The Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord – 11 February 2018
A Sermon on Mark 9:2-9 by Samuel Zumwalt
Mark 9:2-9 English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]
2 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. 5 And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” 8 And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only. 9 And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
THE WORD INCARNATE: PEAKING WITH HIM!
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Please turn to the inside cover of the bulletin and read aloud with me the box labeled “Our Mission.” [pause for the turning of pages] Ready?
“As a Lutheran community of faith, we continue our history of proclaiming Christ crucified through Word and Sacrament in joyful service to God and our neighbor.”
God’s Son in human flesh, Jesus, came to reclaim all that God has made. As we have already seen and heard since Epiphany, He preached. He taught. He cast out demons. He healed. But no one knows Who Jesus is until they see Him as Christ crucified. All throughout Mark’s gospel, even Jesus’ closest disciples can’t quite grasp Who Jesus is even when He tells them and He when He shows them. The Lord Jesus says clearly in the next chapter: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (10:45).
So, let us be clear. The Gospel message is not merely a matter of wise words from Rabbi Jesus. The Gospel message is not merely a matter of demon removal by Exorcist Jesus. The Gospel message is not merely a matter of wondrous healings by Miracle Man Jesus. The Gospel message is not merely a death-denying act by the Amazing Jesus (Nothing up His sleeves. Presto. Change-o). No one knows Who Jesus really is until He joyfully serves God and neighbor by giving His life a ransom for many as Crucified Jesus. Please remember this. We don’t wear empty tombs around our necks. And an empty cross is no proof of the resurrection, since the cross was empty when Jesus’ body was in the tomb for part of three days. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:23, “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.”
We proclaim Christ crucified! That doesn’t mean we don’t believe the Easter witness. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Where does Jesus win the victory over sin, death, and the old evil one? He dies on the cross for us and our salvation. Easter proclaims the victory. Good Friday is the day of victory when, as He says in John 19:30, “‘Tetelestai!’It is finished. It is accomplished.” The ransom has been paid to buy back us sinners. The blood of the Lamb has been shed as a sacrifice for sin and to be spread over the doorposts of the lives of those enslaved by sin, death, and the old evil one. Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb? Are you baptized?
We proclaim Christ crucified through Word and Sacrament. If the death of God’s Son Jesus for sinners is not preached, then the Gospel has not been preached. If the forgiveness of sins through His saving death has not been proclaimed to sinners, then the Gospel has not been preached. If the death of God’s Son Jesus has not been proclaimed through the washing of Holy Baptism and through the eating and drinking of Holy Communion, then the Gospel has not been proclaimed both in Word and in Sacrament. Holy Baptism is necessary to be joined to Jesus’ saving death through no effort or merit of our own. Holy Communion is the most intimate encounter the baptized can have with the Crucified and Risen Jesus, Who says: “This is my Body. This is my Blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” We proclaim Christ crucified for sinners. We proclaim Christ’s ransom for sinners through Word and Sacrament!
We are a Lutheran community of faith. A Lutheran community of faith is not Lutheran because that’s what the sign out front says. A Lutheran community of faith is not Lutheran because the pastor graduated from a Lutheran seminary and some of the lay people went to a Lutheran college. A Lutheran community of faith is not Lutheran because it belongs to a denomination with the word Lutheran in the name or because the word Lutheran is in the front of the hymn book or on a bulletin or on an overhead screen or on a congregation’s website or Facebook page. A Lutheran community of faith is not Lutheran just because it knows who Martin Luther is and occasionally quotes from his catechism or uses one of his slogans or because your Mama or Daddy, aunt or uncle, pastor or youth worker said ya’ll were Lutherans. A Lutheran community of faith is not Lutheran because it makes you feel good when it says love, grace, or liberation a lot. A Lutheran community of faith proclaims Christ crucified through Word and Sacrament as the promise of forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation to people in bondage to sin and unable to free themselves. A Lutheran community of faith always declares God’s saving work in Word and Sacrament. If Christ’s saving death is wasted, it ain’t Lutheran.
Peeking at the Peak
The night before his death in Memphis, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., famously preached, “I’ve been to the mountain top…and I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” Dr. King was speaking as Moses to the children of Israel, to the children whom God had set free from slavery and to a people who had wandered through the wilderness and were on the verge of going on without him.
In Mark 9, Moses is on a different mountain. God had buried Moses’ 120-year-old body across the Jordan in the wilderness. And the people of Israel had been looking for a prophet like Moses for more than 1200 years. Here Moses is on a different mountain with Elijah, the great prophet who fought against the prophets of Baal, the great prophet whom God carried to heaven in a fiery chariot. This time Moses and Elijah, those greatest of the prophets of old, are standing in glory on a mountain traditionally designated as Mount Tabor. They are standing beside God’s Son in human flesh whose clothes are so radiant that Peter, James, and John can hardly look at Him. Now this had to be the holiest moment to date in the short lives of Peter, James, and John. They don’t know what to think. It is terrifyingly beyond anything they have ever seen or known. It is so mind-bogglingly and heartbreakingly beautiful. They want to stay there in that place.
Have you been to the mountain with Jesus? Has the Lord Jesus led you like He led Peter, James, and John to a place of such awe and beauty and holiness that you didn’t want the moment to end? Most of those moments for me have involved ethereal music, pungent incense, and the sensory overload of heaven and earth, all time and space, all the people of God of every time and place united in Jesus as He gives us His true Body and most precious Blood in the Host and Cup.
