‘Transfiguration’, Sunday before Lent. February 11th 2018
Baptism and Holy Communion
Mark 9:2-9 and also 2 Corinthians 4:3-9.
In the Transfiguration – we see Revelation of Christ, Confirmation in Doubt, Favour of God.
6 days later…(Mark 9:v2)
Revelation of Christ.
Before Jesus leads his disciples into a time and place of suffering, humiliation, disgrace and mockery, he calls Peter, James and John to come with him. He summons them, and he shows himself to them in the Lord’s glory.
Before the disciples descend with him into the abyss of Holy Week where they will see and experience human guilt, malice, hatred, Jesus leads them up onto that high mountain from where they are to get help for their journey that lies before them.
Before Jesus face is beaten, spat upon, before his robes are tore off him and splattered with blood, the disciples are to see him in his divine glory, his face shining like the face of God, light & purity the clothes he wears…
The disciples – Peter, James, John – who will experience and hear their Lord’s struggles and battles in Gethesemane, are now allowed to see him as the transfigured Son of God, to see him as the eternal God…
Jesus is transfigured. He is revealed to them in a new way. He wanted them, these three, to see this.
When we come to this point, it is a bridge point in the gospel. Bridge between Jesus public ministry in Galilee and his approaching passion – his suffering – in Jerusalem. In the modern three year Church of England, the Transfiguration is always the gospel reading on the Sunday before Lent.
Looking back to Epiphany when Jesus is revealed through signs and miracles.
Looking towards Lent which leads us to Holy Week and the Cross.
If we picked up Mark’s Gospel and read it through – as those in the confirmation classes are doing – you would begin by hearing ‘the beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ Mark begins, declaring who Jesus is. This good news that we seek and pray that Timothy – who will be baptised in a few minutes – that he will grow up knowing and embracing…
Then this identity of Jesus is declared at his baptism:
”A voice came from heaven ”you are my son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.’‘(Mark 1:v11).
As we read on, we have a dynamic, fast moving, set of events recorded which shows Jesus authority and power in the Spirit, and the fearful recognition of who he is by demons.
By the time we come to this mountain, in the 8 chapters we would have read, Jesus has triumphed over every foe –
over demonic forces,
And now, he announces his passion, his suffering.
After Peter declares who he is (Mark 8:vv27-30), Jesus says that the Son of Man, must be rejected by the Jewish religious leadership, he will be killed, and after three days he will rise again, (vv31-32). The first time he predicts his death – he will do it three more times after this. Peter reacts – he rebukes Jesus for saying such things, (v32-33).
It is hard to imagine what Jesus words meant to Peter and the others. They had no concept of a Messiah suffering, believing only that he would be victorious and the kingdom would come to Israel. But to say such words, could only mean defeat being accepted, that it was failure. Maybe a modern day parallel perhaps – is resignation. Sometimes resignation can be over scandal, it can be for other important reasons, and it can be to move into another role, but sometimes the word resign is used, because the job can no longer be done, they no longer feel able, they cannot do what they expect of themselves or what others expect of them. Again, for example, in the recently released film ‘Darkest Hour’ about the first weeks of Churchill’s wartime PM. Chamberlain resigns. Why – he is defeated, he does not have the support of the other politicians. It is a sign of defeat that he resigns and hands over to Churchill.
For Peter, it is not only that in his theological world, he does not expect or know of a suffering Messiah who will die… this language, sounds like defeat, it sounds maybe even a lack of faith that the religious leadership will not see who he truly is.
Now stay with that idea.
How does that leave Peter, James and John. Rattled?
Then comes further teaching, the events that happened 6 days before:
”if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”(v34).
To take up the cross – a sign of death. To try and save your life, you will lose it, to lose your life, you will keep it. To Peter, James and John, Jesus is saying, to follow him is more than, triumph and victory all the time… it means suffering comes through being a follower of Jesus.
How did Peter, James and John feel and think…
Confirmation in Doubt & Favour of God.
Then comes, the transfiguration. Yes a glorious event. But also a statement. A sign revealing more about Jesus. That Jesus continues to be God’s agent of redemption – the sign of the transfiguration. You see the trio see Jesus transfigured and they hear the voice: This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!
The necessity of Jesus death does not result from a withdrawal of heavenly favour.
To illustrate this further let us go back to an earlier story in Mark (4).
It is the end of the day. Jesus tells the disciples to go across to the other side of the lake. Jesus is in the boat. Asleep. A storm comes up – common on the lake – but a violent one. The waves break over. Water flows in. It is nearly swamped. They wake Jesus up – ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown’. He gets up, rebukes the wind, said to the waves ‘Quiet, be still’.
