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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Light-Bringer (Mark 9.2-13)

Sermons by: Robert Austell - March 9, 2014
Text: Mark 9:2-13

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Audio not available for this sermon; see written draft below.

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Immortal, Invisible" (arr. Rick Bean)
Call to Worship: "But for You Who Fear My Name (Malachi 4:2)" (Welcome Wagon)
Song of Praise: "Prepare the Way" (Evans/Nuzum)
Hymn of Praise: "Jesus, Take us to the Mountain" (IRBY)
Offering of Music: "But for You Who Fear My Name (Malachi 4:2)" (Welcome Wagon)
Song of Sending: "Salvation's Song" (Stuart Townend)
Postlude: "Fairest Lord Jesus" (arr. Rick Bean)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose. 
2 Six days later, Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and brought them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; 3 and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them. 4 Elijah appeared to them along with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. 5 Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 For he did not know what to answer; for they became terrified. 7 Then a cloud formed, overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!” 8 All at once they looked around and saw no one with them anymore, except Jesus alone. 9 As they were coming down from the mountain, He gave them orders not to relate to anyone what they had seen, until the Son of Man rose from the dead. 10 They seized upon that statement, discussing with one another what rising from the dead meant. 11 They asked Him, saying, “Why is it that the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” 12 And He said to them, “Elijah does first come and restore all things. And yet how is it written of the Son of Man that He will suffer many things and be treated with contempt? 13 “But I say to you that Elijah has indeed come, and they did to him whatever they wished, just as it is written of him.”  ~Mark 9:2-13
We are continuing today in our series entitled, “It is Written….” But between now and Easter we take a decided turn in focus. For the past six weeks or so we have been looking at Jesus’ use of Scripture, primarily in his teaching. We’ve seen how he has made good on his word in Matthew 5:17 that he did not come to do away with the old scripture, but to complete and fulfill it. In his use of the old scripture – the Law of Moses and the Writings and the Prophets… our Old Testament – he routinely lifted it up as God’s true Word, but pressed even deeper into how it was to challenge, inhabit, and shape our lives.

Between now and Easter I want to add one additional series verse to “I have not come to abolish, but to fulfill” from Matthew 5:17. That additional verse is on the cover of your bulletin and comes from Luke 18:31-33.
Then he took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be handed over to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and on the third day He will rise again.”
We will continue to look at Jesus’ use of Old Testament scriptures, but we will see more and more as he draws near to Easter, that he is not just teaching the scriptures, but is a LIVING FULFILLMENT of them. Today we look at the event called the Transfiguration, where he fulfilled one of the significant Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah.

Dazzling Distraction

Today’s text begins with a description of a miraculous event of – dare I say it – biblical proportions! It starts casually enough: Jesus takes Peter, James, and John aside for a side-trip onto a mountain. There was a special relationship between Jesus and those three and this was one of several occasions when they were pulled aside for a special word or experience. In what seems like very minimalist fashion, Mark writes that Jesus “was transfigured (lit. ‘changed in form’) before them.” (v. 2)  …as if “transfigured” (or changing in form!) was a common-place word or something anyone had ever seen or imagined before. We do get the shortest of elaborations on a word that is otherwise beyond us: Jesus’ garments became “radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them.” (v. 3) I think words simply fail at this point. Jesus apparently began to shine like the sun – blindingly and dazzlingly white. And that’s just SCENE ONE!

Then (SCENE TWO) two other figures suddenly appeared and talked with Jesus. Somehow, even with all the shining going on, the disciples were able to recognize that the two additional figures were Moses and Elijah. The next bit is equally as confusing to me. Peter somehow finds wits to speak and asks Jesus if he can make three tabernacles (sacred tents) for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. (v. 5) Yet in the next verse we are told that Peter really has no idea what he is saying as he and the other disciples become terrified. (v. 6) And we aren’t done yet!

SCENE THREE: Then a cloud formed and a voice came out of the cloud and said, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him!” (v. 7) And then, just like that, it was quiet and they were once again alone with Jesus.

Can you imagine?

Honestly… no, I don’t think we can.

But here’s the thing: we read something like that and the verses that follow seem boring and dull in comparison. Our minds are racing to envision Jesus shining like the sun. Did he peel back his human skin and there was some kind of energy force hiding inside? What did Moses and Elijah look like? Were they like angels or were they glowing? It surely was a terrifying sight… and then the voice of God from the heavens. And is the Hollywood version my mind starts to envision anything like what happened? Was it a vision or real events in real time? So many questions!

None of those questions or thoughts are wrong or unimportant; by all means, keep asking! But in some ways they can become a dazzling distraction keeping us from tuning in to the very important parts that we CAN hear and comprehend. Kind of like the crowd in John 6 last week that risked missing the real point by focusing on the miracle of feeding the crowd instead of the miracle of Jesus himself as the Bread of Life, if we get fixated on the shiny parts of this story, we may miss the real Light of the World.

What’s With Elijah?

