By Simon ManchesterSunday 15 Oct 2017Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 19 minutes
We are continuing some morning sermons in Mark’s Gospel, and we come today to an event which was unmistakably a shock to three disciples. It was when they suddenly came face to face with Jesus Christ who they had been observing for three years in great fleshly weakness – suddenly radiant and blazing, luminous as the Bible says ‘transfigured’. This is what is called The Transfiguration of Jesus in Mark chapter 9 from verse 1.
The event is recorded by three of the Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke so it is not a small event and Peter who is one of the three disciples present writes about it in his 2nd Letter in the New Testament. He says this;
“We saw and we heard this – we were eyewitnesses of his majesty on the mountain”
In other words, we are not telling you fiction – we saw it, and we heard it.
And what is happening in this Transfiguration, there is no doubt about this, is that the disciples are being given a preview of Jesus in his glory in the glory to come and it comes at a time where things are looking particularly bleak.
I was given for Father’s Day a book called “Embarrassing Day Jokes”. I am not sure why dad jokes are called “dad jokes” because they are just jokes really, aren’t they? I mean they are hilarious!
And this particular joke was of two simple men watching a John Wayne movie. John Wayne in the movie was riding his horse towards a fence, and one of the simple men pushed the “pause” button and said to the other one; “I bet you $5.00 he falls off
The other guy said; “OK I’ll do the deal”
And they pushed the “Play” button again, and John Wayne rode towards the fence and fell off!
And the guy handed his $5.00 over, and the first guy said; “I’m quite sorry to do this to you because I have to confess I’ve seen the movie before”.
And the other guy said; “O I’ve seen the movie before as well, but I just didn’t think he’d make the same mistake twice.”
The point of that I guess is that if you do know the future of a movie which will spoil the movie, but if you know the future of the movie then the outcome is pretty well known to you-you know what’s coming.
If you can see into the future of life which Jesus can and he is prepared to show us what the future is like – well we would be tremendously blessed and helped by that. So that’s what he does. And I want to show you this morning that this display, this phenomenon, this exhibition is a very loving preview of the future (have you got that?) – a very loving preview. It’s a packed preview and it’s a very demanding preview – a very loving – a very packed and a very demanding preview. Let’s think about those 3 things quite quickly together.
Firstly – It’s a very loving preview. The reason it’s a very loving preview is that in chapter 8 Jesus has just told them (verse 31) that he is about to suffer, be rejected and die and is going to die as we saw a couple of weeks ago on the cross of salvation. He is going to die on the cross. So it’s a very sober moment for these disciples.
And then in verse 34, he says to them “You followers are going to have to deny yourself, take up your cross, the cross of discipleship and follow me”.
I think it is difficult for us to get back into that particular moment but they would have been terrible words to hear. You have just built up your confidence that Jesus is the Messiah and he is the King with kingly power, and he can do anything he wants, and he turns around and says – and I am going to die. And then he says – and you who are going to follow me – you are also in a sense going to die as well. These are very sober and serious words – disturbing.
And even today I don’t think we hear these words very clearly. We kind of re-write them. Those of us who come to church regularly – we have ended up with a kind of middle-class contract with Jesus which goes something like this:-
“Let me get this straight Lord; you are going to bless me in every way (that’s the deal isn’t it?)
In all times and in all ways you will bless me (that’s your job)
And my job is that I will agree that you are real and that you are good.”
But that’s not Jesus’ agreement at all. That’s not his contract. He says quite clearly;
“I am going to die for you at incredible eternal cost
And you are going to live for me at significant cost.”
That’s his contract, and anything else that we make up is just a personal invention.
Again we who live in the comfortable world of Sydney think that God could probably do better at arranging Christianity – you know if we were given the job of creating Christianity – we would probably invent something a little more enjoyable and palatable and it would go something like this;
”Your job is to love me deeply
And I will prosper greatly
That’s how the Christianity should work”
But God says something very different. He says that there is going to be no solution to sin unless my Son dies on the cross. And there’s going to be no discipleship unless you follow at cost.
That’s what Jesus tells us.
John Newton, the great hymn writer, said once “that a man going to collect his inheritance is not too discouraged when his carriage breaks down and he must walk some of the distance because the prospect of the inheritance strengthens him for the walk”.
And Jesus is strengthening his followers with a window into his glory. So he has told them the road that he must walk and he has told them the road that they must walk and look what he says in chapter 9 verse 1 of Mark’s Gospel – he says “and some standing here will not die until they see the Kingdom come with power”. Some standing here will not die until they see the kingdom come with power.
Well what was Jesus talking about? Well, the interesting thing is that as soon as he says this – in Matthew, Mark and Luke he goes straight to the Mount of Transfiguration. And he shows some of them something of his kingly power.
Now, of course, his kingly power is going to be seen at the Transfiguration.
