"How Strange and Wonderful!" Bible Study on Mark 9:2-9
February 11, 2021, 11:00 AM

Dear Members & Friends:

I invite you to read the following passage from Mark 9:2-9 (Common English Bible).

Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and brought them to the top of a very high mountain where they were alone. He was transformed in front of them, and his clothes were amazingly bright, brighter than if they had been bleached white. Elijah and Moses appeared and were talking with Jesus. Peter reacted to all of this by saying to Jesus, “Rabbi, it’s good that we’re here. Let’s make three shrines—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He said this because he didn’t know how to respond, for the three of them were terrified.

Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice spoke from the cloud, “This is my Son, whom I dearly love. Listen to him!”Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them not to tell anyone what they had seen until after the Human One had risen from the dead.

This Sunday is the Last Sunday after Epiphany known as Transfiguration Sunday.  While I'm going to focus primarily on on Mark's Transfiguration account, I've decided to include the other Revised Common Lectionary Readings for this Sunday during our Worship Service. They all focus on God's radiant light and powerful revelation that transform people and how we view the ordinariness of our everyday experiences through the power of God's transformative Spirit.  So I hope you will take time to read      2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6.

In the Transfiguration, Jesus is stunningly transformed before three of his wondering disciples.  You and I are not good enough to put into mere humans words this strange and wonderful, mystical event.  All we can do is appreciate the sheer wonder of the moment as we would behold lightning flashing over a stormy lake or viewing other mountains from atop another higher mountain.

As I mentioned above, we're now closing out the Season after Epiphany.  Epiphany = manifestation, revelation, an unveiling.  We began the First Sunday after Epiphany with a story about Jesus' baptism.  Sure, there was a voice from heaven, but no one appears to have heard the voice but Jesus.  Remember the big discussion we had about Jesus' baptism in our Zoom Bible Study?  The whole episode of Jesus' baptism made no immediate sense to us.  Then we followed Jesus to the synagogue at Capernaum where there was quite an uproar, due to the confusion of the congregation encountering Jesus, and then a demon's outburst.  Last Sunday, we were with Jesus as he healed Simon's mother-in-law and then many sick people and cast some more demons out of people -- all of this before retiring to pray in preparation to "proclaim the message" throughout Galilee.  What do we make of all these scenes before Jesus' Transfiguration?  It's almost as if Mark says, "Let me tell you about Jesus, what he really means and who he really is," but then does it in such a way that you wonder if Mark is really serious about handing over the meaning of Jesus that he states in the opening verse of his Gospel:  "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (Mark 1:1). 

Then at last, when we come to the Transfiguration, it's as if the veil is pulled back, and there is a voice: "This is my Son .. . ."  This time, Peter, James, and John hear the voice and see the vision.  Now that's Epiphany.  We behold a transformed body clothed in shining garments on the mountaintop, in the words of one hymn writer, ". . . where brighter than the sun, Christ glows."  It's quite a relief, especially in Mark's Gospel where there is so often secrecy and concealment, that at last we see.  What is finally revealed is the core of Mark's theology, the most essential part of his teaching.  We see Jesus himself.  His clothing, his body shines so bright that even the laziest of listeners can see and get the point.  The point is Jesus.  Just in case anybody misses the point, Stage Manager, Mark, pulls back the curtain and has God's booming voice declare for all to hear, "This is my Son, whom I dearly love.  Listen to him" (Mark 9:7).  Then the curtain goes down, Moses and Elijah are gone, and there, center stage in front of the curtain stands Jesus.

Yes, Jesus is the point, but as Sarah Henrich and Will Willimon both point out, it is very significant that Moses and Elijah are standing beside Jesus during the Transfiguration.  Surely, when Peter, James, and John notice these two great prophets, they understand that they are on holy ground.  Both of these prophets shared an intimacy with God; both were a delight to God who gave them their prophetic messages.  Moses had been to God's holy mountain and had delivered God's Law, the Ten Commandments, to the Hebrew people. Elijah had done battle with the false prophets of Baal, and Elijah's God had prevailed.  When Elijah fled from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel and hid out atop God's holy mountain, Horeb, it was there that God spoke to him not through the strong wind, the earthquake, or the fire, but through a sound of sheer silence (see 1 Kings 19).  It seems that prophets often encounter the Divine on the top of mountains.  Finally, both Moses and Elijah were so close to God that it was believed that these prophets successfully sidestepped death and were assumed directly into heaven, as is claimed for Elijah who rides God's chariots of fire (2 Kings 2:1-12) and for Moses by the first-century Jewish historian, Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, 4.323-26).  Check out the strange account of Moses' death in Deuteronomy 34:4-7.

In short, the disciples are given all they need to understand who Jesus is, to frame his identity properly with reference to two of the great prophetic figures of Israel.  Then, lest there be any doubt, there is an unmistakable, audible voice from heaven.  What's the job of the disciples?  "Listen to him."

That's our job, too, as followers of the Way of Jesus.  We know what Jesus told us and have walked with Jesus through the stories that the gospel writers have told us about Jesus.  With Mark, we watched Jesus preach in the synagogues, cast out evil, and heal many who had various diseases.  Jesus said to us, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.  This is the first and great commandment.  A second is like it.  You shall love your neighbors as yourself.  These two commands fulfill all that is written in the Law and the Prophets."  For most people, it is easy to love their immediate family.  Most parents would sacrifice almost anything for the good of their children.  It's a lot harder to love one's neighbor as much as one loves herself or himself.  We are only able to love others in light of our God who, in Christ, reveals God's love for us.  It is only the Holy Spirit who can give us such light and love.

God loves us enough not to leave us in the despair of an often dark world.  We are given a voice, a vision to indicate who Jesus is.  We have a strange and wonderfully revealing God who does not leave us to grope around trying to make sense out of our world without the light and hope of Christ's Holy Spirit.

Peace & Light Through Christ our Sovereign,

Pastor Greg Rupright



02-12-2021 at 9:56 PM
Pat May
I have some reading homework to do before Sunday..
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