Is it not true that what often captivates us when the countless adverts and news headlines flash past our eyes every day is not so such much their content, but how they are packaged? We are often so dazzled by the presentation of the message that we never stop to question its actual meaning. The disciples following Jesus in first-century Palestine were no different. In our passage this morning we find that they were in danger of being swept away by the hype and headlines about a Messiah who would supposedly revolutionize the world and liberate the Jewish nation. The world back then was looking for a winner; someone who would bring prosperity and ease; someone who would bring heaven down to earth in an openly spectacular way. Amidst these worldly predictions, the disciples were struggling to make sense of the words and actions of Jesus. What kind of Messiah is Jesus? How will his kingdom come? How will he redeem his people?
Consider the journey the disciples have been on to this point in the gospel of Mark. No sooner had they watched their teacher perform miracles, and Jesus tells the disciples to keep quite about them. Peter makes his good confession of Jesus as the Christ towards the end of Mark 8. But then he is scandalized by the news of coming suffering and death… Now, in Mark 9, Peter, James, and John find themselves on the Mt. of Transfiguration, where they become witnesses to the most incredible, otherworldly, event. * Here Jesus peels back his humanity and unveils his glory as the final Word from God to confirm his authority as the redeemer of mankind. * But, as we shall see, the disciples get lost in the experience of the moment. The lesson here is that no matter what makes news headlines here on earth, no matter what we hear, see or feel in this world, – however good or bad – we are to follow Jesus and his message of salvation. God the Father says in Mark 9:7, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”
In Mark 9:2-3, Mark tells us that Jesus led Peter, James, and John up a high mountain, and Jesus is transfigured before them. Here, Mark attempts to describe the indescribable. How do you capture in words a heavenly foretaste or preview of the glory of the risen Christ? Can you imagine the unspeakable spectacle before these disciples? Here, for a moment, the eternal Son of God pulls back the curtain of his frail mortal flesh, and unveils his blazing glory in a way never seen before. Jesus is transformed – metamorphized – before their very eyes. Mark describes his clothes as “radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.” Jesus is no mere man and his Kingdom is not of this world. For a moment, heaven breaks forth on earth and the disciples are awe-struck.
Moses and Elijah (v4)
As if anything could be added to the unparalleled awesomeness of the moment, two of the greatest OT figures – Moses and Elijah appear (v4), from another world, to join Jesus and the disciples on the mountain. Now, at this point, Mark does not tell us what is going through the minds of the disciples. Well, you would expect that they should have started connecting some of the dots from the OT. Besides, they had been listening to Jesus for a while now, and he often spoke about the OT. They should have realized that Moses and Elijah are individuals bursting with significance as they helped point forward to the person and work of coming Messiah.
However, Mark does not tell us exactly how we should understand the importance of Moses and Elijah here. So, like the disciples we have to connect the dots. Remember, Moses is a monumental figure from OT history. He had led God’s people out of bondage in Egypt. It was Moses that God chose to meet with at Mt Sinai, to establish his covenant when he gave Moses the Law, the Ten Commandments. In other words, Moses represented the people to God and God represented or mediated himself to Israel. Moses was God’s chief spokesperson to his people; he was the model prophet of the OT. God revealed himself and spoke to Moses – sometimes in spectacular ways so that his face shone with heavenly glory – and then Moses delivered God’s Word to his people. In a nutshell, Moses should have symbolized to the disciples the glory of the Old Covenant, but more importantly, greater glory to come! Which brings us forward again to the Mt of Transfiguration.
Here we learn that Moses did not deliver the last Word from God at Mount Sinai or on the plains of Moab. For now Moses stands on another mountain in a new era. This time he stands to the side as a witness to a new mediator between God and his people, a new and final prophet with a better Word from God. Now he stands next to the fullness of God in human flesh, which is blazing like the sun in his heavenly glory. Just like Moses and the OT predicted, the final Word has come – it has been spoken by God – in Jesus Christ. Will the disciples listen to him and follow him? Will you?
We are also told inv4 that Jesus and Moses are accompanied by Elijah. Like Moses, Elijah is also a towering figure from the OT. He too was an important prophet who repeatedly delivered God’s law against Israel for their waywardness and idolatry. And yet, like Moses, Elijah was a signpost pointing forward to someone greater, to a better Word from God. Malachi prophesied in Malachi 4:5-6 that someone like Elijah would one day appear, at the end of time, to restore all things. Now, on the Mt of Transfiguration, Elijah stands side-by-side with Jesus in fulfillment of Malachi’s words.
Well, you’d think that surely now the disciples would have put some of the parts of the puzzle together as they stood there looking at Jesus, Moses and Elijah.
Blinded by Christ’s glory (vv5-6)
But not surprisingly, considering the track record of the disciples, the drama of the moment proves too much. The disciples are overcome by the outward glory – the packaging – of Christ’s Transfiguration. The music sounded so good that they had stopped listening to the words. Their feelings had overcome their sense of objectivity. They could not get beyond the outward dazzling spectacle to grasp its deeper meaning.
Consider the response of the disciples, especially that of Peter.
