TRANSFIGURATION, B – February 11, 2018

SCRIPTURES – Ps. 99; Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Cor. 3:7 – 4:6; Mark 9:2-9

Old Testament                                                                                            2 Kings 2:1-12

     Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. And Elijah said to Elisha, “Please stay here, for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you your-self live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. And the sons of the prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take away your master from over you?” And he said, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.”

     Elijah said to him, “Elisha, please stay here, for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. The sons of the prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take away your master from over you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.”

     Then Elijah said to him, “Please stay here, for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the sons of the prophets also went and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his cloak and rolled it up and struck the water, and the water was parted to the one side and to the other, till the two of them could go over on dry ground.

     When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” And he said, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so.” And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more.

 

Epistle Reading                                                                   2 Corinthians 3:7 – 4:6

      Now if the 1Lministry of death, carved in letters on stone, 2Lcame with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at 2LMoses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the 1Gministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the 1Lministry of condemnation, the 1Gministry of righteousness must 2Gfar exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

      Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their 3Lminds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same 3Lveil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the 3GLord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the 3GSpirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

      Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the 2Gglory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

 

Holy Gospel                                                                                                          Mark 9:2-9

     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. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. 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.

      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.

  

Sermon

Our Old Testament and Gospel readings proclaim two incredibly exciting events. Imagine: you’re walking with a friend, when suddenly, a chariot of fire comes out of the sky, separates you, and a whirlwind whisks him to heaven! Or, imagine seeing a person who had died years ago alive and standing with Jesus, who is Himself shining like the sun! Such events would change your life! Well, we haven’t seen any such things. In fact, we live in a time when these two stories from the Bible are taught by many as mythological, as stories that have been exaggerated to encourage believers.

So: today we don’t have chariots of fire or a shining Jesus. What do we have? Well, we have the Bible, and in it we have, in essence, two basic messages. We have a message about how to live for God and others and be good people – a very important message today! We call this the Law, as it’s based on the 10 Commandments God gave us through Moses. And, we have a message about what God does for us, especially in Jesus. We call this the Gospel, a word which means, “Good news.”

Both messages, God’s Law and His Gospel, are very much needed; but God says that Jesus is the final word. “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him!” And so, in 2 Cor. 3 & 4 Paul compares and contrasts the Ministry of the Law and the Ministry of the Gospel to show that the Gospel of Jesus is greater. Let us consider them.

The Ministry of the Law

1. A Ministry of condemnation and death. Why? Moses sums up the Law this way: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Dt. 6:5) And we don’t. We can’t. This failure brings condemnation and death. “The soul who sins shall die.” (Ezek. 18:20)   

2. Glorious: Moses’ face shines. God’s Law reflects His light. Do not ignore it! 

3. Hardens. We veil it and misunderstand it out of fear of judgment. It doesn’t change your heart. How do you respond to laws?

  • So often, by dodging them and with excuses explaining away your sin.  Do you obey the speed limit gladly, or out of fear of getting a ticket?

The Ministry of the Gospel

1. A Ministry of the Spirit – and so, of life (Gen. 1:2; Ps. 104:30; Nicene Creed: the Spirit is “Lord and giver of life”).By the Gospel the Holy Spirit forgives and brings righteousness and life in Christ. Rom. 8:1 – “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

2. More glorious: Jesus’ body shines.  God the Father says: “listen to Him.”

3. Freedom! Veil taken away by Christ.  Rom. 10:4 – “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Christ changes you (Greek: metamorphosis, the word used of Jesus in Mark 9). 2 Cor. 3:18: “We all… are being transformed into the same image” – into Christ’s!   

There is more Paul says in 2 Cor. 3 & 4 as he compares God’s Law and His Gospel. Just remember this: both God’s Law – His commands – and His Gospel – the message of what He does for you in Jesus – are glorious, for they are from God. We need to hear both messages. So: when the Law condemns you; when you feel guilty for what you have thought or said or done; this is God speaking to you. Admit your guilt. Be truly sorry for breaking His Law and ask for His forgiveness. Then, look upon Jesus, who died for your sins… and forget about your sins! Christ is greater! His Gospel is the final word, and it says your sin and guilt are no more. You are a new and holy person!

Paul closes his contrasting of God’s Law and Gospel with these words: “God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Just as at the beginning God spoke and created everything; just as in Jesus His light shone forth brilliantly; so by His Gospel He shines upon and within you, making you a new creation in Jesus. It is the Gospel of Jesus that transforms you, that fills you with God’s light! Sure, you may perhaps you feel better, feel like church is important and you’ve accomplished something, when you are told how to live for God. Now you have something to do! That’s good, of course. God’s Law is glorious. But, it is the Gospel that transforms us. God the Father says: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

This glory of the Gospel, the transforming and re-creating good news of Jesus, is made so clear in Mark’s Gospel today. See how he points out that in Jesus we are made new creations!

Mark begins: “After six days Jesus took with Him…” Six days. He is putting the creation story in our minds. God the Creator is present! Then, Jesus goes up a high mountain – just as Moses went up Mt. Sinai to meet with God and receive His words, His commands. But Jesus isn’t a new Moses who is met by God and, shining with reflected glory, comes down with His words. No, Jesus Himself becomes radiant – bright like lightning, Mark says in Greek, reminding us of God’s presence on Mt. Sinai in a fiery cloud that flashed with lightning (Exod. 19:16-20). Moses and Elijah then appear. Even though they had lived centuries before they are very much alive. They are with Jesus and are there to testify to Him. He is the Creator, the giver of life eternal! God the Father then appears, in a terrifying cloud, as He did centuries before on Mt. Sinai. He speaks, as He did at creation and as He did to Moses on Sinai. But He does not give any new revelation for Jesus to bring down to the disciples. Instead He proclaims Jesus the speaker: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” Jesus will speak with His life. He hides His glory and comes down from that mountain, goes to Jerusalem, gives His life for us on the cross to pay for our sins, and then rises from the dead to bring forth a new and holy life for us. This is how He is the Creator. The Spirit brings forth His new creation by the Gospel, the good news of all He has done for us.

Listen to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. Listen, and believe. And when you are condemned by the message of God’s glorious Law – for we all break it constantly – listen above all to Christ’s Gospel. “You are My beloved child,” God says to you. You are not condemned, but are loved eternally! Believing in Jesus, you are glorious, for you are in Christ’s image and are more and more being transformed! Thanks be to God! Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.