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Sermon for February 11, 2024 – Transfiguration Sunday

Program Transcript

In this season of Epiphany, we’ve seen the light of the world shining brighter, guiding us through the darkness. We’ve met the prince of peace, who brings calm to our turbulent lives.

With hearts aglow, we’ve embraced these truths. Our Savior, the embodiment of grace, has reached out to us with open arms to embrace all of humanity.

Today, we ascend to a metaphorical mountain. Picture it as a sacred place where heaven touches earth, a mountaintop of revelation. Here, in the presence of Jesus, we witness his radiant divinity.

Transfiguration Sunday marks the conclusion of Epiphany, transitioning us into a season of reflection and repentance, Easter Preparation. Our journey has unveiled the radiant character of God, seen in the love, grace, and compassion of Christ.

Just as the Transfiguration elevated Jesus on the mountaintop, it elevates our understanding. We see who we truly are in Christ. This profound revelation challenges us to embrace our divine identity.

As we stand at the precipice of this divine encounter, let us remember that our identity is woven into the very identity of Christ. We are called to radiate his love, grace, and compassion.

The Transfiguration is not an isolated event. It’s a continuous unveiling, a constant reminder of who Christ is and who we are in him. His glory transcends time and place.

Join us on this spiritual journey, where the light of the world continues to shine, and the transformative power of Christ’s radiant presence awaits.

Stay with us as we explore the significance of this moment, ready to embrace the glory of Christ that can change our lives forever.

Psalm 50:1-6 • 2 Kings 2:1-12 • 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 • Mark 9:2-9

This week’s theme is the transfiguration of identity. The Transfiguration story is echoed throughout all our readings for this special Sunday. In our call to worship Psalm, we are presented with God’s appearance that comes with fire and storm. 2 Kings 2 tells of Elijah’s glorious ascent to heaven providing some backstory to the Transfiguration where Elijah returns on the scene. Our reading from 2 Corinthians looks behind the veil where the face of Jesus Christ illuminates the glory of God. All these texts are gathered around Mark’s brief yet forceful account of the transfiguration of Jesus where his identity is put on full display, shedding light on our identity in him.

Jesus’ Glory Revealed

Mark 9:2-9 – ESV

Today is Transfiguration Sunday, which concludes the season of Epiphany and pivots us into the season of Lent, or what we call, Easter Preparation. The season of Epiphany is all about seeing God’s glory. It has been a season of seeing the mystery of God revealed in Jesus Christ. As we have looked at various stories and passages in Scripture during this season, we have been coming to see a little more fully who God is in his character and being. What was once hidden is now being made visible. And this unveiling, this revealing, this epiphany, leads us into the next season where we prepare for Easter by repentance – changing how we think to align and fit with what has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

Today, we conclude the Epiphany Season by revisiting the story of the Transfiguration as Mark tells it. Mark’s telling is much shorter and to the point. He does not want us to miss the significance of what is taking place. It is so significant that Mark has chosen to place it right in the middle of his gospel account, serving as a transition in the story. Like Jesus, Mark knows we need to see behind the veil to see who Jesus really is as the Son of God. Let’s take note of how Mark begins this dramatic story:

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, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. (Mark 9:2-3 ESV)

This story begins with “after six days” which triggers our expectations for another biblical culmination of glory so often displayed on the seventh day. And it becomes quite clear that Mark patterns this story after Moses’ experience of God on Mt. Sinai. You may find it beneficial to go back and read Exodus 24 and 34 to pick up on Mark’s parallels. Mark includes many of the elements such as the six days of waiting, the cloud, the glory, the voice, even the descent down the mountain. And who can miss the similarity of the shining of Moses’ face and the radiance of Jesus’ clothes?

Mark also chooses to place the story in the center of a section that runs from Mark 8:22-10:52. This section has bookends with the healing of a blind man at the start and then the healing of another blind man at the end. In between, however, the disciples are the ones who are truly blind. Three times Jesus predicts his death, but the disciples are never able to accept any concept of a Messiah associated with suffering and death. They are completely blind to seeing how a cross fits into their vision of a Messiah. As we see in Peter’s confession, he has the right words but the wrong meaning. A revelation is needed to heal the disciple’s own blindness to the identity of Jesus and his mission. So, between Jesus’ first announcement of his passion and the passion itself, Mark places the story of the Transfiguration. Mark knows that we also need a revelation of who God is as revealed in Jesus Christ in order to heal our blindness. When we are blind to the identity of Jesus, we will remain in the dark about our own identities as well.