Have you been to the mountain with Jesus? Has He shone His radiant Light into the darkest, most dismal places in your heart and mind, body and soul, so that you have known that you are known? He knows the real you behind the mask, behind the glittering image, behind the burnished reputation, behind the aura of self-control and self-sufficiency. Jesus knows all of you, sinner. He knows me, sinner that I am. There is no unknown thought, word, deed, fantasy, or failure that Jesus does not know. His brilliant Light has exposed you and me in all our bondage to sin, death, and the old evil one. Do you know that you are known? That He died for that you?
Oh, I’ve been to the mountain top with Jesus. And in the most difficult times of my life He led me there, quite by surprise, and He enveloped me in His nail-marked hands and His bloody whip-marked arms and placed into my mouth in Host and Cup His own eternal life and love that He shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one true God, and He did that though I did not deserve it and never could. Brothers and sisters around me were singing, “Soul, Adorn Thyself with Gladness,” or “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” or “Give Me, Jesus,” or “Beautiful Savior.” And I wept because it was so heartbreakingly beautiful and achingly cathartic that I felt washed clean in His Blood. I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to stay. I wanted to be done with the struggle, the hurt, the foolishness, the sin, the death, the evil, but He said No.
Peter, James, and John got a peek on that peak. They got a revelation on that rock. They were moved on that mountain. They wanted to stay on that slope. But as Yogi Berra famously said, “It ain’t over til it’s over.” Robert Frost famously wrote: “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep and miles to go before I sleep.” Jesus led them down the mountain in order to give His life a ransom for many…for you and me!
As a Lutheran community of faith, we continue our history of proclaiming Christ crucified through Word and Sacrament in joyful service to God and our neighbor.
Baby, it’s cold out there. I don’t have to tell you. (And we’re not talking about the weather.) But your neighbor needs what we have in here. The whole world needs what we have in here. Many of them don’t know what they don’t know. And some are so comfortable in their unbelief that all we can do is pray that when the darkness of death closes in, when the follies of sin crush them in a vice-grip of pain, and when the evil one rapaciously closes his jaws on them, they will cry: “Kyrie eleison. Lord, have mercy.” But until that day we watch and wait and sing and pray and joyously serve our neighbor with the love of the One who has promised in Holy Baptism never to let us go. Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus!
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina
The Incarnate Word: Peaking with Him
“Lord God, in the transfigured glory of Christ your Son you strengthen our faith by confirming the witness of Moses and Elijah and, in the voice that came from the bright cloud, foreshadowed in a wonderful manner our adoption as your children: In your mercy make us coheirs with the King of his glory, and bring us at last to the fullness of eternal life in him, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 613).
Mark 9:2 “And he was transfigured before them…”
Origin of Alexandria [3rd century Bible scholar and theologian]: “Remember that Jesus was more literally apprehended by those below…by those who did not go up to the lofty mountain of wisdom, who did not go up through words and deeds that are uplifting. But there were others by whom he became known no longer after the flesh, but in his divinity. To this all the Gospels attest. He was beheld in the form of God according to their spiritual knowledge. It was before these who ascended and in their presence that Jesus was transfigured, not to those who remained below” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Mark, 117).
Mark 9:4 “And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.”
St. John Chrysostom [late 4th – early 5th century Patriarch of Constantinople]: “For both the one and the other had courageously withstood a tyrant: one the Egyptian, the other Ahab; and this on behalf of a people who were both ungrateful and disobedient….And both were simple unlearned men. One was slow of speech and weak of voice. The other a rough countryman. And both were men who had despised the riches of this world. For Moses possessed nothing. And Elijah had nothing but his sheepskin” (119).
Mark 9:7a “And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud…”
St. Jerome [4th century translator of the Latin Vulgate Bible]: “It seems to me that this cloud is the grace of the Holy Spirit. Naturally, a tent gives shelter and overshadows those who are within; the cloud, therefore, serves the purpose of the tents. O Peter, you who want to set up three tents, have regard for the one tent of the Holy Spirit who shelters us equally” (120).
Mark 9:7b “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”
St. Ambrose [4th century Bishop of Milan]: “In his baptism he identified him, saying: ‘You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ He declared him on the mount, saying: ‘This is my Beloved Son, hear him.’ He declared him in his passion, when the sun hid itself, and sea and earth trembled. He declared him in the centurion, who said: ‘Truly this was the Son of God’” (120).
- Do I view Jesus as both truly God and truly human? Or as only one or the Other?
- Has my faith been so childish that I peaked too soon and don’t know how to listen to Him?
The Sacrament of Holy Baptism
As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.
What is Baptism?
Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word.
Which is that word of God?
Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Matthew: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19) [Luther’s Small Catechism].
- Pray for every unbaptized child and adult you know and for the child’s parents, too.
- Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.
- As you walk past the baptismal font, dip your fingers into the water and make the sign of the cross in remembrance that God has graciously chosen you to be His child for Jesus’ sake.
- Memorize the first section on Holy Baptism and Martin Luther’s explanation of it. Give thanks that in obedience to Christ’s command you are baptized.
- Pray daily using Scripture and the devotions. Use the daily worship resources on our website at stmatthewsch.org . Use daily prayers, daily psalms, and daily lessons (“Read the Bible”).
- If you have made a resolution to be a more faithful disciple in 2018, join a Sunday school class this Sunday at 9:45am and/or attend Crossways on Wednesday at 6pm or Thursday at 10am.
- Sign up to attend the Lenten Prayer Retreat on Saturday, February 24, 8:15 a.m. – 1:15 p.m. Dr. Dick Johnson, STS, teaches on the theme “Catechism for Adults” Lunch and snacks are included in the $20 fee. To register, please sign up on the Big Board or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For Husbands and Wives
Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”