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The Transfiguration of Our Lord – Series B

Text: Mark 9:2-9

Title: “An Explosion of Glory”

Date: Sunday, February 11, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

In the mountains of my home state of Maryland, you will find some of the most serene and beautiful scenery you ever encountered. On a clear day from the Lutheran youth camp mountaintop location, you can see a luscious valley down below near the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. For me, this summer youth camp was an oasis from the hot, humid, and often stagnant weather of Baltimore City. Swimming, hiking, campfires, playing volleyball and basketball were just a few of my favorite activities. Singing camp songs and hymns was always fun. Sharing thoughts and experiences during Bible study with new friends initiated meaningful discussions. Just kicking back and meditating in the A-framed chapel overlooking the valley below…while watching the spectacular sunset through the huge front windows…was something marvelous to behold. I always wanted that mountaintop experience to continue and never end.

         Today, we look at the ultimate mountaintop experience that Jesus shares with His three closest followers. Christ’s glory and majesty is an explosion of glory for His three followers to see and experience. Christians call this event “The Transfiguration of Our Lord.” That’s because to "transfigure" something is to "change" its appearance. In full view of Peter, James, and John…Christ’s appearance is radically altered. St. Mark gives a descriptive picture: “His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone could bleach them.” (v. 3) St. Matthew describes it this way: “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.” (Mt. 17:2) Luke reports: “the appearance of His face was changed, and His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightening.” (Lk. 9:29)

Although Christ’s glory finally broke through, for most of His life on this earth His glory was hidden from view. Why would the Son of God want to hide His shining splendor…His bright majesty of greatness…in the first place? Isn’t this the complete opposite of what we sinful human beings do? When we have a measure of glory, we let it shine for everyone to see. When an actor or actress is nominated for an Academy Award, he or she goes to the Academy Awards in a limo, arriving with pomp and circumstance, and wearing expensive clothing. Many people have practically no problem letting their own glory and greatness shine on Facebook, YouTube, or some other media…sometimes making it appear brighter and better than it really is.
         Why then would God do the opposite and hide His glory? The answer is found in God’s decision to take on human form and become a sinless human being. When God made the decision to enter into our world and add a human nature to His already divine nature, He made the decision to empty Himself of the use of that divine glory. (cf. Phil. 2:6-8) God did this so He could experience the frailties and weakness of being a human being. He did it because He loves you and is passionate about you…wanting you to know Him in a way that would have been otherwise impossible.
         But now at this brief moment on a mountain…an explosion of glory that had been veiled or hidden in Jesus’ life is now unveiled for the three disciples to experience. His divine nature is no longer masked or hidden behind His human nature. What had been inside of Him all His life finally comes bursting out.

And that’s not all. Two very important people from thousands of years earlier in Hebrew history appear with Jesus on the mountaintop. Both Moses and Elijah were leaders familiar with mountaintop experiences. On Mt. Sinai, Moses encountered the presence of God in a special way when he received God’s instructional Law, including the Ten Commandments. On Mt. Carmel, Elijah had a showdown with the pagan prophets of Baal…a showdown where God sent fire from heaven. In an age of widespread unbelief in Israel, Elijah was zealous in defending God’s Law.

         It had to be overwhelming for Peter, James and John to see these two great men of God standing beside Jesus in His divine glory! Most artistic renditions of the Transfiguration picture the disciples as cowering on the ground and covering their faces in panic or fear. They must have been totally overwhelmed by the divine majesty and glory of the event. Apparently, Peter is so awestruck that he blurts out about building three tents or shelters to preserve this glorious moment!

         But just as quickly as it came, the event is over. The cloud is gone. The shining brilliance within Jesus has faded. Moses and Elijah are nowhere to be found. The one now declared greater than Moses or Elijah is the only one left. Peter, James, and John must be very disappointed and sad that this glorious event is over. The problem with mountaintop experiences is that they will come to an end. I remember sinking into a brief depression for a few days after leaving Mar-Lu-Ridge and returning to my neighborhood. After the intensity of my mountaintop experience, I would go back to my normal, seemingly mundane routine. Descending the mountain to the valley below, Jesus commands His disciples to keep the experience to themselves for awhile. The Lord says that people will not understand their experience until after He has risen from the dead. So they keep it to themselves…but they wonder what Jesus means by "…risen from the dead." (v 9)

         God orchestrates this whole event of the Transfiguration to demonstrate not only to Peter, James and John…but to you and me too that Christ is holy and unique. Years after this mountaintop event, St. Peter insisted that what happened on that mountain was not an illusion or a myth. He says in his second letter: ”…We were eyewitnesses of His majesty…. We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with Him on the sacred mountain.” (2 Pet. 1:16, 18) St. John also writes: “We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father.” (Jn. 1:14) Indeed, God’s glory was brilliant that day on that mountaintop. And glory came to Christ later through His suffering and death on the cross. The Lord Jesus paid the ultimate price and took upon Himself all your sins and mine too! The Son of God forever redefined glory when He willingly endured the shame of the cross for you and me.
         As God’s son or daughter…the path to your own glory is the path of suffering. That’s why Jesus says to take up your cross and follow Him. Follow Jesus and love Him…listen to Him and obey Him…especially at those times of agony in your life. Some of you have suffered the loss of a loved one or friend due to disease or a tragic accident or some other misfortune. Others of you have faced the suffering of sickness…the heartache of a failed marriage…the disappointment of children or grandchildren who take the wrong path in life. Life can be painful at times…very painful. Only as you walk along the painful and sometimes fearful path of life…with its disappointments and heartache…where you feel alone and feel like giving up at times…will you ultimately find your finest hour with the Lord. Persevere on this path because if you share in Christ’s sufferings, you will also share in His glory. (cf. Rom 8:17b) That is His promise, as St. Paul reminds us that "our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us" one day. (Rom. 8:18)

Yes, mountaintop experiences can be wonderful. On the mountain of the Transfiguration, Christ’s glory and majesty exploded in a “a sneak preview.” “This is my Son, whom I love,” said God the Father. “Listen to Him!” (v 7b) When Christ died on the cross then resurrected on Easter morning, Christ’s glory exploded again…but this time, it was fully revealed! The Lord continues to reveal His glory to you and me and to all the world through His Word and the Sacraments, which sustain and strengthen our faith. Live with the comfort, hope, and courage in Christ as you face the challenges in your life each day. Know that Jesus is with you now and will come again on Judgement Day in all His splendor and glory to take you to be with Him forever and ever! Amen.

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