We should take note that Peter, James and John were set apart for this special journey with Jesus. They must have felt privileged to be included in the trek up the mountain. Can you identify with the feeling of being included in a small circle? It can be a temptation to our pride for sure. Perhaps these disciples were feeling a bit more important than the other nine at this point. We all may have certain circles we would love to be included in. And if we ever find ourselves in a “special” circle we can become fearful of ever losing our status. We do not want to lose the “glory” we think we have attained for ourselves. We seem to always be looking for ways to elevate ourselves over others for our own sense of significance and security.

In contrast, we are given a witness of Jesus’ Transfiguration. Notice how Mark describes Jesus’ radiant clothes “as no one on earth could bleach them.” This glory is not a man-made one. It does not come by our ways of seeking and maintaining glory for ourselves. As we see Jesus transfigured, we see God’s glory—a revelation of who he is. In the Old Testament, glory was presented in terms of both a person and a light (Ezekiel 1). These two images come together here in the person of Jesus. Jesus radiating light reveals to us that our God, his Father, is quite unlike the pagan gods who need their worshipers to bring them glory as if they are lacking in certain ways. The God revealed to us by and in Jesus is self-sufficient and self-sustaining—like the sun. His life is a life of giving, going out, and bringing warmth and life. The God we see revealed in the transfigured person of Jesus is not a God who is turned inward—not one who needs the praise of humans, but rather a God of love who radiates life outward to his creation. God shares his glory with us, freeing us of clamoring to gain our own glory.

Now notice how the story records the response of these privileged disciples:

And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. 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.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only. (Mark 9:4-8 ESV)

It seems the appearance of Elijah and Moses offered a threat to their small circle of inclusion as “they were terrified” after the arrival of the dynamic duo. Would Jesus move on without them now that two superstars were on the scene? With his transfiguration can they trust that this is the same Jesus who came up the mountain with them? Maybe some of what they feared was being excluded after being so graciously included. Peter, keying off his fear, started running his mouth. He seems to be grasping for inclusion as if he was left out. He tries to include himself into the experience with “it is good that we are here.” Perhaps with an emphasis on the word “we.”

He also makes the suggestion of building “three tents” which treats Moses, Elijah and Jesus as equals. Peter is still blind to who Jesus is. Jesus has no equal. Peter’s suggestion to build tents would also be an act of controlling the experience. He wants to prolong his time in this elite group. You can’t stay on a mountain long without shelter. But Peter’s senseless talk and clamoring for inclusion is interrupted by a cloud that “overshadowed them” and a voice speaking directly to them, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” Jesus did not bring them up the mountain just to exclude them. They needed to see a deeper revelation of who Jesus is. They needed to see “only Jesus.” Moses and Elijah are gone.

It is also important to clarify that Jesus did not undergo some change on the mountain. The radiant Jesus on top of the mountain is the same Jesus who came from the foot of the mountain. The only thing that has changed is the disciples were able to get a glimpse of who this Jesus really is. Jesus’ Transfiguration is not a change in Jesus, it is a change in our seeing and knowing of who he is. Peter needed to see this in order to relax his grip on trying to attain his own glory. He and the other disciples are being prepared to understand that this Messiah’s glory does not exclude the cross. The cross was the most brutal act of exclusion that brought all the shame that we so desperately try to avoid. But Jesus will not avoid the cross. He goes there to include us in his life with his Father. In Jesus our identity is forever significant and secure.

