This is week three in our five-week series “Moments with Jesus’ and the purpose of this series is simple: to get to know Jesus better. And we are ‘getting to know Jesus better’ by looking closely at 5 specific moments in Jesus’ life… five exceptional moments that we are confident reveal Jesus’ character and his heart. In fact, I feel we’ve already been given deeper glimpses into the heart of Jesus during the first 2 weeks of this series. In week one Barry showed us that Jesus is a man of great mercy… and his great mercy was fully on display in the moment that he called Matthew to be his disciple. Matthew was a tax collector, someone who was universally considered to be a great sinner. And yet, Jesus, in his great mercy, called Matthew out of his sinful occupation and into a new life as one of Jesus’ disciples. Last week, Barry showed us that Jesus is a man of great compassion and we saw Jesus’ compassion everywhere in the story of Jesus raising the widow of Nain’s only son from the dead. This week we come to our 3rd moment with Jesus, and I must tell you right up front this moment is very different than the moments we looked at in our first two weeks. In the first two ‘moments’ of our series we saw Jesus dealing with down-to-earth situations… situations that we can all relate to: first, Jesus showing mercy to someone who had lived a wayward life and then, Jesus offering compassion to someone who has suffered great loss… these are both situations we can all understand. But this week we turn to a moment with Jesus that was anything but down-to-earth… anything but a ‘regular life’ moment. It’s still a moment that reveals a great deal about Jesus’ character, but it isn’t a moment that many people can immediately relate to. Today we are looking at a moment that is referred to as ‘The Transfiguration of Jesus.’ And you can tell just by the name this moment is given, ‘The Transfiguration of Jesus,’ that during this moment something outside of the ordinary happened. But as out-of-the-ordinary as this moment might have been, 3 of the 4 gospel writers, Matthew, Mark and Luke, all include this ‘out-of-the-ordinary moment with Jesus’ in their books about Jesus. And the only reason I think John, the writer of the 4th Gospel, chose not to talk about this moment was that he’d read the other 3 gospels before he wrote his book and he felt they’d done a good job of describing what he remembered of this amazing moment with Jesus.
Today we’ll primarily be looking at Mark’s telling of this moment… and I chose Mark’s version for this reason: Mark, we are told by a good number of the early church fathers, spent many years traveling with the Apostle Peter as Peter’s translator. Peter spoke Aramaic and we’re told that it was Mark’s job to translate Peter’s Aramaic sermons into Greek and Latin. So, what this means is that Mark’s account of this story of Jesus’ Transfiguration would have come directly from Peter, who, as we will see, was an eyewitness to this moment. I felt getting this our-of-the-ordinary moment from an eyewitness was important. Now, I will reference Matthew and Luke’s versions of this moment some since both Matthew and Luke do include important details that Mark leaves out, but we will be focusing on Mark’s version. And you can find Mark’s version in Mark 9:2-13 page ???? in our house Bibles. SAY HELLO.
I want to start by putting this passage into the context of Mark’s entire book… or as we say around here, into ‘The world of the text.’ Mark’s gospel, at its most basic, is divided into 2 halves: the first half begins with the story of Jesus sleeping in the back of a boat… a terrible storm blows in… Jesus is awakened by the disciples who are afraid the boat is going to sink and they’re going to drown… then Jesus commands the wind and the waves to calm down… and they do! Well, when this happens the disciples are all stunned and they look at one another and ask, ‘Who is this man?’ And from that point in Mark’s gospel onward until the almost the end of chapter 8 we get story after story that answers the question, ‘Who is this man?’And what we find out in the first half of Mark is that Jesus is a man with authority over the demons… and he’s a man that has the power to heal our bodies… he can even heal the deaf and the blind… why, he’s a man that can even raise the dead! We get stories that tell us that Jesus is a man who can multiply food and he can walk on water. Plus, these stories also tell us that Jesus is a man with the authority to speak for God in matters like what is permitted on the Sabbath and how people should obey God’s laws. These stories all answer the question, ‘Who is this man?’ And the first section of Mark’s gospel ends with Jesus asking the disciples, ‘Who do you say I am?’ and Peter correctly answers, ‘You are the Christ, the Messiah.’ And then the 2nd half of the book begins and what we see from then on is Jesus doing and saying things that prove even further that, yes, indeed, He is the Christ, the Messiah. And today’s passage is the first moment in this 2nd half of Mark Gospel… a second half that shows us that yes, indeed, he is even more than a man… he is the Christ, the Messiah! So, let’s look at verse 2 of Chapter 9.
Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. Saying they were going to ‘a high mountain’ is important. The way the ancients perceived things was that God lived in the space just above the earth, a space they called ‘the heavens.’ They believed that the higher you got on earth, the closer you were to the space where God lives… This is why ancient people were always building towers… to get closer to God! And they firmly believed that you were far more likely to meet God the closer you were to where he lived. In fact, mountain tops were sometimes referred to as ‘the suburbs of heaven’ by the ancients. So, any mention of ‘Climbing up to a mountaintop’ in the Bible means you should expect that something amazing just might happen! And it certainly did in this story! Look at what happens!
As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, far whiter than any earthly bleach could ever make them. Just the sound of the Greek word that gives us ‘transformed,’ meta-mor-pha-o (the word that gives us metamorphosis) tells us that something amazing is happening… to Jesus! And both Matthew and Luke tell us that more than Jesus’ clothing became dazzling… they both say that his face began to ‘shine like the sun!’ which, by the way, is a direct reference to what the Old Testament book of Exodus tells us happened to Moses’ face just from being near God’s radiant presence on a high mountaintop!
Then Elijah and Moses appeared and began talking with Jesus. Now, no one has ever figured out how the disciples knew that Jesus was talking to Elijah and Moses. Did Jesus introduce them? Did they have some inkling just by looking at them? We don’t know. I do have a theory, though, on why these two Old Testament figures met with Jesus that day. Again, this is a Tim Ayers theory… so take it for what it’s worth… The Old Testament is very clear that Elijah did not die. He was taken straight up into God’s presence without experiencing death. And if you carefully read the last passage of the book of Deuteronomy, the passage that tells us about Moses’ death and burial, it’s obvious that those verses were clearly added to Moses’ writings sometime later to give the story a proper ending. It just makes sense that Moses couldn’t have written the story of his own death and burial. And what I’ve discovered is that many learned Jews over the centuries have believed that Moses, like Elijah, didn’t physically die, but was taken directly into God’s presence. I tend to think that this is good possibility. It certainly makes sense of these two showing up to talk to Jesus, especially since the Gospel of Luke tells us they were talking about Jesus soon-coming ‘Exodus’ which was a code word for his death… something neither of these men had experienced. But, hey, all we can be certain about is that Jesus was talking to Moses and to Elijah and that no matter how that came to happen, it is amazing! Let’s go on to verse 5.
5 Peter exclaimed, “Rabbi, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He said this because he didn’t really know what else to say, for they were all terrified. I’ve heard a lot of people say that this is a prime example of Peter’s foolishness. Luke does tell us, though, that Jesus’ reason for wanting to go to this mountaintop in the first place was to be alone so they could pray and that all 3 of the disciples had fallen asleep once he had started praying… my thought is that Peter was probably half asleep and when he suddenly woke up and he saw this scene it caught him completely off guard… no wonder he was terrified! Mark uses 6 different Greek words in his gospel to say that someone was ‘afraid’ of something. This tells us that Mark chose the word ‘ek-pho-boy’ very carefully to describe what the disciples experienced in this moment. And ‘Ek-pho-boy’ is a word that describes how someone feels when they have the sudden realization that something overwhelmingly unexpected is happening… and something overwhelmingly unexpected was happening! It’s no wonder Peter might have said something a bit ridiculous about building what would have been 3 shelters of sticks and branches. I’m sure I might have said something a bit silly if I’d been there and that ‘ekphoboyed!’
7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.” Matthew tells us that the disciple’s response to this cloud and voice was to fall flat on their faces… I get that! This cloud and this voice is, of course, the entrance of God, himself into this moment! And did you notice that God was speaking directly to the disciples here? God was telling them that Jesus is his dearly loved son… that was important! And he was also commanding them to listen to Jesus! Apparently, they needed to hear this!
8 Suddenly, when they looked around, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus with them. 9 As they went back down the mountain, he told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
10 So they kept it to themselves, but they often asked each other what he meant by “rising from the dead.” This idea of ‘rising from the dead’ wouldn’t have been a new concept to the disciples. Most Jews at the time believed that a day was coming when all Jews, every Jewish person that had ever lived, would be resurrected from their graves and enter into ‘The New Kingdom of God!’ But rising from the dead was something all Jews would do together… someday! No one had ever talked about some sort of special resurrection that might happen to one person in the way that Jesus was now talking about his resurrection now! It’s no wonder they asked one another often what he was talking about!
