiguration that “some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.” Those who will see the kingdom of God before they die are Peter, James, and John. It is these three disciples, Jesus’ inner circle, that accompany Jesus to the mountain top to witness Jesus in his full glory.
On that mountain top, Jesus is transfigured before them. The Greek word used here for transfigured is metamorphosis. It means a change on the outside which comes from within. When a caterpillar changes into a butterfly, metamorphosis has occurred. The caterpillar has been transfigured. In a similar manner, Jesus was changed from an ordinary looking man into a figure of light with brilliant beams radiating from is body. In the Old Testament, God often revealed himself through a blazing radiance that was called the Shekinah glory of God.
This was a turning point in Jesus’ life, because it confirmed he was not merely a man, but God in the flesh. For most of his thirty-three years of human existence, his human flesh obscured and veiled his deity. But on this mountaintop, his true divine nature was revealed.
Dr. Kent Hughes writes in his commentary on Mark: “For a brief moment the veil of [Jesus’] humanity was lifted, and his true essence was allowed to shine through. The glory which was always in the depths of his being rose to the surface for that one time in his earthly life. Or put another way, he slipped back into eternity, to his pre-human glory. It was a glance back and a look forward into his future glory!”
This glorious light from Jesus reminds me of a passage from the Book of Revelation, Chapter 21. John writes: I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.
I believe Jesus was giving the disciples a preview of his glorious return someday. The witnessing disciples did not forget this moment. John wrote in the first chapter of his gospel: We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. Peter wrote in the first chapter of his second book: We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
As if this were not enough, Moses and Elijah also appear and talk with Jesus. This frightened the disciples. So why did Moses and Elijah appear? Why not Isaiah and Jeremiah? Well there are several reasons. Moses was the great lawgiver, and Elijah was the first great prophet. Both these men had previously conversed with God on mountaintops, Moses on Mt. Sinai and Elijah on Mt. Horeb. They both had been shown God’s glory. Both also had famous departures from this earth. Moses died on Mt. Nebo, and God buried him a grave known only to himself. Elijah was taken up in a chariot of fire. Together, Moses and Elijah were the ultimate summary of the Old Testament.
So here are Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. What are they talking about? For that we must turn to the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 9. It says this: Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Interesting, isn’t it? They were talking about Jesus’ upcoming death. Jesus knew the plans God had for him.
Peter is so overwhelmed by the transfiguration and by seeing Moses and Elijah that he says, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” To that we have to say, thank you Captain Obvious. But Peter missed the point. He doesn’t understand what is about to happen to Jesus. Instead, he wants to build three shrines, one for Moses, one for Jesus, and one for Elijah. He makes the mistake of putting Jesus on the same level as Moses and Elijah. Some scholars think that Peter wants to bring about the promised glory now and thus avoid the sufferings Jesus had spoken of earlier.
But to clear up any misconception, God envelops them in his cloud and speaks to the disciples. “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” This is the voice of the Father, who said almost the same thing at Jesus’ baptism. “Listen to him!” is the command! God is saying to the disciples, the Law and Prophets are only partial expressions, but here is the final statement. The words of Christ surpass the words of Moses and the Law. The words of Christ exceed the words of Elijah and the Prophets. The words of Christ trump all that was said in the Old Testament, because there is no one left to listen to but Jesus himself. “Listen to him!” Jesus is the ultimate expression of truth!
Peter, James, and John are to listen to what Jesus says about the necessity of his death and of their embracing the paradox of the Cross. And when the disciples look around, suddenly everything is gone except Jesus. It is Jesus only.
As they are descending the mountain, Jesus gives the disciples orders not to tell anyone about what they have seen until he rises from the dead. These and the other disciples would not understand this transfiguration until it could be put into the context of the risen Christ.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is what all our experience, all our theology, all our work should come to, seeing only Jesus! When this happens, our hearts honor him in worship. We love all humankind as we ought. We give our lives in his service, and we embrace the paradox of the Cross.
There is the story of three store owners who shared adjacent storefronts in the same building. Times were tough. In hopes of picking up sales, the owner of the shop at one end of the building put a sign over his front entrance that read, “YEAR-END CLEARANCE!!!”
At the other end of the building, another owner responded with his own sign: “ANNUAL CLOSE-OUT.” The owner of the store in the middle knew he had to act fast or he’d lose business. After careful consideration, he hung a larger sign over his front door that read, “MAIN ENTRANCE.”
Folks, Jesus is the main entrance into a life with him. These two words summarize God’s plan for the ages: “Jesus only.” The way to heaven? It’s not good works; it’s not baptism; it’s not religion; it’s Jesus only. In the Law, we see the foreshadow of Jesus. In the Wisdom books, we see the feelings of Jesus. In the Prophets, we see the foretelling of Jesus. In the Gospels, we see the facts about Jesus. In the Epistles, we see the fruits of Jesus. And in Revelation, we see the faithfulness of Jesus. It is Jesus only.
As we end this message today, we can confidently conclude that Jesus was all the disciples needed. And, he is all that you and I need. He alone bore our sin and he alone provides our redemption. He is therefore worthy of our worship and our devotion. Jesus is the Shekinah glory of God. And we need to tell his story.