February 19, 023

This Sunday marks a time of transition as we begin to move to a new part of the church year. This is the last Sunday of the Epiphany season, with its emphasis on the revealing of Jesus, the manifestation of Jesus, showing us who this child was that was born in the manger on Christmas. And today we see Jesus revealed like never before. We see what Jesus had
been proclaiming about himself, we see for the first time his divine nature. We see Jesus revealed as the son of God.

But in order to understand today’s scripture in Mark 9 we have to look at the chapter before today’s where Jesus asked the disciples 8:27: “Who do people say that I am?” People had been asking the question who is Jesus? They responded with all the typical answers: 28 They told him, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others one of the prophets.” If it hadn’t been “hot gossip” at the time, they wouldn’t have said that.

 29 He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?” The disciples had probably anticipated the question, but they are still unsure how to answer. Everyone, that is, except Peter. Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” What a wonderful insight. Peter knew just who Jesus was and what his ministry was all about—or did he? In the previous chapter, we see human responses. Now in our scripture for today we see a divine response. God is speaking and gets everyone’s attention. 

Today the first glimpse of His final glory comes in what we call the Transfiguration. The Transfiguration refers to the “remarkable transformation that once took place in the appearance of Jesus.” which means to transform into something more beautiful or elevated… 

2 Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and brought them to the top of a very high mountain (probably Mount Tabor (almost 2000 ft above sea level little bit higher than Beersheba Springs/Monteagle Mountain) where they were alone. He was transformed in front of them, 3 and his clothes were amazingly bright, brighter than if they had been bleached white. 

This was almost certainly a glimpse of Jesus as he had been before he became a man. The white garments suggested a pure heavenly being. And I have always tried to figure out in my mind what this scene looked like. Remember any big snow we had over the last couple of years? Of course you do. Did you look out your window or did you walk outside and were overwhelmed by the sun’s rays reflecting off the new snow? It can seem like the whole of creation is reflecting the glory and beauty of God. Maybe that is what it was like when Peter and the others looked at Jesus. The glory of God was so strong in him that it even reflected in their very being, like the snow glistening in the sun. Then

4 Elijah and Moses appeared and were talking with Jesus. Now this was not a typical, normal, everyday experience—even for Jesus. Something special was happening. The disciples understood this. The appearance of Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets (our Old Testament) The transfiguration was a revelation of the presence, power, and glory of God. It was an epiphany experience — an eye-opening appearance of God. 

And how did Peter and his partners respond to this magnificent sight?

5 Peter reacted to all of this by saying to Jesus, “Rabbi, it’s good that we’re here. Let’s make three shrines—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He said this because he didn’t know how to respond, for the three of them were terrified.

Peter had forgotten his smart phone at home, so he tried to mark the moment by building tents for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus to stay like those erected at the Feast of Tabernacles, which was a joyous festival of God’s presence. Peter’s first impulse was to stay put on that mountain top.  Their first impulse was to stay in this glory, to stay put, to bask in the glory of God. 

Have you ever been some place like a mountaintop where you wanted to stay? Maybe it was a physical place or perhaps a time in your life that you consider the highlight. Beersheba for me. That mountain top experience was glorious. I always want to stay. The mountain top experience for the disciples was glorious. Peter’s reaction is interesting. It’s easy to be hard on Peter here, but let’s not blame him. Peter was trying to be helpful, trying to preserve the perfect moment when Jesus was shining in radiance on the mountaintop with Moses and Elijah.

He has witnessed a revelation of God’s glory. What’s the first thing he wants to do? He wants to build something. He wants to erect a new sanctuary. He wants to build a new education building and fellowship hall. He wants to create a new institution. Peter wants to build a great church.

Peter’s not alone. There are lots of books related to evangelism and church growth. And many are the same. Each contained strategies, ideas, and techniques designed to help the church grow.  It is easy to believe that the primary purpose of the people of God is to build a great church. Jesus, however, is not concerned with whether his people build a great church.  Instead he wants us to be a people who “reveal a great God.” There is a tremendous interest in our society in relationships in a spiritual context. Polls say over 90% of all Americans say that they believe in the existence of God — that’s the highest percentage ever. But the fastest growing statistic in church life today is the number of churches that are in decline or closingAnd the Nones

We are in a time when people are looking for answers to spiritual questions — but many are not looking to find those answers in the current church. People in our society no longer equate church with God. Instead they equate church with church because all we are doing many times is “church.” They don’t see the church revealing a relationship with a Great God as much as revealing religious rituals and traditions which can all be meaningful like communion and baptism but still foreign to those outside our doors. Their experiences and brokenness many times reveal being hurt by the church or other Christians.

The people in our society aren’t interested in a “great church”; they are hungry for a great God! They crave a community of people imparting the life of a great God to one another whether in small settings or large ones.