Then the wind died down and it was calm.
Now Jesus asks, ‘why are they afraid, do you still have no faith.’ Note. When they set sail, Jesus told them to ‘go across to the other side’. (v35). Would they have made it if they had not woke Jesus up? He said let us go over to the other side. They will go over.
Why did the storm come? Did they do something wrong? Nope. Were they doing what Jesus said? Yes.
Yet storms came. They were obeying Jesus commands, doing exactly what he said, and the storm came. When Jesus asks do you still have no faith – it was to do with how they reacted in the storm.
It is possible to grow up thinking, that if bad things happen to us, it is our fault. We are out of God’s favour, we have not had enough faith, we have sinned. At time, what happens to us is due to our wrongdoing, our mistakes, our sins.
However, not always.
As we hear in Paul’s own words: ‘hard pressed on every side… perplexed … persecuted … struck down’. (2 Cor 4:vv8-9).
He and other apostles and evangelists, prophets, teachers, pastors, were being faithful to the Lord in their missionary and discipling work and yet still difficulty comes.
We can be obedient to the Lord in all we do, and yet, hard things, bad things come, the storm comes. We are not out of heavenly favour. Jesus shows that. He walked the way of the cross. He commands us to take up the cross. To follows Christ means being obedient, and that means sometimes storms comes because we are obedient, and the challenge is in those storms to remain faithful and obedient as we wait to come out the otherside.
As we will place the sign of the cross on Timo’s forehead, each of us baptised have been given that same sign – a reminder – obedient, even if the storms come, for at some point they do come, simply because we are obedient.
Jesus mission and purpose had not been compromised – as someone writes:
‘God is as much with Jesus after the announcement of his Passion as he was at his baptism, and he [God] still claims and declares Jesus as his unique son.’
The voice at the Baptism of Jesus was perhaps only heard by Jesus and John – the voice at the Transfiguration is heard by the disciples, perhaps the three closest disciples. They are told, not advised, – commanded in the Greek – Listen to him.
Can you imagine that hill. As you go up it with Peter, James and John. Maybe it is Mt Tabor or Mt Hermon. They have been discouraged by Jesus talk that he will be rejected by the nation’s religious leadership, and he will die. They have heard what Jesus said about taking up the cross.
Are Peter, James and John wondering, whether it is worth following.
They see Jesus transfigured. They still may not have understand everything – if we had read further, they are still struggling to understand what resurrection means. But as they go down that hill, unable to tell anyone, they have this burning in their heart. They see Christ revealed, they have confirmation to help in their doubts, they know Christ has heavenly favour as he goes to Jerusalem that final time.
They may have wanted to remain on that hill where Jesus glory, identity and power were visible, instead of returning to a valley where they cannot see what they believe. It is easier to believe when power and glory are visible. Harder to believe against all appearances. But go down they do, as do we.
They do know the one who has been sent by God and to whom they must listen. They know it is God’s plan whatever will happen to Jesus.
Picture the scene. The Cloud envelopes them. ”This is my Son whom I love, listen to him.” Then we read:
‘‘Suddenly when they looked around they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.’‘
The visual image – they hear God say whom they should listen to, and then when the sky is clear, only one person is before them – Jesus…
And in that moment, they are reminded – only Jesus can fulfil the Father’s mission. Only Jesus, not the prophet Elijah, only Jesus not the great lawgiver Moses, only Jesus can fulfil God’s redemptive plan. The voice at his baptism marked the beginning of Jesus public ministry. The voice at the transfiguration marked the start of his journey to the cross.
Baptism. Transfiguration. Christ is revealed, at a key time, in a new important way for the disciples. And we too seek for Timo that you will be guided by the Lord to help him grow in his understanding. Yet for each of us, we are still on that journey of understanding more deeply who is the Lord.
And at time those revelations come at important moments in our own lives. It is not about Christ being revealed to only to child but to all of us. At times revelation comes as we wrestle and doubt, which helps and affirms us.
And the sign of the cross was placed on each of us. Reminds us of the one who suffered – God’s plan of redemption. And the cross we pray that Timo will grow in understanding and value, but a symbol reminding each of us of the cross we promise to take up, knowing, at times, that hardships, persecutions can and will come into our life due to that cross.
But as the disciples came down that mountain assured and strengthened, we know the one we follow, the one we will listen to.
Shall we pray in silence for a few moments…
Revd Grant Crowe