February 14th 2020 Homily on Mark 9:2-9 by Pastor Galen Zook
Zoom Filter Mishap
Earlier this week, a lawyer in Texas made the news because he was set to appear in court via the video conferencing software Zoom. Unbeknownst to him, however, a filter was turned on on his computer’s camera that made him look like a very adorable cat. The lawyer clarified to the judge that he was not in fact a cat, and that he was fully prepared to go forward with the court proceedings while he and his secretary attempted to turn the filter off. It was quite humorous, and seemed to lighten the mood of the court proceedings.
Although the camera filter obscured the lawyer’s appearance, the Zoom filter mishap actually revealed some aspects of the lawyer’s true personality that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. We learned that he has a pretty good sense of humor, since in later interviews he was able to laugh about what had happened. But we also saw just how dedicated this lawyer was to his job, since he was fully prepared to proceed with the trial despite the fact that he looked like a cat. The camera filter may have obscured his appearance, but it revealed something true about him.
In Mark chapter 9, Jesus went up on a mountain with three of his closest disciples, “And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus” (Mark 9:2-4).
The word “transfigured” here simply means “changed” or “transformed.” There, on top of this mountain, Jesus’s appearance was transformed. The experience he had on the mountaintop wasn’t some sort of Zoom filter mishap, but it did reveal to us something of Jesus’s true personality and character that up until that point had been somewhat obscured.
Until then, the disciples thought that Jesus was merely a person who happened to have some miraculous powers. They had no idea that he was the Son of God. Prior to this, in Mark 8, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” (Mark 8:27). They replied that some people thought he was John the Baptist, others Elijah or one of the other prophets who had come back to life. When he asked them who they thought he was, Peter answered “you are the Messiah.” but most likely Peter was thinking of an earthly Messiah who would bring about an earthly kingdom. He had no concept at that point of Jesus’s divine nature.
But up there on the mountain, as Jesus’s appearance was transformed in front of them, Peter, James, and John caught a glimpse of a reality that had been obscured up until this point. They caught a glimpse of Jesus’s purity and divinity, his divine majesty. For a brief period of time, the veil was pulled back, the filter was taken off, and they saw Jesus in his glory.
Of course, up there on that mountain, Jesus was the same as he had been all along. It was only his appearance that was changed. All throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus was both human and divine. He was just as much God as he was human, and just as human as he was God.
100% God, 100% Human
Early on in Church history, after Christ’s death and resurrection, followers of Christ tried to break down just how much of Jesus was human and just how much of him was divine. Some thought that perhaps Jesus was 50% God and 50% human. Half and half.
Others thought that Jesus was 100% God, but that he just looked like a human while he was here on this earth. In their minds, then, on the mountain when Jesus was transformed, the disciples finally saw him for who he really was.
Others thought the opposite. They thought that Jesus was just a human who simply had divine attributes. This is in fact the perspective that many people in our world hold today. They acknowledge that Jesus was a significant historical figure. Many even believe he was a wise teacher who had very good things to say, but they don’t believe he is worthy of worship and adoration, or that his words are authoritative for our lives.
But in the Scriptures we see that Jesus was 100% God, and 100% human. “Fully God and fully man” as it has often been said. Now I know that for all of the mathematicians out there, you might be wondering, how can someone be 100% one thing, and 100% of another? Doesn’t that add up to 200%? How is that possible?
Well the simplest answer, which may or may not be to your liking, is that “with God all things are possible,” as Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 19:26. There are some mysteries about God that we’ll never understand. We just need to take them on faith, believing and trusting that they are true.
But one way that I like to think about it, which might be helpful to some of you, is that each of us function simultaneously in different roles. I am my wife’s husband, but at the same time, I’m a father to my children. I am both a husband, and a father. I’m not 50% a father, and 50% a husband. I am fully both at the same time. (This analogy falls short of describing Jesus’s simultaneous divinity and humanity, since my role as a husband and father is in relation to different people, whereas Jesus was fully God and fully human in his very essence and being, but it helps me in some small way to wrap my mind around it).
The point is that even though Jesus laid aside much of his divine power in coming down to this earth and taking on the form of a person, he did not stop being God, and as such he revealed God to us all throughout his earthly life and ministry. When he was healing people and casting out demons, and teaching, performing other miracles, he was both God and man. This experience of Jesus being transfigured on the mountain simply revealed this truth to his disciples.
