The Transfiguration

Our passage for today is from the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 9, verses 2 through 8.

This is the Apostle Mark’s account of what is known as The Transfiguration……the astonishing event when Christ manifested a glimpse of His radiance high up on a mountain top…..or perhaps a better description of the event is this…….His supernatural glory was unveiled to three of the disciples…..Peter, James, and John.

The Transfiguration is also recorded in the Gospel of Luke Chapter 9, verses 28 –36, in Matthew’s Gospel Chapter 17, verses 1 through thirteen, and is referred to in Second Peter 1: 16–18.

Each Gospel account brings something unique to the description of this miraculous event.

The net effect of the whole of the three Gospel descriptions is…. as is always true with God’s Word…… a harmonious spirit-inspired picture that should produce in us awe and reverence.

But we’re going to look carefully at the Mark account this morning , so Please open your Bibles now and let’s read from God’s Word as recorded by Mark……

“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.

In my preparations for preaching this passage, I kept thinking about superheroes….. more specifically, I kept wondering about why our American culture seems wholly obsessed with the idea of superheroes.

As the true masters of providing people with what they want as entertainment, Hollywood has invested deeply in superhero themes and storylines.

We have X-men, we have Avengers…….we seem to be adding new hero personalities….each with ever more unique and awesome powers….to the original cadre of heroes.….The originals are of course are Superman, Spiderman, Batman, Wonder Woman…….others…….

These characters never leave us…..they just seem to come back repackaged, and often in troubling ways for Christians because they come back with the ever more “progressive” social attitudes reflecting a descending culture.

For the record, I’m not anti-superhero, nor am I advocating anyone going “cold turkey” on the Avengers…….Aside from offering you strong counsel to be be wise and discerning about errant doctrine so prevalent and aggressively pushed in Hollywood productions……..its fine to enjoy a good action movie…….

But I’m wanting you think for a second this morning about Why we seem to find superheroes so fascinating…..why????

I think it is rather simple…… and also powerfully telling about our human nature. God chose to make human beings uniquely in His image.

And, because we reflect our creator…….We’re drawn to the heroic…... We know nobility when we see it…..and it brings us to tears…..the recent 75th anniversary celebration of the Normandy invasion is a perfect case in point…..

Why? Because heroes are essentially people who…..in reflecting the character of God……give of themselves, often putting their own life at great risk, for the greater good of others…….

Moreover, we really like heroes with supernatural powers…..we want someone who can save us from the things from which we cannot save ourselves ….and we want these saviors to be transcendent…..which means existing above and not subject to the limitations of the material universe…….we want them powerful…powerful in ways we know we can never be.

We also like our superheroes because they save us without requiring anything of us except maybe a “thank you”……evil threats are dealt with and we just get to go on with our lives, whether holy or sinful, until the next time we need help……we want safety without real accountability. We want made-to-order gods….

Well, I want you to see from the Scripture this morning that Jesus Christ…..eternally existing so far above anything humans might make-to-order, if you like, is the one and only true superhero……He alone can save us, and He alone has every supernatural skill and ability possible.

He is God and He lives!

I also want you to see that anything less than faith in Christ alone is seeking a counterfeit that will ultimately disappoint.

Boy, is this ever true when we ask mere mortal humans to be superheroes in the role of elected leader or coronated king…..too many believe that men or women can save a fallen world by virtue of high office….. too many hope for great wisdom when power is granted…..History always proves otherwise…….How often must we be reminded there is no hope in men??

Finally, I want you to see that when Jesus saves us, He also has marvelous plans for us…..we are bought with a price, the Bible says …..and so we are eternally His.  Therefore, our status and position changes when converted by His grace alone……

Our faith response to Christ’s amazing grace means we’re also called to a mission that He gives us.  In this, we gain purpose, but also accountability……And purpose with accountability will bring both joy and grief.

Just as the way of the cross was Christ’s unimaginable grief, but done for the joy set before Him, so will be our path as Christians…..But All of it …..let me say that again…..all of it……is for God’s Glory and for our unfathomable good.

The Transfiguration event occurred right after two vitally important context-setting events in the flow of Mark’s Gospel.

The first event was what most scholars refer to as Peter’s Confession.

The second was Jesus telling the disciples he was going to suffer at the hands of the Jewish leaders and be put to death.

Peter’s confession is found in Mark 8:29 and most scholars agree this specific moment represents the high water mark of Mark’s Gospel narrative.