Do you see the difference? Can you see a difference between what happened in the person of Jesus at the transfiguration and the way Peter responded to that event? The very face of Jesus brought to light the power and presence. He became a compelling portrayal of God’s glory. On the day of his transfiguration Jesus revealed a great God. 

Peter responded by pushing around a few rocks and trying to construct a new sanctuary. He wanted to build a great church. Mark even says Peter — rock solid to the core — didn’t have any idea what he was talking about. And sometimes I think we as the church don’t really know what do in this new era. We seem to move from one church growth technique to another, from one strategy to another — all in an attempt to build a great church.

 Peter’s attempt to enshrine his mountaintop experience wasn’t what Jesus had in mind: as one writer puts it “Faithfulness is not achieved by freezing a moment  but by following on in confidence that God is leading and that what lies ahead is even greater than what we have already experienced”.

Church is changing…especially after COVID. Do you know what the greatest church growth tool is today? The greatest church growth tool today is a community of people “fleshing” out God in their relationships with one another and their ministry in the world. Helping each other belong. One of my friends posted and I reposted this…

Church is not just an event it is a community 

It is communities of people inside and outside the church’s doors believing and acting out core Biblical values like grace, forgiveness, acceptance, and celebration, joy — with and for one another and in so doing revealing to the world a great God. The very spiritually hungry of our world are looking for a community of faith that is becoming transformed by the grace of God in new and non-traditional ways. They are not looking for a great church alone — they are looking for people who are revealing a great God wherever they find themselves in a pew or on a couch. A place to belong. To believe. To become.

So how do we reveal a great God to a spiritually hungry world? We have to listen when God is speaking.  Look back at verse 7. We see Peter — offering his blueprints for the building a great church. And as he does 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice spoke from the cloud, “This is my Son, whom I dearly love. Listen to him!” 

It is interesting that God did not say to listen to Jesus and Moses and Elijah. He just simply said “Listen to Jesus." and I find it significant that after God had spoken, Moses and Elijah disappeared and Jesus alone remained as we later read in verse 8. 

8 Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. Where did they go? Where did who go? As one Bible Commentator put it: The Law and the Prophets have served their turn and passed away. He, who is the fulfillment of both, alone remains. They confirmed the identity of Jesus as the Messiah. The main thing we need to do in order to reveal a great God to a spiritually hungry world is to “listen” to Jesus. Now this means more than simply using our physical sense of hearing in relation to the words of Jesus. We do that all the time.  We hear the Sunday School lessons, the Bible studies, and the Sunday morning sermon. 

 The Greek word used in this verse, however, is not talking about hearing — it is talking about heeding.  When the voice of God speaking from heaven says, “Listen to Him!” the clear implication is that the disciples of Christ are to obey the teaching of Jesus.

And to reveal a great God we need to be people who are being transformed by the word of God. “This is my beloved Son,” the voice from heaven declared. “Listen to Him!” We also can reveal the greatness of God by the ministry we offer. After the experience on the mountain, what did Jesus do? He went down the mountain and set his face for Jerusalem and the cross.  Jesus knew that it is good to have those mountain top experiences, but the real work is in the valleys, in the depth of the human condition of sin and brokenness.

No sooner did Jesus return from the mountain — return from the moment of his transfiguration — then he was in the middle of a ministry situation. A demon-possessed boy was brought to him.  The text says that Jesus healed the young boy. Following this miracle, in Luke the text  says something very interesting. It says that the people “were all amazed at the greatness of God.”

Jesus went to the mountain to be transfigured, but came down the mountain to be a savior. That was his defining dazzling white moment. He speaks to us to have a relationship with him, but then to come down into the human condition to minister to those around us with love and compassion. How do we reveal the greatness of God in our world? By giving ourselves away in ministry, expecting nothing in return. 

We are not called to build up a great church. We are called to be a great church. We are called to reveal a great God to our needy world. We are called to show the world God’s love, God forgiveness, and God’s grace. We do this by allowing God to transform our lives  as we minister in Jesus name and seek to connect to God’s people wherever they are. And to awake and hear that God is speaking.  And as we end the season of Epiphany hopefully now awake, we begin the season of Lent with Ash Wednesday and we remember our mortality.

And we begin our Lenten pilgrimage with the assurance that we are indeed following the Son of God, no impostor, no pretender, but the Son of God who was revealed through this mountain top experience. And it is good to remember it is not God revealed in the law of Moses we walk with to the cross or Calvary, but the God of mercy who accepts us as we are with all of our shortcomings, and our sinfulness. 

This was his defining moment. And ours. Neale Walsch says God is speaking to all of us, all the time The question is not, to whom does God talk? The question is who listens? Are we awake enough to listen?