11 Then they asked him, “Why do the teachers of religious law insist that Elijah must return before the Messiah comes?” 12 Jesus responded, “Elijah is indeed coming first to get everything ready. Yet why do the Scriptures say that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be treated with utter contempt? 13 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they chose to abuse him, just as the Scriptures predicted.” You can see that the subject has changed a great deal here in these last verses… and I have put some additional information about this last bit on the app… but the truth is that most Jewish people at the time had been taught that Elijah was going to come back, since he hadn’t died remember, and do all sorts of ‘setting things right’ stuff to get the world ready for the Messiah! And the disciples had just seen Elijah! I’m sure they were wondering if maybe, just maybe, Elijah was on his way back down to earth to start ‘setting things right.’ And did you notice that Jesus never answers their question… in fact, he asks another question which doesn’t get answered either. His question was, ‘Why do the scriptures say that the Son of Man (a name Jesus used to speak of himself, mind you) must suffer greatly and be treated with utter contempt?’ You can tell that Jesus had his soon-coming ‘Exodus’ on his mind. He knew exactly what was about to happen to him and he was talking about it with his best friends.
And this is the end of the story. First off, I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for Peter and James and John to keep all this a secret. It is obvious, though, that the day did come, after Jesus had risen from the dead, when they shared this unusual, yet very telling moment, with others… But my question is this: ‘What are we to do with this moment?’ Clearly, this is a revelation of more than simply Jesus’ heart. It is a moment that tells us what is absolutely real and true about Jesus’ identity! What this story tells us is that Jesus is someone who shows us the very glory of God… his radiance in this moment said that he is more than just a man… more than a great prophet like Elijah and Moses… Even more than John the Baptist, the man Jesus was referring to when he said that Elijah indeed did come and get things ready… a man that Jesus, himself, said, ‘Was the greatest man who ever lived!’ What the disciples experienced and what we are so fortunate to still have a record of, was the revelation of all that Jesus is… and has been… and will be for eternity: He is the radiant God… in the flesh… and his radiance in that moment said he is the powerful one… he is the holy one… the Son of Man… the very Son of God! And just so we don’t lose the power of Jesus calling himself the Son of Man, listen to what the prophet Daniel said about the ‘son of man!’ As my vision continued that night, I saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One (this is another name for God) and was led into his presence. He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed. This is who Jesus was shown to be by his sudden meta-mor-pha-o… his dazzling robe and his face shining like the sun both said, ‘This is God’s dearly loved son… one who has been given authority, honor and sovereignty over all of the nations of the world.’ Wow!
I’ve been thinking about something as I’ve been preparing for this message… I’m starting to think that ‘The Transfiguration’ may be the wrong title for this mountaintop moment with Jesus. Here’s why. I’m thinking that Jesus’ true ‘transfiguration,’ the greatest of his ‘meta-mor-pha-o, actually happened in Bethlehem… this is when he was fully transformed into something new… this is when he left behind all that we see in this story of his true nature as the Son of God and took on a different nature… he was truly ‘transformed’ in Bethlehem from the God through whom all things were created into a lowly human being… a man with flesh and blood and feelings and sorrows and pains just like all of us… that was the greatest of transfigurations. And yet, as the other four stories in our ‘Moments with Jesus’ series tell us, this man still reflected the very character of God: he was and still is merciful and compassionate, and as we will see in the coming weeks, he is safe and a gracious refuge for all who long to see healing and justice. And so again, what do we do with this moment? Well, for me, this moment tells me that I must never forget that when the disciples were confronted with the reality of who Jesus is, they fell on their faces in fear… I must never underestimate the answer to the question, ‘Who is this man.’ And yet, this moment also tells me that you and I have been given the privileged of boldly speaking to Jesus and calling him our brother. This is humbling… and yet it is what Jesus longs for us to do… speak boldly to him and call him our brother. This moment with Jesus tells me that Yes, he is the Christ, the Messiah, The Son of God… but he loves each one of us dearly and longs for us to tell our needy world that our brother and our Lord is merciful and compassionate and gracious and loving and longs to bring great transformation for the good into everyone’s life!