His kingly power is going to be seen even in his crucifixion as he arranges forgiveness.
His kingly power will be seen in the resurrection as he rises from the dead.
His kingly power will be seen on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit comes down.
His kingly power will be seen one day when he returns in great glory.
But some who are standing in front of him, of course, will see his kingly power because some of them (three of them) will see the Transfiguration. And some more of them will see the crucifixion and the resurrection. And even more of them will see the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. But I guess we could say that none of them are going to see his return. None of those standing in front of him that day would live to the day of his return.
We see he is helping some key disciples. You see, he wants them to stay excited – he wants them to stay excited about the glory which is going to follow – the path of discipleship and he kind of lifts the veil, lifts the flap very lovingly and he gives them a preview. Do we not do this with some people every now and again? We are dealing with somebody, and they have a difficult day coming up.
We say to the little child who is heading off to school, maybe Pre School for the first time –
“I think you will have a wonderful time. There will be lots of friends there.”
We give them a little Preview.
Or we say to our children, “You know we have planned our holidays for the end of the year – here’s a picture of the beach where we are going to go – we can look forward to this”.
Or if you are wealthy at this church, “Here’s the yacht that we’ve bought to take us to the beach”.
Or we say to the tourist, “You should get the ferry, you know, and go over to Manly and have a look over there – we have been, and it’s lovely – we have seen it – give you a mental picture of it and it’s worth doing.”
Or we say to the person who is facing some surgery, “I had that surgery and look I am strong and well and you will be too”.
We give people a little picture of the future so that they might get through a difficult present.
And that’s what Jesus is doing here – providing a loving Preview – a reliable Preview of his glory so that the disciples don’t lose heart – That’s the first section – This is a Loving Preview. That’s why Jesus appears on the Mount of Transfiguration.
Secondly, This is a Packed Preview (verse 2). “After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them”.
Now every single word in the Transfiguration is significant. Every single word is significant and why does it say – Jesus did this after six days for example? Well, I presume it was after six days. But is it not also significant that when Moses went up Mount Sinai where he received the 10 Commandments that after six days God called to him and revealed himself to Moses. And here was Jesus going up a different mountain – probably Mt Hermon and after six days revealing himself in glory to his disciples.
Another possibility is that as there were six days of Creation leading to the great Sabbath rest, it could well be that after six days Jesus is giving some disciples a preview of the great Sabbath rest. Every detail is significant.
He takes Peter, James and John – why? Are they the most holy of the three? No, we know they are not the most holy of the three. Are they the most special of the three? No, not necessarily but he takes these three because they ended up being leaders and especially New Testament writers. And Peter, James and John wrote a big section of the New Testament. And they had the privilege on a number of occasions of going with Jesus to see something that was a matter of life and death.
So back in chapter 5 of Mark, they went to the home of the little girl who died and saw the little girl raised. Here in chapter 9, they get to see the Transfiguration. Ahead in chapter 14 they are there with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane looking down the road of the crucifixion. Three disciples were chosen by Jesus to be given in some ways a window into the things of life and death in order that they might write about them and strengthen all the disciples in all the Centuries.
Well then we read that Jesus was transfigured and he was transfigured on a mountain. Why a mountain? Well, mountains are places where lots of important things happen in the Bible. Jesus did lots of important things on mountains.
Jesus prayed on the mountain
Jesus preached from the mountain
Jesus appointed disciples on the mountain
Jesus commissioned disciples on the mountain
And here Jesus reveals himself on a mountain
“Transfigured” – the word is “metamorphosed” the Greek word “metamorphous”. And this glory which was inside Jesus which was fundamental to him which was inherent in him was suddenly revealed for all to see it – shone out of him.
Up until then, they had only seen Jesus in his weak flesh, and here it’s as if the veil is lifted and they see him in his real glory.
When Moses came down the mountain, he had reflected glory – his face shone for a little while. But Jesus has personal glory. And the writers in the Gospel struggled to describe the glory because it’s a kind of a brightness or a brilliance or a blaze which is beyond human – it’s supernatural and Paul when he came face to face with Jesus in Acts 26 (or he describes it in Acts 26) he says, “you know when I came face to face with Jesus on the Road to Damascus, I saw a light which was brighter than the sun.”
So this word “transfigured” is an attempt or description of Jesus being transformed to see the real glory that is inside him. And the word “transfigured” is used twice of Christians in the New Testament. Once we are told in 2 Corinthians 3 that believers are “being transfigured or transformed step by step, degree by degree, slowly but surely into the likeness of Christ”.
And the other example is in Romans 12 where we are told we are to be transfigured or transformed by the renewing of the mind. That’s pretty well why we gather on Sundays to hear the Word of God and to have our minds renewed or transformed. And that’s why so many here this morning read the Bible on a regular basis to have their mind transformed, to be inwardly shaped by the Scriptures.