How often do we seek our identity in some circle that promises glory? Is it that tight social circle of friends or associates that make you feel set apart or that exclusive club that will announce to the world how special we are? Maybe it’s just getting into the “right” school or job. Even churches can lead to endless running round in circles within circles looking for identity. But like Moses and Elijah these circles of importance quickly disappear once we find ourselves inside them. These circles are drawn with imaginary lines. Our true circle of identity is found only in Jesus. He has already included us in his life with the Father and Spirit. We will find all the inclusion and identity we ever need as we see “only Jesus.” This is the circle we are made for and in no way does the Father intend to exclude us from it. Let’s take notice of how Mark concludes the story:

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. (Mark 9:2-9 ESV)

The end of the story leaves us again with the three disciples and Jesus. We may have occasional mountaintop experiences with Jesus, but he doesn’t stand on the pinnacle looking down on us as we descend to the valley. He goes with us. As he walks with us in all aspects of our life, he is working to help us see who he is and who we are in him. No matter what “circle” we find ourselves in, we look to see only the Son as the Spirit continues to make us children of the Father. And this comes by way of repentance. Just as Jesus had to go to the cross before the disciples could fully understand God’s glory revealed on the mountain, we too must die to all that we cling to for our own glory. Glory is not what we make for ourselves, it is what we receive from the one who died for us. And that glory awaits us in Jesus who is “risen from the dead.”

As we ponder the significance of Jesus’ Transfiguration, I challenge you to relax your grip on trying to attain your own glory. Are there circles that are feeding your identity rather than “only Jesus?” Are there pursuits of “glory” that the Lord is calling you to leave at the cross? Today can be your day of transition from darkness to light, from blindness to sight. The Lord is glorious, and he invites you up the mountain with him. You won’t be the same on the way down.

Into the Wilderness w/ Brad Turnage W2

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February 11—Transfiguration Sunday
Mark 9:2-9, “Transfiguration Glory”

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Program Transcript

Into the Wilderness w/ Brad Turnage W2

Anthony: Let’s pivot to our next passage of the month. It’s Mark 9:2-9. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Transfiguration Sunday on February the 11th. Brad, would you read it for us, please?


Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling bright, such as no one on earth could brighten them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us set up three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Anthony: So, Brad, the liturgical calendar gives us Transfiguration Sunday every year. Why do we keep telling this story? What’s the big deal here?

Brad: It’s the biggest deal. If I could choose any moment in Jesus’ life to go back and be a part of and see it’s without question, the transfiguration. It’s the moment of all moments, I think, in the entire Bible, at least of the moments that have already happened. It seems like there are going to be some really big moments coming later, but in terms of what’s happened, it’s the moment.

Because if we think about Jesus’ life, including his miracles, if we could watch them, I think we’d find them to be more mundane than we expect. There was no smoke and lights. There wasn’t this hoopla and probably from our perspective, nothing that seemed super spiritual. He used mud to wipe away a man’s blindness. That’s incredible, but it’s not a show. And you can probably walk away from that, convincing yourself, was that man really blind after all?

But the transfiguration, there’s nothing mundane about it. It’s the moment in the gospel that the curtain hiding the mystery of Christ is pulled back. And for a moment, the disciples see what they had been trying to come to terms with, this reality that Jesus is really God’s Son. He is God in the flesh bathed in the light, that he is bathed in this glory. And none of the gospels really matter if Jesus isn’t God in the flesh.

If Jesus isn’t God in the flesh, then what’s the point? There were a lot of people that did really good things. There were a lot of people that did the things Jesus did but only one of them was God in the flesh. I think that’s why it is so important. It is just that moment that tells us Jesus really is who he says he is.

Anthony: He tells us that. But his good buddies, like Peter, missed the point of what was happening. Or at least they were so overwhelmed by what they were experiencing, they didn’t know what to do with it.

I’m just curious and I know this is a leading question, but can we miss the point too? Because they wanted to stay up there on the mountain, and Jesus is like, no we’re going down the mountain and there’s work to be done. What can we take from this, Brad?

Brad: Poor Peter. He misses the point. But Anthony, what are you supposed to say? I think the only thing you can ever really say that gets the job done is just thank you. And then you just shut up.

I think that’s the only thing Peter could have said in that moment. Thank you, God that we’re here. None of the disciples knew what to say. Peter just proved that fact by trying to say something.

But as for the mountaintop, yeah, I think we miss it all the time. And back to what we were talking about earlier. I think it’s because of this paradigm shift that life really is from our perspective, upside down and backwards. Of course, we want to stay on the mountaintop. Of course, the mountaintop is where we assume that we’re meant to live.

