Text: Mark 9:2-13
Dear friends in Christ, grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
One day, there’s a story of a grandmother who was watching her two young grandchildren for the day when she received a call from a friend wanting to come visit. The grandmother, of course, was very pleased as she had been itching to show off her grandchildren to this old friend.
When her friend arrived, the grandmother proudly opened the door and introduced her two children warmly.
“My, oh my,” the friend remarked upon meeting the children. “They are so adorable; how old are they?
“Well,” the grandmother responded, “the doctor here is only two, but the lawyer there is almost four.”
Dear friends, have you ever had expectations about who a person was going to be? There are times in life in which it does not go the way we expect or plan. Today dear friends we encounter and are blessed by the account recorded in Mark 9 of Jesus’ transfiguration and the voice of God affirming just who and what Jesus is, and going to be. It’s a beautiful and powerful account of the three disciples, Peter, John, and James, getting a vivid glimpse of Christ and His glory, the radiance and the righteousness of Christ shining forth as He is transfigured.
And so, from Mark 9:2-13 we read:
“And after six days Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them, and His clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. 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.’ For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is My beloved Son; listen to Him.’ And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only. 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.” (ESV)
This is one of my favorite passages, and it gives us such a clear and vivid picture of Jesus in His glory. But what if you were sitting in, let’s say, a first-century coffee shop in little ole’ Nazareth, and you overhear these disciples. Or perhaps it’s a first-century Valentine’s Day date with your beloved, and you happen to overhear them talking amongst themselves in amazement of seeing Elijah and Moses on the top of a mountain with their Rabbi, their Teacher Jesus. What would you think? What would go through your mind hearing this example, this picture, this experience that they had?
I imagine many of us would have various feelings and thoughts—some perhaps of some skepticism about really happened. Some, I think, would immediately consider the realities of the Old Testament and other accounts in which someone shines, or a cloud descends, like the Old Testament and the amazing and vivid examples we have of God’s presence there.
But when you overhear them mention the cloud descending, coming down from heaven and the voice ringing out, “This is My Son. Listen to Him.” What would you think there? What would be your expectations of this Person Jesus, having been declared the Son of God—just who is this Jesus, God’s Son, and what is He all about? You see, this is an important question for us to consider: the question of just who Jesus is? Because the answer to this question and the expectations we have of this Jesus are a matter of eternal life and death.
Increasingly, it can seem that we are becoming more and more a visual people. We like to see things and experience them. And so, we know that “faith comes by hearing,” but today we are given an example in our readings of a powerful visual of Christ the Lord.
It reminds me of a story I heard of a young boy back in the days before cell phones and video conferencing who was at home with his mother when their phone rang. You know, the ones that hang on the wall with that cord that always got tangled. The mother yelled from the other room, “Son, can you answer that for me?”
The boy quickly jumped up and ran across the room and grabbed the phone. “Hello. Hello,” he answered. “Anyone there?”
His mother, who was trying to hear who it was from the other room, asked the boy, “Son, who is it?”
“I don’t know,” the boy replied. “The holes in the phone are too small for me to see who it is.” Friends in Christ, perhaps sometimes we struggle with not being able to see. We all want to see, to see who it is, to see who’s on the other line. But we also would like to see the future and what is to come. We want to see our expectations met and to see to it that everything turns out okay. We want to see Christ. And today we hear and see in Mark 9, God, by His Word, taking you by the hand and leading you up that mountain. Today, we read and see through the Word of God what the disciples saw: a very vivid, bright, powerful answer to the question of who Jesus is. He is God’s own Son, listen to Him.
And so this important question of asking, “Who is this Jesus?” the Gospel writer Mark makes sure we understand. I mean he even opened his Gospel back in Mark 1:11 with the announcement from God, ” You are My beloved Son. With You I am well pleased,” upon Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan. We then hear and see this play out in power in Jesus’ ministry as He heals, calms the storm, feeds, and teaches. These miracles, they grab people’s attention. They fulfill their human needs, and they are the examples and the accounts that would have gotten the “likes” and the “shares” on social media. But they are not the answer to who Jesus is, at least not fully. The disciples, like us now, had expectations for their lives and for what they wanted Jesus to do, what He could do with this power. If we put ourselves into the sandals of the disciples as they follow Jesus and the early part of His ministry, and after seeing and experiencing the healings and the miracles, I imagine they would have been over the moon with expectations for their Messiah. But they did not yet understand that before the glory must come the cross.
We read in Mark 8:31, just before our reading today, that Jesus began to teach His disciples that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law. And He will be put to death, but three days later, He will rise to life. Of course, Christians and the church, now on this side of the resurrection, know just what Christ’s mission was. We who are now planted firmly in 2021 have the advantage of hindsight and the records and Scriptures proclaiming the work of God that give us more than just a glimpse into who Jesus is. We know that Jesus would suffer and be put to death and would rise again and that this is exactly what He came to do. But for the disciples, they didn’t yet understand what Christ was all about despite the Law and the prophets foretelling and pointing toward Jesus, the Christ. But Christ knows. He knows what He was sent to do, and the suffering and the rejection that is to come. But for the disciples, it would have been very difficult to hear what lay ahead for their teacher and Lord.
