The Text: Mark 9:2-9
Today’s sermon is brought to you by the numbers 6 and 3, and the word ‘listen’.
God made the world in six days…and on the seventh He rested.
We’re to work for six days…and then on the seventh we’re to rest in what God does for us.
The glory of the Lord surrounded Mt Sinai in the wilderness for six days before Moses could enter into His presence on the seventh day.
Six times Joshua and the people of Israel walked around the city of Jericho, and on the seventh the walls came down in a shout.
And the transfiguration of our Lord happened after six days.
When St Mark has a habit of saying everything happened immediately, it should surprise us when there’s a break in this pattern – in fact we hear there’s a six-day break in the immediacy of Jesus’ work! But as we’ve just heard, the number six is significant in God’s story of salvation because it sets us up for what happens on the seventh day. We should stop and witness what God is doing on this seventh day.
So, while we’re surprised there’s a break in Mark’s narrative, it shouldn’t come as a surprise there were six days between what happened just beforehand and this seventh day where He was transformed in front of the disciples; where God revealed Jesus to be His beloved Son whom we should listen to.
But what happened beforehand?
Well, it was six days ago when Peter had confessed Jesus to be the Christ. No sooner had he made this Spirit-led confession that Jesus announced He would suffer many things; be rejected by the elders, priests and scribes; be killed; and then rise again after three days.
But this troubled Peter. After all, Peter had witnessed all the miracles of Jesus – all the healings (including the healing of his own mother-in-law), raising people from the dead, and how Jesus cast out demons – which no doubt had led him to the conclusion Jesus is none other than the promised Messiah spoken about in the Scriptures.
So, what Jesus was talking about shouldn’t happen. Peter figured this is now the time when the Scriptures would be fulfilled and when everything was set right. This is the time of Israel’s freedom and glory! This is the time when the glory of God is revealed so the nation of Israel could rule and bless all the nations!
So, this is why Peter tells Jesus off!
But in response, Jesus tells Peter off! He said Peter’s got in mind the things of man and not the things of God. The work of God isn’t all about health and wealth and glory and power, but it also includes suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection.
So, it seems Peter pondered Jesus’ words for six days, and on the seventh he saw the glory of God reflected in the person of Jesus Christ. But he still didn’t get it.
And neither do we. We often struggle to understand what it all means, which is why the number three enters our meditation.
You see, there were three.
There were three disciples: Peter, James and John.
There were three people in front of them: Jesus, Moses and Elijah.
The number three is a number of community – just like there were three visitors who visited Abraham before God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah, and it’s also the number of persons who form our Triune God.
But it’s also a number of completeness – for example, a complete journey of three days between one place and another (which is mentioned many times in Scripture), a three-day meditation for Jonah in the belly of a fish, and it’s also the number of days before Jesus would rise from death.
Peter, not quite getting the significance of what it meant for Jesus to be the promised Messiah, offers to build three shelters – one each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. After all, this is a great place and great time for God’s people! Here we have a gathering of the greatest prophets of all time: Moses the Law-giver, Elijah the mighty prophet who was taken up into heaven, and now Jesus the powerful teacher and miracle-worker!
So, let’s retain and preserve this holy moment in time and space! Let’s all come to hear the wisdom of these mighty men! Let’s all come near this holy place to have our diseases healed, our demons cast out, and our loved ones raised from death! Let’s all bask in the glory of our mighty and awesome God for the rest of time!
Isn’t this what we also want?
Wouldn’t we love to meet Moses, or Elijah, or Jesus face-to-face?
I mean, wouldn’t we love to ask them questions on what it’s like to have such strong faith? Wouldn’t we love to know more about their mighty victories over Pharaoh and the Egyptians, the prophets of Baal, or about Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the devil?
Wouldn’t we love to come near and have each of them teach us, touch us, and encourage us in a world gone crazy? Wouldn’t we love to go to one of those shelters to have our bodies restored to its youthful vigour, or to have our bodies healed from cancer or tumours or from dementia? Wouldn’t we want to bring our departed loved ones to the tent of Jesus, so He could raise them from death for our pleasure and comfort?
But Peter doesn’t know what he’s asking…and neither do we.
