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JESUS: His Life, His Mission. A Glimpse of His Glory, Mark 9:2-13.

A Glimpse of His Glory

Mark 9:2-13


Who do you say that Jesus is? That’s the most important question you’ll ever answer. It’s more important than “Who am I going to marry?” or “What am I going to do with my life?” or “Where am I going to live?” or “what is the balance in my bank account?” (I can usually count my balance with my fingers and toes), or even “What is your social security number?” Who do you say that Jesus is?


Even in the church – the people who follow Jesus all over the world – that question is significant. Because it’s easy to say, as Peter did, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It’s much harder to live that truth. We often say one thing, and then live out something else. That question, “Who do you say that Jesus is?” is doubly crucial in our day, because [no one is as popular in the U.S. as Jesus] – and not every Jesus is the real Jesus.


There’s the Republican Jesus – who is against tax increases and activist judges, and for family values and owning firearms.


There’s Democrat Jesus – who is against Wall Street and Wal-Mart, and for reducing our carbon footprint and printing money.


There’s Therapist Jesus – who helps us cope with life’s problems, heals our past, tells us how valuable we are and not to be so hard on ourselves.


There’s Starbucks Jesus – who drinks fair trade coffee, loves spiritual conversations, drives a hybrid, and goes to film festivals.


There’s Open-minded Jesus – who loves everyone all the time no matter what (except for people who are not as open-minded as you).


There’s Touchdown Jesus – who helps athletes fun faster and jump higher than non-Christians and determines the outcomes of Super Bowls.


There’s Martyr Jesus – a good man who died a cruel death so we can feel sorry for him.


There’s Gentle Jesus – who was meek and mild, with high cheek bones, flowing hair, and walks around barefoot, wearing a sash (while looking very German).


There’s Hippie Jesus – who teaches everyone to give peace a chance, imagines a world without religion, and helps us remember that “all you need is love.”


There’s Yuppie Jesus – who encourages us to reach our full potential, reach for the stars, and buy a boat, and a really big house, and a really expensive car, and …


There’s Spirituality Jesus – who hates religion, churches, pastors, priests, and doctrine, and would rather have people out in nature, finding “the god within” while listening to ambiguously spiritual music.


There’s Platitude Jesus – good for Christmas specials, greeting cards, bumper stickers, and bad sermons, inspiring people to believe in themselves.


There’s Revolutionary Jesus – who teaches us to rebel against the status quo, stick it to the man, and blame things on “the system.”


There’s Guru Jesus – a wise, inspirational teacher who believes in you and helps you find your center.


There’s Boyfriend Jesus – who wraps his arms around us as we sing about his intoxicating love in our secret place.


There’s Good Example Jesus – who shows you how to help people, change the planet, and become a better you.


And then there’s Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God. Not just another prophet. Not just another Rabbi. Not just another wonder-worker. He was the one they had been waiting for: the Son of David and Abraham’s chosen seed; the one to deliver us from captivity; the goal of the Mosaic law; Yahweh in the flesh; the one to establish God’s reign and rule; the one to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, freedom to the prisoners and proclaim Good News to the poor; the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world.


This Jesus was the Creator come to earth and the beginning of a New Creation. He embodied the covenant, fulfilled the commandments, and reversed the curse. This Jesus is the Christ that God spoke of to the Serpent; the Christ prefigured to Noah in the flood; the Christ promised to Abraham; the Christ prophesied through Balaam before the Moabites; the Christ guaranteed to Moses before he died; the Christ promised to David when he was king; the Christ revealed to Isaiah as a Suffering Servant; the Christ predicted through the Prophets and prepared for through John the Baptist.


This Christ is not a reflection of the current mood or the projection of our own desires. He is our Lord and God. He is the Father’s Son, Savior of the world, and substitute for our sins – more loving, more holy, and more wonderfully terrifying than we ever thought possible.[i] We do not give him the identity we want him to have. We discover his identity as he works in our lives. We stand before his glory in awe. We receive his death in our place and his forgiveness with gratitude. And we submit to his lordship in humility. Turn with me to Mark 9:2-13.


Jesus has been with his disciples in the region of Caesarea Philippi, Rome’s capital in the region and the magnificent home of Herod Philip, son of Herod the Great, who ruled this part of his father’s land as Rome’s puppet king. This magnificent city was located on the southwest face of Mount Hermon, near the base of the mountain. Mount Hermon towered above the great city, her peak some 9,232 feet – nearly 2 miles – above sea level. It was near this city, with Mt. Hermon towering overhead, that Jesus asked his disciples who they said that he was. It was there that Peter, in a flash of insight proclaimed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And it was there that Jesus took Peter, along with James and John up a high mountain – if not Mt. Hermon itself then one of the other mountains in the range, where he was transfigured before their eyes and they saw him still in human form, but also in his heavenly glory – fully God and fully human, neither one masked. And he was talking to Elijah and Moses.


