Sermon for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany 
 The Transfiguration of our Lord

Text: Mark 9:2-3
Six days later Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John, and led them up a high mountain, where they were alone. As they looked on, a change came over Jesus, and his clothes became shining white—whiter than anyone in the world could wash them.
Mt Tabor

Divine glimpses

Some time ago there was a TV program called Early Edition. The story is about a man whose paper is delivered every morning by a stray cat. Every morning without fail he hears a noise at the door and there on his doormat is the cat and the newspaper. But there is something different about this newspaper. It’s the next day’s paper. It reports all the things that are yet to happen during that day. He might read about a child knocked down by a car and so was able to go to the street mentioned in the paper and stop the child from crossing the road and thus save the child’s life.
On one occasion he was shocked to read an article about his own death. Of course he didn’t die because he was able to avoid the circumstances reported in the paper that led to his demise.
Once a friend got the paper first and looked up the results of the local horse races. He was able to read there what horses won their races and since those races had been run yet he was able to make a heap of money betting at the racetrack.

I’m sure there are times when all of us wish we had a newspaper like that or have some other way of getting a glimpse of what will happen in the future.
We hold a newborn baby in our arms and we wish we could look into the future and see what kind of person he/she will become and what they will achieve in life.
We go into business and wish we could look into the future and see if this will be a successful venture.
We attend a wedding and as the young couple begin their married life, we wonder what joys and tragedies the future will hold for them.
We wonder what jobs we will have in the future, how will our health be, will we be rich, how long will we live on this earth.

Jesus didn’t need a copy of tomorrow’s newspaper to know what was going to happen to him. We read in Mark’s Gospel just prior to our text today, "Jesus began to teach his disciples: ‘The Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law. He will be put to death, but three days later he will rise to life’ (Mark 8:31). On a number of occasions Jesus talked about what the future held for him. Because we have the advantage of hindsight we know that this is exactly what happened to Jesus. Jesus had this extraordinary ability to be able to get more than a glimpse of the future and see what was in store for him.

The gospel writer doesn’t tell us what Jesus’ reaction was to this extraordinary look into the future. Being a human with the same kind of feelings and emotions that we have, I imagine that this glimpse into the future was not easy for Jesus. Even Jesus must have flinched at the thought of rejection and mockery and the excruciating pain of being nailed to a cross.

This news certainly wasn’t easy for the disciples to swallow and we are told how they reacted. Peter takes Jesus aside and growls at Jesus for talking such foolishness. I guess we would do much the same. If someone we love, who was hale and hearty, suddenly started talking about coming to a violent and sudden end, we would do something similar to what Peter did. What made it even harder for Peter is that he had just confessed that Jesus was the Messiah and things like that just don’t happen to someone as important as the Messiah, the one sent by God, God's own Son.

It came as a great blow to the disciples to hear that God's Messiah must suffer and be killed. Worse, Jesus gives the disciples a glimpse of what the future would hold in store for them. "If any one would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23-25). The disciples suffered a double shock. Jesus must suffer in order to be obedient to God; they must suffer pain and hardship because of their obedience and commitment to Jesus.

To the disciples all this was like receiving next week’s newspaper today. In it they could read all that was going to happen about Jesus’ trial, suffering, mocking and death. They could even read about the suffering and hardship they would endure. We can just imagine what must have been going on their minds as they thought all this through.

The transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain occurs right after this doubly distressing pronouncement.

It's a strange story. Peter, James, and John, the lead disciples, go away with Jesus to a high mountain. There, Jesus’ face changes its appearance, and his clothes became dazzling white. There, Jesus is seen talking with the two great figures of the Old Testament - Moses and Elijah. We are told they talked about what lay ahead of Jesus as he travelled to Jerusalem, the suffering and dying that he had already spoken about to his disciples (Luke 9:30,31). Then suddenly, they see only Jesus, and hear a voice from the cloud saying, "This is my son, whom I have chosen - listen to him!"

In this dazzling moment of recognition, it was revealed to these disciples who Jesus was. He was more than a man. They learnt that his suffering and the cross are in accord with God's will. Moses and Elijah depart, leaving only Jesus, now the one on whom God's salvation rested. They had been given a glimpse into the future and could see the glory of Jesus – the glory that would be his after the resurrection and his ascension to the throne of heaven.

