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Sermon on the Transfiguration

Transfiguration Sunday

Mark Chapter 9 

Verse 1 And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.’ 

Verse 2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them,  and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.  Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’  Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

It has been a bad old winter. We have had some dark days when the church solar panels haven't even produced 1 unit of power, because it has been dark all day. Some of you have had colds which have just never gone away, they brings us down. Good news ! The cold, the dark, the wind and the rain, all these things are about to change. The cold hard ground has already been broken by the green shoots of snowdrops, soon daffodils will break out cheers us all up, because nature is turning towards spring. Spiritually we are also today on a day of turning. This day of Transfiguration is the last Sunday before we start our Lenten journey, we travel through the wilderness to death but on to Easter and resurrection.

So let’s look at the Transfiguration episode.

The passage we read today starts at verse 2, it misses out Verse 1 of Chapter 9.
In Mark Chapter 8 Jesus has just been speaking with his disciples and he told them that he must be killed, die and then he will be raised again. Peter rebuked Jesus and Jesus responded very harshly to him telling him that nobody should worry about dying because anybody who lost their life for his sake would save it.

In Verse 1 of Chapter 9 Jesus says speaks of death again

'Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.’

There are lots of lessons which we could draw out of the Transfiguration - but if we look at it in the context of scripture then we must understand it in the context of death. Yes the Transfiguration has lots of messages to us about mountain top experiences and the like, but we need to remember that it occurs in relation to Jesus speaking about his death and the death of his followers.

 Death and dying isn’t a very nice subject and we don’t like talking about it. Nevertheless as Christians we need to be able to say that our faith speaks strongly about this. Jesus shows his disciples that this is not something of which they need to be afraid.   

Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to die and the reaction of Peter is the same as most folks to say - O no,

The disciples struggle to come to terms with the fact that

  1. Jesus is embarking on a journey towards Jerusalem and date with death
  2. The fact that he has a verse earlier told them that some of them are going to die pretty soon

The response of Jesus is to take them up a mountain and the events take place which we read about today.

They go up the mountain - they have no understanding of what is about to take place. In fact we are told that when they got up the mountain the disciples fell asleep. Just like they did in the Garden of Gethsemane. When the awake they see Jesus in a whole new way. The appearance of Jesus is changed. Jesus is seen with Moses and Elijah, the giver of the law on Sinai, Elijah the great prophet, and a voice comes from God which says

This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’

Now a lot is said about why Moses and Elijah were there. People have pointed out the similarities between them. One of the most certain things that we can say about them is that their presence speak powerfully about life after death. Elijah was somebody who reportedly never died but was taken up to God, and Moses was buried by God himself.  

One of the phrases which is used about the Transfiguration in slightly different ways is that the veil between heaven and earth is drawn aside. Jesus shows the disciples that this life and the after life are very close and he has authority over it.

This authority of Jesus over life and death is one of the most important features of the Transfiguration. Jesus is not just a great teacher giving us good advice on how to live, or a prophet as some might say. As the voice of God declares, this is my Son, listen to him

The Transfiguration therefore for gives us confidence.  We live in a time of ever increasing uncertainty, confusing events and the future is very unclear.

We live in a very materialistic secular society in which people live incredible shallow lives where the most important thing is which vacuum cleaner you use. People are incredible poorly equipped to deal with eternal questions such as what happens to us and our loved ones when we die. There is no spiritual grounding from which to draw strength.

In the midst of a world of fear and uncertainty we see Jesus speaking the word of God that we need have no fear. In the Transfiguration God draws aside the veil and we are privileged to have an amazing preview into the Kingdom of God. The Transfiguration provided the disciples, and through them us, with a glimpse of another world. It is an opportunity to remind ourselves that there is a reality beyond the world around us which is greater than we can simply see and touch. There is potential and possibilities available to us through the presence of God, greater than most people could ever imagine.

The transfiguration should also encourage us to be active disciples.

In Partnership News I have written out for you the words from 2 Peter in the Apostle Peter is quoted looking back at the Transfiguration.

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honour and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

The reason why he speaks to them about the Transfiguration was because he wanted to reassure them that we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The people had lost their faith and confidence in Jesus promise of life beyond death and Peter believed that the Transfiguration was God’s guarantee that there was life after death. Peter says that faith in Jesus is like a lamp shining in a dark place, these words are as true today and as important today as ever before.

Conclusion

At this time in the year as we stand at the threshold of the turning of the seasons, we are also reminded that we stand at the threshold of God's kingdom. The Transfiguration reminds us that Jesus is fully God and the disciples are let into this experience of who Jesus is.

What we Christians have to offer our dark and broken world is the revelation of who Jesus is. 

Many people experience a mid life crisis, they do so because they see life passing them by and they begin to see that they are nearer the end than the beginning. One day they wake up and ask

‘is this all that there is’

In our very secular and materialistic society it is understandable that people become restless and desire for something more, most people live life at the shallow end of the spiritual pool. The restless searching, the longing for more, the desire for meaning are found only if we see in Jesus who he really is. The Christian response from the Transfiguration is no this is not all that there is, there is a whole new world of possibility !  

Martin Luther King preached his last sermon on April 3 1968, it was 4,183 words long, so if you think sermons here are long, mine today is about 1,500.  There again I am no Martin Luther King, but obviously he didn’t have anybody timing his sermons. The following day he was shot dead. At the end of his sermon he said very prophetically,

We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.  

When we climb a physical mountain it gives a perspective over geography, if we ascend with Jesus the spiritual mountain then this gives us a perspective over eternity. May God grant us also a glimpse of this promised land.