Peter, in response to Jesus’ question: “But who do you say that I am?” ……declared, “you are the Christ.” “Everything in Mark that came before Peter’s declaration leads up to it,” says John MacArthur, “and everything that followed afterward flows from it.”

To acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ, or Messiah, the Son of the Living God……as it says in Matthew 16:16……is to make the correct judgment concerning Him. In the coming transfiguration, Peter’s affirmation by faith will be confirmed and verified by sight…..when The Lord of all allows His divine glory to become visible.

Well, no sooner had Peter made his confession than Jesus, in verse 8:31, “began to teach the disciples that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

You see, Peter, in the moment, despaired of this revelation and in his immaturity, he even dared to rebuke Jesus in verse 32……of course, Jesus in turn…… sharply rebuked Peter, forcefully telling him: “Get behind me Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s (V33)”  Ouch!

But Peter was reeling in his contemplation of a “murdered Messiah” (John MacArthur) and he was reflecting the sentiment of the twelve.

Peter and the rest of the disciples eagerly anticipated long  promised renewal…..the glory of the Kingdom of God…..but the idea of that renewal coming through the scandal of the cross was ….as one writer put it…. “incomprehensible and unacceptable.”

Moreover, Jesus said unsettling things to the disciples about their own future as well:

They’re told to deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Him (V34); and they’re told that saving their life meant losing it for the sake of the gospel (V35)…..

But……after breaking the bad news of His coming death, Jesus began to lovingly apply the balm of encouragement as only He could….and, in just the right dosage needed to keep these disciples growing in their understanding of Him…..and, for the express purpose of preparing them for all that lay ahead.

As recorded in Mark 8:38, Jesus told them that the Son of Man will one day come “in the glory of His father with the Holy Angels.”

Well……..Six days later…as the Scripture tells us…..Jesus gave a power dose of glory-filled encouragement, on a mountain top, to three selected disciples…..Peter, James, and John.

Verse 2 from our passage today says this: “Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain by themselves.”

I want to highlight three important things that came to me through research and prayer regarding this very short description:

First, Jesus picked just the three men to go up with Him and see and experience a sight the other disciples would only hear descriptions of …. Why these three?

Peter, James, and John were an inner circle of sorts….Jesus’ most intimate friends. They were very close to Christ…..in addition, Peter was the leader figure in many respects and James and John were literally blood brothers….the Sons of Thunder.

Interestingly, Jesus chose these same three to pray with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane….the time when He was in His most dire hour anticipating the cross…so these three were set apart.

But there is something else important to see here and that is that in accordance with the Old Testament Law chronicled in Deuteronomy, truth is confirmed in the mouth of two or three witnesses.

This legal principle is replete in all of Scripture and is particularly repeated in New testament teachings about for example, church discipline, or accusations against an elder.

In sum, there was great intentionality in Jesus’ choosing the three, and specifically, these three.

Second, it’s important to consider why Jesus led them up a high mountain….

Most scholars believe this “high mountain” was Mount Hermon, which is a snow-capped, 9,000’ foot peak on what is now the Lebanon-Syria border.

There’s important symbolism in their following Jesus up what I have no doubt was an arduous hike. Our local Flattop hike is a roughly three-mile loop up-and-down and consists of about a fifteen-hundred-foot elevation gain.

The text doesn’t tell us how high up Jesus led these men but it does say “high mountain” and this indicates it was likely to the summit, and so the hike was no doubt physically challenging and it probably took the better part of a day or more to get to their high destination.

Because I myself am a wanna-be climber-hiker…..who is always trailing my more fit family members up the peak trails around Anchorage…..I’m guessing there were temptations swirling in the minds of the three disciples to slow down or even quit the uphill ascent. I can almost hear them huffing and puffing as they follow Jesus ever higher…..

But Jesus knew where they needed to go and so He led them up, and through whatever physical or mental pain barriers they had to will themselves through. I think the picture of them fixing their eyes on Jesus as they followed upward is an important one.

The third thing to note is this:  The destination up high is important too.

Commentator Kent Hughes does a convincing job of explaining the importance of the breathtaking majesty and beauty of this high place….likely seen by them in the dusk of evening…. An Alaska level magnificence for sure, a magnificence that required so much effort and perseverance to reach.

It was the perfect dramatic setting where they could breathe afresh above the cares and brokenness far below.

Up high, people will use the catchphrase “I can see for eternity up here”….and in a very real sense, these three men were about to see eternity in a way they could not guess.

Ostensibly, they went up to pray with Jesus, but they were soon to get transcendent encouragement…..something they sorely needed right then……but would also need to draw from over and over in the weeks, months, and years to come.

