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TEXT: Mark 9:2-13
SUBJECT: Mark #16: Crown and Cross
Preaching on the Transfiguration of Christ, a young pastor introduced his sermon-
'Every Word of God is pure, said the Psalmist, and this means it demands reverence from all who read or hear it. If this is true of God's every Word, it is doubly true of this Word.
If Moses took off his shoes at the burning bush, and covered his face on Mount Sinai, how much more ought we to be awestruck at the glory of God in the Transfiguration.'
From there, the young pastor went on to press the holiness and divinity of Jesus on his hearers, and some of them felt it, and told him so after the sermon.
Did the man craft his introduction well, and did he properly affirm the deity of Christ? I think he did, but he still missed the point of the Transfiguration. Of course we ought to be awed by seeing the Lord Jesus in his heightened state, but Mark did not put the story into his Gospel to make us feel reverent, so much, as he did to get us through our sufferings of this life to what lies beyond them.
In the next few days, Jesus is going to suffer things unimaginable, and to do it, He needs the encouragement of heaven. This is what He got at the Transfiguration; it's what the disciples got as well, and what we will get when we join them on the holy mount
Mark sets the story in its time and place. The time is after six days. Six days from when, he doesn't tell us because he wants us to think about the six days. The time frame is significant to every observant Jew at the time, including Jesus, Peter, James, John, and the first people to read Mark's Gospel.
Six days looks back to the week of creation and to the Hebrew Sabbath which is based on it. God worked for six days making the world into a place where His people could live and prosper. He rested on the seventh day because He was through and not because He was tired. God's work was integrated into the calendar of Israel. They, too, were to work for six days and rest on the Sabbath. Unlike God, they needed the rest, their bodies did, the souls did, and their livestock did too. As important as the break was, however, the Sabbath was mainly a prophecy, that one day, God would give His people and full and eternal rest. The Sabbath was our first inkling of the better things to come; it pointed to heaven.
This feeds in to the Transfiguration. Up to now, our Lord's work has been relentless, and His life has been shot through with suffering. But one day-after the six days of life-He will enter into the rest and glory of heaven. For a moment, He and the men with Him, have a fleeting look at His future-and of all who belong to Him.
The place is a high mountain. There were practical reasons for going there, of course: He was a celebrity and what He had to show the disciples was not meant for the public, not yet it wasn't.
To the Jewish mind, revelations on mountain tops always evoked the memory of Mount Sinai, the place God met Moses in the wilderness and gave him the Law. It also stirred hope, for Ezekiel saw the Temple of God rebuilt on a high mountain, wielding Lordship over the whole world and spreading the benefits of Divine mercy to all.
We don't know what the disciples thought as they trudged their way up the hard slopes, but when they saw what they did way up there, they knew that God had come down again, and like the first time He descended to earth, it was to make all things new, and to bring the Rule of Heaven into the world of men.
Not everyone was ready to see what happened that day. Had this occurred in the Temple, God's saving purposes would have been aborted. The leaders and people of Israel would have taken Jesus by force and placed Him on the throne.
He was bent on going there, of course, but not to the Mickey Mouse throne Israel had for Him, but to the place of real power-the Right Hand of God, a throne only gotten to by way of the cross.
Jesus was the secret Messiah, but a few chosen men were in on it. This day, it was Peter, James, and John who would see and hear it, and, in spite of Peter's ever running mouth, they kept it to themselves till it was time to tell it to the world.
When the time came, however, they shouted it from the rooftops. If you read the Gospel sermons in the Book of Acts, you'll be struck by how relatively little they say about the cross; even less do they emphasize 'theories of the Atonement'. What they're mostly about is the exaltation and the Lordship of Jesus Christ!
What we have in the Transfiguration is a preview of the Lordship conferred on Jesus by the Resurrection.
Many year later, Peter is at pains to tell us the story is true-not 'true to life' as a novel might be-but factual, really happening in real place and real times, things real men saw with real eyes and heard with real ears. A man present that day would, decades in the future write-
That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of Life-the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life that was with the Father and was manifested to us-that which we have seen and heard, we declare to you, that you may have fellowship with us.fellowship with the Father and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.and that your joy might be full.
If John were my student in English composition, I'd hand the paper back to him with the word, repetitive, written on it-too many 'seens' and 'heards' and 'witnesses' and 'declares'. If John wanted to be a man of letters, he'd have to tighten up his prose, but he didn't care about that: he was a witness-and knowing how slow we are to believe in the Resurrection and the glories that go with it-he hammers away at the fact of Christ Risen and Glorified.
At some quiet place far from the prying eyes of the public, our Lord was-
The word itself means 'changed'-changed from the inside out, I believe. The disciples were not the most discerning men in the world, and so the change had to be visible. Mark only tells us-
His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them.
The whiteness stands for purity. In the Temple, the priests wore white garments, but they got no whiter than what the washerwoman could whiten them! The whiteness Peter saw, though, was whiter than that! It was the whiteness John saw many years later in a vision, where the saints were robed in White, God sat on a White Throne, and Jesus rode a White horse. What the men were looking at that day, was the purity of heaven or the life of the Resurrection which is another way of saying, 'eternal life' or 'the life of God' in man.
