Listen to him!
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. (Mark 9:2-9 ESV)
Before I was a pastor I worked in theatre – not hospitals and surgery but performing arts and shows. I worked as a lighting and sound technician. Like every industry or branch of knowledge it has its own rules and regulations, its own terminology and equipment. A visitor back stage might see lights and cables and gels but would probably not know what a fresnel light was or what a gobo was or what follow spot was (though that one is pretty obvious). They could be looking right at it and still not know what they were seeing.
Similarly if I went into a hospital, a plastics production plant, an air force workshop, my eyes will work but I won’t be quite sure exactly what I’m seeing. I’ll see more if someone is with me telling me what I’m seeing. I have a friend who says that life is like a Fellini movie without a script – you never know what you’re really seeing and what’s really happening. Take this scene – a boy and a girl are seen hugging and the girl’s boyfriend is not impressed at this. What’s his girlfriend doing with another fellow? He’s upset and moody. However his anger dissipates and he feels a little foolish when he discovers that she was saying goodbye to her older cousin (whom he had never met).
I reckon life should be like a foreign film – one with sub-titles – so that we can understand just what is going on. Our eyes work but it’s often said that we don’t see. Today we’re reminded that listening helps you see.
The Gospel today gives us an account of Jesus’ transfiguration. In the presence of only three disciples, Jesus shines like the sun. It’s an awesome scene – up high, up on a mountain, Peter, James and John see their teacher talking with Moses and Elijah whom God had taken from the earth in special ways and Jesus was glowing. They’re scared silly and mumble something about setting up camp – tabernacles to keep the moment – and then if that wasn’t enough, a cloud descends – this is awesome for clouds in the OT both revealed and hid the presence of God and the voice tells them – and tells us – what is happening – This is my Son whom I love. Listen to him!
Yes, Jesus is the Son of God – the second person of the Trinity – and what we are directed to do is – listen to him. Moses and Elijah, the OT law and prophets, find their fulfilment in Jesus – searching the Scriptures for any meaning is searching for Jesus. And when one hears Jesus, then the Scriptures reveal what we need to see about ourselves and others and about how we face each day.
We can get swept up in the transfiguration as a high point. It is up on a mountain I suppose but I prefer to think of it as a pause in a rescue operation. During this time after The Epiphany God reveals himself to us clearly only in the person of his Son – at his baptism Jesus looks like just another repenting sinner but God speaks here – remember the voice from heaven? – and when you consider that God only speaks twice in Mark’s account of the gospel – then we can link his baptism and transfiguration together as points to notice. After his baptism, Jesus was sent by God into the desert and endured the intensity of temptations – they didn’t stop after 40 days. After his transfiguration, Jesus goes down the mountain with his face set towards Jerusalem – heading for another mountain –
not so high this time – and on this hill he will have two thieves on either side of him. Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.
Jesus’ glory is beyond human comprehension – the three disciples are gobsmacked – but if we stay on the mountain as it were we miss Jesus telling these three that they can’t tell what they’ve seen until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. Last week we heard Isaiah’s prophecy about God’s future plans and his promise of forgiveness and that God said in effect when we considered the Exodus rescue ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet’. The same is true here. Jesus transfigured pales next to Jesus crucified. That is God’s glory beyond human comprehension.
I sometimes wonder how the miracle accounts and the miraculous events in the Bible really help us. I don’t see miracles and I regard it as some sort of copout to be reminded in a sweet way that everyday is a miracle. You may know what I mean and so do the other nine disciples. The other nine disciples don’t even know that there has been a transfiguration! I have had numerous conversations with young people and not so young people who have wistfully or forcefully said that it’s alright for Jesus to glow or for God to do a miracle for this or that person but what about them? How does knowing that Jesus glowed for someone else help me, Pastor?
Now I might point out that even with this experience Peter still denied Jesus and maybe because of this experience James and John got their Mum to ask Jesus for special favours of power. And I might point out that experiences and miracles and seeing something spectacular are not decisive for faith – they never have been and they never will be. What remains when we hear this event are the words God spoke from the cloud: This is my Son whom I love. Listen to him!
However I suspect that we’re quite suspicious of words – we’re drowning in them and we’re aware that they are used by many to manipulate us – to get us to see or do or say or live in certain ways. So we listen but remain cautious, hesitant – waiting to see whether actions go with the words. Of course this is the lure or the hope that many people regard miracles doing – the miracle maker is a good person to have on your side.
This is my Son whom I love. Listen to him! In Christianity God calls out again and again that he is only known through words – more than that – the Word made flesh – and for this God in the supermarket of gods in which our world likes to shop – you can’t go past the cross and a dying and bloodied man on it. The mystery of Christianity and God’s love for us is realised when one realises that the man who died also glowed on a mountain and rose again from the dead – he is worth listening to! A person usually is when they’re in the room with you speaking to you. Many people think of Jesus as a history lesson or somewhere else – and not here right now. Jesus says:
Your sins are forgiven.
I am the light of the world.
In the world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
Take and eat, this is my body given for you.
Take and drink, this is my blood shed for you.
Peace be with you.
Go! I am with you always to the end of the age.
With his words in our ears, let us go down the mountain, and live!
- Mark 9:2 - 9