2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
5 Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
7 Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
Don’t you hate it when your clothes get stained? It never fails … the shirt, the pants, the skirt or dresses for you ladies, it never fails that when you wear your favorite one, no matter how careful you are … it always ends up with a stain on it doesn’t it? I can’t seem to go to a Mexican restaurant and come out without salsa dripping off my chip and landing on my white shirt. It never fails. No matter how hard I try to be careful … it happens. If I wear black or any other shirt, I come out clean, but not with that white shirt.
Now I bring this up because this morning we are celebrating an event which three disciples witnessed which they will never forget. The event which transpire before their eyes will stain their memory and leave its mark on them as long as they live. At first they are told not to talk to anyone about it … but after Jesus would ascend into heaven and they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, you can’t keep the mouth of these three disciples shut. They have this urge, this compulsion inside of them to tell everyone what they saw that day as well as everything else they know about the love of Jesus.
So let’s look at this day which Mark records in our Gospel reading. Jesus takes with him three disciples, Peter, James, and John. He takes these three disciples and leads them up a mountain, which isn’t all that unusual. Jesus would often either go by himself or take some disciples with him and go off and pray away from the crowds. So Jesus takes these three disciples with him up this mountain … but when they get up there … something happens which stains their memory forever! Jesus is totally transformed.
“There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them” (Mark 9:2b-3). No longer did Jesus look like any ole guy walking around Galilee, no longer was Jesus covered with the stain of our human flesh, Jesus now shown brighter than anything one has ever seen. He was brighter than anything soaked in Clorox Bleach or OxiClean. As mysterious as this is, the other mysterious thing is who shows up to be with him. On either side of Jesus, the disciples see Moses and Elijah. These two Old Testament cornerstones are talking to Jesus about something.
In utter amazement and without thinking Peter blurts out “it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah” (9:5). No more did Peter get these words out of his mouth and one of the most terrifying events happens to him and the other disciples. The mountaintop is engulfed in a cloud and a loud voice, the same loud voice that spoke at Jesus’ baptism says, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (9:7). Peter, James, and John, out of desperate fear for their lives hit the deck and cover up their faces. Believing that they are probably dead, they peek out between their arms to see if they are in heaven. When they look out, they realize they are still on the mountain top and that only Jesus remains. Only Jesus remains. Moses is gone. Elijah is gone. The cloud engulfing the mountain top is gone. Only Jesus remains. And not the Jesus who was standing before them in glowing, blinding better than OxiClean brightness … but good ole normal looking Jesus. Only Jesus remains.
When I hear this account of the Transfiguration and Jesus in all his glory and power … I can’t help but think about how awesome of an event that must have been. I can’t help but wish that the glory and the power of Jesus would be used today to help fix some of the things which are so screwed up in our sinful world. In the midst of these times, in the midst of the hard times of our lives which we go through, I think that we yearn for the glory of God, we yearn for the magnificent presence of God which would change everything. We like power. We like to think that we can use power to help better things. We imagine that God in His glorious power would be a good thing for us and the world to experience. We think this, we imagine this, but if were to actually happen … if God was to reveal himself in all His glory and power, you know what we would do? … We would hit the deck like the disciples. We would drop to the ground and bury our heads under our arms like Peter praying for the moment to go away. In the raw power and awesome glory of God, you and I as soiled sinners are not worthy to be before God in all of His holiness because His awesomeness does not tolerate sin. Our human nature expects God to be the source of fireworks and a great show … but if God were to reveal His glory, His power, and His might in our sinful state … would anyone of us actually pay attention to His love? Would any of us pay attention to the cross and what it was that Jesus went through there? No. Our eyes would be glued on the glory of God and we would totally neglect the love of God which really saves us. We could not, we cannot handle the raw power of God.
Thus we need a filter. We need a filter because if you and I look at Jesus in all of his godly glory and perfect power … if we look at him in our sinful soiled state knowing that we are about to be judged for what we have wrongfully we done … like Peter and the other disciples, we hit the deck trying to hide ourselves full well knowing that our life is over and our future is hopeless. St. Paul actually says “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth” (Phil 2:10). Not only in the presence of Jesus, but at the name of Jesus … everyone will bow before him.
Yet even in our poor, miserable, sinful stained state … Jesus comes to you and me. He reaches out to you with his calloused carpenters hands, puts them on your shoulder, and as you peek out between your arms to see if you are still alive Jesus says, “Rise and do not be afraid.” Rise and do not be afraid for Jesus only remains. As you climb to your feet, Jesus only goes with you down the mountain of Transfiguration in his stained humility to the dark and dirty valley where you and I live our lives.
We are getting ready to head into the season of Lent, a season of renewal, a season which is a particularly dark valley which focuses on our need for forgiveness and salvation. Jesus alone will walk through the valley of the shadow of death, through the valley of deep darkness with you and me and for you and me. This Jesus who goes with you, he has hidden his awesome glory for us today. He doesn’t hide it from us, but for us. He hides his glory, but not his love. He doesn’t hide his love so that you and I may have something to focus on as we walk with him. Jesus is not out to scare us, he is not after our terror, he is not out to point out our numerous stains, but he is after our friendship, he is after our love. And so he walks down the hill into the valley of darkness, sets his face toward the cross and the death he will die for the sins of the whole world.
Christ will die this death for your sins alone. Oh sure, there is a criminal on either side of Jesus dying along with him. Yet Jesus, suspended there on that cross stained with his own blood is dying alone. At the climax of his suffering, at the pinnacle of his anguish he calls out to God, he calls out to his Heavenly Father in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). … and then he gives up his spirit and dies.
Jesus alone was taken down off of that cross. Jesus alone was laid to rest in an empty tomb about a stone’s throw away from the cross. Jesus alone would rise from that grave to ultimately defeat sin, death, and Satan himself for you … for me … for all believers. It is Jesus alone who remains and who will come again in his holy glorified brightness to bring you home with him. Jesus alone is who you and I and every single person outside of these walls need.
On this Transfiguration Sunday, we see Jesus shining ever so brightly in all his glory. But even though he is joined by Moses and Elijah of the Old Testament … when everything is said and done, Jesus alone remains.
My dear friends in Christ, I invite you this morning, as well as each and every day to look up. The author of Psalm 121 asks the question, “where does my help come from?” And then he answers his question saying, “My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2). Your help as you walk in the plains of life, as you travel through the valley of the shadow of death stained in sin comes from Christ who calms yours fears, bears your burdens, comforts you in your sorrow and lovingly attends you all the days of your life. In the end … Jesus alone remains with you. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.