Bible Passage: Mark 2:2-9 Pastor: Pastor Schlicht Sermon Date: February 11, 2018
Have you ever tried to give God advice? Certainly, the one who created and sustains all things by his Word missed something, right? If only he had our insight! I try not to make a habit out of it, but there’s a part of me that attempts to give God advice almost everytime I hear the account of Jesus’ transfiguration. I grew up in a strong Christian family and we often talked about the Bible. It was a time when I didn’t even contemplate a life other than one revolving around faith. It was a time when the sacred was made ordinary when each night my mother would read Bible stories and I would go to sleep with visions of David and Goliath or Samson smashing the pillars of the temple. I would daydream about Jesus walking on water, or drawing a line in the sand, and I even felt comfortable using the peculiar word, “Transfiguration.” But what always got me about it is what Jesus said after it was all done. After he shines brighter than the sun in glory he commands them not to tell anyone what they had seen. Really, Jesus? I always wondered, “Why doesn’t God just show up in New York and let his glory shine for a little bit? Then everyone would believe!” Or so I thought. I was young and naive to think that actual proof would convince people. And although I’ve learned to quiet the voice inside my head that wants to teach God. The questions remain to some extent. “Why did Jesus take only three disciples with him! Why couldn’t more know?” And perhaps my main question is “Why couldn’t I go on the mountain?”
I think the transfiguration awakens in each of us a desire to see God’s glory. And that is a wonderful desire, a godly, faith-fueled desire. But there comes to a point where a wish to see God’s glory can turn into an idol all its own. When you heard the account of the transfiguration read a few minutes ago, I’m sure that you wished you too could be there. It sure would be easier to believe if we had seen it ourselves, right! We all want a little proof. Proof to shut up the naysayers; proof to look more intelligent to the world; proof to silence our doubt. But these words are not an invitation to test God or demand proof of his power. The Transfiguration is actually a call to listen. And I hope you’ll soon agree, that despite what we sometimes want, this is exactly what we need.
“Rabbi, it is good for us to be here.” Peter said. “Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what he was saying. He’s transfixed, even terrified. Standing before him is the transfigured Son of God. Peter along with James and John, cannot believe their eyes. Their teacher has changed. His clothes are radiant, a dazzling white, his appearance is altered in glory. This is more than just illumination, it is a transfiguration. A change in more radical and fundamental than we can explain. And then suddenly Moses and Elijah appear in splendor and start to speak with Jesus! Can you imagine the sight? To feel some mix of excitement, terror, and bewildered amazement churning inside of you? What would you do? Well, Mark tells Peter was compelled to speak. He starts to babble something about setting up three tents for them. He did not know what to say in his awe and terror, but he wants to hold onto the moment.
I can understand that, can’t you? Who wouldn’t want a glimpse of glory? Who wouldn’t want Christ’s glory to shine on their face? Who of us would want that to slip away? Wouldn’t we be trying to hold onto it? “Lord, it’s good for us to be here! Don’t let this moment end!” And yet, in what may not have been more than an hour’s time, Jesus is leading these three disciples down from the mountain into the valley where they will again face all the realities of life in a sinful world. A demon is tormenting a young boy, proof of the reality of daily, spiritual warfare. An argument with the teachers of the law erupts, which too accurately mirrors the critical nature of humans which loves to tear others down. And then comes the child’s father. “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.” Old unbelief is present as usual, gnawing away, causing us to doubt, causing us to fear. The grim realities of living in a fallen world make Peter’s desperate plea to remain on the mountain all too understandable.
There’s not much in the doldrums of daily life that reminds us of the glory of God, or the glory that awaits us as his children. We shovel snow, we go to work, we shuttle kids, we pay bills, we clean the sink. None of it seems very glorious. Especially when the same grim realities the disciples faced, the constant battles with our sinful nature, critical, negative people in our lives, and the nagging temptation of unbelief, are alive and well in our lives. “Where is my mountaintop experience?” we ask. “Where is proof of my God and his power? I don’t want a story about Jesus’ glory, I want to see it with my own eyes!”