The word translated as “transfigured” is “metamorphoō” the Greek word from which we get the word “metamorphosis.” In insects and amphibians, a metamorphosis is a change from the creature’s immature form to its mature adult form through a series of at least two stages. If you step into my office, you’ll see Juno, an axolotl, or a Mexican Salamander. It’s a type of amphibian that in its mature adult form is actually permanently in-between phases. He has the legs of an adult salamander but still has his swimming tail, and he has lungs, but cannot use them to survive outside of the water. He breathes through the gills that protrude from the top of his head.


A metamorphosis can also be a change in the nature of something, either by natural or supernatural means. We translate the word “transfigured” rather than “metamorphed” here because Jesus isn’t actually changing. His full nature, fully God and fully human – not 50% God and 50% human, in the mystery of the trinity he is 100% God AND 100% human – is being revealed. And Mark tells us that when Peter, James, and John see Jesus in his fullness as Messiah, his clothes are “radiant, intensely white.” Whiter than any bleach could make them. Matthew tells us that his face “shone like the sun” and his clothes “white as light.” Luke says his clothes were “dazzling white.”


Have you ever looked right at the sun, either accidentally or, stupidly, on purpose? Or have you been looking right at a space when lightning strikes? Even a brief lightning strike can overwhelm the eyes with its brightness, can’t it? If you’ve ever looked right at the sun, or even close to right at it, or been staring at something when lightning strikes, you wind up seeing a negative, like a blue or green circle or lightning shaped line in your field of vision. Looking at something that bright damages the eyes. That’s why we need special glasses or one of those hole-in-a-cereal box thingies if we want to observe a solar eclipse.


The glory of Jesus is shining so brightly that they can’t really even look at him. They’re shading their eyes, trying to see, but to see the unfiltered glory of Jesus, as they do here, hurts their eyes. Mark himself wasn’t there. But one day, long after this day, long after the crucifixion, long after the resurrection, he would work alongside both Peter and Paul as they shared the good news of Jesus. Mark’s account of the life of Jesus came from Peter himself. This is Peter’s description of what he saw that day, as told to Mark. Well, it’s the best he could do. Describing what he saw that day would be kind of like describing the color blue to someone born blind. This is also a picture of what our bodies may be like in eternity with Christ. Life enjoying easy company with God and with one another, just as Jesus, Moses, and Elijah enjoy easy and familiar company with one another here on this mountain.


Now, Peter doesn’t really have any mental framework for processing what he’s experiencing here. His brain can’t really process or assimilate everything that has happened over the past two weeks or so. Yes, he knows that Jesus is the Christ. Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word for Messiah. He knows that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah. But his view of what the Messiah will do is still off. He’s still expecting a great and powerful leader who will lead Israel in rebellion against her Roman overlords and victory over her enemies and restore Israel as a mighty nation.


He has no concept of a Messiah who would suffer, be rejected, and crucified. So as Jesus began to teach plainly that all of those things would happen to him AS MESSIAH, and that those who follow him would carry their own cross as well – that didn’t compute. It really couldn’t compute. Even though in days long passed, the prophet Isaiah spoke of God’s “suffering servant,” this wasn’t the kind of suffering they expected. Suffering through challenge and difficulty and hardship on the battlefield, maybe. But not rejection and actual crucifixion.


The truth of Jesus, from who he is to what he did on the cross to what the Holy Spirit is doing in our lives runs so counter to the direction of this world, to our attitudes and beliefs about ourselves and others, to the things we as fallen, broken, sinful human beings value and pursue, that we don’t have a mental framework in place to understand what Jesus is doing. That’s why, even today, some 2,000 years later, we don’t get it.


Sometimes, even when we want to, we just don’t understand. It takes time, for many of us a lifetime, to sink in. His glory and his suffering go hand in hand, as do our future glory and our suffering in this life as we follow Jesus. Jesus didn’t come to restore a nation to greatness. He came to restore humanity to a relationship with God. He didn’t come to improve conditions for the citizens of one nation, he came to make it possible for anyone to become a citizen of the Kingdom of God. He came offering forgiveness and grace and transformation. He came offering real life and peace and joy, even in the midst of life’s challenges and storms.


His plan was so much bigger than Peter and James and John expected. It’s bigger than we expect too. In the words of St. Paul, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Eph. 3:20-21).