We have to recognize why we have these mountaintop experiences and what they’re for. I think God gives us these mountaintop experiences so that we might actually trust when he says the really hard things like, take up your cross and follow me, when he tells us to give our life away. And that the only way you’ll actually find your life is by losing your life. If all we have is that? Without the mountaintop, then how do you do it? How do you live the challenging life of giving yourself away to others, aside from these moments where you get to really experience God and his glory?

And those moments are beautiful. And I actually think it’s a lot like the miracles that Jesus performs. And we really want Jesus to be the miracle worker. Of course, 2,000 years ago when Jesus showed up, they wanted God to be the miracle worker who goes around taking care of all of our problems, healing the sick, feeding the poor, but that’s not who Jesus is.

He does these miracles so that we might believe him when he talks about the real mysterious way that he’s going to save us. Think about it. He feeds 5,000 people with this amazing miracle. But then immediately after that, he says, but I am the real bread that will give you life and whoever comes to me will never be hungry again.”

If Jesus would have just started with. I am the real bread of life. People would have been like, what? What he’s talking about? But once Jesus feeds 5,000 people with a few loaves, you go, Oh maybe I should pay attention to what he says. He gives these miracles.

It’s the same way with the raising of Lazarus, right? He raises Lazarus from the dead, but moments before that, he says the real miracle, which is I am the resurrection and anybody who believes in me will never die. How do you believe that? Jesus says, all right, I’ll give you this raising of Lazarus so that you might actually believe the real miracle—that is that nobody who believes in me will ever die.

I think that the mountaintop is like that. The Christian life is hard, and it’s mysterious, and it’s upside down and backwards. So, to give us the faith to do it, God gives us these moments. But we don’t live there as much as I’d like to. It’s just not where life is.

We read Scripture. We learn about this mystery of God who includes us in his life, death, and resurrection, who says, trust me and follow me, and you will find life when, like me, you give yours away. And that’s hard to believe and even harder to do.

And we’re given these mountaintops, whether that’s a camp or at a conference, whether it’s through the Spirit when you’re praising or singing. Maybe it’s through experiencing a real miracle, seeing someone healed after you pray. But we’re not meant to live there. We’re meant to follow Christ into the valley of the shadow of death, trusting that the only way we’ll ever experience real life is through losing ours.

Anthony: It makes me wonder if scarcity is also behind this desire not to go down the mountain. We’ve experienced the brilliance of God here, but will we experience the brilliance of God in the mundane. I think the communion table teaches us, we do in just the common, ordinary, what might seem mundane, like bread, wine. It’s always present. And I think we do that with a worship gathering too. We think sometimes we’re coming into the presence of God. And really what we’re doing is asking the Spirit to grow our awareness of the presence of God already there and already everywhere we go. Even as we come down the mountain, God’s there. He’s at work. Grow our awareness, Lord. Right?

Brad: Yeah. And I think communion is such a great picture of that because he takes the most mundane things that the disciples would have seen every day. There’s not a single day that they’re not breaking bread. So, Jesus didn’t use this illustration of this great banquet. He took the most mundane thing and said, every day when you’re breaking this, I’m a part of that. I’m a part of not just the high, but I’m a part of the very low. And it’s beautiful.

I think what happens when we come to the table enough to experience that bread and the body and the blood of Christ? What happens if we do it enough that every time we sit down at a table to enjoy a meal, we’re reminded that God is present even here in every moment of our life?

Yeah, it’s hard to believe because it feels mundane, and we just assume that God isn’t mundane. But he’s just everything! So of course, even in the mundane, he’s a part of that.

Anthony: Amen. Hallelujah.

Small Group Discussion Questions

  • What are some of the parallels you can spot in Mark’s account of the Transfiguration and the story of Moses and Mt. Sinai? Do you see other Old Testament connections?
  • Discuss the statement made in the sermon, “When we are blind to the identity of Jesus, we will remain in the dark about our own identities as well.”
  • What does the metaphor of “radiant light” tell us about God’s glory?
  • What are some ways you can see where we are tempted to grasp our own glory? What circles do we try to belong to for our identity?
  • How does Jesus going to the cross expand our understanding of God’s glory?
  • Share any changes you see the Lord calling you to in response to the message.

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