And so, this moment—this experience on the mountaintop for Peter, James, and John, as they go away with Christ onto a high mountain—is a powerful glimpse of God’s glory and a heavenly endorsement that validates again with bright and shining glory, and even the voice of God Himself, that yes, Jesus is the Messiah. He is the Christ. He does have power. And what a blessing this moment for them would have been, especially as they are about to embark and go down the mountain towards Golgotha and the cross. On this mountaintop, Jesus is transfigured; He changes; He shines; and His clothes become dazzling white, and there is a momentary but real glimpse of Jesus’ power and glory.
And so, we read in amazement that there too, with Jesus, are the two great figures of the old Testament, Moses and Elijah. And we are told in the Gospel of Luke that they talked about with Jesus, what lay ahead for Him, the suffering and the dying, that He had already spoken about to His disciples. And then they hear from the cloud descending, a voice proclaiming, “This is My Son whom I have chosen. Listen to Him.”
I am sure that this experience on the top of a tall hill is not what the disciples expected to happen when they set out with Jesus earlier that day. This would have far surpassed their expectations, but it also sets them on the path, and reminds them who Jesus really is. That though they, like us even now, had their own ideas about what God should or shouldn’t be doing, or how life should or shouldn’t be going. How often so do we want Him to be a Messiah of power and glory? And the Father here tells the disciples and us to listen to Him. Yes, He has power; yes, He shines into the world. But listen to His words from even Mark 8, about having to suffer and die; listen to His words and His call to repentance and forgiveness. Listen to the Messiah that has come—the Messiah we need, the suffering and dying Messiah.
See, the transfiguration, it lasts but a moment. But this is a moment of encouragement and amazement, and a coming face to face with God in a brilliant and awestruck way, on the journey to the cross. This is a stop and a powerful glimpse into what is to come in the resurrection as well as His second coming. This is a glimpse as to what Jesus really is. For this moment here on the mountain is not the final destination for Jesus or the disciples. It is a moment in which they are reminded that they should listen to Christ. They are to listen to the Words of Jesus that He gives them about Himself and what He came to do. Jesus the Christ is going to go to Jerusalem where He will be rejected, where He will be beaten, crucified, and then buried, where the disciples will fall away, all their earthly expectations of a Savior coming crashing down.
God knows that in their lives there will be rejection, sorrow, and even doubt, things that we to even now experience and feel—moments in which we experience the full weight of sin and death and our world, but moments in which our risen Lord Jesus Christ shines into your life. The transfiguration is a dramatic moment of power and glory shining forth unexpected that indicates and tells us that this Christ, this Jesus, who dies on the cross is the Messiah: the One who came to save.
In a world in which we’re often broadsided by unmet expectations or encounters, times that cause us to question or even wonder “Who is this Jesus?” “Why is He not doing this or that?” we hear from God today: “This is My beloved Son. Listen to Him.” We are shown God’s glory, but now traveled down the mountain towards the cross, the cross of repentance and forgiveness. “This is My beloved Son. Listen to Him.” Jesus gives you encounters and moments of vivid power and grace in His Word and His sacraments. These moments aren’t promised only up on a mountaintop; they are promised in the bread and the wine, the water and the Word. Indeed, you may not see Elijah and Moses physically standing and talking with a shining Christ in the flesh, but you will see Jesus who is the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets in His Word, preached and read.
You may not climb a tall hill with Peter and James and John, but you are promised by Christ that “Where two or three are gathered in My Name, there am I among them” (see Matthew 18:20 ESV). You are shown in the Scriptures the divine revealing that Jesus is God’s Son whose love is so real and so free that no matter what your sin, He forgives; that no matter how alone you feel, He is your constant Companion; that even death itself cannot separate you from His love. And so, when our world or expectations, maybe even just for Valentine’s Day, or those for our children, or for our life, or even God Himself, come crashing down around us, Christ is there in His glory, shining into your life, assuring you that He is God’s Son. Listen to His words of forgiveness and grace. Our lives don’t always go the way we expect, but Christ, God’s Son, has come and He gives you what you need: forgiveness, faith, and salvation. At the transfiguration, God shows Christ in His glory. And we ourselves look now in awe, just like the disciples did on that day, at a Christ who sets aside all His power and glory and radiance to join with us here, to save us from our sins.
Just imagine a God who shines bright with incomparable glory and power humbly submitting Himself, coming down and knowingly going to the cross, that emblem of suffering and shame, but of life and salvation. And so when you are struck by the realities of life where things don’t always go as we want or expect, or when the weight of darkness or disappointment is heavy upon you, burdened with everything that has happened in the past weeks or years, Christ is there for you. He invites you to cast all your burdens and worries on Him; for His power and glory are far greater than any struggle we face. Listen to His Word from Isaiah 41:10. “Fear not for I am with you. Do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (ESV)
God has come down and given us His Son. But in times of doubt or struggle we can clearly see—through the eyes of faith—Christ the Savior, shining bright into our world. And so, we go down the mountain to the everyday and even the unknown. Like the disciples then, we go with Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Amen.
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on February 14, 2021
By Rev. Cody Copper, Guest Speaker
Copyright 2019 Lutheran Hour Ministries