Scholars critical of the Bible say Mark or his editors made a mistake; he or they put a Resurrection story before the cross. The scholars are more right than wrong-Mark did not make a mistake putting the story where he did, but this is a Resurrection before the cross. A moment of heavenly Life was given to Jesus to fortify His faith, so that He could see-
The joy that was set before Him [and so] endure the cross, despise the shame, and sit down at the right hand of the throne of God.
THE ASSOCIATES, THE CLOUD AND THE VOICE
The disciples are amazed by what they saw, but what does it all mean? Given enough time, I suppose they would have hit on some theory to explain it, and I'm sure it would have been the wrong one. God makes the meaning clear.
First, by sending Moses and Elijah to join the Lord in the glory of heaven come down to earth. The disciples knew not everyone in the history of Israel was in heaven; some obviously were not and others-who knows? There was no doubt about the two men who showed up on the mountain that day! They had a share in the Life of Heaven-and so did Jesus.
Next came the cloud, which was not fog, but the cloud of God's glory, the one that led Israel through the wilderness, the one that hovered over the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies.
Finally, the Voice. It was God telling them, and us, who Jesus is-
This is My Beloved son.
At this moment and in this place, heaven and earth have met-three disciples and two prophets, a mountain and a cloud, human voices and the voice of God. Smack dab in the middle of them all is Jesus.
The Lord is not yet raised from the dead and He hasn't ascended to heaven, but now-for a few minutes, He is caught up in the life of heaven, the life Moses and Elijah had, and the life Peter, James, and John will have-and us too-if only we do what the Voice tells us to do-
Peter and the others are awed by what's going on around them, and they want to make the moment last, to build booths for Jesus and his friends from heaven. Surely, they'll stay in their exalted state for a bit longer?
No they won't. The cloud lifts, the voice is silenced, and the heavenly men are gone-
Suddenly when they had looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus with themselves.
The Transfiguration has served its purpose. It has prepared Jesus to face the cross in His near future, and the disciples to face the crosses they must bear later in life.
When the bright future is over, Jesus returns to the dark present. He forbids the men to say anything of what they have seen and heard-
Till the Son of Man has risen from the dead.
The disciples, dim-witted as ever, have no idea what He's talking about. They've read their Bibles and they know The Son of Man is the Victor, not the victim!
You have to feel for the dear men, but you cannot excuse their wrongheadedness. If the Son of Man is the King, and if the King represents His People to God, how can He do that unless He shares in all their suffering?
David was a model of Messiah, and was his life carefree? Or was it full of war and exile and doing without? If He was hated without a cause, Messiah would be too-only more so. If men gnashed their teeth at David, and pierced his hands and feet, chased him like vicious dogs and gored him like the bulls of Bashan, how can his Son get off easy? How can the King exempt himself from the hardships His people endure?
Trapped in the small box of their own thinking, the disciples cannot conceive of a Messiah who has rise from the dead.
God has a sense of humor. The disciples, not knowing what the Lord's death means, go on to another topic, and it only reinforces what they have already heard.
Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?
The scribes taught that because it is in the Bible, Malachi 4:5-
Behold, I will send you Elijah the
Before the coming of the great and
dreadful day of the Lord.
Well-the disciples wondered-if you're the Messiah, how come Elijah didn't come first?
Our Lord's answer is: he did come first (in John the Baptist), and look what they did to him!
Unlike the first Elijah who rode to heaven in a fiery chariot, the second Elijah got to heaven by an executioner's axe! What happened to John would soon happen to Jesus-only worse-
He must suffer many things and be treated with contempt.
THE JOY SET BEFORE HIM-AND US
The cross would be terrible; all the spleen of heaven and hell would be vented that day, and the justice of heaven as well. Jesus knew what He was getting into, and when friends tried to dissuade Him, and when angels were eager to save Him, and when even the rulers were none too keen on doing it during the Feast, He set His face toward Jerusalem, accepting all the pain and loneliness and humiliation it had for Him.
Did He do His duty? He did. But not through clenched teeth. Because He saw more than the cross. He saw the glory that lay beyond it. He submitted to death because He believed in Resurrection. In the Old Testament Scriptures God had promised to raise His servants from the dead and to give them a share of His own life. The Life promised in the Word was felt and seen in the Transfiguration. And now, with a fresh sense of God's Promise, Jesus is ready to go through the valley of the shadow of death without terror and without hesitation. The One who went to the cross did not go resigned; He went hopeful.
Three days and three nights later, His every hope was filled to overflowing. God raised Him from the dead, and the life He had a pinch of on the mountain top, He got in full at the empty tomb. This was the joy God set before Him.
We are called to suffer for Christ's sake-not to suffer as fools, but as lights in a dark world that prefers darkness to light. The suffering may be persecution, even martyrdom. Or, it may be ridicule or exclusion.
It is easier to talk about taking it all with joy than to do it! Being laughed at hurts; bearing patiently with people who misunderstand you is hard; living a redeemed life in a world not redeemed is painful.
How do we do it? It takes buckling down and doing your duty even when it's hard and scary and uncomfortable. But mostly what it takes is hope-not wishful thinking-but the real, solid, and unerring hope of the Gospel, which is in a word-
If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him.
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