O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Stop, Look and Listen
Stop, Look and Listen
Based on Mark 9:1-9
Preached on February 11, 2018
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Fellow baptized saints, what do you really want to see? Jesus said to them, “There are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God having come with power.”
Then Jesus led them up a high mountain – Peter, James and John. No need for a Snap Fitness membership for these disciples, follow Jesus here – follow Jesus there – and what now? Up a mountain? Oh, the high one – of course. It’s a high mountain. A high mountain immediately makes you think of Sinai, Moses’ mountain and his face to face encounters with the Lord as the people of Israel encamped at the base - where Moses would come down from the mountain with his face glowing like a glow in the dark watch that has been left out in the sunlight.
The Lord is on His mountain, a high one, and that tells you something big is going to happen. And it does. “He was transfigured before them.” Changed in appearance. His clothing became whiter than white - whiter than anyone on earth could bleach them, as Mark puts it. Matthew and Luke add that Jesus’ face also shone like the sun. Not the sort of Jesus Peter and James and John were accustomed to seeing. But then, there is always more to Jesus than meets the eye.
We’ve had plenty of hints. He casts out demons like He’s chasing the neighbor’s dog off the front lawn. He heals sickness with a word or a touch. He does it all – everything that God does and only the way God can do it, because, (after all) He is God in the flesh, and the miracles testify to that. But now, here, on this mountain, in view of Peter and James and John, Jesus is momentarily transfigured. His divinity literally shines through His humanity with a heavenly brightness. God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, God and Man joined inseparably together as one Person. And we learn something: Jesus’ divinity – His Godness always works, always shines, always acts – but now through His humanity. Being human doesn’t limit Him; it enables Him to touch us at our level - in our humanity. And even though the disciples go up a high mountain, the Son of God has come all the way down from heaven’s highest height to dwell here with us. His divine glory shines through His humanity just as the power of God’s Word to forgive and heal is spoken through His mouth and applied with His touch.
He’s not alone. Moses and Elijah are with Him. Moses through whom came the Torah on Mt. Sinai – the Bible’s first five books. It’s Mr. Torah himself - who died in the wilderness and was buried by God on an unknown mountain outside the promised land. Elijah too, Mr. Prophesy, the lead prophet of Israel who was whisked from this earth with the fiery horses and chariots of Israel. And here they are, quite alive and well, talking with Jesus. Luke tells us they were talking about Jesus’ “exodus” that He was about to do in going to Jerusalem to die. Moses and Elijah, who with their lives and their words pointed in type to Jesus in His coming, now stand on either side of Jesus to bask in His glory and to bear witness once again that this is the One they were pointing to.
It’s all too much for Peter and James and John. Shining Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Peter can’t contain himself. He blurts out that he wants to build three tents – one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. Why? Who knows. Maybe he wanted to preserve the event. Maybe he thought that shining glory was better hidden in a tent. Maybe he just doesn’t make any sense at all because he was terrified at the sight of all this, wouldn’t you be?
Sometimes we think we want to see the “beatific vision.” We sing “Shine, Jesus Shine” and have no idea what we are asking for. We think, “Wouldn’t it be great to see the glory, to be up on that high mountain and to get this glimpse of heaven?” But the reality is – No - it wouldn’t be great. It would be terrifying. Categorically unnerving. It would ruin your day. Your week. Seeing this happen would shake the very foundations of everything you know. It would empty you. Remove every idol, every false resting place you thought you’d built within that you could rely on – and leave you, as the text says, with Jesus only. Part of you would almost wish you had not seen it. That you had not been on the mountain that day. Better to hear the reports after. That way you could disbelieve part of them. Rationalize them so that they didn’t completely shatter your world. And yes, you’d be blurting out silly things too. No. We can’t take this vision. Not as sinners. We can’t look on God and live. Not as children of Adam. The sight is too great; the light is too brilliant. It’s like looking directly at the sun; the sight of it would blind us.
So Jesus comes to us - hiddenly, humbly, “in, with, and under”-ly. Words, water, bread, wine. The voice of a fellow sinner. That’s how we must be dealt with. Forget the mountain top. We’re not ready for that yet. Forget the shining Jesus. We can’t handle it. We need an ordinary, humble, lowly Jesus whose divinity, though there, is buried. The baby in the manger. The man on the cross. That kind of Jesus. The Jesus that comes to us in Baptism and Supper and sermon. He’s the One we need.
A cloud descended. On Sinai, the cloud signaled God’s presence. The glory is hidden. A voice is heard. “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.” It’s a familiar voice. The voice of the Father. We heard it at the beginning of this Epiphany season at Jesus’ baptism. “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” Now we hear it again on the mountain. Baptism, mountain, cross. They all go together, one leading to the next. From His Baptism to His mountain of glory to His glory on the cross. He’s headed there – for us – this glorious One – Listen carefully to His words, because if you rely on what you see Good Friday, you’ll think He’s lost.
Then, they saw no one but Jesus only. No more Moses and Elijah. They were the warm-up acts; Jesus is the main event. No one but Jesus will do. He alone has the words of eternal life that will save them. He alone has the blood that will cleanse them. He alone brings together divinity and humanity and reconciles us to God.
No one but Jesus only. Moses with his commandments can’t save you. His glory fades like that glow in the dark watch after a few hours. Elijah can’t save you in spite of his own spectacular departure from this world. There is salvation and life in only One: this Jesus, whether shining like the sun or hanging dead in the darkness, it’s the same Jesus. Listen to Him. Hear Him. His words are spirit and life.
It was a great vision but they couldn’t stay up on that mountain. They had to come down again. We’re not made for the mountain and the glory. At least, not yet. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom, nor can it bear the glory. For Peter and James and John, and for us, this is a little sneak peek, a glimpse of the glory, but not a permanent place. It’s not a place to pitch your tent. They came down from the mountain and on the way down, Jesus charged them: Tell no one until He rose from the dead.
Imagine that. You just watched Jesus reveal He is God, you haven’t caught up with that – maybe you never will – and then He says this. “Rising from the dead”? What on earth was He talking about? Rising from the dead? Beloved, that’s the greater glory. Not shining Jesus but dead and risen Jesus. Not Jesus on the mountain flanked by Moses and Elijah, but Jesus on a cross flanked by two common criminals. That’s His glory. That’s His power. That’s when He is most Savior and Redeemer and Lord for you.
The glory is not in the shining but in the darkness and the dying. That’s the backside of God’s glory, the hidden strength cloaked under weakness, the power of God to save sinners from Sin and Death. And so it’s not “Shine, Jesus Shine” but “Die, Jesus Die” and “Rise, Jesus Rise” and “Reign, Jesus Reign” and “Come to us, Lord, in the mysterious hiddenness of water and words and bread and wine where you and we can meet and not be terrified, where we poor sinners can find refreshment. He meets us not on the high mountain top but here on the level plain of our day to day existence.
You will see it. This vision is the sneak peek of the glory that is ours. A little glimpse of what awaits us – of what Christ has truly come down to give us. We too, the apostle Paul says, are being transfigured “from glory to glory.” Christ here shows us what He will share with us in the end. How we will shine with Him. Yet even now in Christ, you are seated in glory at the right hand of God. Even now by faith, you are with Moses and Elijah, the angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven in the spiritual realm. This is you in Christ by faith, but on the coming glorious Day, your eyes will truly see the glory. And you will see Christ’s holy face.
But for here and now, just listen to Jesus. He is the beloved Son and in Him you are beloved. Listen to Him and look to nothing and no one but Jesus only. In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr