“On The Mountaintop”      Mark 9:2-13        September 2, 2007

 

SCRIPTURE INTRO:  Last Sunday we started our study of second half of Mark.

   Remember the question of the first half of Mark is:  Who is Jesus?

   And that question is answered with Peter’s confession:  You are the Christ.

 

The question of the second half of Mark is:  What did the Christ come to do?

   Jesus makes that very clear when he says that the Son of Man must suffer.

And he says that in order to follow him, and be his disciple—

   you must take up your cross and follow him.

So the theme of the cross will dominate this half of the Gospel

   as Jesus draws closer and closer to the events of Passion week.

 

You may remember, when we started studying Mark a year ago,

   that Mark was written to Gentile believers—probably in Rome.

And these believers were undergoing persecution.

   They were having to carry the cross in a very literal way.

So this second half of Mark particularly addresses

   the suffering and crosses that believers are called to bear. 

  


INTRO:  This summer we went to a beautiful spot on the Blue Ridge Pkwy called

   Craggy Gardens.  Most of the mountaintops in NC are covered with trees.

   A number of mountaintops are covered with rocks—like Mt. Mitchell.

But there are only two or three mountaintops in the Smokies covered with grass.

   That’s what you find at Craggy Gardens—it’s called a bald.

 

We hiked up to the top and there was this lovely meadow with waving green grass

   about knee high.  I don’t ever say meadow—I say field.

   But this was a meadow.  We walked out into it, all five flopped down.

Overhead the sky was Carolina blue with puffy white clouds.

   Every once in a while a cloud would blow by very low—everything would

   get misty but then it would blow past and sun would shine.

When sat up you could see peak after peak far into the distance.

   We started talking about how wonderful it would be to have a house

   on that grassy mountain top—and live up there forever.

 

But eventually we had to go down, get in car and drive down Parkway—

   back to the valley—and then vacation was over and had to drive home—

   back to responsibilities—but we remember Craggy Gardens. 

Mountaintop experiences don’t last but they are wonderful.

   They refresh you and give you a big view of the world.

   When you are back to the grind you remember them and they lift you.

 

The transfiguration is the great NT mountain top experience.

   Recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

   John refers to it in introduction of his Gospel when says—We have seen his glory.

   Peter mentions it in his second letter—Witnessed majesty on the sacred mountain.

What was the transfiguration?  Why did it happen? 

 

Remember what comes right before.

   Jesus had just explained for the first time that as the Christ he must suffer and die.

   The disciples did not understand, and resisted the idea of a suffering Messiah.

   So Jesus was facing the cross utterly alone.

Think about what that meant for him as a man.

 

He knew he was going to face a year of increasing opposition leading to death. 

   He was learning what this death would be—

   wrath of God for sins of the world.

 

And the only people he could talk to this about—the disciples—

   didn’t understand, didn’t want to understand, got angry and confused about it.

It’s easy to forget the humanity of Jesus. 

   He was not superman.  He was a man.  He walked by faith like we do.

   As a man he did not understand everything—he was learning,

   growing in understanding of what his calling would involve.

That’s a mystery itself.  He was also God and knew all things.

   But as a man his divine omniscience was limited.

 

The transfiguration was first and foremost for Jesus’ benefit.

   It was a mountaintop experience for him.

   As a man, he needed help in facing the cross. 

In the hard year that followed, leading to the cross, he remembered this.

   The things he learned on that mountaintop helped Jesus follow his calling,

   to suffer and die as the Savior of the world.

 

How does this apply to you?

   As a Christian, you are called to take up your cross and follow Jesus.

   And you take up your cross in the different callings God has placed on your life.

   And in every calling there will be good times and troubling times.

In your particular calling to the workplace, some days you will love work,  

   everything business and financial will go great—

   and then there will be times of business and financial trial.

 

In your calling as a son or daughter, some years will be easy with your parents,

   good health, happy—but then, as your parents age, may be difficulties.  

Same with your calling as a parent.  Or you calling as a wife or husband.

   Or your calling as a friend, or church member—or whatever other calling.

 

Jesus has put you here and he has said:

   Take up your cross and follow me.

   I suffered and you will suffer. 

   Your callings are where that takes place.

In those tough times you need to remember this mountaintop experience.

   You weren’t there—but Jesus was—you are connected to him by faith.

   Disciples were, believers just like us, have passed it on for our benefit.

 

For notetakers:  Three key words to give us a framework for remembering:

   Glory, Gospel, and Guidance


MP#1  First, Glory.

On the mountaintop Jesus was transfigured—he was changed.

   If you read all three accounts of the transfiguration,

   you realize that the disciples could not really describe what this was like.

They speak of an intense whiteness and radiance.

   Mark says clothes whiter than anyone could bleach them—whiter than white.

   Matthew says his face and appearance like the sun.

   Luke says appearance and clothes like a flash of lightning. 

