Mark 9:2-9 / Transfiguration B / 19 February 2012 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA
And Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God having come with power.” (Mark 9:1)
The some “some standing here” were Peter and James and John. Sorry, no Andrew. He got left out. Three is more symbolic than four, so three disciples it is. Not four and certainly not six. Seven would be the next acceptable number. Or all twelve, but one of them was rotten. Andrew and the others would see the kingdom of God having come with power in Jesus’ death and resurrection. But for now, here in what is almost the exact middle of Mark’s Gospel, it is given only to Peter and James and John to see this “sneak peek” of Jesus’ glory as the Son of God.
Jesus led them up a high mountain. No need for an LA Fitness membership for these disciples, what with all that walking and now hiking up a high mountain. High mountain recalls images of Sinai, Moses’ mountain and his face to face encounters with the Lord as the people of Israel encamped at the base and Moses coming down from the mountain with 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 you know something big is going to happen. Adn ti does. “He was transfigured before them.” Changed in appearance. His clothing became whiter than white, as they used to say in the laundry soap commercial, 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 see. But then, there was always more to Jesus than met 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 cleanses the leper by touching him. 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 always works, always shines, always acts through His humanity. Being human doesn’t limit Him; it enables Him to touch us at the level of our humanity. And even though the disciples go up to a high mountain, He nevertheless comes down from the heights of heaven to dwell 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. Mr. Torah himself who died in the wilderness and was buried by God on an unknown mountain outside the promised land. And Elijah, 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 to take in. Shining Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Peter blurts out that he wants to build three booths – one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. Why? Who knows. Maybe he wanted to preserve the event. Maybe the weather was changing and he wanted to make sure that Jesus, Moses, and Elijah had a roof over their heads. Maybe it just doesn’t make any sense at all because they were terrified at the sight of all this, and would you be as well?
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?” And the reality is no, it wouldn’t be great. It would be terrifying. And we’d be blurting out silly things too. 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.
That’s why Jesus must come 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.
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 handing dead in the darkness, it’s the same Jesus. Listen to Him. Hear Him. His words are spirit and life and bring you eternal life.
It was a great vision but they couldn’t stay up on that mountain. They had to come down again. You know that great stretch of beach that you fantasize about when you want to get away? That endless stretch of sand and surf with no one as far as the eye can see? It sounds great, doesn’t it? And for a week or two vacation, it is great. But if you are stuck on that beach with no way to get off, it isn’t so great anymore, because you’re not made for that. People spend big money to go to Hawaii for vacation. There are people who live in Hawaii who want to get off the island.
We’re not made for the mountain and the glory. 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.
And they wondered what it mean, His “rising from the dead”? What on earth was He talking about? Rising from the dead? 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 on the level plain of our day to day existence.
And one more little thought. That vision given to Peter and James and John who did not taste of death until they saw the kingdom come with power, was also a sneak preview of the glory that is ours in Jesus. We too, the apostle Paul says, are being transfigured “from glory to glory.” Even now, in Christ, you are seated in glory at the right hand of God. Even now, in the spiritual realm, you are with Moses and Elijah, the angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven. And on the coming glorious Day, you too will see the glory.
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,