On this Transfiguration Sunday, the last Sunday of the Epiphany season, we’re going to explore the Gospel of Mark’s account of the day that Jesus took three of His disciples--Peter, James, and John--to a mountaintop, where His glory as God was made plain to see.
Don’t you wish that we could see Jesus’ glory so clearly today? I believe that we can, even in the midst of the humdrum and difficulties of everyday life.
To start our exploration of Jesus' transfiguration and how it can help us to see Jesus, please turn to John 1:14. (It’s on page 739 in the sanctuary Bibles.) John, you remember, says that Jesus is the Word, Who was with God and was God. He then says this: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us...”
In the Greek in which John (and the other New Testament writers) originally wrote his gospel, the word rendered as made His dwelling among us is eskenosen. It’s the verb form of a noun, skene, which means tabernacle or tent. John is saying that God Almighty took on flesh and experienced everything that we human beings experience because He pitched His tent among us.
The idea of the tent or the tabernacle was important in the centuries before Jesus, in Old Testament times.
In the 21st. century BC, God called a couple He later named Abraham and Sarah to leave their comfortable lives in the land of Ur and go live in a place God would show them after they’d gotten their start. God said that He would also make this childless and elderly couple the ancestors of God’s own people, of which we as people who confess Jesus Christ as Savior and God, are members today. From the moment God called, Abraham and Sarah lived in tents or tabernacles.
Some six-hundred years later, the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, having been freed from slavery in Egypt by God, spent forty years in a wilderness before entering the land God had promised their ancestors. In the wilderness, they lived in tents.
During their journey, the Old Testament says, God led them by a cloud. God was in the cloud, a bright and overwhelming presence shining within it. God’s perfection would kill any imperfect human being who came directly into His presence and, in fact, Abraham’s descendants--the Hebrews, the Israelites--begged their earthly leader Moses not to let them be exposed to God’s presence. The cloud in which God’s presence, holiness, and glory were shrouded were OK at a distance. But they didn’t want to see God up close.
The fact is though, God has never wanted to be removed from us. God cares about us. And while we should always approach God with reverence, awe, and holy fear, we also can treasure knowing that we were made for intimacy with God, an intimacy that God craves to have with us. That’s why God didn’t want to stay forever in the cloud away from His people.
Turn to Exodus 25:8 (page 56). There, God is giving instructions to Moses on how His people are to worship Him and He says: “...have them make a sanctuary for Me, and I will dwell among them.” God was instructing the people: “Pitch a tent for Me, that I may live among you.”
For many years, as we mentioned, God’s people lived in tents while the presence of God lived among them in a tent that also housed the Ten Commandments. In the very inner sanctum of this tent was a place called “the holy of holies,” the place where the holiness of God dwelt on earth.
Five hundred years after God gave those instructions to Moses, King Solomon built a temple which, like the tent in the wilderness, was a copy of God’s heavenly throne room. In the midst of it was the tabernacle, the holy of holies, the place where God pitched His tent. A curtain concealed the holy of holies, a wall that the people feared to breach, afraid, just like their ancestors, of meeting God face to face.
Now, we come to our Gospel lesson, Mark 9:2-9. Take a look at it, please.
Six days before the events the lesson recounts, Jesus told His disciples: “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”
As our lesson begins, Jesus takes His core leadership group--Peter, James, and John--to a mountaintop. While there, verse 3 says, Jesus “was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.” At that moment, Peter, James, and John, though they didn’t yet understand it all, saw Jesus in the bright splendor of His deity. Jesus as Jesus had said would happen six days earlier, they saw the kingdom of God come with power!
Look now at verse 4: “And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses…” The main strands of the Old Testament scriptures are the Law and the Prophets. The Law and the Prophets pointed to Jesus and here was Moses, the great Lawgiver, and Elijah, Israel’s greatest prophet, conversing with Jesus.
Look at what happens next, in verse 5. “‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters...’”
Can you guess what the word translated as shelters might be in the original New Testament Greek? It’s skenas, the plural word for tents or tabernacles.
Jesus says nothing to Peter’s suggestion. But there are two problems with what Peter wants to do.