Let’s look next at the end of verse 2 and verse 3: “And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.”

Luke 9 offers a little more detail, saying that it happened while Jesus was praying, and that the disciples were actually struggling to stay awake when it began.

Luke 9:29 also offers its unique description of the unveiling glory saying:

“And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white”

Matthew 17:2 described it this way: “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light”

The fact that the disciples were falling asleep is worth a quick analysis…..There were a couple of things going on with these guys….they were both physically spent, and they were also emotionally depleted.

You all probably resonate with the idea that sleep can relieve us from pressure and sadness. One writer said it like this: “Sorrow will  make you take a nap. The disciples were devastated by the grim reality of Jesus having to die……A broken heart will  make you go to sleep because you want to get out of it. You want escape, to walk away, relief.”

So, this small factual detail seems a profound insight into the minds of the three….Peter, James, and John….

And then transcendent glory came!!!! Jesus was transfigured before them!!!!!

We must put the Transfiguration in the same category as all of the Old Testament glorious appearances of God.

We know from Exodus 33:17–23 that a human being cannot see God’s face and survive. God said as much to Moses who had asked God, as recorded in this passage, to show him His glory.

But in light of the reality of a glory that kills people in its overwhelming power ……God has chosen from time to time to graciously appear in confined, or limited, or restrained ways, just as He did with Moses.  Do you remember the Exodus scene? He placed Moses in the cleft of the rock and allowed a non-lethal view of His glory.

In this moment of grace, we must not miss the veiled power and the restraint shown by Transcendent God!

Moses was physically changed by this event……as narrated in Exodus 34: 29–33…..Moses’ face shone as a reflection of God’s glory to the extent people feared him and he felt compelled to cover it up.

These partial revelations of God are called theophanies, and they’re always accomplished graciously and lovingly, with the purpose of strengthening faith, increasing understanding, and encouraging obedience.

When God chooses to manifest Himself in a way that is tangible to the human senses, it is a visible display that expresses not just His presence, but also His almighty nature and His righteous character.

Examples include the thunderous display at the top of Mount Sinai (Ex. 19); the burning bush (Ex. 3); appearances to Abraham (Gen. 15:1; 17:1; 18:1), Isaac (Gen. 26:2), and Jacob (Gen. 28:13); the cloud of fire in the wilderness (Ex. 14:19; 40:34; Num. 9:15-23); Isaiah's vision (Isa. 6); Ezekiel's vision (Ezek. 1); and John's vision of God on his throne (Rev. 4-5).

There is profound consistency in all of these examples in that they are rare, they are personal, they are specific and purposeful, and……..they are effective.

The Transfiguration of Jesus represents a New Testament example of visible glory manifested that was tangible to human senses. The three disciples saw glory with their own eyes!

This was Christ being fully God is a manner the disciples could see. So far in His ministry, there was considerable evidence that Jesus was God by what He did, says John MacArthur, but there was no visible evidence in looking at Him.

Nobody could see any difference in Him on the outside, and yet, as Pastor Jeff showed us from Hebrews 1:3: He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. Jesus is the brightness of the Father’s Glory. He is God manifest.

What is so awesome here is that Christ is the purest revelation of God, and in this temporal moment three men got to see that revelation supernaturally intensified (John MacArthur).

Why?

To accomplish His noblest of missions, Christ ….the Lord of Glory….the fully God and fully Man unique one, possessing all the attributes of the Trinity contained within Him…..purposefully veiled His glory through His life such that people would have to come to the conclusion He is God by what He did, and by what He said about what he did…….not because of how He appeared. They had to come by faith!

And the disciples got to that point of faith walking with Him.  Peter had just Confessed…. “You’re the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

But now, they found themselves comprehending the catastrophe ahead…..they were headed toward the cross.

Jesus would suffer, and they themselves would suffer…..and so they needed more than the flagging faith they had in the moment to hang on to…. and Jesus knew this……so He gave them a vision. He gave them a sight….a visible manifestation of glory……to hold on to.

RC Sproul described the light that flowed out of Jesus this way:

“It was white and pure…Philosophers argue that color is secondary, not primary. It does not inhere in a substance but is added to the substance by the presence of light. Where does color come from? It comes from light, from the sun, and all the hues of the rainbow are found in the pure light of the sun. But when all these colors are mixed together in the purity of light, we have absolute whiteness. Thus, it is not surprising that the light that flowed out of Jesus with an intensity beyond that of the sun was of purest white.”

