Mark: Why the Gospel is good news
Week 8: The transfiguration of Jesus. Mark 9:2-13
Sermon: Sun 28th February 2016
The image of transfiguration is a powerful one. We see it in popular culture all the time, in film and TV mainly. It’s the scene in which the hero is suddenly revealed as he really is. The moment when what has been hidden from view is made public and in the process the full power and ability of the individual is shown. Think of Clark Kent being revealed as superman, a whole host of other comic book characters, or Alan Turing, transfigured from socially awkward and arrogant fanatic to genius who alone has the vision necessary to become the saviour figure.
In many respects what we read about in the Gospel narrative is a similar thing, only with greater consequences and significance than others.
But let’s start with an obvious question: What happened?
The reality is that even those who were there would probably have found it difficult to answer that question. After-all the events on the mountainside were definitely beyond normal experience. Let’s look at some of the components of the events that unfolded as we try to answer our first question:
It happened on a mountain. Mountains in scripture usually signify the place of divine revelation. They are quite literally the place where God shows up and shows himself off.
There was a cloud involved. Clouds often stand for Gods divine presence. God appears repeatedly to important figures in the scriptures in the midst of clouds.
Jesus was wearing shining white clothes. Again this has symbolic meaning, the brightness of Jesus robes alludes to the shekinah – the glory of God revealed in light so bright human eyes can barely stand to see it.
These three components had significance for the disciples who were with Jesus, they were part of their religious tool box or bank of religious experiences, so they helped to make sense of what was taking place. And each sign and symbol points to the unmistakeable reality that God was manifesting himself in a supernatural way.
Luke as usual notes down a bit more detail than Mark and tells us that Jesus was praying as all of this took place, the implication being that as Jesus drew close to his Father in prayer so God met him and changed his appearance.
Moving on the next question to ask is: What does it mean?
Jesus has two ancient companions on the mountain, Moses and Elijah. Two figures who are symbolically understood as representing the Law and the Prophets. Both of them had left life in unusual ways and they now talk with Jesus about his own departure. Perhaps in here there is a clue as to what it’s all about?
Alongside this, as the three stand alongside each other we see a visible representation of Gods ongoing plan of salvation, worked from the earliest days of the Exodus, through the patriarchs, the prophets, and leading up to Jesus Christ – the one who came at the right time, appointed by the Father, to complete his plans and purposes of redemption.
So where are we so far –
Jesus has a significant encounter with the Father which results in the Glory of God being manifest in and through him. The symbolism of the various components of the event point us clearly in this direction.
Jesus speaks with two figures who represent the ongoing work of Gods purposes of redemption and who talk with him about his departure (as Luke records).
So we might say that Jesus encounters the Father and visibly manifests his glory in preparation for his departure.
The disciples are told not to breathe a word of it until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.
Now point 4 we might assume that the disciples would sit back and say something like ‘oh I get it. You’re going to depart us, you’re going to die, then you’re going to rise again from the dead – and in that you’re going to demonstrate the glory of God!’ To which Jesus would have replied ‘Bingo’ or a suitable ancient near eastern equivalent…
But of course they don’t say that because they don’t understand. For the disciples still it is inconceivable that Gods glory could be displayed in the death of his anointed one. Glory and death don’t work together in their frame of reference.
With hindsight of course we know something very different to be true. We see demonstrated in Christ’s death and resurrection exactly how the glory of God is displayed. In sacrifice and service which leads to victory. We see the pattern of how God engages with his world and how he ministers to it and to us. We notice how this whole grace thing works out. We see the cycle of Gods dealings with us. We see how his glory is revealed.
We see that:
God’s glory is revealed in service and sacrifice.
God’s presence is found in the place of greatest darkness.
God’s purposes of redemption require the death of the old to make way for new life
Let’s reflect on this a while.
Without sacrifice there can be no victory. Without death new life cannot come.
How does this rhythm work itself out in your life of discipleship?
How are you aware of the ways in which Christ calls you to follow in this very same path way and cycle?
Can you give an example of how you have experienced this pattern in your life?
In what ways do you resist this pattern and cycle and look for victory without sacrifice or glory without cost?
Why not close your time together in prayer.
Simon Butler, 26/02/2016