 

What was this? 

Some have said that this was the deity of Christ revealed.

   That the disciples were seeing for just a moment the glory of God the Son.

   But I don’t think that is right.

Remember that the transfiguration was first of all for Jesus’ benefit.

   This was to strengthen him for the cross that lay ahead.

   This was something that Jesus would be able to remember as he faced

   the cross and say—it will be worth it.

 

So if this was not the deity of Jesus revealed, what was it?

   It was a foretaste of his glorified humanity.

When Paul says in 1 Cor. 15 that the dead in Christ will be raised incorruptible—

   and that the mortal shall put on immortality,

   and that we shall be changed—

   that is what Jesus experienced on the mountaintop.

 

He was for a moment—a human being as God intended us to be—

   with the cursed effects of the fall gone. 

Radiant, powerful, beautiful in body and soul.

   God the Father was showing His Son—

   This is what you will achieve for the chosen race through the cross,

   this glory, this restored humanity.

The experience of that glorified life enabled Jesus to say—the cross will be worth it. 

   The glory will worth the suffering.

 

What will it be like to have a body untouched by the effects of the fall?

   What will it be like to live in the new creation

   and rule and reign in Christ’s eternal kingdom?

And never grow weary—but grow wiser and stronger and better—

   like old hymn says—for 10,000 years bright shining as the sun.

We are talking about things here that cannot be described.

   The disciples say it and all they could say was—whiter than white!

But Jesus got a foretaste of it—

   and it was so great that he knew the cross would be worth it.

 

This is the application for you.

   It is the certainly of future glory that enables you to face suffering now

   and not lose heart.  Or, I could put it this way.

You will never be able to happily take up your cross and follow Jesus,

   unless you cultivate a personal longing and anticipation

   of the glory that Christ has prepared for you.

 

I remember the last time I saw my grandmother alive.

   She was dying of cancer.  I flew down to South Florida to see her.

   When I left she said:  Andrew, I’ll see you in heaven.

She said it as certainly as if she had said: 

   I’ll see you in Cullman.

   Or I’ll see you at Christmas.

It was that certainty of future glory that not only enabled her

   to carry the cross of her final illness,

   but live her whole life with the certainty that she had a great future.

 

There have been critics of Christianity who say that the hope of resurrection

   and future glory makes you indifferent to life here and now. 

If it’s all going to be made right in the future,

   then so what if things are falling apart here—

   I’ll just hang on till resurrection.

 

But the certainty of future glory has the exact opposite effect on believers.

   It gives you hope now.  It enables you to say—

   I’m willing to suffer right now, sacrifice right now—

   because this life is not all there is—great things await me. 

Encourage you—Read Romans 8, read 1 Corinthians 15, Revelation 21, 22.

   Make sure that heaven, and the resurrection, and future glory

   are mountaintops that you know enough about, that you can look to,

   and draw strength from during the crosses of your Christian life.


MP#2  Gospel

The second key word is Gospel.  Where do you see the Gospel?

After Jesus was transfigured, two important people appeared and talked with him—

   Moses and Elijah.  Why?

 

To the Jews, Moses and Elijah were sort of like

   George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Pivotal figures who were bigger than life,

   because they represented all that God had revealed to Israel.

 

When the Jews referred to the Bible—the part we call the Old Testament—

   the called it the Law and the Prophets.

   That was the way they referred to Scripture—the Law and the Prophets.

And the two Old Testament figures who represented the Law and Prophets

   were Moses and Elijah.

 

Moses is obvious.  It was through Moses that God gave the law on Mt. Sinai.

   And the law was not just the 10 Commandments.

   Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible—Hebrews called the Law.

What about Elijah?  Elijah didn’t write any books.

   He was not a writing prophet like Isaiah or Jeremiah.

But he embodied the office of prophet more than any other.

   He preached to the people and called them to repentance.

   All prophets who came after him looked to him at the ideal.

 

So these two men who represented all that God had revealed to Israel

   appeared and talked to Jesus on the mountain.

And what did they talk about? 

   Luke tells us that they talked about his coming departure from Jerusalem

   in other words, they talked about his suffering and death.

 

This was God’s way of saying to Jesus—

   by your suffering and death you are going to fulfill everything.

   You are going to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.

Salvation will not come to my people through their lawkeeping,

   or even through their repentance—

   but it will come through the suffering and death of the Son of God.

And, of course, that is the Gospel.

   That’s the Good News.  Our salvation is the work of Christ.

Now you can see why Peter’s comment about setting up three shelters

   for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus was so wrong.

   Peter still did not understand that salvation is all a work of Christ.

He thought that if we keep the law,

  and if we obey the prophets,

   and if we follow the Messiah—if you do all those things

   then you find favor with God.

So let’s set up three shrines, one for each and God will bless us.

 

Before we criticize Peter—

   isn’t that often the way we approach the Christian life?

