Series: Meet the Savior Who Was A Servant
Sermon: The Savior’s Summit
February 28, 2010
Ricky Powell, Pastor
Politicians love to host and to attend summit meetings. This past Thursday saw the culmination of President Obama’s healthcare summit. The attention of the media was arrested as politicians gathered to discuss their plans to improve healthcare for all Americans. I will leave it up to you to decide if anything good came out of the President’s summit. Today, however, I want to draw your attention to the greatest summit ever held. It was held just six months before our Lord’s death on Calvary’s cross. It was not located in Washington D.C., but on top of Mount Hermon in the Promised Land. Its participants were not presidents and politicians. No, at this summit was God’s great legislator, Moses, God’s great spokesman, Elijah, and God’s great Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Like all summits there were participants, and there were spectators. Peter, James, and John, comprising the inner ring of Jesus’ disciples were invited to the summit. Like modern summit this one even had reporters. For much later the Gospel writers Matthew, Mark, and Luke would record what happened at the Savior’s Summit. Even the apostle John would give the final analysis of the event when he wrote, “…and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14b). Long after the President’s healthcare summit is relegated to a footnote in history, and eventually forgotten, men will still be discussing the implications of the Savior’s Summit! There is a message for us today in what the Savior did on that mountain summit 21 Centuries ago.
First, consider the Summit and…
The account of the summit begins in the synoptic Gospels with a note about time. We are told that “after six days” Jesus invited that triad of trusted followers to join him on the slopes of snowcapped Mt. Hermon. It is described as a “high mountain,” and indeed it is, reaching up over 9,000 feet into the sky.
But that word about time, “after six days,” should not be passed over lightly. Mark is setting the context for what is about to happen on the mountain by pointing us back to previous confession of Peter and instruction of the Lord. We cannot understand the significance of the Savior’s summit if we do not view it through the lens of the events a week earlier at Caesarea Philippi. Do you recall Peter’s confession concerning the person of Christ in Mark chapter eight? Do you recall the Lord’s instruction to Peter, the disciples, and Christ’s followers? Peter’s confession concerning the identification of Jesus: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus, I confess you as the Messiah, the anointed one of God. Do you remember the instructions the Lord gave after Peter’s confession? “And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Mark 8:31 (NKJV)
When Peter heard Jesus speak of the cross he took him aside and rebuked him. Peter said, “Not so, Lord, not so.” Jesus then rebuked Peter by saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” Mark 8:33 (NKJV)
The disciples are left confused and concerned by the news of the cross. It is in this context that Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up to Mt. Hermon. I do not know why He chose these three and not others. The sovereignty of God will always be a mystery. He certainly did not love them more than the others. Perhaps He selected these three because they were more receptive to His love and light. James wrote, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8). I agree with Dr. Vines when he says you as a Christian can be as close to God as you want to be.
Perhaps Jesus chose these three men because they had been with Him in the room of Jairus’ daughter when Jesus raised her from the dead (Mark 5:25-43). At that moment in that bedroom the disciples were confronted with Jesus’ authority over death itself when He said, “Little girl, rise.” Now they needed to be reminded that He still had power over death. The cross was part of God’s plan, but so was the resurrection. Yes, Jesus would surrender to death on the cross, but as the God-Man He was superior over death and would rise again on the third day! These same three would be with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as He, the Master of death, and as the One superior to death, yielded Himself to death, even the death of the cross.
Thus, the transfiguration was to be a teachable moment for His disciples whereby they received assurance in the midst of their concern and confusion that Jesus was not going to the cross as a mere man, but as the God-Man. He was not going to the cross as a victim, but as a volunteer. Jesus wanted them to remember this moment six months later when they saw Him dying at mid-day as the sun refused to shine, remembering that He is still the light of the world whose face had shone brighter than the sun. When they saw the Roman soldiers at the foot of the cross gambling for his outer garment they would remember this day when His robes were white as light, whiter than any bleach could make them, and when as Luke wrote, they flashed as bolts of lightening across a night sky. And when they would see the visage of their Lord, bloodied, battered, and bruised with the brutality of Calvary, when they saw His beard having been plucked from His face, and when they saw the crown of thorns upon His brow they would be reminded of the night when His dear face shone with the glory of the sun in its mid-day strength. And when they saw Him bow His head and dismiss His spirit into the hands of the Father they would be reminded of that night on the Mount of Transfiguration when His head was lifted and held high with the glory of God!
