February 11, 2018
A Promise of What’s to Come!
After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 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. Peter said to Jesus, “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.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Are you familiar with a man by the name of Vinko Bogataj? What if I told you that he was a world famous skier back in the 1970’s? What if I told you that he was a regular on the television show The Wide World of Sports? Now do you remember him? For several decades Jim McKay would open that show by saying, “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport! The thrill of victory…and the agony of defeat!” While the words “The thrill of victory” were illustrated with a variety of inspiring images over the course of the years, the words “the agony of defeat” were linked with only one image— Vinko Bogataj coming down a ski jump, losing his balance, and tumbling spectacularly over the side of the jump. Thankfully, he suffered only a concussion.
The words “The thrill of victory…and the agony of defeat” popped into my head as I was studying our sermon text for today. Why? Because I think those words might be a very accurate description of how Jesus’ disciples were feeling just prior to the Transfiguration. Think of all the amazing things the disciples had witnessed— from the changing of water into wine to the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Think of all the amazing things the disciples had heard— from the parables which began with the words, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” to Jesus’ glorious proclamation, “I am the resurrection and the life….” As the self-appointed spokesman for the disciples Peter had just recently stepped forward and confidently confessed concerning Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). From the perspective of Jesus’ disciples they could see the possibility of a glorious thrilling victory on the horizon as Jesus now resolutely made His way to Jerusalem, the beloved City of God. Then it all came crashing down like Vinko Bogataj, didn’t it. Jesus began to openly and plainly tell His disciples, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31). The agony of what appeared to be a complete and utter defeat was so unthinkable to Peter that he actually rebuked Jesus for even saying such a thing! That’s when Jesus had to correct Peter by saying, “Get behind me Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Mark 8:33).
“The thrill of victory…and the agony of defeat.” Yes, my friends, I think those words may indeed be an accurate description of how the disciples were feeling— then came the Transfiguration!
As you and I once again focus the eyes of our faith on a high mountain somewhere in Israel let’s see how The Transfiguration is Promise of What’s to Come! First, let’s see how the Transfiguration is a promise of what was to come for Jesus. Then let’s see how the Transfiguration is a promise of what is to come for us.
Mark begins by placing before us one of the most extraordinary events recorded on the pages of Scripture. He says, “After six days (i.e. six days after Jesus told His disciples that He must suffer and die) Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 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.”
Peter, James and John had indeed seen Jesus’ divine power in action on more than one occasion. All the miracles proved that Jesus is who He claims to be— the true Son of God who came into this world as the true Son of Man. Now, however, Peter, James and John were given the privilege of seeing Jesus’ divine nature literally and visibly radiate forth from His human body! Thirty years after the Transfiguration Peter would write, “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” (2 Peter 1:16).
We can only imagine how “comfortable” it must have felt for Jesus as His divine nature shone forth on the Mount of Transfiguration— especially since He knew the depth of the humiliation and the agony that was waiting for Him in Jerusalem. But what I would like to focus on, my friends, are Mark’s words, “And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.” What were they talking about? Mark doesn’t tell us— but Luke does! In Luke 9:30 we are told, “Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.”
Moses and Elijah were talking with Jesus about His “departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” What does this mean? Since Moses is a representative of God’s holy Law and since Elijah is a representative of God’s powerful prophets were they talking to Jesus about how His death and resurrection were indeed necessary to fulfill the heavenly Father’s Plan of Salvation for this world? That’s entirely possible! Knowing what lay ahead for Jesus, knowing that Satan would undoubtedly step up his attacks against Jesus as Jesus makes His way to the cross, it is definitely possible that Moses and Elijah were encouraging Jesus to stay focused— focused on why He came into this world, focused on the mission that He came into this world to accomplish. (Pointing to the cross)
At the same time, I can’t help but wonder if Hebrews 12:2 might also give us a little insight into what Moses and Elijah were discussing with Jesus there on the Mount of Transfiguration. Hebrews 12:2 says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
It could be that one of the goals of the Transfiguration was to remind Jesus of the promise of what was to come for Him! This promise would include the fact that once Jesus had fulfilled His Father’s Plan of Salvation for this world He would forever be worshiped and praised as “the author and perfecter of our faith.” This promise would include the fact that once Jesus had fulfilled His Father’s Plan of Salvation for this world He would return Home as the glorious Victor over sin, death and the devil and once again take His rightful place at “the right hand of the throne of God.” This promise would include the fact that once Jesus had fulfilled His Father’s Plan of Salvation for this world He would have the “joy” of welcoming us, His brothers and sisters, into the heavenly Father’s home when it is time for our “departure” from this world. For me it is not difficult at all to envision that there on the Mount of Transfiguration Moses and Elijah were talking to Jesus about the promise of what was waiting for Him after His betrayal and arrest, after being mocked and spat upon, after the beating and the scourging, after His crucifixion and burial. That’s what I mean when I say that the Transfiguration was a promise of what was to come for Jesus.
