February 26, 2017
Sharing Christ’s Glory
There are many wonderful and insightful passages in Mark’s gospel, so it is hard to choose which passages to highlight in a study such as ours, and which ones we will have to pass by. This morning we are on chapter nine, but that means we have gone beyond several significant passages at the close of chapter 8. Let me summarize the rest of chapter 8 for a moment, so that we have a foundation for moving on.
Chapter 8 began with the account of Jesus’ second miracle of multiplying loaves, which we talked about last week. The disciples didn’t fully understand who Jesus was and the significance of his miracles. Jesus warned them to be on their guard against wrong teaching from the Pharisees and Herod, but they misunderstood him. They thought Jesus was worrying about not having food to eat. Mark then tells about a blind man whom Jesus healed, but at first his vision was only partially restored. He thought people looked like trees walking around. A second time Jesus laid hands on the man, then he was able to see clearly.
Was Jesus having a less than powerful day in this healing? Not hardly! But the disciples, and by extension, us, do not always fully grasp in a moment what God’s kingdom is about, and who Jesus is. It takes some time. You would think that the disciples more than any of us, would be fully on board with Jesus’ purpose and identity. They saw his miracles and heard his teaching. But they were like the blind man, only partially able to see. And isn’t that true of us as well? It can take us a while to see with eyes of faith. Discipleship doesn’t happen overnight. It took a while, but the blind man came to see clearly. It took a while, but the disciples, or at least Peter, came to perceive that Jesus is the Christ, our savior.
I hope that’s reassuring to you. Maybe you’ve been coming to church for a while. Some weeks you may feel that God is speaking directly to you, and you are overwhelmed with a realization of God’s love. Other days your body may be here, but it feels like your heart is someplace else. Your vision is clouded, like the man who was only partially healed. I don’t get it, Lord. Is it me, or is the pastor out to lunch today? What am I missing here? Be encouraged, because the path of discipleship can be at times one step forward and a couple steps back. It’s not an even pace. It wasn’t for the disciples, and it isn’t for us.
After healing the blind man, Jesus asked the disciples an important question. “Who do people say I am?” Then Jesus began to teach them what being the messiah was all about. Jesus would suffer, he would be rejected, he would be killed. After three days he would rise again.
Jesus told them plainly that to follow him means to deny self and take up one’s cross. To save one’s life is to lose it, but whoever loses his life by following Jesus will save it. These were hard words for the disciples to hear. I can just imagine the roller coaster of emotions they have been going through. They experienced a phenomenal miracle with 4000 people being fed. Then they misunderstood Jesus. They witnessed a healing of a blind man, Peter declared Jesus was the Christ, then Jesus told them he would suffer and die. Undoubtedly the disciples were discouraged. Where is this glorious kingdom in the midst of great hardships?
The disciples needed a picture of God’s glorious kingdom. They needed a taste of God’s kingdom coming with power. Jesus wanted to give the disciples hope for the future. God’s vision is for us too. We do not deny whatever hardships and sacrifices we face today, but God encourages us to look towards the greater future of God’s kingdom in heaven. That’s what this morning’s passage is all about.
Jesus made a promise that some of those standing there with him would not taste death before they would see the kingdom of God come with power. To some degree, they had already witnessed God’s coming with power – they saw Jesus cast out demons, heal the sick and multiply loaves. Later on, they would experience the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. They would be privileged to see the gospel spread from a small group of believers to a multi-national movement. But here on the top of a mountain, apart from the crowds, Jesus wanted this smaller group of disciples to see Jesus for who he was. He was glorious and dazzling, in the company of two Old Testament pillars, Elijah and Moses.
Jesus did not take all of his disciples with him, only Peter, James and John. Jesus led them up to the top of a mountain, where he could be sure they were alone. Why didn’t he take anyone else? Were the others not ready to receive Jesus in all his glory? Were they not yet able to understand Jesus’ divine nature?
Again, I want us to be encouraged. I’m fairly certain that had I lived back then, had I been one of the twelve disciples, I would not have been privileged to see Jesus transfigured, but that’s okay. God looking down on us can say who is spiritually ready and who is not able to receive a truth such as the disciples experienced on the mountain. I may be only a few steps along the journey of faith compared to another. I’m okay with that. God knows what we can handle. God beckons us to enjoy greater fellowship with him, but knows when we need to take baby steps.
The disciples did not fully understand what they saw. Peter was babbling on about putting up shelters, one for Jesus, for Elijah and for Moses. Mark says that Peter was so frightened he did not know what to say. Peter may have been thinking about the Jewish feast of Tabernacles, or what they called Sukkot (rhymes with book-a), which means temporary shelters people put up, remembering their wandering in the wilderness.
Peter, James and John were privileged to be with Jesus at the transfiguration and to see him in all his glory. They were honored to be there hearing God’s voice coming from the cloud, saying, “This is my son, whom I love. Listen to him!” With every fiber of their being, surely they were responding, “Yes, Lord!”
But then, the vision vanished. They looked around and saw no one but Jesus. Surely Peter wanted to prolong the moment, but that’s not what God wants. We can’t remain on the mountain, as wonderful as it was. There is work to be done but now with a difference: we know that Jesus is truly God’s son. He is more than a prophet, pointing the way to God. He is God, here in the flesh.
In this lies all the difference. A good person may consent to suffer and die for another. We may honor this person’s memory and want to be like that person, whoever it is. Yesterday we held a celebration of Iona Kronk’s life, because truly, she was a good person. She cared for her family. She cared for this church and this community where she had her home for so many years.
We are grateful for the many good people who have been part of this church and continue to be part of this church. But we are not here because of these good people. We are here because of Christ. That’s what the transfiguration is about – to remind us that Jesus is our savior; he is God come down to earth for us. He gave his life for us, not as some good person, but as the only person who can be called savior. He took our sins upon himself because he had none of his own. He suffered our punishment, because nothing otherwise could separate him from God. He willingly laid down his life, to give us our own, to offer us the promise of eternal life.
We may never experience the kind of glory that Peter, James and John saw on the mountain. We have to trust what we cannot see. We continue to believe even though our vision is limited, like the man who thought people were like trees walking around. Paul alluded to that same problem when he said in 1 Corinthians 13 that now we see in a mirror darkly, but then, meaning after this earthly life, we will see God face to face.
Maybe today is a good day for you in worship, and maybe it’s a regular day. No matter what kind of a day it is, no matter how deeply God touches your heart today or not, whether the vision of God’s glory is before us or not, Jesus is still God’s son. God’s love does not change. Listen to God’s word. Believe in Christ his son. Accept the grace and forgiveness he offers in the cross, and choose to live differently by faith. Share Christ’s glory as you hold within you the hope that by faith, you will one day see the glory. What a wonderful day that will be! Amen.