If there was ever a time for Peter to keep his mouth closed, it was now. Instead, v5, a floodgate of foolishness spews forth and Peter addresses Jesus as ‘Rabbi’! Even though Christ’s ministry so far has revealed him as so MUCH more, Peter nevertheless still calls him a mere teacher: as if Jesus is no different from Moses and Elijah! And if this is not presumptuous enough, Peter then continues with the bizarre idea of setting up tents or tabernacles for the three “end times” figures. This bold suggestion once again betrays the deep-rooted confusion that the disciples have regarding the person and work of Jesus. For the tabernacle is a thing of the past because Jesus is the fulfillment of the OT tabernacle in human flesh: “God with us”. For Peter to try and contain Jesus on the mountain is also to forget that Jesus has not yet finished his mission, which he had just spoken of in chap 8, which he would accomplish through suffering and death.
The reality is that Peter’s words here not only speak for the rest of the disciples, but for us as well. Peter reveals here our irrepressible natural human desire for glory NOW on our terms: therefore, no suffering; no death; just comfort and bliss – a life that goes from glory to glory! Peter, like all sinners, is anxious to find the fulfillment of promised glory now, today! He wanted the ‘mountaintop experience’ – the retreat; the conference – to continue indefinitely. As a result, any revelation he had received up until this point from Jesus is, for now, thoroughly scrambled. For, what about the problem of the unfulfilled law that still echoed from Mt. Sinai? What about the necessity of suffering that Jesus must undergo? The problem is that Peter had been listening to the word on the street, and that soft deceptive voice of the human heart. Mark tells us, v6, that Peter did “not know what to say, for they were terrified.” The disciples had not been listening to Jesus. Who are you listening to?
God restores perspective in His Son (v7)
It is therefore appropriate that the living God restore perspective for the disciples. So, in v7, the focus shifts abruptly from the visual, the sensory and the emotional back to the objective and authoritative Word of God. At Mt. Sinai in the OT God spoke out of a cloud to give authority to the prophetic words of Moses. Here, on the new Mt. Sinai, which is the Mt of Transfiguration, another cloud appears and overshadows the disciples. And this time God speaks to give authority to the Words of his Son: calling the disciples, and us, to “listen to him.” For Jesus is God’s royal Son. He is the climactic revelation of the God: one greater that Moses and Elijah, and even John the Baptist. The prophetic sparks found in the OT are now engulfed in the glorious inferno of God’s final Word in Jesus.
Back on the road of suffering (vv8-13)
And then, after God had spoken from the concealment of a cloud, having pointed the disciples to the Words of Jesus – suddenly – the Transfiguration of Jesus is over. Despite Peter’s reading of the event, the Transfiguration was not an end in itself. Mark writes in v8: “And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.” The curtain comes down on what should have been for the disciples an encouraging foretaste or preview of the certainty of Christ’s coming Kingdom. As the disciples descend from the mountaintop experience with Jesus, God’s glory is once again hidden under the veil of human flesh. Moses and Elijah have departed, for their role as witnesses is over. The cloud has gone. It is no longer needed. For Jesus himself is endowed with the very authority and power of God. He is the final living and breathing revelation of God.
Then, like after Peter’s crucial confession of Jesus as Messiah, Jesus charges the disciples to “tell no one” (v9). Once again, like throughout the gospel of Mark, Jesus is concerned to guard against worldly ideas of who he is and how he is going to bring salvation to his people. Jesus does not want his kingdom to be equated with what the world values, especially in light of the open display of his glory and power on the Mt. of Transfiguration. Yes, the Son of Man will conquer, deliver, and restore, BUT through suffering and death: which is to defy human reason and popular opinion. And yet again, not surprisingly, the disciples still don’t get it! They therefore ask each other what rising from the dead might mean (v10).
Stop and consider for a moment, the love and patience that Jesus extends to the disciples. Jesus continues to bear with them and does not cast them away, even when they continue to impose their sinful agenda onto Christ’s mission. Are we not also like the disciples at times in our view of the Christian life? Don’t we often get impatient and want heaven now, and Christ’s kingdom on our terms?
Following in the footsteps of our ascended Lord Jesus
Brothers and sisters, we find ourselves in a time where God has revealed more of himself than during OT times and even the times of the disciples. Yet, we still live in a world that is no less captivated with its own stories of salvation and how to find heaven on earth. And because we too are sinners, we also – like the disciples – by nature want to avoid the suffering in this life. Therefore, we too must fight the temptation to listen to the word on the street, the talking heads on the screen, and quite deceptive whispers of our own heart. By faith, we must see through the alluring packaging that accompanies the messages of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Like the disciples, we too MUST listen to Jesus!
For Jesus is the final and authoritative Word and act of God for the salvation of humankind. He is the fulfillment of OT prophetic hopes. He is greater than even Moses and Elijah and John the Baptist. Thanks be to God that Jesus did not shrink from the road of suffering and exchange his Kingdom for this world. Rather Jesus went on to become a grotesque spectacle in the sight of the world: a loser. He suffered and died. And yet, even though the world scorned and ridiculed him back then, and still does today, Jesus has nevertheless overcome sin, death and hell through suffering, dying and ultimately being raised from the dead!
Jesus suffered and obeyed in a way that we never could. He endured God’s wrath for our sins and kept the law perfectly in our place. Jesus took all our sin and gave us his life in return. Because Jesus has been raised from the dead, we too will be raised unto eternal life. And nothing – no sin and no amount of suffering in this life – can change this hope we have by faith. Beloved, this is God’s Word to us from heaven this evening. This is our foretaste of eternal life. Yes, it is not outwardly impressive. Nevertheless, we are told that faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word preached – which is the power of God unto salvation. Amen.
RCSS, evening service, November 18, 2012