“Why the Transfiguration?”

*Gospel: Mark 9:2-9           

2. Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3. and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.  4. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.  5. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  6. He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.  7. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8. Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.  9. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the son of Man had risen from the dead.

Sermon:  “Why the Transfiguration?”        Tom Williams

Today’s message is less a ‘sermon’ than a lesson. 

I say not a sermon because I make no exhortation for change. 

I offer this as a study to gain a, perhaps new, understand of the scripture.  And I’ll leave ‘change’ up to you.

Okay, here is the question that comes to my mind when I read this story of the transfiguration, “What is the purpose of the transfiguration?” 

You see, I believe that everything in this book is there for a reason.  This is not just a book a dry facts it is a book of living truths.  So, let’s see what truths we can find hear and how do they become ‘living’ in us.

It is a very short section of scripture and pretty straight forward.

–  Jesus and three disciples go up the hill.

–  Jesus is changed to a ‘glorified state’ and visits with Moses and Elijah.

–  Disciples are confused and afraid  and want to build shelters for them.

–  God, the Father, exalts Jesus as His beloved Son

–  Jesus tells the disciples to tell no one.

There are so many ‘whys’ here.

–  Why take some disciples but not all?

–  Why go up on a mountain?

–  Why was Jesus appearance changed?

–  Why were Moses and Elijah there?

–  Why were the disciples able to recognize them? 

–  Why were the disciples afraid?

–  Why did the disciples want to build shelters?

–  Why did God speak to the disciples rather than Jesus?

–  Why were they commanded to tell no one?

–  What does this mean to me? 

–  What does this mean to you?

               When I run into so many questions, I try to see how the scripture fits into the narrative before and after the event.  Interestingly, the seventeenth chapter begins with the words, “Six days later …”

               Six days after what?

               I’ll get to that in a minute.  However, I want to go back further in the scriptures than the happenings of that last week.

               Mark records in his gospel a great number of healings and those were not supernatural events for Jesus, that they were indeed natural for him. 

These events were not called miracles in the gospels.  These events were called signs because they pointed the way to the Kingdom of God and the divinity of Christ.

               These signs were often attacked by the Scribes, Sadducees and Pharisees.  These religious leaders saw the signs and dismissed them as blasphemous and works of the devil.

For His part, Jesus has systematically demonstrated that the Scribes, Sadducees and the Pharisees had been teaching tradition as if it were God’s law. 

In every confrontation with the religious scholars of the day, Jesus repeatedly claimed his divine authority to seek the lost and forgive the sinner.  But his message was not getting through to very many of them.

Here are a couple of examples:

Mark 2:3-10 Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man,11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”

            And later, after Jesus had called Levi to become a disciple, Mark 2:15-17 records:

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

            Mark 2:23-28 tells us, One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

Jesus reminds them of stories of David and of priests who have broken the Sabbath and “Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

               The other scene that Mark presents over and over is the inability of the disciples to fully understand what Jesus was teaching them about himself and the kingdom of God.   

               The examples that I just gave you were said in the presence of His disciples and yet even they keep missing the point that Jesus has come to save and forgive sin.

                “Oh you of little faith…” wasn’t directed at His detractors but at His own followers.  I can almost hear the exasperation in His voice here, in Mark 4:35-41

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.  A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.  Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

            I have wondered why he didn’t just calm their fears instead of calming the wind and the sea. … Maybe because that was the easier thing to do.  The natural forces of wind and sea were obedient without questioning … unlike the disciples.

               Later, in Mark 8:27-33, when He asks His followers,“Who do people say the Son of Man is?”  The disciples say, “John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

               Now here comes the famous question, when Jesus asks, “But who do you say that I am?”  We know that Peter answers, “You are the Messiah.” 

Here it appears that Jesus is finally seeing that they are beginning to understand.  So once again He tells them that He is bound for Jerusalem where he must die. 

Peter, because he can not accept that Jesus will be taken away by death, argues with him to which Jesus replies, “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

               Read your Bible and you will see that, though he taught the crowds in parables, Jesus spoke openly and plainly about his need to give up his life for the salvation of all.

               Here, Jesus, seeing that the disciples were still not ready to accept this truth about His mission, tells them to tell no one that He is the messiah.  I believe it is because His own disciples still don’t grasp the nature of Jesus as messiah.  He does not want them to spread the wrong story.

               And now, six days later, He takes his strongest inner circle of disciples and leads them to a dramatic experience, the transfiguration.  

