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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

February 11, 2018

 Mountain Majesty and Mystery

2 Kings 2:1-12; Mark 9:2-9

            There is a word drawn from the scriptures that is called “apocalypse.”  We get a kind of Biblical book from it called, “apocalyptic scripture.”  “Apocalypse” means “revelation.”  It means to have something opened up or unveiled.  Often apocalyptic literature comes to people in books of the Bible – especially the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation – but in some ways, all scripture includes these apocalyptic or revelatory accounts.  Often they provide a vision of eternity itself in the midst of time, as if time for a moment ceases to be, and the heavens are opened, and in space and time, we catch a glimpse of the eternal.

            Marks’s Gospel is structured around three such apocalyptic moments.  In the first chapter, when Jesus comes to John to be baptized in the River Jordan, we are told by Mark that “the heavens were torn open,” and the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus “like a dove;” and a voice from heaven spoke, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  So often when God spoke to Jesus in the scriptures, God spoke from the words of the Old Testament, the only Bible Jesus knew.  In this case, Psalm 2:7 is certainly behind those words, just as Isaiah 42:1 is behind those words that God spoke from the heavens to Jesus.  Then at the end of Mark’s Gospel, in chapter 16, on the day that we call Easter, there was another apocalyptic or revelatory moment.  You will remember, the women come to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus with spices, and they discover that the tomb is empty, that the grave clothes are folded where the body of Jesus had been.  They come on a mission that has everything to do with death, and instead, they are met with resurrection life.  A man dressed in white, we are told, appears.  In Matthew’s Gospel, we are told, out and out: “An angel of the Lord appeared,” and this man said, “He is not here, He is risen.  Go ahead to Galilee; there you will find Him, as He told you.”

           That is the beginning and the end of Mark’s Gospel, the bookends.  Today’s passage is right in the middle of Mark’s Gospel, and it is another revelatory or apocalyptic moment in the Gospels, where something profound and mysterious, and of God, happens. 

            When it comes to preaching on The Transfiguration, it is a task above my pay grade.  “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,” said the psalmist, “it is high; I cannot attain it.”  I don’t completely understand what happened on that mountain of God, but it has not stopped me all my life from returning to it again and again, because it is so rich, and so full of beauty and power, of majesty and mystery.  Jesus climbs a mountain with His three closest disciples, Peter, James and John – the inner circle of the inner circle that Jesus has gathered around Him.  As they come to the top, the mountain is covered by a cloud.  It was a cloud that covered the mountain when Moses found himself on Mount Sinai.  And it was a cloud that covered the mountain when Elijah climbed Mount Horeb, perhaps the same mountain, with a different name, which Moses climbed.

            “And suddenly,” we are told that “Jesus appears in dazzling white,” so white that no bleach could create such a look.  Not only Jesus, but suddenly, Moses and Elijah, long since passed from this life to that life which is to come, appear and are talking with Jesus.  On the surface, I often think, “If Jesus were going to hike to the top of a mountain, I wish He had asked me to go as well.”  Because I love to climb mountains, and I love Jesus, and maybe I would understand more if I had been there.  But then I think about Peter, James and John, who were actually there, and I think about how little they understood, at that point, about what they were experiencing.

            Elijah is the great prophet of God.  Moses was a prophet as well, but also the great liberator and lawgiver of the people.  If we are known by the company we keep, and truthfully, all of us are, then isn’t this a significant moment that Jesus appears in glory, in mysterious splendor, talking with Elijah and with Moses?  It is as if to say, “Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel’s hope, along with Moses, the great lawgiver, and Elijah, the great paradigm for what a prophet of God is to be.”  This account, by the way, appears in very slightly different versions in Matthew’s Gospel, and Luke’s as well.  It is as if the Gospel writers are saying, “Here is what happened, and here is how Jesus is the fulfillment of all that Israel hoped for, and of all that Israel prayed for.” 

            I like the expression, after Peter said, “Let’s build three tents, let’s make this experience permanent, let’s move in here.”  After that, we are told that the three, Peter, James and John, said nothing, because “they were terrified.”  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” and sometimes utter silence is our best response to things that we know are profound and are deeper and higher than we ourselves can grasp.

            Then almost as soon as Elijah and Moses appear talking with Jesus, they disappear.  We are told that there is Jesus only, or “Jesus alone,” who is left.  Martin Luther absolutely loved this moment in the account of The Transfiguration, according to Mark.  You will remember that one of the rallying cries of the Reformation for Luther was “Christ alone,” and for Luther this was a singular moment of only Jesus, who was left.  And again the voice that comes from heaven, repeats a word that has to do with Jesus’ identity, who Jesus is: “This is my Son, my chosen one.”  Those are the same words Jesus heard at His baptism.

            Then I love the next word that is added to the language of Jesus’ baptism: “Listen to Him.”  What is so interesting to me about this passage is it absolutely assaults the senses.  It is so visual you can imagine it as you read it.  Yet the vision fades, as all such spectacular moments inevitably do, and what we are left with is “Jesus only,” and the heavenly voice that says, “Listen to Him.”

            Could we hear a more powerful word than this for our own lives?!  “Listen to Him!”  “Be wise as serpents, be harmless as doves.”  “Listen to Him!”  “Forgive not seven times, but forgive seventy times seven.”  “Listen to Him.”  “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,’ but I say to you, ‘Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.’”  “Listen to Him.”  “In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world.”  “Listen to Him.”  “All authority on heaven and earth has been granted unto Me.  Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”  “And lo, I am with you always even to the close of the age.”  “Listen to Him.”  “I will never leave you or forsake you.”  Listen to the voice that speaks to you words of truth and life, of light and of love.  “I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.” 

            In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.


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