Sunday, February 11, 2018
a voice came out of the cloud, "This is My Beloved Son; listen to Him"
It was a rough year for the small coal mining community. Coal mining is difficult, dirty work even under the best of conditions, but with the country moving to cleaner and cheaper sources of energy like natural gas and solar energy, the coal miners were beginning to see the handwriting on the wall. One miner expressed his frustration like this: My life is filled with mountaintop experiences. One day, I’m on top of the mountain. The next day the mountain is on top of me. We understand his pain.
The Bible refers to numerous mountaintop experiences. Some of the time people in the Bible felt they were on the mountain. Other times they felt that the mountain was on top of them.
It was on Mount Moriah that Abraham felt God was calling him to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham surely felt at that moment that the mountain was on top of him, but then God opened his eyes to a ram caught in a thicket and then Abraham felt he was on top of the mountain (Genesis 22).
On Mount Sinai Moses received the Ten Commandments. Certainly, that was a mountaintop experience, but when he came down from the mountain the people were in the midst of a revolution. They made a golden idol in the shape of a calf and were having a wild party. Now the mountain was on Moses (Exodus 32).
On Mount Carmel, Elijah made the prophets of Baal looks like idiots. He was on the mountaintop, but soon he was on the run thanks to the evil Queen Jezebel. He ended up hiding in a cave where he felt the weight of a mountain on his shoulders (I Kings 18-19).
Jesus was familiar with mountains. One of the temptations took place on a high mountain (Matthew 4:1-11). Temptation can find us anywhere, whether high on the mountain following a wonderful baptismal or other high spiritual experience, or deep in the valley of doubt and despair. After the temptations of the devil, Jesus had other memorable experiences on mountaintops. It was on the Mount of Olives that Jesus went for prayer, it was also the place where He was betrayed.
And who can forget Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)? While we don’t know, from the Bible, exactly where Jesus delivered this most famous of all His sermons, but evidence suggests it was on a mountain near the Sea of Galilee and Capernaum.
Important events often happened upon mountains in the scriptures. And today’s lesson from Mark’s Gospel is the ultimate mountaintop experience. According to Mark this event occurred almost right after Peter proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah and where Jesus told His disciples in plain words that He; must suffer many things, be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, that He must be killed and after three days He will rise again.
This confused the disciples. This wasn’t what they thought would happen the day they decided to drop everything to follow Jesus. Peter especially was annoyed with Christ’s announcement, and never having developed the good sense of knowing when to keep his mouth shut, he let Christ know about his disgust, which led to Jesus telling to him to get behind Me.
So, Jesus calles His inner circle, His closest friends, Peter, James, and John, to go with Him up the mountain. Maybe they thought, that in the mountain air, their minds would clear.
However, there was no way the disciples could have prepared themselves for what took place on that mountain. For one thing, they saw a sudden change come over Jesus. He appeared in a brilliant light. As Mark tells it, His clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. The disciples knew Jesus was special, but they had never experienced anything like this. Jesus was transfigured right in front of them.
Think of a woman living in your apartment building. Every time you’ve seen her she has been bundled up in heavy winter clothes. When you first met, she was changing a flat tire and there was thick grease all over her hands and clothes and face.
Then one day you see her on television. Instead of grease she has make-up on her face. Instead of winter work clothes she has an expensive designer dress. Instead of living in the apartment down the hall she’s the CEO and majority shareholder of the holding company which owns the apartment building and a thousand others like it. She’s on television announcing her acceptance to the President’s nomination as Ambassador to Wales. You thought she was a nice neighbor, you never dreamed she was so much more.
Think of the boy down the street who used to deliver your newspapers. The one you tipped $5 at Christmas time. The one you haven’t seen for years. The one you liked but wondered if he would ever amount to anything. Now it’s the day of your surgery and you’re pleased that the doctor is renowned as one of the best in the field. He walks into your hospital room and he looks familiar. He introduces himself as your former newspaper boy from down the street. You’re shocked. You see the resemblance. You recognize his voice. You can hardly imagine that it’s the same person. And you wish that you had tipped him $50 instead of $5.
No, those comparisons aren’t good enough. I don’t think anything compares. The disciples saw Jesus as they’d never seen Him before and wouldn’t see Him like that again until they were welcomed by Him into heaven.
And then, as if that weren’t enough, the disciples see Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah on that mountain. Moses, remember, gave the people the Ten Commandments and led them to the Promised Land. Elijah was the first prophet and was taken up into heaven in a chariot of fire. The Jewish people believed that Elijah would return one day in the same way he departed, on the wings of a chariot. These two men, Moses and Elijah, represented the Law and the Prophets, the sources of authority in Jewish life and here they were standing there on that mountain with Christ.
This was clearly the ultimate mountaintop experience. For once, even Peter was nearly speechless. Peter said to Jesus, Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters, one for You, one for Moses and one for Elijah. Then Mark adds: he didn’t know what to say, they were so frightened. But, Mark knew we’d understand. Then, if all this wasn’t enough, Mark tells us, a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: This is My Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!
Chances are that even if they hadn’t been listening to Christ before, they’d listen to Him from now on. Wouldn’t you? If you had witnessed such an extraordinary event, wouldn’t you admit that you’d better give Christ your undivided attention?
That’s what Christ wants most from us, isn’t it, our undivided attention? A voice from the cloud: This is My Son, whom I love. Listen to Him! What difference would it make in your life and mine if we really began listening?
It’s never a mistake to listen to Christ’s voice and to obey that voice. When we hear Him calling us and are obedient to His voice we discover a meaning and purpose for our lives we’ll never find any other way.
A first-time visitor came to an evening church supper. He sat next to an older man. They started to talk, and the visitor learned that the man had been a member there for 25 years. It was a university church near Princeton, NJ, with a lot of academic people in it. The old man said, I’m the only nonintellectual left in this church. I haven’t understood a sermon here in 25 years. The visitor asked, then why have you stayed? Oh, I’d never leave this church. So, what keeps you here? The man then explained that every Monday night he and others from the church took the church van to the youth correctional center to visit young people in prison. We started this a long time ago. The visitor then asked, why do you do it? Thoughtfully the man answered, Because Christians are supposed to do that kind of thing. I guess that’s why I’m here.
The old guy may not have understood a sermon in the last 25 years, but it wasn’t the voice of the pastor he was listening to. It was the voice of Christ telling him to serve a group of young men in prison. And evidently, he received more of a blessing from this ministry than any of the young prisoners. When we hear Christ calling us and are obedient to His voice we discover a meaning and purpose for our lives we’ll never find any other way.
But, you may ask, what if I think I hear God’s voice, but I’m mistaken? What if I end up some place where I am totally unsuited? God will tell you soon enough. The far greater risk is that you’ll never commit yourself to any meaningful ministry and will end up missing out on one of the great privileges God has given us.
When we hear Christ calling us and are obedient to His voice we discover a meaning and purpose for our lives we’ll never find any other way. Don’t hesitate to answer His call. It’s the only path to true happiness.
The three disciples were on the mountain with Jesus when He was transfigured. His clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And they saw Jesus in the company of the two great leaders of the Jewish faith, Moses and Elijah. Then they heard a voice: This is My Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!
This experience on the mountaintop ends with these words, suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. Jesus was all they had, and Jesus was all they needed. When they gave Him their undivided attention, their lives were filled with His power and their witness touched the entire world and is still touching it today.