So often our wishes are all about us—what we want. So often, sinful human beings have in mind the things of a rebellious humanity.
But this isn’t what Jesus is about. He’s here to do the will of God; not the will of men.
God’s plan seems backward and strange to us. We see or hear a moment of glory thinking this is God’s plan for us which is supposed to last, but it doesn’t – at least, not on this earth. What often lasts are our troubles, sicknesses, fights, and deteriorating bodies as age takes its toll .
The moment of Jesus’ transfiguration was a glimpse of God’s glory to strengthen Jesus for His journey through His own suffering and death, but it was also for frightened, confused and slow-to-learn disciples like us who look for assurance of God’s glory and power during our own sufferings and journey toward death.
When we see or experience suffering and rejection and death, we often reckon this isn’t part of God’s plan. We want the glory and health and strength and power and joy to last, but it doesn’t. God’s glory doesn’t match our own ideas of glory. Jesus told us His glory comes through suffering and rejection. His glory comes through sacrifice and death. His glory also comes in resurrection and restoration for those who trust Him.
Which brings us to the word of today: listen.
In this case, it’s not supposed to be a passive word where we just listen and not respond. It’s intended to be matched with a trust in what we listen to which also responds in obedient action.
You see, when God speaks, things happen.
When He speaks: light appears, waters divide, and worlds are created. When He speaks, people like Moses and Elijah respond in faith and pass on the Word of God.
Similarly, when His holy name is spoken over the waters of Baptism sins are forgiven, faith is stirred, people are adopted as God’s own, our bodies receive the benefits of Jesus’ resurrected body, and the promise of eternal life is given. When Jesus’ Word is spoken over bread and wine it also becomes His body and blood to bring to troubled sinners His forgiveness, life, and salvation.
In other words, the Word of God is powerful and active. The trouble is, we often don’t listen, and if we do listen, we don’t always respond in faith and trust.
We’re more likely to listen to our own fears and believe them. We’re more likely to listen to the latest feel-good motto or advert. We’re more likely to listen to what our itching ears want to hear. We’re more likely to listen to the lies and deceptive whispers of the devil who still asks: ‘Did God really say…?’
In other words, the call for us to listen to Jesus places us on a collision course with spiritual warfare which is just as volatile as the battle between Moses and Pharaoh and between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Because of our selfishness, our flesh resists God’s Word, and so does the world. In the end it’s a question of who we’re going to listen to, who we’re going to trust, who we’re going to follow, and who we’re going to obey.
So, the call to listen is a call to deny our own selfish will and let God’s will be done in our life, even if His will involves suffering for His sake, patience in times of trouble, endurance in faith when the world criticizes and condemns, willing service to the outcast and troubled, and forgiving those who don’t deserve such grace.
It’s also a call to believe something we struggle to believe. That Jesus did this for you and me. That we’re not as good as we make out we are. That our actions, words and thoughts are motivated by selfishness, greed, pride, and fear. That Jesus would choose to come into this cruel and heartless world to suffer and die at the hands of His own faithful people. That He wouldn’t defend His innocence or call for justice from the cross, but instead cried out to His Father to forgive us because we don’t know what we’re doing.
While God spoke His Word through Moses and the prophets like Elijah, He now speaks to us through Jesus. We’re made His disciples through faith and we’re to respond to His teachings of glory through suffering, love through service, and forgiveness by grace.
We listen to His words of forgiveness, and through faith we learn to forgive those around us. We listen to His sufferings and learn our own suffering serves a purpose to strengthen our trust in Him. We listen to His death and learn death no longer has a claim on you or I because we believe in the resurrection of the dead through Christ.
Yes, after six days Jesus is transfigured before his three disciples, and in this momentary glimpse of His true identity we’re called to listen – to listen to what God is doing for us as Jesus journeys toward the moments He was betrayed, denied, whipped, crucified, died, and rose again.
We listen as the glory of God is revealed through blood and sacrifice and as His love pronounces everything is finished. We listen so we can rest from our own work and witness what God has done for us through Jesus, the Son of God, with whom the Father is pleased.
And, as we listen to Him, we’re called to respond in faith, because it’s through trusting the words and actions of Jesus that the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.