Glory

Scriptures: Exodus 24:9-18; Mark 9:2-10

The Transfiguration is one of those Sundays in the church year that is celebrated year after year after year. And that usually means that there’s something important about it. And I think that it is important as well. It was important in the life of the disciples, and it’s important in our lives as well.

I want to set up a little context for this. The liturgist noted that Jesus had done many miracles, and some things that only God could have done. Those crowds that were following still refused to understand that he was God, and some even called him a blasphemer.

Just prior to this, six days before, Jesus had been alone with his disciples. He had asked that question, “Who do men say that I am?” That is the theme of Mark: who is this man? They listed some of the things that people thought. Then Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

Jesus said, “The Spirit has told you this, not the flesh.” Then he proceeded to tell them how he must suffer and die, and be raised after three days. And Peter, the ever brash, ever willing to open his mouth Peter, said, “Never, not while I’m alive!” And Jesus said his infamous phrase, “Get thee behind me, Satan.”

That had to do with their understanding of the Messiah. The Messiah was to be a conquering King. The Messiah was to be God, and God can’t be killed. The Messiah was to be someone who was going to make everything right and get rid of the oppressors and free the captives. Not suffer and die.

He had also said one other thing, he had said it somewhat to the crowd, “Some of you will not see death before you shall see the glory of the kingdom.”

So Jesus took the twelve disciples aside, he first took all twelve to a separate mountain, and then he took these three, the inner circle, including Peter again, and James and John, and went up to the top.

And he began to pray. Jesus often did this, that is, taking people aside and praying. He prayed to recharge, he prayed to be in touch with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and I think he prayed to be ministered to while he was restricted in this human body that he was incarnate in, and to be strengthened for what was to come.

And while he was praying, he was transfigured. And the word that was used in Mark just says that his clothes became dazzling white. One of the other Gospels says that he shone, using a word meaning that he shone from within.

And these two, Moses and Elijah, were there beside him. Now when that happened, they were overwhelmed. But I guess that wasn’t too overwhelming for Peter to still be able to go up and open his mouth.

I want you to think for a moment here. Let’s say Queen Elizabeth, and your favorite president, and Billy Graham were all talking together. Would you come up and interrupt them? I don’t know about you, but I probably would just wait until they were done, and wait for them to notice me.

But Peter, he goes up, and he says, “You know, it’s good that we’re here, us three guys.” In part, that was because three was the set of witnesses to attribute something as true in a court of law. Then he says, “How about we build three booths?” It was like he was saying, “We’ll just stay up here and worship you. Forget about the others down below. Forget about the rest of the world. We’re just going to stay here and worship you.”

At that point in time, the Father takes a hand in it. It says the glory of the Lord – the same words that are used in the Exodus passage – shone around them, and a voice said, from the glory, from the light, “This is my Son, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”

Now the glory of the Lord was enough that it knocked all of the disciples flat on their faces. And by the time they woke up, or looked up, depending on how you want to read it, Moses and Elijah were gone, and Jesus was the only one there, and he looked back to normal.

So what was the point of this? Because then the first thing that Jesus did was tell them, “Shh. Don’t tell anyone what happened.” And he proceeded to tell them, once again, how he was going to suffer and die, and be raised after three days.

So what was the point of this Transfiguration? I think that it serves some very important points. Part of the purpose of the Transfiguration, showing his heavenly glory, was so that the inner circle of his disciples could gain a greater understanding of who Jesus was.

Remember, they had seen miracles. But when Jesus said, “I’m going to die,” they said, “No way Jose. That is not what our Messiah is going to do.”

They believe, perhaps, in their heads, but not with all their hearts, about who Jesus was. They did not understand who he was, which is the constant theme running through Mark.

So Christ underwent a dramatic change in appearance, in order that his disciples could be hold him in his glory. The disciples who had only known him in his human body now had a greater realization of the deity of Christ, though they could not fully comprehend it. And that gave them the reassurance they needed after hearing the shocking news of his coming death.