The Savior’s summit was a prelude to the cross. Second, let us consider the Summit and…
This transfiguration becomes a revealing of the divinity of Christ on the one hand, and of the humanity of Christ on the other.
“…and He was transfigured before them” (Mark 9:2).
The word transfigured is from the Greek word, “μεταμορφόω” (metamorphoō) is the basis for our English word, “metamorphosis.” It refers to a change from within. The transformation is visible on the outside, but it originates from the inside. It is what happens to a tadpole when it turns into a frog, or a caterpillar when it turns into a butterfly. The outward form has changed, but the inward essence is the same. The transfiguration of Christ was an outward visible transformation of His appearance in accord with His nature. Jesus’ outward appearance was temporarily changed from that of an ordinary man to reveal His eternal deity and glory. The radiance of His true self shone through in all His resplendent glory! What was on the inside was being revealed on the outside! J. Dwight Pentecost correctly describes the scene when he writes, “Christ was not transfigured by means of an external light focused on Him so they He reflected the glory of God. Rather, this was the outshining of the essential glory that belongs to Jesus Christ” (The Words and Works of Jesus Christ, p. 256).
“…and He was transfigured before them” (Mark 9:2).
Do not lose sight of the divinity of the Christ and do not lose sight of the humanity of Christ. The Bible says, “He” was transfigured before them. The one transfigured before their eyes was none other than the same Lord Jesus with whom they had lived and followed for nearly three years. He had not been a phantom all this time, merely feigning to be a man. No! He was and is the God-Man. God of very God and man of very man! He was the same one who contracted Himself to the span of a virgin’s womb and was born to peasant parents in an obscure village. He was the same one who wore the common clothes of the common man. He was the same one who grew to be a man, working as the Carpenter of Nazareth. He was the same one who fell asleep in the boat after a long day’s work. He was the one about whom the prophet Isaiah wrote, “He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him.” (Isaiah 53:2). This simply means that Christ came to earth as an ordinary man. But the transfiguration shows that he is more than an ordinary man. He is Emmanuel, God with us! He is the divine Son of God! He is the God-man.
Only man could serve as a substitute for men under the righteous judgment of God. Only a man could be the sin-bearer for you and me. But only God could pay the infinite penalty our sin debt demands. So the God-Man did for us what we could not do for ourselves!
We have considered the cross and the Christ. Third notice the Summit and…
In the midst of the transfiguration Christ is joined by two titans of the Old Testament. “And Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.” Mark 9:4 (NKJV)
The Gospel write Luke tells us that Peter, James, and John had been sleeping. That makes me feel better. Donna defines my preaching as talking in someone else’s sleep. Can you imagine their utter surprise when they awake and discover Jesus in resplendent glory, having a Bible study with Elijah and Moses? It has often been asked how they knew the identity of these two new companions of Christ. Jesus did not have to say, Peter, let me introduce to you Mr. Moses and Mr. Elijah! Some have speculated that Moses stood there holding two tablets of the commandments of the law while Elijah stood in a fiery chariot. Well, that is just plain silly. They knew who these two were because the transfiguration was a foretaste of glory divine when we will know as we are known (1 Cor. 13:12)! Will we know each other in Heaven? Yes. And we will also be given the knowledge of people we have never known! We will know as we are known. Won’t it be wonderful when we are forever in that transfigured world we call Heaven, needing no introductions? We will be the family of God knowing our brothers and sisters.
The more pertinent question concerning this event, however, is why did these two men appear to Christ? Why, and why them? I will give you two reasons they appeared to Jesus Christ.
There they are Moses and Elijah, standing as two great representatives of the Old Testament; Moses as the great deliverer and Law-giver of the Old covenant; Elijah as the great prophet. The Law and the Prophets all attest to Jesus as the Christ. Moses and Elijah flank Jesus as a way of saying that He is the fulfillment of centuries of promise and expectation!
Most of all, I think they appeared to Jesus to give Him the comfort and companionship He could find in no other person or place. Jesus had been surrounded by people who would not believe His Word, by family members who thought He was out of His mind, by religious leaders who maligned His character and motives, and by disciples who distanced themselves from Him when He spoke of a cross. Even on this night when He has invited His inner circle up on the mount for a season of prayer we find them sleeping according to Luke’s Gospel (Luke 9:32). What a burden Jesus was bearing in His soul as He walked toward the cross! He was nearing the culmination of God’s momentous plan with no one who understood.