As Jesus and the three disciples were coming down the mountain, Jesus told them not to speak of what they had seen. Jesus has said similar things before, raising our curiosity for sure. But, It seems that Jesus had specific intentions about the timing of the news about him. Now, more than ever, he seemed intent on reaching the destination God had in mind. Indeed, he didn’t issue a blanket hush order, but told the disciples to wait “until the Son of Man rose from the dead.” (v. 9)

And now we are getting to the real heart of this amazing story. As miraculous and mind-stretching as the Transfiguration was, it and all that happened around it primarily relate to the Resurrection of Easter morning. We read in v. 10 that the disciples “seized upon that statement, discussing with one another what rising from the dead meant.” There was a belief among some Jews in a general resurrection of the dead, but no expectation of a singular resurrection before the last day.

And between the mention of the Son of Man and the amazing event they have just witnessed, the disciples start connecting some dots. They ask Jesus, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first? (before the last day)” That teaching is a reference to the prophet Malachi, who we heard from in the Call to Worship at the beginning of the service:
4 “Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel. 5 “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. 6 “He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”  (Malachi 4:4-6)
Malachi prophesied that the prophet Elijah (or “one like the prophet Elijah”) would return before the day of the Lord. Several weeks ago, we heard Jesus called John the Baptist the “last great prophet” and compared him to Elijah as a forerunner of the Messiah, saying: “If you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come.” (Matthew 11:14) Here, in the Transfiguration, we have another appearance of Elijah (and Moses with him). Scholars believe that this supernatural appearance of these two key figures are to represent the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah) and their completion in Jesus, as he described in Matthew 5:17, “I have come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.”

Notice two more things before we leave Malachi. One is the news that Elijah will announce on his return. It is that God will “restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers…” (Malachi 4:6) Malachi prophesied and Elijah/John announced that this time of restoration was at hand and the Messiah or Son of Man was here.

And remember our song from Malachi 4:2, right before the verses about Elijah?  I can’t help but notice the link with the Transfiguration. What joyful news does the return of Elijah herald? It is the sun of righteousness rising with healing in its wings. Sun of Righteousness… Jesus shining dazzling white… hmm.

It is Written of the Son of Man (v. 12)

In verse 12, Jesus moves from Elijah to the Son of Man, noting that “it is written of the Son of Man that he will suffer many things and be treated with contempt.” He adds to that assertion of scripture to note that “Elijah has indeed come (as John) and they did whatever they wished to him.” Remember that John was imprisoned and killed for his prophetic role. Jesus interprets this as a fulfillment of scripture.

But back to the Son of Man. Jesus says “it is written… that the Son of Man will suffer.” Where is this written? Interestingly, “Son of Man” is largely a title Jesus ascribes to himself. It seems to be part of that laying-low, keep it a secret, hold it to the end approach, most like intended to play down the popular titles and views of the Messiah and allow him to move and teach on his own terms. But when he talks about it being written that the Messiah figure would suffer, he is drawing on a number of themes in the Old Testament. One of the best-known is Isaiah 53, which describes the “suffering servant.” We will return to that passage in the coming weeks leading up to Easter and we will use it today for our Prayer of Confession, for it is one that Jesus (and sinful humanity) fulfilled in great detail. But for now, I’ll simply read a small portion of it so you’ll get a flavor.
2 … He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. 3 He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.

The point is exactly this shift that I spoke about as I started today. Up to this point, Jesus has largely been fulfilling the Old Testament scriptures through TEACHING. As he gets closer and closer to his crucifixion and resurrection, he begins more and more fulfilling the Old Testament scriptures IN HIMSELF. I was going to write “through living”; but much of his enacted fulfillment is through his suffering and dying. The point is that he embodied and became the scriptures, truly the Living Word of God.

We will see more and more in the coming weeks that Jesus drew together multiple themes and strands of biblical teaching, law, history, prophecy, and even poetry; again, not just into his own teaching, but into himself. Much of the rest of the New Testament will go on to explore that in depth. Romans explores how Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the Law and God’s righteousness. Ephesians explains how Jesus fulfilled the intent of the covenant with Abraham and Acts tells the story of the unfolding of that post-resurrection covenant community. Hebrews explains how Jesus fulfilled and became the whole Levitical system of offerings and sacrifices.


What can we take away from the account of the Transfiguration? There is a miracle, to be sure. In it we briefly see the glory of Jesus revealed and visible. We see the physical manifestation of the scripture – Law and Prophets – bearing witness to Jesus as the Son of God. We hear Jesus beginning to draw together multiple strands of scriptural teaching about God’s Messiah, locating them in himself and the suffering, and death he is about to endure as well as the glorious resurrection that follows.

Like previous weeks, what this amounts to for us is testimony. It is Jesus saying, “This is who I am!” But wow, isn’t the depth and range of those words getting deeper and wider?! Are you starting to get a sense for who Jesus understood himself to be, who he claimed to be, and who he was? That’s the thing I don’t want you to miss… and that this Bible isn’t just a few lines here and there from a wandering Rabbi, but this Bible that was written over thousands of years resonates with the single, bright note of the Light of the World – Jesus – even as it resonates with all the complexity of a massive symphonic master-work written to anticipate, highlight, and sound that bright note.

Do you hear it? This is Jesus – the Law and the Prophets, the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, the Son of Man and Son of God.

What do you do with that? What do you do with him?

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