Now symbolically, Moses and Elijah represent the law and the prophets. And they were talking to him. But notice that the Father said, “Listen to him.” That is, listen to Jesus. Jesus was greater than the law and the prophets.

So this was, again, another message about how Jesus was going to change the world, the cosmos, turn it upside down by his death and resurrection. The very things that they had patterned their lives after, up to this point, were going to be fulfilled, and then released, through Jesus Christ. He was greater than either one of those.

The word shekinah, by the way, just a sort of a bit of trivia – we translate it as “glory” but literally it means “weight.” Weightiness. It has this image of impressiveness, of awesomeness, of something awe-producing. So the glory of God, as we saw, flattened them on their face. They had all of this weight upon them.

And the voice said, “Listen to him.” And that would impress upon them to listen to what Jesus said, even when he’s in his human form. They had a glimpse of his glory, a glimpse of the weightiness and authority and the power and the might that he had. They got a glimpse of God’s glory.

I know what it said in Exodus, but I really don’t know whether they got to see God at all or not. It would seem to me that the seventy elders that were there probably saw about the same thing as the disciples. Because other than that, we’d be blinded. God said if you actually looked at Him, you’d be dead.

So we have this image of God and His glory, His light, His weightiness, His awesome majesty. And Christ partakes of that.

And they still didn’t get it, by the way. Throughout Mark, they don’t get it. Even in Matthew and Luke they struggle, until after the resurrection. Peter does his famous betrayal, as far as lying about him, denying him. Judas, of course, betrays him to the Pharisees and the elders. The others all run away.

They don’t get who Christ was, even then. But a seed had been planted. A seed of strength – not a seed of doubt, but a seed of strength, of truth, has been planted in their souls at that moment in time. These three leaders of the apostles, when the time came, would remember this event.

They would remember how they had seen Christ’s glory, and would be strengthened by it. So that when Christ came again, they were ready in their hearts to receive it. I don’t think it’s any accident that when the women came to the disciples, after Christ was raised, and they said his tomb is empty and he has risen, John and Peter went running, and it says John looked in and he saw and he believed.

Peter looked in, and he probably believed too, but he was so grief-stricken by his denial of Christ that I’m sure he felt it set him further apart from Christ. So Christ came to him on his own and basically let him know that he was forgiven, in Gospel of John asked him those questions, “Do you love me?”

And Peter says yes. “Then feed my sheep.” And Jesus asked him three times, “Do you love me?” just like three times Peter denied him. But the seed was there. And the seed was there because they had seen God’s glory. The weight of God’s glory was upon their hearts.

The disciples never forgot what happened that day on the mountain, and no doubt this was intended. John wrote in his Gospel, “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only.” Peter also wrote of it in his one of his letters.

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the majestic glory saying, “This is my son whom I love. With him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven, when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

Those who witnessed the Transfiguration bore witness to it, to the other disciples, and after Jesus’ resurrection to countless millions down through the centuries.

So you have Peter, the primary disciple of Christ, the one who is the leader of all the apostles, John, whom Jesus called the beloved, and who had a special relationship with Jesus. And then James, the one who was willing to stand up for Christ before the Romans, and be the first one to be martyred for declaring that Jesus is Lord.

The weight of God’s glory can do amazing things. We don’t get to see that kind of Transfiguration today. Christ is not present among us in the flesh. But he is present with us in spirit, in each one of us. And he is present with us when we worship and we form the kingdom of God.

And we have the stories, the telling of the eyewitnesses, to just what it means to see the glory of God. It was something they were willing to die for. Something they were willing to live for.

It should be something that we are eager to see. For when we see the glory of God, it will be a welcoming one. And it won’t be Christ who is transfigured, because he’s already back in his deific form. It will be us who are changed, in the blink of an eye. And we shall be able to see God face to face, despite His glory, and celebrate forever the joy of Christ.

So remember the Transfiguration. It portends not just the seed of truth that strengthens us in our faith today, but what will come for us someday. And then go forth, on the strength of that truth, being transformed in your life to reflect that glory here, that we might experience that glory there.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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