So this is a glory which is appearing to these three disciples which belongs to the Creator. It’s not a part of the creation – it’s bigger and better than the creation – and this is a glory which we are told that is going to be shared with God’s people.
Notice that he has two characters from the Old Testament with him on the mountain. One is Moses, and one is Elijah. Peter seems to know who they are. We are not told how Peter knew, but he obviously did know. And Moses and Elijah probably represent The Law and the Prophets – all of which point to Jesus. The Law says – you need a saviour and The Prophets say – you need a speaker and these two are pointing forward to Jesus.
Moses wrote about a Prophet to come in Deuteronomy 18. And the last Book of the Bible tells us that there would come a person like Elijah and he would prepare the way for the Lord. So these two – Moses and Elijah – are pointing to Jesus and it’s not as though they are super heavy weights who are giving credibility to Jesus’ CV as if Jesus needs their support. But they are like little spotlights pointing at Jesus and saying – “This is God, this is our God coming into the world revealing his splendour and his glory”.
Is it not a very joyful thing that Moses and Elijah who had disappeared over 1000 years before in quite unusual circumstances – Moses being buried in a way that nobody knows what happened and Elijah being transported out of the world in a quite supernatural way – both of them have turned up here alive and well. They are perfectly safe, and they are perfectly secure, and we who have lost loved ones or special people are meant to take heart from this particular scene. And when we wonder exactly where friends or relatives have gone and where they are – the Bible tells us and this scene reminds us that they are safe and sound in the care of Christ.
Well, Peter obviously loves this particular moment, and we see in chapter 9 verse 5 he wants to kind of “preserve” it or “guard” it, and he says “Let’s build three tents – one for you Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah”. We read in verse 6 he did not know what he was talking about. Peter is a great friend to us, isn’t he? – The Patron Saint of the dumb comment in the local Bible Study. He did not know what he was talking about.
A friend of mine who works in the UK said he went to a service once and there was an Archdeacon speaking, an English Archdeacon obviously not a converted man. And he said the goal of Christianity was to build more buildings. And he took chapter 9 verse 5 as his text that we should put up more buildings. My friend said it would have been great if he had gone to verse 6 and said: “I don’t know what I am talking about”! But he didn’t.
And then suddenly a great cloud (verse 7) appeared – a great cloud – again a highly significant symbol in the Old Testament.
Clouds on Mt Sinai and Cloud in the temple – symbol of God’s presence – and this great cloud enveloped them. And out of the cloud came a voice and the voice said “Listen to my beloved Son, this is my beloved Son, I want you to listen to him – listen very carefully to him.
And that, of course, becomes the key to discipleship. I hope you know this that the key to being a follower of Jesus is to be a good listener to the words of Jesus. We are not going to make any progress if we wait for visions. The vision on the Mount of Transfiguration was an utter except for three to be able to record for us the glory of Jesus. But we are not going to live our lives with visions. We are going to live our Christian lives by listening very carefully to the Word of God. And that’s why Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5 “We don’t walk by sight, we don’t expect visions or things across the sky – we walk by faith – we walk by the promises.
I wonder whether there is somebody here this morning and your life is getting a little bit aimless, a little bit directionless, and you are wondering whether you have missed the key to Christianity and you are just getting a little bit lost. And I want to say to you that the very simple solution is to take seriously the words of Jesus Christ which you will find in the Scriptures. Put his words to your eyes, put his words to your ears, and hear him say things like this;
‘Come to me, and I will give you rest’.
‘I have chosen you.’
‘Abide in me.’
‘Love one another.’
Be a witness, and I will provide everything you need’.
These are the words that we need to fill our mind and heart so that we would walk faithfully and also securely with Jesus Christ.
When Peter write his 2nd Letter as I say and he talked about the Transfiguration, he went on to say this: “You will do well to pay attention to God’s word – as to a light shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts”. Which is I think a nice way of say – ‘keep reading your Scriptures until you are illumined by God and until you see Jesus Christ face to face’. We need the promises of God for the days of our pilgrimage. Just as surely as we need our physical food, we need our spiritual food.
And when God called out on the mountain ‘listen to my Son’ (verse 7) the whole vision was finished. There was nothing to see anymore. They walked down the mountain, Jesus and the three disciples – and this brings us to our third point this morning.
Thirdly This is a Demanding Preview, and it is a demanding Preview because it’s a preview. It is not just going to happen quickly. Seeing Jesus in his glory is up ahead – the future is very secure and very wonderful, but the present is very demanding.
And so look at the brief conversation as they come down the hill (verse 9). They are walking down the mountain, and Jesus says “don’t mention this experience to anybody”. That makes me laugh! I just can’t imagine what it was like for those disciples to walk down and have the other nine say:
‘Where have you guys been?’