The author of Hebrews aptly described Jesus, the only begotten of the Father, as “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” …….Jesus does not just reflect the brightness of God’s glory….a glory that kills, remember…..He is the brightness of the glory of God.

Let’s look now at verse 4: “And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.” What is going on here? Why Elijah and why Moses, and what were they talking with Jesus about?

Luke’s Gospel tells us the conversation was about Jesus’ sorrow-filled, but oh so necessary path through Jerusalem to the cross. Luke 9:31 says they “spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”

The three were agreeing on the necessity and unalterable nature of Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah…..suffering rejection and then a despicable, scornful death.

Elijah was there because he represented the prophets of the Old Testament, and Moses was there because he represented the Law….the conditional Mosaic Covenant.

…. and both chosen leaders clearly understood the mission and purpose of the Messiah. They knew Jesus had to die and they knew why! And so….. they came to the second person of the Trinity with their comfort and encouragement, reminding Him of His destiny……a destiny that they each…..in their own walk with God on earth….had foretold centuries before. (John MacArthur)

Matthew’s Gospel recorded Jesus saying this in Chapter five, verses 17–18:

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

Jesus was about to set His face toward Jerusalem. Agony awaited…..Elijah and Moses represented God’s unchanging grace plan from the very beginning as written in Genesis 3:15……..and now Jesus was just days away from finishing the sacrificial sin-debt work of the plan that only the covenant-keeping God Himself could do.

Here is one more reality about this encounter that made me marvel at God’s grace and lovingkindness: Elijah, as you’ll recall from Second Kings was taken up to Heaven by God at the end of his profound, but certainly arduous, ministry.

Isn’t it wonderful to consider that this prophet, of whom God had asked so much, was able to set foot in the Holy Land once again in this Transfiguration moment?

Moses too was honored in that he, after being denied entrance into the Promised Land because of his disobedience as chronicled  in Numbers 20:12, at last stood there after centuries.

Both examples remind me of the correctness and poignancy of honoring our nation’s war veterans….it is so special to remember the commitment and valor of those who selflessly answered a call to sacrificial service, even as the work itself may have been messy and imperfect. God in His awesome efficiency was honoring Elijah and Moses in their glorified state, even as He continued to use them for His always higher purposes.

The participation of Elijah and Moses should also give us hope of the promise of eternal life. We’re promised glorified bodies and we’re promised continuing, ongoing fellowship with God…..this view of heaven is not some boring picture with clouds and harps and angel’s wings…...No,  this is a picture of family intimacy, of eternal physical and spiritual health, and of work yet to be done with the unequaled purpose of bringing evermore glory to God!

Let’s look now at Verses 5 and 6, which gives an insight into the impressions and reactions of the three disciples who were there eye-witnessing this miraculous moment……

“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.”

The Gospel writer, Mark, is rather blunt in verse 6……Peter, again representing the three……was both terrified and shocked to the point of confusion….he did not know what to say…..

Of course, Peter being Peter, went ahead and blurted out something anyway….the tone of the verse gives the impression he said the first thing that came to his mind…..so perhaps his words might be discounted as one commentator described it…..as “babbling, or thinking without forethought.”

However, because the Holy Spirit sought to preserve Peter’s exact words, it’s important we look a little deeper…..

Peter, in saying “Master, it is good for us to be here,” was, in my view, revealing willful ignorance of the purpose for which Jesus came.

His wholly unreasonable suggestion to build three tabernacles exposed his still self-focused desire to usher in the kingdom of God right then and there….seeing Jesus in Transfigured form, and Elijah and Moses in glorified form, fueled a false hope that they could all skip the suffering and get right to the happy ending.

Peter was wishing away the scandal of the cross.

Oh, what wishful thinking….we all wishful think from time to time don’t we?….but such thinking in this case fails to acknowledge the unspeakable catastrophe of human sin that only God Himself could conquer.

Hebrews 9:11–12 ….straight from Jeff’s sermon last week….explains the spilling of Jesus’ blood as necessary …….. 12 he (Christ) entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

Peter missed on one other critically important point…..by elevating Elijah and Moses to be, in a sense, equals with Jesus….at least in his suggestion that they each get a tabernacle….Peter was actually disrespecting Jesus’ high office and incomparable dignity.

So, Peter missed on Jesus’ position as the Christ, and he missed on Jesus’ purpose as the suffering Savior…..he needed correction and God the Father brought it quickly……and convincingly…..in verse 7:

And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

Peter needed to hear the sovereign’s correcting admonition and God the Father came with authority and clarity.

