The Transfiguration of our Lord
February 13, 2021
“Do You See What I See?”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the Gospel lesson from Mark 9.
My dear friends in Christ Jesus,
A prisoner was once sentenced to solitary confinement in a pitch-black prison cell. To relieve his boredom he took his only possession – a marble – and threw it against the walls. Day in, day out, clack, clack, clack, the marble would bounce off the wall onto the floor and then roll around the room until the man could locate it. One day the man decided to do something different – he would throw the marble up and try to catch it as it came down. Of course, in the pitch black he missed and waited to hear where the marble would drop. But there was no sound. The marble never came down! The man became more and more disturbed. What had happened to his precious marble? How could it disappear into thin air like that? The question drove him to madness, and he died.
When the guards later entered the cell to remove his body, a glint of light caught one of the guard’s eyes. He looked up toward the ceiling to see the most astonishing sight – a marble caught in the web of a spider. “Do you see what I see? Of all the crazy things,” he said, “How on earth did the spider manage to get a marble up there?”
The point is this. Sometimes our senses can play tricks on us. We hear a bump in the night, but cannot identify its source. One of those smooth cooktop stoves may look innocent enough, but its surface could still be dangerously hot to touch. A sunny day when viewed from indoors may look inviting, but the reality of cold temperatures reveals itself once the door is opened. Sometimes we see something, but misunderstand or out and out fail to comprehend what is really going on.
Case in point. What happened in our Gospel lesson must have been quite a sight, and yet three supposedly reliable witnesses sort of missed the whole point. Jesus’ ministry was about to take a turn, as he would set his face towards Jerusalem where he would fulfill and accomplish the purposes of God. The child of Bethlehem, the boy of Nazareth, the carpenter’s son, was revealed as “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.” This is important stuff! And the three witnesses almost missed it.
Peter, John, and James had seen their Lord as a teacher and as someone who performed miracles, but they had never seen Jesus like this in all his glory. Mark 9 tells us that Jesus’ clothes became a dazzling white – more white than they have any business being. They were now seeing Jesus in all his glory, glory that he had possessed ever since his timeless existence with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. Now Jesus stood with the two other men who were Israel’s source of hope and trust prior to Jesus – Moses and Elijah. In this group stood the hope of Israel past and the hope of Israel future – The Word spoken of by the prophets and the Word made flesh – together in one spot on the Mount of Transfiguration. But what did the disciples see? They saw just enough to terrify them into tent-making!
What do we see when it comes to Jesus? This can be sort of a problem for those who depend on their sight to verify everything. What did Jesus even look like? We have several paintings of Jesus here at Good Shepherd, but is that what Jesus really looked like? There are several famous images of Christ handed down through time. Last week I showed you “Christus Consolator” in the sermon. There is DaVinci’s “Last Supper” and Warner Sallman’s famous 1941 portrait of Jesus entitled “Head of Christ.” Additionally, there are the well-known images of Jesus knocking at the door and praying in the Garden. The reality is that we don’t have any real pictures or photographs of Jesus, but we have something better. Maybe we can’t see Jesus, but we have the record of the Scriptures; we have the account of his miracles, his ministry, his mercy, his compassion, his sacrifice, his love. Thus, with our eyes of faith, we too see the glory of Christ. We do not see them visually like the disciples did, but we “see” them with eyes and ears of faith.
But not everyone can see this. Not everyone believes in God. Sad…but true. With all that has happened and the troubles yet to come, it is increasingly hard to “see” Jesus amid all the troubles of life…especially so now. It was not until God stepped down into his own creation as a man and suffered and died on the cross of Calvary and then rose again, that we see God in all of his compassion and love – compassion and love that satisfies our desperate need in the face of sin. Not until our Lord removes the veil of darkness of daily living on the Last Day, much like the way he momentarily did for the disciples on the road to Emmaus, (Luke 24) were they or are we able to say definitively, “I see clearly now!”
There is one final aspect to our Transfiguration text, and that is what the voice of God told the disciples to do. He did not tell them to build a megachurch. He did not tell them to set up a praise band to walk behind Jesus. He told them in a very pressing way, “listen to him” (verse 7). That is what God wants. He wants us to “see” by faith and listen to Jesus. He wants us to listen to what he has to say to us and about us sinners. He wants us to listen to what he said and not try to second-guess him. “This is my body.” “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” “Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you.” “I tell you the truth, your sins are forgiven.” “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” “Follow me.”
There is an old adage that says, “seeing is believing.” But Jesus himself shot down that notion when he told the disciples after he had risen, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). If we wait to see our glorified and transfigured Lord for confirmation of our faith, that will be too late. We will not see our Lord physically with our own two eyes until the Last Day – Judgment Day. Instead, we as believers in Jesus “see” him with our eyes of faith and we live our lives believing without having to see. We live by faith, not by sight as we live in God’s grace, his love, his mercy, and his forgiveness as we faithfully await the return of our Lord in his glorious splendor; just as the prisoner waited for his precious marble to drop in the dark. And when we are able to live like that, when we can find hope in our darkness and the strength-filled confidence to move forward in life, then we can faithfully echo the words of St. Peter as he too stood in awe of his Transfigured Lord and uttered “how good Lord it is to be here.”