This morning the Gospel writer Mark writes to tell us of a glorious sight on the mount of Transfiguration. And let me assure you, that as we “see” what Mark is telling us, we can believe our eyes. The very word which is used to describe this awesome event is the word “transfiguration,” which is translated from the word, “metamorphosis.” Usually we hear this word, “metamorphosis,” either in talking about children’s toys that are “transformers” that can be “morphed” from a car or truck into a sort of robot person, or the like, we hear about this being “morphed” in some super hero show or in a super hero comic book, or in talking about butterflies. This morning, in our text, this word, “metamprphosis” is used more along the lines of what happens to a butterfly and we have to admit, the first two examples I gave are fantasy examples so the only real example we have of “morphing” is that of a butterfly, at least that is what we call it. As a caterpillar spins itself into a cocoon and later emerges changed, morphed, transformed into a butterfly, and this morphing is somewhat what we are seeing happen to Jesus this morning.
Mark takes us to the top of the mountain with Jesus, Peter, James and John and he tells us that Jesus was changed. He was transfigured. He was metamorphed. “. . . His clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them” (v. 3). Mark is trying to use human terms which do not do justice to the heavenly scene he is describing. I am sure that this would be better than any bleach commercial you would ever see today.
And if that were not enough to make Peter, James and John, and us, wonder about what they were seeing, if their eyes were deceiving them, they also saw Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus. Is this a vision, are they dreaming, or is this real? Moses, you might remember, was the one who lead the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. Moses died on the mountain overlooking the Promised land and was not allowed to enter. Moses is also the one who received the Ten Commandments and all the Laws from the Lord on the mountain. Moses is often remembered as representing all the Law. And Moses stands at the head of Israel’s history.
Elijah, on the other hand, you might remember, never died. Elijah, as we heard in the Old Testament reading for this morning, was taken directly, bodily into heaven. He was not taken to heaven by a chariot and horses of fire, rather the chariot and horses of fire separated him from Elisha and then he was taken to heaven in a whirlwind. When we think of Elijah we think of all the Prophets, and we are reminded that Elijah came when Israel was in decline, so that only 7,000 remained who had not bowed the knee to Baal. And so, here on this mountain we have Jesus, God in human flesh, consulting with the ones who represent the beginning and the ending of Israel and representatives of all the Law and the Prophets. Now let me remind you that Jesus came as the embodiment of Israel, that is He came to do what the entire nation of Israel could not do. But, not only Israel, Jesus came do for us what we are unable to do. He came to live perfectly for us in our place. He came to fulfill all the Laws and the prophecies, perfectly and completely. Might we suggest that at this meeting Jesus was reviewing with these representatives of the Law and the Prophets to acknowledge that He was doing what He came to do.
As an acknowledgment of this fact, that Jesus was doing what He came to do, God the Father spoke from heaven and said, “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him” (v. 7b). And then, the whole event was over. Just as quickly as it began, it ended. For Peter, James and John this was truly a “mountain top experience.” And although, this “mountain top experience” was unlike any of the “mountain top experiences” we have in our world today, it reminds us that we do have what we call “mountain top experiences” ourselves. When we have a “mountain top experience” we always know that the higher we go on the mountain, the greater the emotional lift, the lower we seem to drop when it is all over, the bigger the emotional let down. Unfortunately, that tends to be the problem with such emotional experiences, they are great while they are happening, but when they are over we often “feel” worse than before. Much like our eyes might deceive us, so our emotions might also deceive us.
During all the excitement, on the mountain, the disciples were in fear and awe. Did you notice that even Peter, who always has something to say, did not know what to say. Of course, that did not stop him from speaking, but Mark assures us, “(. . . he did not know what to say, for they were terrified).” What I find fascinating about this is that Peter had just, a few verse before, confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God and now that he was actually witnessing Jesus, as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, in all His glory he did not know what to say. In Peter’s defense, however, I believe he said what many of us would say, “Let’s keep this experience going as long as possible.” Peter wanted to build three shelters in order to make this event last as long as possible.
What we are witnessing this morning is not a vision, not an illusion, not slight of hand, but an actual event. What we are witnessing is Jesus in His heavenly glory. We are witnessing that Jesus came to do for us what we are unable to do. We are witnessing Jesus who came to fulfill all of the Law and prophets, perfectly. We are also witnessing the fact that Jesus is who He says He is, He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. He is God in flesh and blood. He is the Savior of the world, your Savior and mine. This event is no trick, no illusion, no slight of hand, this event is an actual event for the sake of Jesus and His disciples. And we see that it works, as we see from the affect it had on His disciples and the affect it has on us.
The affect of this event on us is the same as the affect the Word of God has on us. We are morphed, transformed, changed. We are changed from unbelief to faith. The Word of God is one of the means that God has of coming to us to give us His good gifts and blessings. The Word of God, “rescues us from sin, death (eternal spiritual death) and the power of the devil.” The Word of God, works faith, strengthens faith, gives forgiveness of sins and eternal life. The Word of God meta-morphs, transforms us from death to life.
This morning, we are reminded, once again, that it is this same Word of God that we need to hear every week, even every day. And as we hear this same Word of God, we are changed. Each one of us knows of the life changing affect and power of the Word of God as it continues to morph us as we each grow in our own faith life.
For Jesus, this transfiguration event was a reassuring event, especially since this comes right before His journey to give His life, to die on the cross. We celebrate Transfiguration Sunday as the last Sunday after the Epiphany and the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, which is this Wednesday. During Epiphany we celebrated the fact that Jesus is true God born in human flesh and now we turn our attention to Jesus going to the cross for us. For Jesus, this transfiguration event was a reassuring event, and for each one of us, this transfiguration event is also reassuring, because, even though we do not have to face dying on a cross, each one of us do face the difficulties of this present life. And as we face these difficulties we are convinced that Jesus, who has already faced everything we will ever face, and more, is with us every step of the way.
For the disciples, Peter, James and John, this event was certainly a humbling event and the same may be said for us, this is a humbling event as we realize again who Jesus is and why He came. Jesus is God in human flesh. He is God who, because of His great love for us, gave up all the glory of heaven in order to become one of us. It is Jesus who lived perfectly for us in our place, as our substitute, because we cannot. It is Jesus who fulfilled all the law and the prophecies, the promises of God, especially the first promise made in the Garden of Eden to send a Savior. It is Jesus who after living perfectly, never sinning, who is God in flesh, who took our sins upon Himself and suffered the eternal spiritual death penalty for us, in our place, so that we might have forgiveness.
This transfiguration event is also encouraging, because it reminds us of God’s great love for us. “No greater love can anyone have than this that a person will die for another person,” and that is exactly what Jesus did for us. He gave His life for ours. He died the eternal spiritual death penalty of hell, the wages of sin is death, for us in our place.
This transfiguration event is comforting, because it reminds us that this is true. We are not seeing an illusion, we are not seeing a magic trick, we are seeing the confirmation of what the Bible says and of what Jesus says concerning Himself.
Perhaps we might summarize our text by saying, “Elisha saw it; Peter, James, and John saw it; and by faith we see it–the glory of the Lord revealed by the Spirit to those who believe!” My prayer for each one of you, as you go down the mountain of this divine service experience, into the routine of daily life, is that the Lord will go with you in order to sustain you in your faith and in your life of faith, so that we might ultimately stand together and rejoice with the words, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.