              And who does he choose for this experience?  He chooses Peter, James and John; the three most outspoken of the disciples.  All three were known to confront Jesus with statements and questions.

               These three disciples were ‘blurters’.  You know the type; the ones whose thoughts come out of there mouths before they ever reach their brains.  As leaders amongst the disciples, these were the ones who NEEDED the experience of the transformation the most. 

               And look what happened … Jesus was changed, his face shone like the sun and his clothes were transformed to an unearthly brightness … a whiteness no bleach could cause. 

               This was a preview of Christ the King in His heavenly glory.  This was the Messiah that was promised … not the Messiah that was expected.  Not a military leader and a man of war.   This was the divine Son of God, Beloved of the Father.  Not a mere messenger but He was the  MESSAGE. The Word of God incarnate.

               And there, on that mountain top, with His disciples as witnesses, appeared Moses and Elijah.  I use the term witnesses in the legal sense here.  Remember that by Jewish law an event was judged true or false by the witness of two or more.  The testimony of one disciple could have been disregarded.  However, the word of three witnesses had to be accepted as true.

               Now here were Moses, giver of the Law, the very personification of the Law and Elijah, the prophet of prophets who had ridden to heaven in a fiery chariot, standing there with Jesus. 

               Do you see the see the symbolism here?  The Law and the Prophets, the cornerstone of all Jewish beliefs, are standing there with Christ and talking with Him. 

               Peter got it.  For him everything was complete right there … and there he wanted to stay.  Let’s build houses and stay right here.

. . .

               Okay, maybe Peter still didn’t get it.   Because then God, the Father, in the form of a glowing cloud sets them straight, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

`              “Listen to him!  Draw a big red circle around His words and highlight it in yellow.  Underscore His words multiple times.  Listen to him!  Pay attention.  This is not Moses giving you a law and this is not Elijah prophesying, this is MY SON!  His time with you is about over, so listen up!”   Okay, I have expanded what was actually recorded but that is the feeling of power and importance that I get from that simple line, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

               Okay, we started this session with a lot of questions.  Let’s revisit them and see what understand we have gained.

–  Why take some disciples but not all? 

I believe that it was because Jesus realized that these three needed it the most.  They were the natural leaders in the group of disciples.  If the three of them could truly understand the importance of this event, they would convince the rest.

–  Why go up on a mountain? 

To get away from the crowds and to be by themselves.  This was a ‘by invitation only’ event.

–  Why was Jesus appearance changed? 

It was a revelation of the heavenly Christ, the divine beloved Son of God.  This is Christ as He was and as He will be.

–  Why were Moses and Elijah there? 

They were recognizable symbols of the Jewish Law and Prophets and two of the most respected historical figures to the disciples.  Remember what I said about the testimony of two or more?  Here we have Moses, Elijah and God the Father all testifying about Jesus.

–  Why were the disciples able to recognize them?

I still don’t know.  This goes on my list of things to ask when I get to heaven … if they are still important.

–  Why were the disciples afraid? 

They were sinful men suddenly in the presence of the Almighty God.  And their realization of their sin stood out in fierce contrast to His holiness.  Ask yourself what your reaction would be.

–  Why did the disciples want to build shelters? 

It may have been a sign of honor or it was a desire to extend the experience.  Remember what Jesus said to Peter earlier? “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”  He clearly is still thinking about human concerns and not God’s concerns.

–  Why did God speak to the disciples rather than Jesus?  

It was necessary for the disciples to be deep-down convinced that Jesus was the beloved Son of God and that the words that Jesus spoke were the words of the Father.  These men were going to be tested soon and their faith had to be rock solid all the way to their cores.

–  Why were they commanded to tell no one?

It was not yet time for them to share their testimony with the world.  And people have to come to their own understand of Jesus as God’s Son.

– What does this mean to me? 

Well, it means that those ‘red  words’ in my Bible, the words spoken by Jesus, carry far more weight than words spoken by anyone else in the Bible …. Or anywhere else. 

He was not an earthly ruler who gave us laws to follow. 

He was not some philosopher spouting words of wisdom. 

He was not a prophet giving mysterious and cloudy predictions of the future. 

He was and is the Son, the Beloved, of the Heavenly Father. 

And the words He speaks are not to be ignored.

– What does this mean to you? 

Well, that one you’ll have to answer for yourself.

Here ends the lesson

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