The picture here is of Jesus as Messiah, but also as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We want a Messiah. We want forgiveness. We want grace. On our better days, we may even want transformation – God working in our lives, shaping us to be more like Jesus. We want the love and the grace and the peace and the joy. But do we want a lord? Do we want a king who has authority over us, over our lives. A king to whom we submit? Can we truly, authentically, from the depths of our hearts pray “THY will (which means not MY will), be done?”


So Peter and James and John are struggling to keep up with everything. Their minds are reeling. But Peter’s mouth works faster than his brain, and that isn’t usually a good thing for any of us. So Peter says the second dumbest thing he’s ever said. The dumbest thing he’s ever said was his rebuke of Jesus for talking his path involving rejection and a cross and death. Jesus called him Satan, an adversary, for that one. This is the second dumbest. Look at V. 4. Peter wants to build shelters, tents, for the glorified Jesus along with Elijah and Moses. He wants to memorialize this event. He wants to settle in the comfort and the glory of this mountaintop experience, forgetting about and avoiding the rejection and the cross that was coming. He wants to keep this vision of glory and avoid the pain an confusion of the cross.


In the church today, we so often try to manufacture glorious, emotional, mountaintop experiences. We judge the “success” of our worship services on how they made us feel. We build our services around trying to amaze minds and stoke emotions, trying to give one another an experience to hold on to until try to climb the mountain again next week, and never once crack open a Bible or listen to the voice of God during the week.


Following Jesus has become trying to go from mountain top experience to mountain top experience while desperately trying to avoid every cross, and never having to actually speak to or listen to God in between the mountain tops. And if the church we’re a part of no longer gives us that mountain top experience, we find another one that does. Like heroin addicts always pursuing their next high, we’re spiritual junkies, religious addicts always looking for the next emotional high that we have convinced ourselves is a real spiritual experience. Yes, Jesus does engage us at an emotional level. He also engages us in our minds and brains and in our wills and in our bodies. We may be spiritual junkies, but we aren’t following Jesus.


Peter also mistakenly puts Jesus on the same level as Moses and Elijah. He wants to build a shelter for each. Jesus becomes just another great spiritual leader. Peter doesn’t yet understand that he is God in the flesh. He would. He’d eventually get it. But he doesn’t get it yet. Look at V. 8. Moses and Elijah fade into the background, and only Jesus remains. He is the preeminent one. He is the only one who matters. Jesus isn’t one of many paths to God. He isn’t just another great prophet or spiritual guru. He is Immanuel, God with us. God in the flesh. Fully God and fully human, 100% of each. And he is revealed as that here to Peter and James and John. They recognize him, but they don’t. His glory is overwhelming. They don’t have words to really describe it. Peter does the best he can years later as he speaks with Mark.


And then, the glory fades, and just as they made the arduous trek up the mountain, they make the trek back down with Jesus. The same Jesus they climbed up the mountain with. The Jesus whose glory they had seen in its fullness for just a brief time. They climb back down the mountain to the plain, to the valley, where most of life is lived. And they resume their journey toward the cross. Mountain top experiences are wonderful, and God does give them to us. But they fade. Not because God fades, but because we have to get on with actually following Jesus.


We have to learn not to just hop from mountain top to mountain top, seeking only good feelings and having our emotions stoked. We have to learn to follow Jesus through the flood plains and valleys, even the valley of the shadow of death. We have to learn to follow Jesus daily, speaking to him and LISTENING TO HIM. Look at V. 7.


The voice from heaven would fade too. It was a part of this mountain top experience. But the word of God wouldn’t fade. That’s why God tells us to LISTEN TO HIM. Jesus is the Word of God in the flesh, and he speaks to us through his word, the Bible. But we have to LISTEN. Most of us don’t crack a Bible open or open our Bible app very often. We don’t even have to at church anymore, because the words are on the screen. Like a movie. A movie we can watch, and then go home unchanged. Even in prayer, we speak to God, and then we say “amen,” ending the conversation. We need to learn to LISTEN to him. To listen to him speak to us in the quiet of our hearts as we pray, through the voices of one another as we gather together as the body of Christ, and through his Word. We need to open our Bible EXPECTING God to speak to us. Not just words of comfort, but words of challenge and transformation too. Jesus heals. He delivers. He speaks words of comfort. He also talks about rejection and crosses. And through it all, he leads us into a life that is REAL LIFE. Life as God intended it to be. Life with purpose and meaning and fulfillment and joy, even in the midst of our struggles and pain. Let us pray.


[i] Kevin DeYoung, “Who Do You Say That I Am?” from his DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed blog (posted 6-10-09)