First: Peter is putting Moses and Elijah on the same level with Jesus. Peter still doesn’t understand that Jesus is God in human flesh.
Second: When the Word became flesh and pitched His tent among us, God signaled that He was busting out of the confines of tents or clouds or any of the other straitjackets in which we try to put God.
God wants to come into your life right now, today, with all its messiness and drama, boredom and challenge, joy and sorrow.
God wants to be your Lord, Friend, and Savior.
God doesn’t want you to wait for the sweet by and by to have an intimate relationship with Him.
God wants in on every part of Your life, to rip out all the sin and hell that dwells within you (and me), and to give you (and me) new life.
Peter doesn't understand any of these things about God yet. He has no idea that while grace is free, being Jesus’ disciple costs us the loss of everything that would keep us from following Him.
It's out of this ignorance, Mark tells us, that Peter suggests building coequal dwelling places or monuments for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Mark says in verse 6 that Peter “did not know what to say, they [Peter, James, and John] were so frightened.”
The fear of the three disciples no doubt increased with what happened next. Verse 7: “Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’” God the Father confirmed that Jesus is God the Son.
Not long after these events, the God Who came to tabernacle among us would die on a cross and, strangely, the curtain of the temple, the wall between God and the human race would tear in two, from top to bottom. No longer would human beings need to offer sacrifices or live without the constant, sustaining presence of God in their lives.
Through Jesus, all who turn from sin in His Name and trust in Him alone as their God and King can have immediate access to God. That is the greatest miracle ever.
Need your sins forgiven or help with resisting temptation? Approach God in Jesus’ Name.
Need guidance on how to live your life? Come to God in Jesus’ Name.
Wrestling with a tragedy or setback that has befallen you? You may not get an answer to the question of why, but you will get God by your side.
Jesus Himself was and is the only sacrifice needed to bridge the gulf between a perfect God and imperfect people like you and me.
In verse 9, Jesus tells Peter, James, and John “not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”
The reasons for Jesus’ instructions were simple: No one can really see Jesus for Who He really is, God in human flesh, until we see the cross of Jesus and know that it was our sins--yours and mine--that made Jesus’ death necessary. Romans 6:23 tells us that “the wages of sin is death.” Death is what we deserve for our sin. But sinless Jesus took the wages we earned onto Himself.
And no one can see Jesus for Who He really is until we accept by faith the testimony about His actual, physical resurrection from the dead. Jesus rising from the dead is the sure sign that He and He alone is the only way to life with God.
Until Jesus' death and resurrection happened, no matter how amazed Peter, James, and John must have been by Jesus' transfiguration, they could not see Who Jesus really was...and is. Until Jesus' death and resurrection call us to die to sin and death so that we may rise and live in what The Small Catechism calls, "everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness."
Peter, James, and John didn't yet know what Jesus had come to bring into our lives. But today, on this side of Christ’s death and resurrection, God’s Holy Spirit sets us free to tell the world exactly Who Jesus is. It’s a freedom we exercise all too infrequently!
Today, at this moment, you and I can't see the risen Jesus physically. But we can see Jesus by faith in Him.
We talk a lot about reaching up, reaching in, and reaching out here at Living Water. These are the three ways that you and I can see Jesus in our lives, the three ways in which His glory is revealed and we grow in our hope and confidence in Him.
In response to what God has done for us in Jesus, we reach up to worship God, to receive His grace and forgiveness.
In response to what God has done for us in Jesus, we reach in, sharing fellowship with His Church, engaging in small group Bible studies, praying and encouraging our fellow believers in Christ.
In response to what God has done for us in Jesus, we reach out to unbelievers to make disciples, telling others the good news of new life for all who repent and believe in Jesus, AND we serve others in Christ’s Name.
Jesus wants to pitch His tent in your life every day.
He wants to live with you now as well as live with you in eternity.
Taking God’s extended hand of grace to reach up, reach in, and reach out, is how we can see Jesus ever more clearly in this life.
And, we can be certain, with face to face clarity in eternity. May we always see Christ clearly, starting now. Amen