The transfiguration lasted only a moment. It was a glimpse of the future but the future had not yet become the present. The disciples accompanied Jesus back down from the mountain, back down into the valley where there were sick people to be healed, and disputes among the disciples to be settled, and lots more work to be done, including suffering and death. Peter wanted to freeze this glorious mountaintop moment, to make it last forever, and even though this was not possible, this glimpse into the future made all the difference.

If Peter ever experienced, as we do, days of uncertainty, if he ever wondered if he was on the right track, if he was ever tempted to go back fishing instead of being an apostle, I believe the transfiguration was one of the memories that shed light into his human dilemma. It said to him, "Yes, Jesus is truly God's Son. I know it. I have seen his divine glory. One day I will see that glory again in heaven" (See 2 Peter 1:12-18).

Jesus is still giving glimpses of the future. We may not see Elijah and Moses talking with him, but as we see Jesus in the Bible we are given a divine revelation, "This is God's Son whose love is so real and so free. No matter what your sin, he forgives. No matter how alone you feel, he is your constant companion. Even death cannot separate you from his love."

As we read, we catch glimpses of the future. We hear the voice of God say to us, "This is my beloved Son, listen to him!"

In Jesus, God lifts the veil covering the future for a moment and we see ourselves as one of the sheep of the Good Shepherd and as inheritors of eternal life. I sat at the bed of a man whose hours in this life were slowly drawing to a close. He was barely conscious, his breathing laboured. Suddenly he eyes opened wide, and he said, "Jesus is coming to get me!" and with that he took his last breath.

Sceptics will say that he was hallucinating, that drugs were playing tricks on his mind, but I, and those gathered around the deathbed, believe that for a fleeting moment the veil over the future was torn back and he could see himself in the presence of his Saviour. For those of us who heard his last words, we also got a glimpse of the future. We could see not only that man in Jesus’ presence in heaven but we could also see ourselves walking with the arm of Jesus around us.

When we come here to worship, we are confronted with God’s revelation. We hear again the Good News of salvation, sins forgiven, the call to discipleship, the promise of eternal life. In some small way every time we hear God’s Word, celebrate the sacraments, the veil over the future is torn away and for a moment we see the glory of the Lord, his will for our lives and our place in his family. When we are burdened with everything that has happened in the past week, we are giving a glimpse of the One who invites us to load all our burdens and worries on to him – his power is far greater than any problem that we think is insurmountable. He says to us in our particular need, "Don't be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand." (Isaiah 41:10 NLT). Hearing words like that lifts the veil that was clouding our lives and assures of strength that is beyond our strength to cope with the future.

A mother with terminal cancer told of an occasion she was picnicking with her husband and two young children. She sat quietly under a tree as she watched the three of them laugh as they tried to make stones skip across the water. She imagined the time when she would no longer be with her family and they would picnic without her. Suddenly her heart felt heavy and sad at the thought of being separated from those she loved more than anything else in all the world. Tears started to fall down her cheeks. The pain was more than she could bear.

As she watched, her young daughter fell on some rocks and started crying. Immediately her father rushed over, picked her up, checked for blood and then gave her a big hug. That picture was just what she needed. The veil over the future was lifted. When she was gone she knew her children would be in good hands, and she knew also that she would be in good hands – the loving hands of her heavenly Father. When she was close to death she told her family this little story. They were in tears – tears of sadness and at the same time tears of joy – for they too caught a glimpse of the love of their heavenly Father.

Without a doubt, God still favours us, his people today, with moments of transfiguration. We too are given "mountaintop" experiences where we can experience the grace and the glory of God at work in our lives. And we find ourselves altered by these glimpses of his grace and glory. Those revelatory glimpses help and encourage us. We go back to the valley, to a very ordinary humdrum week, different, because for one shining moment, we have seen. The curtain between the present and the future is pulled back and we know the future as if it were now.

We have seen the Lord, we have heard a voice, and now we know not to be afraid. We have been given a vision of Christ, and now, we are ready to serve.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
2nd March, 2003
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com 

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