They were there, engulfed in a bright glory cloud symbolizing the Lord’s presence, and God perfectly addressed Peter’s two misunderstandings.

In the same voice…..and using same words already expressed at Jesus’ baptism….the first member of the Trinity, God the Father, confirmed Peter’s own confession that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God!” This is my beloved Son!!!  …Said God the Father.

And guess what? Remember the principle of three witnesses needed to testify to a truth?  We have now three credible witnesses to confirm this most essential truth…..Elijah, Moses, and God the Father.  Credible witnesses…..credible witnesses to be sure……(John MacArthur)

Peter……and James and John……and soon enough the remaining the disciples……and in God’s timing, Paul, and then all of the Jews, and all the Gentiles, and ultimately all  of humanity…….which leads personally to you and to me……each one must rightly judge this Jesus to be God’s only begotten Son, and therefore….. trust Him to be the One worthy of following in faith-motivated obedience, at all costs, even unto death!

This is why The Father followed his confirmation….. “This is my Beloved Son”…..with a command!…….Listen to Him!

Listen to him means obey him folks……

The Kingdom will come in its due time…….but right now, Listen Peter, and listen James, and listen John….listen to what Jesus is saying about His suffering path and His sacrificial death…….and then obey Him in the mission He gives you, even unto death.

The cross must come before the glory……the road to the Kingdom must go through Jerusalem.

Praise God in His immeasurable grace that Peter’s awkwardness in the moment proved both understandable, and forgivable….I see myself in Peter …..and I’m grateful for God’s grace in my own life….One writer described the moment Peter found himself in as “holy fear mixed with stunning, exhilarating wonder at the most divine and incomprehensible experience of his life…..”

Peter would, of course, have more ups and downs going forward. But Peter both grew in his faith and was ever equipped by His loving savior all along the way.

…..and he died a blessed martyr in the end having advanced the church incomparably.

Bible exposition should help us to see ourselves right there in the actual moment….I hope this morning you’re thinking about Peter and wondering how you yourself might have responded……..

We know that this Transfiguration event did……in time…… have its planned effect on Peter, even if in the precise moment he was flummoxed…

In the writing of his Spirit-inspired second epistle years later Peter said this, as recorded in 2 Peter 1:16–18:

“16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain”

The voice borne from heaven heard on the Holy Mountain that Peter’s is referring to was, of course, God the Father’s voice at the transfiguration.

So, the Father spoke, and the correction was laid down, and then what do we see?

Verse 8, our last verse from our study this morning says: “And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.”

It was over. The disciples had been given an encouragement gift that would give them eye-witness credibility on mission going forward. No cleverly devised myths here…..three witnesses saw it all, and each could therefore confirm the truth of it.

But they did get a preview of the Kingdom! The quietness  meant it would not come for a while. They were left with only Jesus and He was no longer in glorious form. Jesus alone would soon lead them on the road to the cross……and they would follow.

That was the plan, it was being delivered perfectly, and that, as John MacArthur put: was the message the Apostle’s eventually preached…..They preached Christ, Him crucified, and risen again.

“Someday, said Pastor MacArthur, “according to Philippians we will appear ourselves in a body like unto His glorious body. Someday we’ll have that experience, but in the meantime…..in the meantime….we suffer for the sake of the cross, we suffer for the sake of the Gospel because it’s suffering, then glory.”

The disciples had a hard time with the cross…..but they eventually got the message and they applied truth to their life circumstances….to the life circumstances God sovereignly placed them within……

This is a picture of our own sanctification folks. James 1:2–4 says this about our Christian journey of sanctification: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”

God’s Kingdom will come folks……it will come…….

We’ve covered a lot in a short time this morning, so I want to leave you with five points of application:

One: Believe! Jesus is all you need….there is no hope in men, and there are no such things as superheroes.

Two: Follow! Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and follow His lead. If he is taking you up a steep climb, trust, obey, and persevere.  The view at the top will be worth it.

Three: Trust! Prepare to be surprised and overwhelmed at what Jesus has done, and will continue to do, for you. He is God, and as believers, we’ll have all of eternity to learn that we can never learn all there is to learn about His majesty.

Four: Obey! Appreciate Jesus’ amazing grace and grow in this grace. There is no time for pity parties in the Christian walk.  Strive to be the martyr version of Peter and not the many foolish versions….but be a learner as you strive.

Five: Love! I am so thankful the Lord did not skip the cross. It was there that He made Him who knew no sin, sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. This love is astounding, and we should be ever more compelled to love Him back!