+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Mark 9:2
Theme: What Kind Of Glory?
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
It was a mountaintop experience like no other. The inner circle of Jesus’ disciples witnessed a gripping and terrifying sight when they saw Jesus’ appearance completely transformed before them. He was beaming with light. The experience became even more surreal when the ancient figures of Moses and Elijah appeared with Him. The drama escalated further when the Father spoke. It happened in this way, “A cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.’"1 Not surprisingly, the disciples were terrified. But they knew something important was happening. And the message was unmistakable: Jesus is the one; follow Him.
Dear friends, this event was unique in the earthly ministry of Jesus. These privileged disciples got to see it. But why not everyone? Why were the crowds not allowed to see Jesus with His divinity unveiled? They saw plenty of miracles. Jesus did not want people to get the wrong idea about His work and His kingdom. He was not an earthly breadwinner. Nor did He come to make a show of His majesty. Yet, the transfigured Jesus is the Lord our human nature is naturally drawn to; the Jesus bursting with glory, the Saviour emanating divine light. People crave hard evidence of God’s presence, His power, His majesty. Many say they won’t believe until they see it. But Jesus is a humble Saviour. His love is not flashy, it is sturdy.
Life is lived mostly in the valleys. We have mountaintop experiences, to be sure. Many are healthy celebrations of life’s joys and achievements. Yet some people try to extend them artificially by indulging excessively in behaviour that becomes harmful. Others are thrill-seeking, adrenaline junkies who would rather live life on the edge than live it at all. Still others prefer to escape to worlds of their own creation (and many of these worlds today are cyber worlds) where they can avoid the struggles of the daily grind. We’re all drawn to these in various degrees, often as coping mechanisms.
Christ journeys with us in the brokenness of our lives. The route to heaven does not follow a beacon to a mountaintop. It winds through the shadows of a cross. Jesus, the Suffering Servant, the Immortal Son of God did not say, “Come up to Me.” He came down to us. He says, “I go to prepare a place for you…I will come again and take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.”2 It wouldn’t matter if there was a ladder to heaven that had 10 rungs or ten million. We’d have no hope of climbing it. Our sinfulness prevents us from taking a single step into the presence of God.
We are no further from God than people of previous generations, but we’re no closer either. Society is going through tremendous change, but the nature of people does not change. It’s a patently false assumption to claim that people born today are naturally any more righteous, godly, or even civil than those born in the past. Yes, collectively we may be benefitting from the accomplishments of those before us and learning from their mistakes (in addition to suffering for their failings). That’s always been the case to some extent. But societal affluence does not equal individual godliness. Collective knowledge does not equate to personal holiness.
What will the world be like when those who are born today are in the prime of their lives? (What will the world be like when little Charlie might be having a family of her own?) No one can say, of course. But it’s important to learn from the past, and also recognise the trends of the present. Current indications are that 25 years from now Christianity will be greatly diminished in this country. We’ve already been witnessing the decline for decades. If the younger generations continue to fall so quickly away from the faith many churches and parishes simply won’t exist.
It’s no use being pessimistic or adopting a defeatist attitude though. And the church isn’t in the business of self-preservation, per se. The church is God’s people gathered around His gifts of word and sacrament. We are entrusted with sacred treasures. The gospel, the good news of forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation acquired by Christ and gifted to sinful humans is the greatest treasure that has ever and will ever exist. We are stewards of these treasures. Through these means the Holy Spirit raises people from spiritual death. It happens in initially in baptism. Through the same word of truth, we are fortified in Holy Communion.
The Bible says, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”3 That means when the Heavenly Father looks at us He sees Christ. Now, that is an astounding reality! And why is that important? If Christ, and His work of salvation were not in the foreground, we would all be like disappearing images in the rear-view mirror. Again, God’s word says, “God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”4
Do you see what the Scripture says here? Jesus made a public spectacle of all ungodly authorities, gaining the victory over them by the cross. Jesus, hanging derelict, clinging to His last breath, receiving the insults and mockery of everyone who passed by, this Messiah was conquering evil in the process. Nothing would seem to be farther from the truth! It looked, by all human assessments, that He was going down in defeat. Few believed their Saviour would ever be heard from again.
Dear friends, God doesn’t secure victories the way humans do. In His most important battles, He doesn’t fight fire with fire; He fights fire with love. The heavenly Father (in justice) says, “I demand perfection.” Jesus says, “I have rendered it.” The Father says, “I demand atonement for the sins of sinners.” Jesus says, “I have given it.” Satan says, “Sinners don’t deserve God’s favour.” But Jesus says, “I do.” And so, the supreme power of God is displayed in sacrifice.
The transfiguration brings us to the end of the Epiphany season. The pilgrimage of lent lies ahead. It’s a microcosm of our life’s journey, just as Jesus’ passion was of His earthly sojourn. We don’t know what experiences we’ll still have in this life. But believer’s can be assured the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit travels with us. The destination is not in doubt. You, too, will be transfigured. It is hard to imagine. And we have no way to wrap our minds around it save for the Holy Spirit teaching us the divine promises. The apostle says Christ will, “…transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.”5
Yes, it sounds like the stuff of sci-fi movies. But it’s much more real than that. Imagine what a cinematic spectacle could be made of Elijah’s ascent to heaven in a whirlwind, or Jesus’ metamorphosis on the mountain! The cinematographer seeks to create some emotional connection with the viewer. But we have a God who makes us the subjects, not the observers. The are no aloof or independent spectators in God’s kingdom. We will be resurrected from death. We will be raised in glory. In heaven we won’t need to worry about the peaks and valleys of life. We won’t crave a mountaintop experience. We’ll be in the inner sanctum of God’s holiness. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Transfiguration of our Lord
11 February 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Mark 9:7 2 John 14:2-3
3 Galatians 3:27 4 Colossians 2:13-15
5 Philippians 3:21