Sunday, February 15, 2015

Listen to Jesus

(A sermon based on Mark 9:2-9 for Transfiguration Sunday 2015)

To whom do you listen?

So many voices vie for our attention and for our allegiance.

The voices of our past may call us to live in guilt or regret. The voices of our family and friends may call us to live our life the way they think we should live it. The voices of commentators may call us to view the world the way they see it. The voices of our fellow church members and of our preachers may call us to think about things from a point of view that calls itself “Christian” but may not have much to do with the actual way of Christ. The voice of our ego may call us to focus our energies on self-interest and self-protection.

The voice of God, though, calls us to listen to Jesus.

And we should.

Jesus is, after all, the One who is the culmination and the apex of God’s way in the world. He is, after all, the fulfillment of the promises of God. He is, after all, the beloved Son of God. He is, after all, the resurrected and glorified Savior of the world.

Those are some of the truths about Jesus that his Transfiguration revealed.

Jesus took his inner circle of Peter, James, and John with him up a mountain; a mountain in the Bible often serves as a place where a special revelation from God is given and received—and that is certainly what takes place on this mountain. There on that mountain in front of those three disciples Jesus was transfigured; that means that he was changed in a way that revealed the glory that would be his following his coming crucifixion and resurrection. So Peter, James, and John caught a glimpse of how Jesus would appear after his glorification.

Elijah and Moses appeared and talked with Jesus. Both of them were regarded in Jewish tradition as being forerunners of and pointers to the Messiah. Moreover, Elijah represented the Prophets and Moses represented the Torah; when they are gone and Jesus is left alone the truth is pictured that Jesus is the fulfillment of everything toward which the Law and the Prophets pointed. Then they heard the voice of God telling them what that voice had affirmed for Jesus at his baptism: he is the Son of God.

And since Jesus is the Son of God, the voice of God said, Jesus’s disciples—the ones who know Jesus and know that he is the Son of God—are to listen to him. Jesus’s voice is the voice to which they are to pay attention; Jesus’s voice is the voice to which they are to give their allegiance.

God clearly was willing to go to great extremes to convince the disciples that they should listen to Jesus.

Why was it so hard for the disciples to do that?

Why is it so hard for us to do that?

You may have noticed that our passage began with the phrase “Six days later” which raises the question “six days later than what?” For the answer we have to look back to the previous chapter in which we read about a conversation that Jesus had with his disciples at a place called Caesarea Philippi (it begins at 8:27). There he asked him who people were saying he was; they gave various answers. Then Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am” and Peter replied, “You are the Messiah.”

Then Jesus set about explaining to the disciples what it meant for him to be the Messiah; he said that “the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (8:31). Peter didn’t like that at all; he began to tell Jesus that he was wrong. Jesus, “looking at his disciples” (because it was very important that they understand just how terribly wrong Peter was), rebuked Peter by saying “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” (8:33).

Jesus knew the ways of God because Jesus was the Son of God. The followers of Jesus, be they the ones who walked with him in the first century or the ones who walk with him in the twenty-first century, need to listen to him because he knows the ways of God—not only for his life but also for our lives.

And there’s the rub.

Perhaps Peter, being the smart guy that he was, realized that if Jesus was going to walk such a difficult road his disciples might be expected to walk it, too. If Jesus was going to give rather than receive, he might expect them to do that also. If he was going to give his power up rather than seize power for himself, he might expect them to do that also. If he was going to offer up his life rather than protect it, he might expect them to do that also.

Jesus in fact went on to make that very point: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). Jesus closed his words with this startling statement: “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (8:38).

Ashamed of what words? Of the words that Jesus had just spoken about the way he was taking and about the way that his disciples were to take. The disciples had to get it. We disciples have to get it. It is absolutely necessary for us to embrace the fact that the road is long and the way is hard and the path is treacherous that leads to glory.

So six days later God further hammered the point home by letting three disciples—and because it’s in our Bibles, letting all of us—see Jesus in the state that would be his once he traveled the road that was his to travel.

Then God said, “Listen to him!”

Now God says, “Listen to him!”

But why don’t we?

We don’t because we’d rather listen to other voices that tell us that the way can be easy and the path can be smooth. We don’t because we’d rather listen to the loudest voice of all—the one that tells us that it’s all about us. We don’t because down deep we believe that our way is better than his way.

We need to listen to Jesus.

We have to listen to Jesus.

And Jesus tells us that his way is our way—the way of selflessness, the way of service, and the way of sacrifice.

It is the way of love.

It is the way of Jesus.

If we follow Jesus it is our way …

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