Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sermon: Mark 9: 2-13 Awesome!

It was a crucial match on Wednesday. A win was needed to ensure that England weren’t coming home from the first round of the World Cup. A poor start had led to the team being booed by the fans; the media were critical; the team was under pressure. The big question, though, was who would they listen to. Would they be dictated to by the fans and the media, or would they listen to the one who was in charge - Fabio Capello. Who were they listening to?

The disciples of Jesus were also having an uneasy time. Just before our reading today, Jesus has been identified as the Christ, the King God has sent to rescue his people. But Jesus has told his followers that he ‘must suffer many things and be rejected... and killed’ (8:31). Peter and the others can’t get over the news - Peter has tried to talk Jesus out of it, only to be rebuked himself by Jesus.

What is all this talk of Jesus, the Christ suffering? Surely Jesus has got it wrong? We were expecting a conquering soldier, to lead an army to defeat the Romans. Who would the disciples listen to - popular expectations, or Jesus?

You see, the disciples have to know exactly who Jesus is so that they can believe what he says and listen to him. It’s the same for us - why come along to church listening to what is said, and what Jesus said, if he’s just another person, if there’s nothing special about him?

Six days after Jesus is revealed as the Christ, Jesus takes three of his closest friends up a mountain. What they see and hear will confirm exactly who Jesus is, and what they should do about it. The passage divides neatly into two sections, each with the heading given by the words of the voice from the cloud: 1. ‘This is my beloved Son’; 2. ‘Listen to him.’

This is my beloved Son. As the passage was being read, you might have had some questions about what happened that day. Jesus has climbed this high mountain with Peter and James and John, but at the top, strange and awesome things start to happen. Jesus is transfigured - his appearance is changed, to shine/dazzle, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white.

Do you remember the old TV adverts, the Daz Doorstep Challenge? Mum always feared them coming to our door to see our washing on the line, but they tried to show that using Daz washing powder would get your whites whiter than your usual washing powder. Well, forget the Daz - Mark says that no one could even bleach clothes as white as Jesus became - dazzling!

As well as the brightness, Jesus is joined by two men from the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah, two prophets who had been taken up to heaven (it was believed). Imagine coming face to face with William the Conqueror and Martin Luther, and you’re getting close to the disciples seeing Moses and Elijah. They’re thrown into confusion - they can’t understand what’s happening, and (as usual) Peter speaks without thinking - ‘for he did not know what to say, for they were terrified.’

So much for what happened - but what does it all mean? Just then, a voice comes from the cloud, the voice of God the Father, who explains what is happening. The disciples are being given a glimpse of the glory Jesus had before birth, and will have following his death and resurrection. The glimpse of glory is the sign of who Jesus is: ‘This is my beloved Son.’

Two weeks ago we had that challenge - who do you say that Jesus is? Here God the Father is declaring that Jesus is God’s Son, the one sent into the world to rescue his people, the one who deserves to be followed and believed.

Do you see who Jesus is today? Have you come to see him as the Son of God? He’s not just a teacher, not just a good man, not just a prophet. He is God’s Son - an opinion which is not particularly politically correct, but which is fact, revealed by God the Father.

But we can’t end there. We can’t just stay on the mountain top with the vision of Jesus in his glory. Moses and Elijah disappear, Jesus is alone with the disciples, he’s back to ‘normal’. Yet what the Father has said still stands as they walk back down the mountain. ‘This is my beloved Son’ - we’ve seen that. So what? ‘Listen to him.’

The disciples have seen the glory Jesus will again display when he has risen from the dead - Jesus tells them not to tell anyone until he has risen from the dead. That raises again the issue of Jesus suffering and dying - and still the disciples can’t understand (10).

But as they struggle to understand, they turn to another question that centres on the arrival of the Christ in his glory. Look at verse 11. ‘And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?”’ The scribes were the teachers of the law, officials in the temple who taught from the Old Testament. Basically, the disciples are saying - if you are the Christ and your glory is close at hand, then shouldn’t Elijah be coming first.

Elijah, as we’ve seen earlier, was one of the major prophets from the history of Israel. But in the last book of the Old Testament, God had promised to send ‘Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.’ He would be a messenger, one sent to prepare the way for the Lord. So if Jesus is going to reveal his glory, then shouldn’t we be seeing Elijah too?

Yes, says Jesus, Elijah does come first - to restore all things, to prepare the way, to get people ready through repentance. And having prepared the way, then the Son of Man (another Old Testament name for Jesus) should suffer many things and be treated with contempt - just as it has been written. The scribes are right on Elijah coming - it has been promised; in the same way, it has been promised in the Old Testament, in the Scriptures, that the Son of Man will suffer. (Remember the ‘must’ from last week?) The Son of Man in Daniel 7 is the conquering king, given authority by God. He was expected just as the Christ, to be triumphant. Yet again Jesus is showing that the Son of Man, the Christ, the Son of God, must suffer.

This pattern of suffering must have been hard for the disciples to hear - it wasn’t what they expected. Yet remember who is speaking - God’s beloved Son - listen to him as he explains the Scriptures. As an illustration of what will happen to himself, Jesus points to the promised Elijah:

The truth is that Elijah has come - has already come. Don’t be looking forward to Elijah, he has already been and gone - John the Baptist was this Elijah. And what happened to him? ‘They did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.’ The Scriptures said that John the Baptist would suffer for the sake of Jesus, and he did. How then could it be any other way for Jesus himself?

It was hard for the disciples to understand at the time. Yet God had clearly told them who Jesus was - the reason for listening to him. This is my beloved Son; listen to him. What about us? Do we listen to Jesus because we know who he is - the Son of God? Or do we listen to other voices, competing voices?

There are many in the world today who claim that it doesn’t matter what you believe - that everyone will be in heaven, all will be saved and no one is going to hell. Will we listen to those voices, or will we listen to the Son of God who says that he came to die to save all who believe in him?

There are many in the world today who claim that it doesn’t matter what you do, even as a Christian. They claim that we need to follow what culture is doing and recognise same sex unions, and put such people into leadership roles in the church. Are we listening to culture, or are we listening to Jesus, the Son of God?

Our confidence as Christians doesn’t come from ourselves, we don’t boast because of what we can do or think or say. We don’t believe whatever we like, from a pick-and-mix of beliefs and religious ideas. Our faith comes from knowing who Jesus is - the Son of God - and therefore listening to him, and obeying him. He is the one qualified to tell us about heaven and hell, about salvation and life and death. To listen to anyone else would be foolish (there are so many different opinions!) - just as the England team listening to the fans and media for advice on how to play would be foolish. Rooney and the rest listened to Capello, and will need to listen to him again this afternoon. He is the one who can tell them what to do because of his position.

Similarly, Jesus is the one whose voice we need to listen to. ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to him.’

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 27th June 2010


  1. Will you be joining me at my mountain top this year?(aka Summer Madness 10: Dare to share)
    Mrs McF

  2. Hi Lynn, no, we won't be along at Summer Madness - plenty going on elsewhere!