Listen to Jesus
Sermon 1732 Mark 9.2-9 February 14, 2021
I think I have had the most enviable career among my classmates at the Seminary. I vicared (did my student preaching) in North Hollywood. For a hick Minnesota boy, what could be more glorious? “It must be even ritzier than Hollywood, because it’s a suburb of Hollywood,” one of my relatives mused. “You lucky devil.” No, they had never been on gritty Sunset Boulevard or even grittier Lankersheim. And then I got to spend most of my days in Viva Laaaaas Vegas! What can I say? “I hear they fund the church with a tenth of all the members’ casino winnings!” You can see why I don’t make that many trips back to attend alumni meetings. They got Northern Wisconsin, Ixonia and Jenera, Ohio. The really lucky ones get a church in Milwaukee!!
But in all seriousness, we Christians have the most glorious lot in life. We have the Lord of glory as our Savior. We have the testimony from the Almighty Father, given not once, but twice in glowing approval of his Son. We’ve got the Holy Spirit, the Lord of life, touching our hearts daily. Universal Studios could only make it look like Charlton Heston was parting the Red Sea with their quick special effect drain, glass sides and narrow camera angles. Our God did part the Red Sea.
Today we have a particularly glorious portion of Scripture before us, the Transfiguration of Jesus. I could go on and on about the glory and majesty displayed on the holy mountain, but I’d be missing the point. Here’s the point.
Listen to Jesus
1. He is God the Son (2-3).
2. He is approved by God the Father (7-8).
3. He is our Savior (4-6, 9).
“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. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them (2-3).”
All through Jesus’ ministry he had proven time and again that he was the Son of God, sent by God to do God’s will. He taught with authority. Even the guards sent by his enemies to arrest him said, “No man has ever spoken like this.” And they weren’t just using that as an excuse as to why they hadn’t brought Jesus back in chains. His words had struck them as certainly as Jesus’ words in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Who are you looking for? I am he,” would knock the Temple guards and their gang to the ground. We have the words of grace and truth from his lips. Truly he is the Word.
His miracles proved Jesus was the Son of God. When the imprisoned John the Baptist was trying to get his hold-on-to-the-bitter-end followers to sign on with Jesus, he sent a delegation of them to Jesus to ask, “Are you the One who was to come or should we expect someone else?” They came upon Jesus in a day filled with so many miracles that Jesus could say, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me (Luke 11.3-6).” He could say that because it was going on in front of their eyes! The religious leaders feared the Romans would remove them from power if the nation followed after Jesus because of all the miracles he was doing. He raises Lazarus from the dead and they plot to kill both Jesus and Lazarus. The miracles Jesus performed were real. Even his enemies recognized and acted upon them!
Yet, the prophets of old performed miracles. It was one of the signs that they were sent by God. Granted, no one had ever done so many in such a concentrated fashion as Jesus, but what if he were just the latest and greatest of the prophets? One miracle could prove he was the Son of God. Jesus did one miracle only God could do. God alone holds the power of life and death. “My times are in your hands,” the psalmist says. Jesus promised that he would raise himself from the dead. “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” No man could do that. Jesus did that, on Easter Sunday. The miracles prove Jesus is the God the Son.
But Jesus doesn’t look like God. Taking a hint from Jesus riding the Palm Sunday donkey colt so small no one had ever thought of riding, Jesus could easily make weight to wrestle in one of the two lowest high school weight classes. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him,” Isaiah predicted (53.2).
Isn’t that like sinful human beings? We dismiss a busload of evidence because we were looking for a Hertz Rental truck. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations,” and we refuse to listen. “Where does the Bible say we should baptize babies?” “I and the Father are one,” Jesus says. “The Bible never uses the word Trinity,” the unbeliever responds on the Facebook page. “Never will I leave you, never will I desert you,” God promises us. Yet some days we feel so alone.
If I were God I would have said, “That’s it. I’ve more than proved my case. Fiddlesticks to you.” And then I would have walked away and watched some fantastic fireworks as two black holes collided and swallowed up three more lifeless galaxies in the process out at the edge of space. But that’s not our God. He gave us the Transfiguration of Jesus to remove that one, last objection. Jesus doesn’t look like God? Now on the Mount of Transfiguration he does.
Jesus gleamed. The brightness wasn’t from a scrubbed face or a million dollar smile. No laundry detergent could make his clothes look like that. Even after a sweaty climb up the mountain, Jesus gleamed. The light was coming from Jesus. He was giving us a glimpse of his heavenly glory. He is the Son of God. That’s why we should listen to him.
Listen to Jesus. He is approved by God the Father.
We don’t like to take anybody’s word vouching for themselves. That’s why every job application asks for references. And by references they mean what other people think of you. Here’s what God the Father thought of Jesus.
“Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him.’ Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus (7-8).”
Only God speaks from clouds. He did it at Mount Sinai, with clouds and lightning and fire. He rides upon the clouds, the psalms say. He comes down in judgment in clouds and thick darkness, the prophets tell us. God doesn’t do this to make an entrance. That is just the way he is. No one can see his face and live, he tells Moses. Of course when he makes an appearance revealing his glory people notice. Of course they react. Most of the time fear is involved. A sense of dread seizes Abraham when the Lord cuts a covenant with him. God speaks, we listen. It’s that simple.