Comfort comes best from someone who has walked through the same valley as you. Both Moses and Elijah could relate to Jesus on several levels. They both had their own special encounters with God on the same mountain. Moses met God on Mt. Sinai, and Elijah met God on Mt. Horeb. Moses saw a glimpse of God’s glory as he was in the cleft of the rock (Exodus 33:18-23). Now Moses stands before the incarnate Son of God, witnessing His glory manifested in the Promised Land. Elijah encountered God on Mt. Horeb in the small still voice that whispered to Him.
These two great Old Testament titans had their own encounters with God on the mountain and now they stand with the Son of God incarnate on his Mt. of Transfiguration.
These two men could also comfort the Christ because they could each testify that God will be with you in life’s final hour. Moses, if you recall, died and was buried over against Nebo. Moses’ funeral was attended and officiated by no one but God. And he would be buried in a grave unmarked and unknown by anyone but God. Elijah, on the other hand, did not die but was taken up and out in a fiery chariot while still alive!
Moses could comfort Jesus Christ by telling Him that God will be there to the very end when you die. And Elijah could comfort Jesus Christ by telling Him that God is able to take you up and out alive even if it means up and out of a grave! They comforted Christ in His moment of need. So there they are, one man who can testify to the sufficiency of God in death, and another who could testify to the sufficiency of God, not in death but in translation. They comforted the Man who would experience both death and resurrection. They comforted Him in His time of need.
Luke tells us that Moses and Elijah spoke to Jesus about His departure, literally, His exodus. Perhaps Moses said, “Christ, the Passover lambs that the children of God sacrificed in Egypt, placing the blood on the doorposts and lintels of our homes were just a foreshadowing of what you will accomplish on the cross of Calvary. Without you, the Lamb of God who has come to take away the sin of the world, there is no hope for condemned humanity!” I wonder if Moses spoke to Christ about his first miracle of judgment; turning water into blood, while Jesus spoke of His first miracle of grace when He turned water into wine. Perhaps Moses spoke of his failure in the wilderness wanderings of 40 years that barred him from entering the Promised Land in life, while Jesus spoke of His victory over Satan during 40 days the wilderness at the beginning of His public ministry. Perhaps Moses spoke of how he used the blood of animals to seal the Old Covenant at Sinai, but Jesus would seal the New Covenant with His own blood at Golgotha.
The companions of Christ comforted Him as He prepared for the cross.
We have considered the cross, the Christ, and the companions. Fourth, notice the summit and…
“Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’-- because he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid.” Mark 9:5-6 (NKJV)
It has been said, “Some men have something to say, and other men have to say something.” Peter falls into the latter category. If ever there was a silly statement or an understatement recorded in Scripture, this is it. “It is good for us to be here.” Peter is the master of the obvious. Peter has been asleep according to Luke. Now he is awake and barges in on the conversation between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah saying, “It sure is good to be here.” In fact, Peter goes so far as to suggest that this mountain top experience should never end. “Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’.
Peter wanted to build three tents or booths for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. This suggestion was not borne out of prayer, nor was it from searching the Scriptures to discern the mind of God. Peter just blurted out the first thing that came to his mind, “because he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid.”
There were three things wrong with Peter’s suggestion.
To erect three shelters would have placed Jesus on the same level as the great law-giver Moses and the great prophet Elijah. Even the greatest of God’s servants do not belong on the same level as Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son! He stands above and apart all others! Only Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords!
The Transfiguration was but a preview of the glory of Christ which will be fully and finally revealed at His Second Coming. But first the cross had to come!
Peter wanted to make Mt. Hermon the world headquarters of the Christian movement. “Let’s just stay right here.” But Jesus knew that down in the valley was a demon possessed boy who needed to be set free by the power of Christ. Jesus knew that down the valley there was a blind Bartimaeus who needed the merciful touch of God in his life. Jesus knew that to stay on the mountain was to miss a Zaccheus who needed a savior.
