Sunday, February 22, 2009
Sermon - Transifguration - Mark 9:2-9
We've heard a lot about “change” this year. And whether you agree with the changes being made or not, they will be hard to ignore. Change is sometimes good, sometimes bad, and sometimes hard to know without the perspective of history. We might not know what all this change means until we are much farther down the road, and take some time to look back.
Today, we read about Jesus trans-figuring, or “changing”, at least in appearance, before his disciples. It was a change which was full of meaning. And as the 3 disciples saw it, they didn't comprehend it until much later on, looking back.
I think this Sunday is hard to understand for many people. We understand Jesus doing things like being born, and preaching and dying. Even miraculous things like healing people, doing miracles, and rising from the dead – while requiring our faith are still easier to understand. What is the significance of this mountain-top experience with Jesus? And then, what does it mean for me, and my faith?
The Transfiguration takes place 6 days after Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. It signals the end of Jesus' smooth sailing, and the beginning of his time of opposition which would climax at the cross.
And if the Epiphany season is about revealing who Jesus is – then the Transfiguration demonstrates in a powerful way that this is God's Son, and that we are to listen to him. It's Jesus giving those disciples, and us, a glimpse behind the veil into the glory that is his by rights. Peter said he was the Christ, now Jesus let him have a peek.
Furthermore, you have Moses and Elijah there. These two great men of the Old Testament – and now it's like Mount Rushmore – famous, important men together on a mountain. Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets – the entire Old Testament. And their presence speaks volumes.
Imagine if after church today, you saw the president of the United States going into Pastor Poppe's office. Then the Pope appeared and went into the office too. You might conclude that Pastor Poppe was someone very important, right? When Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus, their very presence testifies to his importance. But more than that, they are there to say, “This Jesus, He is the one we've been waiting for. He is the one we've been pointing too. The whole Old Testament scriptures testify that He is the one sent to save us”.
All this must have been overwhelming for those three disciples. Stunned with awe, James and John silently take it all in. But Peter has to talk. He didn't know what to say, but that didn't stop him from saying something. He blubbers on about building tents and figures we'll make this happy event last as long as possible, because after all, how often is it really that you....
And in great contrast, the voice from the cloud speaks. A voice of authority that knows what to say. A word of instruction that is clear and true. God the Father, unmistakable, gets straight to the point. “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him”.
Peter stop your blabbering. You need to listen. Stop your planning and your own ideas and pay attention. This is not just some prophet. This is not even a really great and important man. This is my Son. MY SON. Listen to him.
And just as suddenly, the cloud was gone, the voice was silent, and Moses and Elijah disappeared. The disciples were left, looking around. Where'd everyone go? What just happened here? And they saw only Jesus.
Jesus only. That's a phrase we can sink our teeth into. Jesus only.
Not anyone else. God didn't say, “Listen to Jesus, and also be sure to pay attention to what Mohammed says, and that Buddha, or the Dalai Lama. Make sure you balance your spirituality with opinions from different sources and perspectives, you know, because everyone has something useful to bring to the table.” No. He said listen to Jesus. Jesus only. When it comes to salvation, there is only Jesus.
Even St. Paul echoes this in Galatians. If anyone preaches to you a different Gospel (that is – anything other than salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone).... and I don't care whether it's another preacher, an apostle, or even angel from heaven – if anyone tries to lead you astray with such lies – let them be condemned. Strong words from St. Paul. We should think the same. When it comes to salvation, there is only one saving Gospel. And that Gospel is about Jesus, and Jesus only.
Only Jesus lived a perfect life, fulfilling every law. Only Jesus can give you the credit for that earned righteousness. Only Jesus died for the sins of the world, and offers his forgiveness to you and me. Only Jesus rose from the dead and predicted it beforehand and promises we too will rise. Only Jesus can get us to the Father. Only Jesus can grant us God's grace. Only in Jesus' name are our prayers acceptable to God. Only Jesus feeds us with his body and blood. Only Jesus washes away our sins at the font. Only Jesus is the living word who continues to work by His Spirit in the written, read, and spoken word. Only Jesus. Jesus, Only.
Hebrews 12 tells us to “Fix our eyes on Jesus”, and for the sinner in need of salvation, there really is nowhere else to look. But looking to him, we can be sure that he is who he says he is, that he did what he said he would, and he will do what he promises – for each of us who trust in him. If we trust in ourselves and our works, if we look within, we will not have this assurance. But in Jesus only do we rest secure, and know the peace that only Jesus can bring.
Today we come to the mountaintop with the disciples, and with our Lord. And we bring with us many things – sins, guilt, shame, flaws, failings, struggles, and hurts. They weigh us down not only on the mountaintop but in the valleys and on the plains. But here, in God's presence, something is different. We see the prophets of old, we smell the smoke, we hear the voice. We are awe-struck by the bright shining glory of Christ.
And here something happens. Here, with Jesus, we too are transfigured. In Jesus we are changed – forgiven, renewed, changed. In Jesus we hear the voice of God, know the Word of God, and see the love of God for us. In Jesus' body and blood he is present with mercy and grace. In Jesus, we leave with the assurance that our sins are gone, gone, and our life is secure in him. In Jesus, and only in Jesus.