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February 11, 2018

Sermon Mark 9:2  . . . “Bible places:  the Mount of Transfiguration”

“Bible places:  the Mount of Transfiguration”

Mark 9:2

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Ever climb a mountain?  I didn’t think so.  That’s ok.  Neither have I.  

Apparently, climbing mountains can be good for you.  At least that’s what Katie Goldie says in her article, Ten Reasons Why Climbing Mountains Can Enrich Your Life.  She writes:  “We all know being in the mountains can make life better, but what about climbing to the top of those mountains?”  Then she adds a few things she’s found that can “help everybody in a positive way.”

For example, she said, the physical health and fitness benefits are unimaginable.  Not only will you build incredible strength and endurance, you’ll also find that your diet becomes better.  (As far as I know, there are no McDonald’s above 10,000 feet!)

Also, you can see places very few get to see; that is, as long as it isn’t snowy or foggy, you’re 100% guaranteed to get an amazing view.  

Climbing mountains teach patience, persistence, and gratitude.  It teaches you about change, being prepared for change, and how to enjoy the small luxuries of life.  “Just think,” she says, “after six hours of vertical, that water break will be the best water you’ve ever tasted in your life.”

And think of the world’s most famous mountains.  Japan has its Mount Fuji, Africa its Mount Kilimanjaro, Mexico its Popocatepetl, Switzerland its Matterhorn, Alaska its Mount McKinley, and Nepal has the highest one of all—Mount Everest.

The Bible has quite a lot of mountains too.  Think of Mount Ararat, where Noah’s ark once came to rest, or Mount Sinai where God once gave the Ten Commandments, or the Mount of Olives, where Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, or Mount Calvary, where He suffered and died.  In the book of Matthew, He even gave a sermon on the mount.

And in our gospel reading for today, we hear about one more, the mount of Transfiguration.

Please turn with me in your Bibles to page 1074, as I read the words of our text.  I’ll start at chapter 9, verse 2:  “And after six days Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.  And He was transfigured before them, and His clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.  And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.  And Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good that we are here.  Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.’  For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified.  And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is My beloved Son; listen to Him.’  And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.”

It was a long journey to the northern reaches of Palestine at the end of three long, tumultuous years.  But what incredible years they were.  Imagine the countless lives that Jesus touched!  Thousands heard Him speak.  Hundreds felt His healing touch.  

How can you put into words the thrill of lepers cleansed, the deaf who could hear, and the blind who could see?  Or the demon-possessed freed from Satan’s bondage and the absolute dead raised to life?  What incredible years they had been!

But there was always that sword hanging over their heads.  Jesus made it perfectly clear.  “I must go to Jerusalem,” He said, “and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the Law, and I must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

So it didn’t seem strange that He wanted to get away.  It was a long journey—six days—to the northern edge of Palestine to that cool, quiet mountain.  It was a good place, a quiet place, to get some rest.

And as that small, weary bunch of travelers made their way up the mountain, they built a fire and sat down to rest.  And as the sun dipped below the horizon and day turned to night, the stars began to shine and flames crackled in the night.

And, as Jesus often did, He stood up and walked away, about a stone’s throw, to pray to His Father in heaven.  It was a remarkable thing to see Jesus pray.  There was a communion, a fellowship, He had with His Father, like no one else on earth.  “Abba,” He called Him.  It was a name that meant, “Daddy.”

But all of a sudden, out of the corner of their eye, they saw light coming from where Jesus was.

And that was strange.  The sun had already set and stars filled the night sky, so where could such a strange light come from?

And as they looked toward Jesus, they could hardly believe their eyes.  English translations use the word “transfigured.”  When Matthew recorded it, he used the word, “metamorphothe.”  The change was so dramatic, it was like a tadpole becoming a frog or a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.  Jesus’ face shone like the sun and His clothes became as white as a flash of light.

And as they stumbled over to see Him, there saw two other men standing and talking with Him.  Just moments ago, there had been only one.  Now there were three.  Who were these bright, shining men?

One was Moses, the greatest Lawgiver of all time.  Raised in Pharoah’s court, exiled to Midian, chosen to confront Egypt and lead Israel out of bondage to freedom, who brought more than a million people through a forty-year trek across the wilderness, who served God’s people as both prophet and priest, who, better than any other man, knew God face to face.

And Elijah, who single-handedly fought against a king and queen to rout out a nation’s idolatry, who spoke words of profound judgment—zeal personified—who killed the prophets of Baal and was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind and a chariot of fire.

And why were they there?  To show that Jesus was the One of whom they spoke, the embodiment of the Old Testament making way for the fulfillment of the New.

And what did they talk about as they stood in that brilliant, miraculous light?  Just one thing—Jesus’ departure, His death, that would soon come to pass in Jerusalem.  Finally, everything He had hoped for and lived for, He would accomplish, and then go home.

And what did Peter say?  What do you say at a time like this?  Fear mixed with awe, so afraid, yet so thrilled, he said, “Lord, it’s good to be here, it’s incredible to be here.  Just say the word and I’ll build three shelters—one for You, one Moses, and one for Elijah.  I’ll do anything just to stay in the Father’s presence and stand in this incredible light.”

But just as soon as the words fell from his lips, a thick cloud enveloped them and a voice boomed like thunder:  “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.  Listen to Him!”  And as Jesus stooped down to touch them, He said, “Get up.  Don’t be afraid.”

This transfiguration, as strange and miraculous as it is, is a good lesson for us today.  It serves as a bridge from one season to the next, from the glory of Epiphany to the agony of Lent.  It speaks of the change, the horrific change, that would soon take place.  No longer would Jesus be the One to teach the multitudes and heal the sick.  Now He will suffer under Pontius Pilate, be crucified, die, and be buried.  It will be an incredibly sad and painful journey, but it will end in victory.

We too need to see God’s glory as we face hard times.  We need to remember that God is with us even when we experience times of testing and loss.  We need to see Christ’s transfiguration, that we may know that no matter what, God is with us and we are safe.

Maybe there’s another way to read this text.  Mark wrote, “After six days Jesus took with Him Peter, James, and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.”  But we could just as well read it, “Jesus took us with Him too.”

Just like Peter, James and John, we too are witnesses of Christ’s transfiguration.  Through faith we see Him stand in glory.  And His glory gives us strength.

The Swiss would have been the first to reach the top of Mt. Everest back in 1952, but bad weather stopped them cold just eight hundred feet from the summit.  Then the very next year, in 1953, John Hunt assembled a group of four hundred porters and guides, with ten thousand pounds of supplies, to begin their assault on the mountain.

On May 26th, two members of the expedition came within 300 feet, but turned back when their oxygen system failed.  That left only two others, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, who were finally able to finish the climb.

And on May 29th at 11:30 in the morning, Hillary and Norgay reached the top.  As Hillary put it, “A few more whacks of the ice axe in the firm snow, and we stood on top.”

And after spending some 15 minutes on the summit, they took pictures, then headed back down.  But before they left the top of that mountain, they left two things. Norgay left some chocolates, as an offering, lying in the snow, and Hillary, at 29,029 feet, the highest point on earth, left a cross.

How awesome it is to know that such glory dwells in Christ and that Christ dwells in us.  And as we come down from the mountain, as we take our weak, unsteady steps toward home, we know Jesus is with us.  And because He is with us, we are safe.

 

Dear Father, today, as we’ve stood with Jesus on the top of a mountain, we’ve caught a glimpse of heaven.  Help us to know the strength and the presence of our risen Lord, as we live and work on the plain.  This we ask in His name.  Amen

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