Too many churches in our day have built tabernacles around a former movement of God. One day God blessed in a mighty way through a man, or through a method, or through a style of music. And it was good! God was all over it. The glory of God fell! But then churches decided to preserve it. They said, “This is the music God blessed back when I was young, this must be preserved as the only music God can bless.” Or they say, “This was the method God blessed when I was younger, therefore, this must be the only way God can bless.” And they sought to preserve the glory of yesterday. When something new is proposed they say, “We have never done it that way.” And like the Israelites who tried to preserve the manna overnight instead of trusting God for a new provision, those churches lost the very thing they were trying to preserve, the glory of God.
Our Savior knew that you must not deform the inspirational moments of God into an institutional method. Inspirational moments like these are meant to instill a fire and passion and confidence in us for what awaits us in the valley below! Oh dear church, hear your pastor well. We must guard against the desire to take the inspirational moments of God and wall them up and hem them in so we can preserve them. To do so is to lose the vitality of the moment and to become keepers of tradition rather than recipients of renewed inspiration. I do not want to live out of memories. I do not want to live the Christian life looking in the rear-view mirror of what God did yesterday. I want our church to live out of the inspiration of God for today while always looking for the next mountain He calls us to! The Mt. of Transfiguration was not meant to be a permanent abode, but was to be a place from which to move into the larger world of need with the power of God.
Peter had no sooner gotten the words off his lips when a luminous cloud surrounded them. “And a cloud came and overshadowed them…” Mark 9:7 (NKJV)
This was not a meteorological phenomenon, but was a spiritual one. Peter, James, and John, being good Jews knew immediately that this was no ordinary cloud. This was the Shekinah glory of God. This was the visible manifestation of God.
The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night went before Israel in the wilderness (Exodus 13:21). This was the cloud which passed by Moses as God covered him in the cleft of the rock with his hand—so that Moses only saw the afterglow (Exodus 33:18–23). This was the cloud which covered the nearly finished Tent of the Meeting and so filled the new Tabernacle with God’s glory that Moses could not enter it (Exodus 40:35). It was the same cloud that filled Solomon’s Temple on dedication day so that the priests could not enter the Temple (1 Kings 8:10, 11; 2 Chronicles 7:1).
It had been six-hundred years since anyone in Israel had seen the Shekinah glory of God. But now it hovers over Jesus, and envelopes the disciples. Ten a voice comes from the cloud. It was the same voice that spoke at Jesus’ baptism when He said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Now the voice agains speaks to them and says, “This is my beloved Son. Hear Him!” Mark 9:7 (NKJV)
Hear Him and not Moses and Elijah. 1 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; Hebrews 1:1-2 (NKJV)
Hear Him and not Peter. Hear Him in the days and months ahead when people mock Him and ridicule Him and speak evil of Him. Hear Him when He says the Son of Man must suffer and die on the cross. Hear Him when He says from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” When He says from the cross, “It is finished. Father into Thy hands I commend My spirit.” Hear Him on that resurrection day when He says, “Do not be afraid. It is I.”
Hear Him! This is not a suggestion. In the Greek it is given as am imperative. Hear Him and Him only and keep on hearing Him! Isn’t this what the Christian life is all about? It is about listening to Him and Him alone, seeking to do God’s will.
Suddenly, when they had looked around, they saw no one anymore, but only Jesus with themselves.' Mark 9:8 (NKJV)
United States runner Marla Runyon has been legally blind for 22 years. Even so, she competed in the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. In fact she qualified for the finals in the 1500 meter race. (Marla finished eighth, three seconds behind the medal winners.)
How does she do it? Marla can't see in color, and what she does see is just a fuzzy blob. In a race she just follows the blob of figures in front of her. She told TV commentator Tom Hammonds that the real difficulty was in rounding the final turn and “racing toward a finish line that I can't see. I just know where it is.” (Harry Hebert, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky; Bruce Bates, Cumberland, Rhode Island; from NBC TV)
I know there are a lot of things in life that do not make sense to us. Problems cloud our vision. Sometimes the will of God looks like a blob to us. But keep your eyes on Jesus. Listen to Him. And when we focus on Him alone we discover this wonderful truth: The Transfigured one is transforming me.
18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NKJV)
The transfigured One begins the process of making us like Him the moment you place your trust in Him as Lord and Savior. He continues the process throughout your life as you hear Him and heed His Word. He will complete your transformation when He comes again for us. The Apostle John put it this way, “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” 1 John 3:2 (NKJV)