What about us? How does Jesus’ Transfiguration serve as a promise of what’s to come for us? One way to answer that question is to focus on the words, “There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.” The Transfiguration assures us, reveals to us, promises us who Jesus of Nazareth is. Jesus is not just a teacher or a good example for us to follow. He is “The Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus is not just a prophet. He is The Prophet. In fact, He is the only Prophet concerning whom the heavenly Father has said, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” When by the grace of God we are willing to take Scripture at face value the Transfiguration is indeed a promise of what’s to come for us— in the sense that the Transfiguration promises us that the One who would soon be nailed to a cross is the Lamb of God who served as “the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:2).
At the same time we can answer the question, “How does Jesus’ Transfiguration give us a promise of what’s to come,” by looking at verse four of our text. Mark writes, “And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.” Moses died some 1,400 years before the Transfiguration took place. Elijah was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind some 850 years before the Transfiguration took place. Yet, there they are on the Mount of Transfiguration, alive and well, “in glorious splendor” as Luke tells us. What does this reveal to us? What does this promise to us? It reveals to us that for a child of God the Transfiguration is a promise of what’s to come next!
When you or I bury a loved one, we are easily overwhelmed by the cold harsh reality of death. The powerful grip of death brings home to us in a very personal way exactly what the apostle Paul was talking about when he said to the Corinthians, “The body that is sown is perishable…it is sown in dishonor…it is sown in weakness” (I Corinthians 15:42-43). But, my friends, the appearance of Moses and Elijah “in glorious splendor” on the Mount of Transfiguration assures us that our loved ones who died trusting in Jesus as their Savior are now living in the same “glorious splendor” that was given to Moses and Elijah! So, as you and I grieve over the death of our loved ones the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ reminds us to also rejoice— rejoice in the glorious life they are now enjoying!
At the same time, the Transfiguration is a promise of what’s to come for you and for me. Our life here on this earth is not always “fun.” Our life here on this earth is not always “easy.” Our life here on this earth is all too often filled with pain and with sadness and with disappointment. The Transfiguration both reminds us and enables us to lift up our eyes and look beyond the horizon of this world! When the eyes of our faith are focused on Jesus who was “transfigured” before the eyes of His disciples so that they could see His divine glory as His clothes became “dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them,” when the eyes of our faith are able to see Moses and Elijah who appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration “in glorious splendor,” then no matter what we encounter as we journey through this world we will always be able to smile knowing that the Transfiguration is indeed a glorious promise of what’s to come for us!
The phrase “The thrill of victory…and the agony of defeat” will long be synonymous with names such as Vinko Bogataj and Jim McKay. The phrase “The thrill of victory…and the agony of defeat” may also be an accurate description of how Peter, James and John were feeling— before the Transfiguration My prayer this morning is that as you and I prepare to step into the solemn season of Lent that we will let the light of the Transfiguration guide us along the way. See the Transfiguration as a promise of what’s to come— both for Jesus as well as for us. First, see the Transfiguration as a promise that that even though Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross may have looked like the ultimate “agony of defeat,” in reality the cross gave to Jesus the thrill of an unparalleled victory as this world’s only Savior from sin. Then, see the Transfiguration as a promise to us that even though our life here may at times feel like the “agony of defeat” what’s waiting for us beyond the grave is also the unparalleled thrill of living eternally “in glorious splendor” in our heavenly Father’s Home.
To God be the glory!