Like Gideon, we all want proof from God. “Just one sign, Lord! Something… anything!” There’s a part of each one of us that thinks if we had a glimpse of glory, we would finally be able to trust God like we’ve always wanted to. We wouldn’t miss another church service for the rest of our lives! We wouldn’t struggle to let go of those pet sins or wrestle with nagging doubts anymore.
The trouble is that “proof” does not equal greater faith. And even those who have glimpsed God’s glory still struggle to believe. Illustration A is Peter. Peter had witnessed Christ perform many miracles, he handed out food to the 5,000, he walked on water, he witnessed the transfiguration. And yet just a few weeks later he would deny Jesus three times. James and John were there too, but they fled when Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane. Greater faith is not found in the visual spectrum. If we only believe when you see then we will always need to see more. They may say, “Seeing is believing.” But that’s not true. By definition,“Faith is being confident if what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)
The other problem with a yearning for a sign or proof from God is what Paul warns of in 2 Thessalonians 2:9, “The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders.” Not all miracles are God’s. Satan can perform signs and wonders, too. He cannot compare with God, but he is not powerless, and those desperately seeking signs often open themselves up to a sinister form of the spectacular.
My friends, do not make a glimpse of glory your idol. We can’t blame Peter for wanting to hold onto that moment on the Mount of Transfiguration, but we should repent for those faithless moments when we try to test God and force him to show us glory. We ought to be warned that we do not take the wrong meaning from Jesus’ Transfiguration. Because unlike doubting Thomas, we will probably not get a chance to trace our Savior’s pierced hands until our final judgment. And on that day Jesus will show his pierced hands, but if we are forced to admit the truth on that day it will be too late.
But perhaps you’re thinking, and I think it’s a natural question. “Isn’t the transfiguration all about seeing?” If anything the Transfiguration is a celebration of the visible, isn’t it? Jesus insisted on being seen. That’s why he brought his disciples up there! Certainly, this is true. Jesus wanted them to see him transfigured. But this is a singular type of seeing. A seeing accompanied by the command to hear. What did the Father say? “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him.“
He told Peter, James, and John to use their ears! Listen to Jesus! Don’t beg him for a sign, take him at his Word. It would be listening to Jesus that would sustain them as they walked back down the mountain into the difficulties of a fallen world and it would be listening to their Lord that would eventually allow them to understand his death. Jesus said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” At first they didn’t get it, but eventually, they understood.
Just think about what your eyes would tell you at Jesus’ crucifixion: Here is just a bloody, naked, wreck of a man; a common criminal; another tragedy of the Roman occupation. Nothing more and nothing less. But if you listen, you’d hear the voice of the Father say, “This is my Son, whom I love.” If you listen you know that God himself hangs on that cross. You know that he loves you and forgives you. You know that the greatest glimpse of God’s glory isn’t on the Mount of Transfiguration but on the hill of Calvary.
My friends, the Transfiguration is a call from God the Father to listen. Listen to your Savior. Listen to his Word! Just look at what he tells us with his Word today!
1. He tells us that he is true God mighty and powerful. Only God himself could flex his glory like Jesus did on the mount of transfiguration.
2. It tells us that this mighty God descended to be with his people in the messiness of this fallen world. Jesus tells us that he is with us in the miraculous and the ordinary, in the sacred and the sinful, in times of suffering as well as rejoicing, on the mountains and in the valleys.
3. Finally, we cannot miss this: Jesus tells us that this world is not all there is. The daily challenges of living on this earth leave us with anything but a sense of transcendence. But when we hear how Jesus transformed, we cannot help but think of the future glory that awaits us as his children. Jesus tells us through his transfiguration that the world we all want, the world we were made for, the world of glory and perfection, is coming. Our sinful state is not the end. There’s a transfiguration coming for God’s people! There’s beauty beyond compare, beyond what we can see! It is what Jesus has won for us, it is what Jesus is inviting us into, it is what God wants you to hear. “Listen to him.”
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”