We began the Epiphany season with John the Baptist at the Jordan as Jesus came up out of the water more fully conscious of the ministry his heavenly Father was placing upon him that day, a ministry of helping and healing, a ministry of messianic deliverance, a ministry that had God’s own stamp of approval, signaled by the voice from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1.11).
For the last six Sundays we have been following that ministry through the eyes of Mark, watching Jesus perform the signs of the messianic deliverer: the lame made to walk, the leper cleansed, evil spirits cast out. We saw Jesus speaking with a power and an authority no one before him could claim, the power to get at the root of our human problem and help us where it really counts.
And now today Mark takes us within months of the climax of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It was the end of a busy day and in the company of Peter, James, and John the Lord decided to journey up a mountainside to pray. Suddenly they saw the Lord transformed as they had never seen him before. And they saw Moses and Elijah appear and speak with Jesus. Then a luminous cloud enshrouded them, and out of that cloud God spoke. His words were identical to those spoken at Jesus’ baptism; although this time they were directed to these three disciples, and through them to the first-century church, and through the New Testament to every succeeding generation: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him” (Mark 9.7). These words are the heavenly Father’s endorsement of everything that Jesus had said and done in his ministry. They are the divine declaration that everything Jesus was yet to do also has the Father’s complete blessing.
What a sight that must have been there on the holy mountain when for a moment Jesus’ full and complete identity was revealed to those amazed and terrified disciples. “How good, Lord, to be here! Your glory fills the night,” the hymn declares; yes, indeed, but the path of glory is not to be what those disciples expected. As Luke tells us in his account, Moses and Elijah speak with Christ about his coming suffering and death in Jerusalem.
How important it is that we profit from the disciples’ example and not let our earthly cares and concerns or the brightness of the cloud that excites our expectation of the supernatural keep us from realizing what is happening here! We are looking at our deliverer. We are peering into the very heart and mind of God. We are catching a glimpse of God’s own plan for our rescue as it moves towards its final hour. Our own relationship with God, our own most precious hopes for life are all wrapped up in that mountaintop experience. The transfigured Lord is taking all of our concerns, all of our needs and problems into himself as he prepares to go to Jerusalem and the cross on our behalf.
As he prepares to walk the way of the cross, listen to what he says. He is none other than the beloved Son of God taking the judgment of our sins and guilt upon himself. He is delivering us from their intolerable burden. He is making it possible for us to trust him, wholly and completely. And what he says is bound up in the promise of God: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
When you are tempted to believe that the right relationship with God is the automatic reward of a normally decent life, it is well for you to remember Jesus’ words: “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (John 3.5).
When the allurement of seeking other ways to God becomes strong, he warns you: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14.6).
When the cares of making a living, your fears for your family’s welfare, and the difficult task of making ends meet oppress you, he says: “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mat. 6.31-33).
When the burden of your disappointments becomes too heavy to bear and the mere task of living overtaxes your courage and strength, he speaks to you personally: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest” (Mat. 11.28).
“This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” As Christ came down from the mountain, he was strengthened to carry out God’s great plan for our salvation. And now through that passion and death of Christ the Spirit strengthens us so that in the living out of our lives we discover that the word of our Savior is indeed “yes” and “amen, so be it.” Now the Spirit bids us come down from the mountain to face whatever it is that will unfold for us in the coming days, trusting firmly in the promise that at the end of the journey, we, too, shall be like Christ, transfigured in our resurrection garment, shining in the reflected light of God’s eternal presence. Amen.