‘Had any unusual experiences?’
It must have been so difficult, but Jesus says – don’t say anything about this until after the death and the resurrection. Then you can talk about this because then it will make much more sense. Look at their question in verse 11 – they say to Jesus as they walk down the mountain and obviously they just had seen Elijah which must have been a mind-boggling experience – they say “Jesus why does it say that Elijah must come first?” You know it says at the end of the Old Testament that he will come and he will restore everything. And behind their question is a very interesting question – in fact, a very confused question. They are saying something like this –
If Elijah is going to come before you and is going to get everything ready and if Elijah has come and everything is ready, well why are we talking about suffering? Why don’t you just get on your throne, put on your crown and we will sit next to you? That’s what they are saying. And Jesus replies (verse 12) and he says ‘yes, Elijah came first” and now you need to put your thinking hats on here because now Jesus is talking about John the Baptist. Remember the Bible says at the end of the Old Testament “one like Elijah will come”. This is John the Baptist, and Jesus says “yes, John the Baptist has come”.
And John the Baptist has everything ready because he made the people very expectant, he made them very repentant, he got people ready, he restored the faith of the people, yes he came, he did all that, he restored the faith of the people and then says Jesus in verse 12 – ‘and if that came true, you need to grapple with this text of Scripture (verse 12) – the Son of Man must also suffer and be rejected. You have to work out, says Jesus, what does it mean when the Bible says in the Old Testament that the Son of Man, the Messiah, will be rejected and suffer?
And the reason for this, of course, is that nothing is going to be solved for sinful people unless the Son of Man suffers and dies and pays and rises and offers forgiveness. And Jesus goes on to say in verse 13 ‘if you think suffering is wrong, well you need to remember what happened to John the Baptist. What happened to John the Baptist? Well he lost his head for being faithful and now, says Jesus, I the Messiah, the Son of Man, will also be killed and you who follow me – it’s going to be the path, the road of suffering.
In other words, we have got to get our sequence right, my friends. We are not helped by those people who tell us that if you get Jesus right it will then be an immediate crown and everything will go wonderfully – we are not helped by that. There is an understanding of the Christ, faith in Christ, carry the cross and in the future an absolutely sure and wonderful crown. So the road of salvation is a costly road – the end of the road is glory.
During the week I was reading the story of a man called John Coleridge Patterson, and I finish by telling you this, this morning. I had never heard of John Coleridge Patterson, but someone at the 8.00 o’clock service told me that they had heard of him. He was a school boy in Eton in the 19th Century. He was the Captain of cricket. He went to Oxford University, and he left to become a missionary in the South Seas in the mid-1850’s.
He came out to be a missionary in the Pacific. He was gripped by Isaiah 53 which says that ALL people have gone astray, ALL, and the Lord has laid on the suffering servant the sins sufficient for ALL. These two “ALLS” gripped him – ALL have gone astray, and ALL can be saved and hear the gospel. And he came out, as I say, to be a missionary – he had a very courageous ministry. He visited the Islands, he became the Bishop of Melanesia, and he was unafraid of the spears of the Islanders. He would get out of his boat and leap ashore in his white clergy robe and hug and embrace the people. He learned 23 of the local languages. He gave all his fortune and all of his savings to the work of the Mission, and he was greatly loved.
And then I read in the story of John Coleridge Patterson that slave traders impersonated him. They knew how popular he was. They got for themselves a white robe, and they got a boat, and they went to the Island and they leapt out pretending to be the Bishop, and they captured natives and would take them away on their boat.
A few days later after this had happened, John Coleridge Patterson himself went to visit an Island and they attacked him, and they killed him as revenge, and he died at the age of 44 years. So having put his trust in Jesus Christ who had died for him, he died in the service of Jesus Christ. As I read this particular account, I thought to myself – what sadness, what a loss, what a grief and it doesn’t make any sense, doesn’t it that somebody so able, so loving, so faithful would have his life cut short.
But that’s what Jesus says Christian is all about. It’s getting salvation from Him which will last for eternity, and it may well be that in the path of discipleship there will be cost and loss but at the end of the road, what is guaranteed (and John Coleridge Patterson could testify to this) is the glory which Jesus himself secured by dying on the cross and gave a Preview of when he stood on the Mountain and was transfigured in order that we might be secure and sure and keep going with confidence.
Let’s pray; Gracious God, we thank you for this reminder in your Word that up ahead for your people the Lord Jesus rules and reigns in great glory with great love and power, a great welcome. We ask that you would give to your people patience and faithfulness in walking the road of discipleship. And we pray that you would give to all who are here this morning and listening to a confidence that Jesus is the Messiah, Saviour and the King and that trusting him and following him they might know that all is well.
We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.