I believe this is important for us to understand, because so many people today hold a false view of God. So many people have so much baggage, and so many preconceived ideas about who God is. They think that God is distant, or unloving. Some think that God is standing there, ready to squash them when they mess up. Others think that God has just sort of abandoned us, that God created the world but then just left us on our own. They think that God really doesn’t care at all about what we do, and so we can live our lives however we want.
But Jesus is the clearest picture, the clearest manifestation that we have of God. In Jesus we see a God who is not distant or far off, but a God who is close to us, who understands our reality. We see a God who cares about justice and righteousness, who will hold us accountable for our actions or inactions. But we also see a God who loves us so much that God sent Jesus down to this earth to live among us, to show us the way. In Christ we see that God has not abandoned us, God has not left us to our own devices. In Jesus, God is with us.
Jesus — the Fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets
For Peter, James, and John, the experience of being up there on the mountain with Jesus must have been shocking and awe-inspiring. On the one hand it confirmed their hopes and conviction that Jesus was in fact the Messiah, the Anointed One that they had been waiting for all their lives. But it also greatly expanded their understanding of who Jesus was. They must have realized that day day Jesus was so much more than they had ever hoped or imagined.
Not only was Jesus’s appearance transformed on the mountaintop that day, but Moses and Elijah (who had lived a thousand years before the time of Christ) appeared beside him, talking with him, standing in solidarity with him. Moses, the lawgiver, who gave the nation of Israel the Ten Commandments and the first five books of the Bible. Elijah, one of the greatest prophets of Israel. Moses and Elijah appearing with Jesus that day reveal that Jesus’s life was in fact the fulfilment of all the law and the prophets, that all of Scripture had in fact been pointing the way towards him, that all of history in fact had been leading up to this moment.
Coming Back Down the Mountain
Peter, James, and John didn’t know what to say or do in response. It must have been overwhelming, to say the least. Peter piped up and suggested that they stay there on that mountain top, and that they build dwellings for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, so Jesus could live up there on the mountain and remain in his glorious appearance forever.
From Peter’s vantage point, he imagined that Jesus would much rather stay up there on the mountain than to come back down and face the religious and political leaders who were conspiring together to trap Jesus. A few days before this, Jesus had told his disciples that he was going to “[suffer], and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed” (Mark 8:31). And so from Peter’s perspective, why wouldn’t Jesus want to just stay up there on that mountain in all of his glory forever?
But what Peter didn’t realize was that Jesus had already made his choice to come down the mountain. He had long before chosen to come down to the earth, to live among us, to experience the same things we experience. To experience our pain, and suffering and grief. To identify with us. And he had made this choice because of his great love for us. He knew that we were heading down the path towards destruction. We needed God to intervene. And so Jesus came down to this earth to live among us, to show us a different way, and ultimately to give his life for the world.
Building a dwelling and staying up there on the mountain was not a possibility for Jesus. It would have defeated his whole purpose in coming. And so Jesus came back down the mountain. Back down to teach us, to live among us, and to point us in the direction we should go. And ultimately to die on the cross in our place, to make it possible for us to be reconciled to God and one another.
Down the mountain, and Out into the world
For Peter James and John, following Jesus meant not only going up the mountain with Jesus, but also coming back down, and continuing to follow him as he ministered to the sick and those who were oppressed by the Enemy, and as he proclaimed the Good News to the poor and to the least of these.
Occasionally, we have experiences in our walk with God that feel like mountaintop experiences. We go away for a retreat, or we come together for worship, and we experience a closeness and intimacy with God, and we don’t want to leave.
But like Jesus and his disciples, we’re called to come back down the mountain. To go out into the world, to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ through word and deed to those around us. We’re called to help remove the filter that’s been placed over people’s eyes that prevents them from seeing Jesus for who he really is.
When Jesus was here on this earth he inhabited a physical body. But now as the Church, we are called to be the body of Christ. The living, moving, breathing, physical manifestation of God’s presence in this world. Yes we still have flaws, we make mistakes. But God is transforming us into the people God wants us to be. And when we serve and love others as Jesus taught us to do, we help remove the filter so that others can see Jesus for who he is.
In the back of our church, in the Food Pantry area, there’s a sign that says “the food and clothing you receive here today are given in the name of, and with the love of Jesus.” This is what it means to make Jesus known in the world.
And so this morning, let us ask God to remove the filter from our own eyes so we can more clearly see Jesus for who he is. And then let’s proclaim the Good News of Jesus through our words and deeds to a world that is so desperately in need of God’s healing, mercy, and love.