We think, if I try to obey God and if I try to follow Jesus

   then God will see how hard I’m trying and he will bless me.

   I work and God blesses me.

 

That’s not the Gospel.

That’s like a marriage where a woman is trying to be a good wife

   in hopes that her husband will love her for her efforts.

She hopes that by ironing his shirts and cooking his favorite meals,

   and trying to look attractive she will get his attention and

   make their marriage a happy place.

That’s just a depressing cycle.  There’s no joy there.

 

The Gospel is the exact opposite.

It’s like a marriage in which the women knows her husband loves her,

   and knows he finds her beautiful in every way.

And in that certain knowledge, she does everything that she can,

   to show him her love, in doing that she becomes an excellent wife.

   There is power in that order of things.

 

The law and the prophets are important.

   Lawkeeping and repentance are crucial—

   but not to gain God’s favor—only as a response to the love he has already

   poured out on us through Christ.

Remember this mountaintop truth when you are struggling in a particular calling.

   You don’t take up your cross so that he will bless you—

   but because he already has—and that makes all the difference.


MP#3  Guidance

The third key word is guidance.

There is a voice from the cloud. 

   “This is my Son whom I love.  Listen to him.”

It’s the voice of God the Father.

   He spoke to assure Jesus of his love and favor,

   as he began a difficult year that would end with his suffering and death.

 

We do the same thing if someone we love is going through a hard time.

   We say:  I love you.  Remember that I love you.

There is a lot we could say about this word of affirmation.

   And how in Christ, this is also an affirmation that we can claim.

   We also are the beloved sons and daughters of God. 

 

But I want to focus instead on that last command:  Listen to him.

   That was spoken to the disciples.  That was spoken to us.

   How do you listen to Jesus? 

   He is not on earth with us as he was with disciples.

The way you listen to Jesus today is by listening to what

   he has already said to us in the Bible.

 

That doesn’t seem very exciting.

   It doesn’t seem to be much of a mountain-top experience—just the Bible.

   Wouldn’t it be better to see glory cloud and hear the thunder of God’s voice?

Shouldn’t we expect a special word from God?

 

There is a fascinating comment by the Apostle Peter that he made

   many years after this mountaintop experience.

It’s in his second letter, 2 Peter 1. 

   He’s talking about the transfiguration.

   He says:  We were eyewitnesses of Christ’s majesty.

 

Then Peter says: 

   For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."   We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

So Peter says:  I was there.  I saw his glory.  I heard the voice of God.

   It was very important.  It was a mountaintop experience.

But then listen to the next thing Peter says:

   And we have the word of the prophets made more certain,

   and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place.”

Peter is saying that the Bible is a more certain guide for us,

   than even a verified voice from heaven.

 

James Montgomery Boice, had this to say about Peter’s comment:

   “I do not know any truth that is more relevant for believers in our day, since we live in an age when people appeal to their experience as the only sure measure of anything, not realizing that our experiences can be wrong or misleading.  We hear people justifying all types of teaching or behavior by words such as, “God told me” or “I feel at peace with this.”  But here is Peter—a prominent apostle of the Lord, a man who had a visual experience of Christ’s transfiguration as well as having heard an audible word of God from heaven—yet he speaks of the Bible as being more certain even than his exceptional experience.  He does it to remind us that we must evaluate our experiences by the Bible’s teaching, rather than the other way around.”

 

There is a thing as illumination.

   The Holy Spirit does opens your mind to the truth, applies it to your life.

   He does stir your conscience.  Impress the truth on you.

But you don’t get new news—you don’t get a special word.

   It’s Jesus speaking to you through the Scriptures

   that give you guidance—and nothing else. 

 

And that is one of the great mountaintop truths that you have to remember

   when you are in the valleys of life—serving God in your different callings,

   and perhaps in a difficult time, and wondering what to do—

   what does it mean in this situation to take up my cross and follow him?

Listen to Jesus.  We have this word more certain. 

   You would do well to pay attention. 

 

He speaks about the calling of marriage:

   “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church.”

   “Wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord.”

He speaks about the calling of the workplace:

   “The Lord hates dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight.”

He speaks about the calling of church membership:

   “Do not give up meeting together, but let us encourage one another.”

And he speaks about money, parents, children, making plans,

   and giving and saving, and forgiving and everything important in life.

   Remember that this is where he guides you.

 


CONC:  As you serve Jesus this week—as you deny yourself,

   and take up your cross and follow him in the different callings of life—

   remember this mountaintop experience—especially when you are weary.

 

There is a future glory that will be worth all of the suffering

   and sacrifice and work that you do in Christ’s name.

 

Your crossbearing and work for Christ does not earn God’s favor

   and blessing—you have that already—through Jesus.

   Remember the Gospel and your burden will be light.

 

And as you need guidance, listen to Jesus as he speaks to you through

   his word, this light shining in a dark place.