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What is the Transfiguration? February 15, 2015

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Mark 9:2-9

Transfiguration Sunday

February 15th, 2015

 

Focus:  God has given all authority to His Son.

Function:  That the hearers listen to the voice of Jesus their Lord.

Structure:  Walking through the Text.

 

What is the Transfiguration?

 

On their quiz last week, I asked my confirmation students to tell me what the Transfiguration of Jesus was.  That might just be the hardest question they get asked all year.  The best answers I got were from a few of the students trying to recall all the details they could about what happened that night.  Peter was there.  Elijah and Moses were there.  Jesus got new white garments.

Don’t worry 6th graders, you’re not alone on this question.  If I were to ask that same question to the adults in the church, I think we’d see a lot of similar answers.  This is one of the biggest moments that we know little about.  When you think of the church year, which celebrates the important events in Jesus’ life and ministry, we understand most of it.  Advent, Christmas, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost, we get those.  But what really happened on that mountain?  Why does it matter?

When I preach, I like to pick the hardest text for that weekend.  It’s not that their not all important, but it’s a challenge.  It challenges me to stay sharp.  It challenges you to keep growing.  We all get to dig a little deeper.

Our gospel reading today allows us to do just that.  There’s so much going on this text, there’s so much beauty in just this one section.  First, we have the writer Mark, who hates letting time pass.  This is the man who uses the word “immediately” more often than just about any other word in his gospel.  And yet, here he begins to set the stage by saying, “And after six days.”  We could connect this to the seven days of the week and to the Creation account and the Sabbath rest.

We could take a look at the white garments and tie those in to the burial cloth found in Jesus’ tomb on the day of the resurrection.  We could look at the three booths Peter wanted to build for Elijah, Moses, and Jesus and talk about the Jewish festival of the Feast of Booths.

We could easily stop and look at the presence of God, as He often chose to appear as a cloud before His people.  Here He’s covering the mountain, just like He did when Moses went up to the top of Mount Sinai.  He’s also appeared as a cloud when surrounding the Tent of Meeting or Tabernacle, as well as when He led His people Israel through the wilderness as a pillar of cloud by day and then protected them from Pharaoh’s army as they crossed the Red Sea.

We could also look at the beauty of God’s declaration, “This is My beloved Son!”  Those are rare words in Mark’s gospels, words the disciples never get to say.  Mark tells us in his introduction, we hear God say them at Jesus’ baptism, twice more during His ministry demons say those words, and then finally at the foot of the cross, after witnessing the death of Christ, the Roman centurion declares, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

There’s a lot of stuff here, lots of connections, lots of powerful imagery that could help us work our way through the Scriptures.  But if we’re going to truly understand the meaning of the Transfiguration, of what really happened on that mountain and why it’s so important, we need to focus on the rest of what God said, “Hear Him.”

That exact phrase in Greek, to “hear him,” only shows up one other place in the Scriptures.  And actually, you wouldn’t even find it in the Bibles we use.  The only other time that exact phrase is mentioned is in what we call the Apocrypha.

For those of you who have never heard of it, the Apocrypha is a collection of 14 extra books that you would find in a Catholic Bible in between the Old and New Testaments.  It’s not they’re heretical; in fact, Martin Luther would actually recommend that you read them.  But they aren’t in our Bibles because they weren’t widely used by the church in Jesus’ day.

One of the Apocryphal books is called 1 Maccabees.  It covers part of the history of the church that happened in the 300 to 400 years between the Malachi and Matthew.  Specifically, it’s where you can read about an event known as the Maccabean Revolt.

One of the revolt leaders, a man named Mattathias, was dying.  In some of his final words, he gathered his sons and said to them: “Hear him, now He, Simon, is your authority, not me.”  In some of his final words, Mattathias transferred his authority to one of his sons.  The rest of his family, and others of the people, were to listen and to follow Simon.  Hear him.  He has my authority.

Those are the words that God the Father speaks in our text today, “Hear Him.”  There is a passing of authority going on.  Before this, God spoke to His people through the prophets.  Men like Elijah and Moses among so many others led God’s people.  But now, not any more.  “Hear Him.”  The torch has been passed.  The authority to lead and to instruct God’s people has been given to Jesus.  That’s what the Transfiguration was all about.

But what’s the big deal?  We all know that Jesus is Lord, He has authority, why did this have to happen?  His disciples were already following Him.  That’s not as true as we might like to think.

Just before the Transfiguration Jesus was telling His disciples that it was necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and to be killed, and after three days rise again.

Do you remember what happened next?  Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him.  We don’t get the actual words, but it must have sounded something like this, “No, Jesus, that can’t be.  We won’t let them kill you.  That’s not God’s plan.”  Whatever Peter said, Jesus’ chief disciple was refusing to listen to Jesus’ authority.

So after saying “Get behind me Satan!”  Jesus continues to teach the crowds and His disciples and He says:

“If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?  For what can a man give in return for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

 

Those are the words immediately prior to our text, to Jesus and the disciples ascending the mountain for the Transfiguration.  This is all about the passing on of authority, of God designating Jesus as the One for His people to listen to and to follow.

We struggle with this also, with following Jesus and “hearing Him.”  When it comes to the big button issues, or addictions like porn or alcohol, or major political squabbles, do we listen to the culture we live in or to the teachings of Jesus?

When it comes to God’s plan and His design for our lives, do we follow in the path of our peers or celebrities, or perhaps even constantly trying to live up to the expectations of our parents, or do we actively seek out His voice through Word and prayer?

When it comes to our sins and our guilts, do we confess them, do we hear the forgiveness, do we allow our burdens to become His burdens, or do we continue to hold the weight of our sins, the burdens and griefs of guilt for things long ago?

We struggle, much like the disciples did.  From time to time, we need to remind ourselves of what the people noticed.  In Mark 1:27, we read “And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority!  He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.’”

Jesus is the One we’re to listen to.  That’s the meaning of the Transfiguration, that He is the One we follow and His voice is the One we seek.  So we listen to His words, we learn the things that don’t make sense to this world.  We learn from Him that suffering must precede glory, defeat must precede victory, and that death must precede the resurrection.

But in our Lord Jesus Christ, all of those things have come to be.  That’s why we hear Him calling us.  We hear Him call us to forgiveness through Confession and Absolution and through the Lord’s Supper.  We don’t need to bear guilt anymore.  It’s forgiven and forgotten.  Our sins have truly removed from us forever.  We hear Him calling us in our daily lives to follow Him through prayer and through His Word.  We know who to follow, we know what it means to take up our cross and follow Him.  And we hear Him calling us to everlasting life with Him in Paradise through the waters of baptism and through the glory of the resurrection.  We hear Him and we follow.  All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him.

-Thanks to Dr. Voelz of Concordia Seminary for his in depth look at the Scripture this week.

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