God the Father speaks. God the Father speaks from the cloud. God the Father says Jesus is his Son in an approving way as only a loving father can claim a son he is so, so proud of. If you need more proof than Jesus raising himself from the dead to prove he is the Son of God, here’s the proof.
If we can’t infer it from God the Father’s approving acknowledgement of Jesus as his Son, God the Father comes right out and says it. He loves Jesus. “Whom I love.” On earth, we can love someone, but not particularly like them on certain days. Love can be strained. Love sometimes needs to be rekindled. Are you listening, guys? Today is Valentine’s Day, February 14. You don’t have football to take up your Sunday afternoon and evening. There’s still time to sneak out of the house and get her something—anything! Don’t forget her. But the love God the Father has for God the Son, the love each person of the Trinity has for each other, I can’t even describe it. It is an infinite love, a mystical love. Compare aluminum foil to a skyscraper’s steel girder? That would be too small a comparison to putting our love for another human being up against God the Father’s love for God the Son. God loves all of us, but here God is talking about a special love, a one of a kind love for God the one and only Son. I am going to pay attention to the one God the Father loves like that. Aren’t you?
Yes, God is powerful, majestic, awesome. He is a great big God. But none of that matters at this point. The whole purpose of God the Father’s appearing is that we listen to Jesus. Jesus is God the Son. Jesus is the one loved by the Father in a one and only kind of way. Listen to him.
Here’s the last reason we are commanded to listen to Jesus. He is our Savior.
“And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 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.’ (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) (4-6)”
Moses and Elijah are the two leading figures in the Old Testament. Moses led the Children of Israel out of Egypt and wrote the first five books of the Bible. Elijah was the greatest miracle working prophet during the time of the Kings. God showed the outsized significance they had in his plans by taking their bodies to heaven. Elijah never died. He went to heaven in a fiery chariot. Moses’ body never decayed. The Lord took it to heaven and reunited it with Moses’ soul. They stand for the Old Testament.
The message of the Old Testament was that the Savior was coming. Philp tells Nathanael, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote (John 1.45).” Jesus educates the two disciples who were walking to Emmaus on Easter Sunday afternoon, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets (Luke 24.27).” “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory (Luke 24.36)?” So when Moses and Elijah appear on the Mount of Transfiguration, they are talking about Jesus fulfilling God’s plan of salvation. They were talking about his upcoming suffering, death and resurrection in Jerusalem.
We would listen to the Son of God. We know which side our bread is buttered on. We would listen to someone approved by God the Father. That’s the greatest celebrity testimony there is. But would not even the dullest among us, would not even the most self-centered among us listen to the one who saved us?
There’s a line in a Broadway song that the girl isn’t interested in the boy going on and on about his past troubles, “because I am yet to be in it.” Fair enough. Let’s talk about you. And remember, in talking about you, I am including myself.
You were born trailing stardust. Your first parents were godlike in their wisdom and holiness. They lacked nothing, yet they chose to rebel against God and set up themselves as the highest good. They turned away from their Creator.
Your stardust turned to sand every time you lied to each other, whether it was little lies that you were busy on a Saturday night because you didn’t want to hurt his feelings or that you were working late on a Tuesday evening because you didn’t want to hurt your bank account in a divorce settlement. You even had to institute a system of government that trusted no one, that had not two but three branches of government looking over each other’s shoulders to keep each other in line. You take pride in that. You dreaded a king because absolute power corrupts absolutely. You knew this because you secretly lusted for absolute power and all the things you could seize and enjoy. Yet you condemned it when you saw that inclination in others. Instead of using a mirror to show yourself your own faults, you used a magnifying glass for the faults of others.
Your sand turned to stone, mute, cold, lifeless stone. All you have to do is go to the cemeteries and see it. Where are those ambitions now? Where are those desires now?
And you did it generation after generation after generation until it was normalized. You expected it. You accommodated it. You even glorified it. You took credit for every good thing and kept your mouth shut when you caused every bad thing. You wrote God out of the picture. You didn’t need him.
Yet God sent his Son, in the likeness of a human being. And being found in very nature a human being, the Son of God lived among us. He told us the way to heaven. He loved us and gave us his time, his energy, his all. He healed so many of us. He lifted us up to be more than we dared imagine. He destroyed the one who had the power of death over us, that is the devil. He took away the punishment that we deserved when he died on the cross. The Lord of glory laid down his life on that God-forsaken tree. He did it for you. He did it so you could claim your rightful place in heaven, the place God always intended for you to hold, from even before the creation of this world. Jesus did this so you would shine like one of the brightest stars in the heavens.
I know. I know you will
Listen to Jesus
1. He is God the Son (2-3).
2. He is approved by God the Father (7-8).
3. He is our Savior (4-6, 9).
So, yes. We are destined for glory. We have a crown of glory awaiting us in heaven which the Lord, our Savior, will give us and all who long for his appearing. And, yes, there is a glory that already surrounds us now as we all reflect the Lord’s glory and are transformed into his likeness. That will come. That will be. Listen to Jesus.