Seeing His Glory

Reading: Mark 9.2-13
For centuries, folk tried to find ways to get rich quickly. People called alchemists experimented with the so-called "base" metals in the belief that they could turn them into gold. They didn't ever do it, of course. In time alchemy collapsed under the more serious study of chemistry - understanding all the elements that make up the universe and how they combine and react with one another.

The longing to turn things to gold was also expressed in the story of King Midas. He wished that everything he touched would turn to gold. His greedy wish turned against him. Food and drink turned to gold - even his daughter. I'm not sure the end of that story is ever told.

Back in the 1800s, real gold was found in a number of places around Australia - and the "gold rush" was on. We visited Robe in South Australia and learnt of Chinese who landed there and walked all the way to the Victorian goldfields - avoiding a state tax that would have cost them as much as their fare from China.

Science fiction writers and toy-makers have also pursued the dream of transforming things into the totally different. The phase came too late for our boys - the "transformer" toys. The truck becomes a robot, then becomes a truck again. So... what is it really? On the movie screen, it may well sprout wings and fly off into the distance.


Today's reading tells us that Jesus was "transfigured" in front of Peter, James and John (Mk 9.2). Now, that's rather different from the transformer toys.

With the transformer toy, the result is so different that, at first view, we are inclined to say, "How on earth did you do that?" When we really look at it, the potential for the robot has been there all along, but the result is unrecognisably different.

In today's story we read, "His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus" (vv. 3-4). So they could still recognise him as Jesus, but they saw him as they had never seen him before.

John and Peter were so impressed that they both wrote about it much later. John began his gospel by writing about the divine Word through whom all things were created (Jn 1.3) - "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth" (v. 14). In his second letter, Peter wrote, "We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.' We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain" (2 Pet. 1.16-18).

It wasn't that they were looking at someone other than Jesus. At that point they had a glimpse of Jesus' "glory." They saw something about Jesus that was hidden for the rest of his earthly life - Jesus was more than just a wonderful human companion and teacher.

Paul didn't become a Christian believer until much later. Out to destroy Christians he was confronted by the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. He wrote to the Philippians that Jesus, truly and fully divine, "made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness," and that he "humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross" (Phil. 2.7,8).

So the Jesus the disciples knew wasn't walking around the earth in awesome heavenly splendour. He had "made himself nothing" ("emptied himself"). He lived here as another human being, accepting all the restrictions of human life. He became hungry and thirsty. He walked everywhere and became tired. As God the Son in heaven, he hadn't needed to do any of that. And now that he is raised and exalted to glory, he doesn't need to do it now, either. He can be here, in South Africa and in outer space, all at once. If all the people in the world start praying at once, he doesn't miss one prayer. But while he was here he had made himself nothing and humbled himself. Just for a short moment on the mountain with three disciples, his glory shone through.

Let's Stay Here!

It was an amazing, spine-tingling experience. Perhaps you have had an experience that defies words. All you can say is "Wow!" You don't want to go and "break the magic moment."

That's how Peter felt about it - "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" (Mk 9.5). It's good to be here -what other reason needs to be given? Mark has told us that Elijah and Moses were talking to Jesus (v. 4). What were they talking about? Luke tells us, "They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem" (Lk. 9.31).

Did they really grasp that? Was that what sparked Peter's comment? This heavenly moment was about a very dark earthly subject. Jesus was going to die - it was all part of the plan. Let's just stay here and avoid all that. There's too much brokenness, anger and sadness out there - let's stay here on the mountain!

This all happened after Peter's confession of Jesus as the Christ (Mk 9.27-30) and after Jesus had begun to teach them about his suffering and death. Peter had rebuked Jesus for suggesting that would happen and Jesus rebuked Peter in strong terms, "Get behind me, Satan!" (vv. 31-33). Yet, it seems, Peter still didn't understand. He didn't take Jesus to task, but his words suggest he wanted the present exaltedly happy experience to continue on and on.

Hear and Heed!

Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!" (Mk 9.7)

Listen! Have you ever had one of those conversations where the other person says to you, "I hear what you are saying, but..."? Even before those words, you have felt by their body language that they weren't taking it in at all - didn't even think what you had said was important to consider! "I hear what you are saying" usually means "I disagree with you."

Listen! The Greek word gives us all our English "acoustic" words. A stronger form of it is usually translated "obey". Hear and heed! Listen and do something about it!

When Moses was speaking to the people towards the end of his life, he said to them, "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, 'Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die'." (Dt. 18.15-17)

The parable of the wise and foolish builders is about those who "hear" the words of Jesus - the wise "put them into practice", the foolish fail to do so (Mt. 7.24-27). When Jesus was explaining the parables to his disciples, he said, "This is why I speak to them in parables: Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand." He then went on to explain the parable of the sower. It was about those who have heard the message about the kingdom - and what they have done with it (13.11-23).

Transformers - transfiguration - it seems like the answer to Peter's problem! Let's stay here - we're touching heaven already! Perhaps we can avoid all the unpleasantness, all the nastiness, all the cruelty - cheating death itself!

Not so quick, Peter! We're not there yet! My cross is up ahead - for you and the world - for the forgiveness of sins - for yours and theirs! And there's a cross for you to take up and follow me - in faithful living, in caring serving, in strong proclaiming - and then in dying to enter into glory!

The mountain is a glimpse of heaven, but there's more work to be done - work on our lives, work in this world. Our prayer should be that of Charles Wesley -

© Peter J. Blackburn, Home Hill and Ayr Uniting Churches, 16 February 2003
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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