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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:The glory and suffering of the Messiah
Text:Mark 9:2-13 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 93
Hymn 47:6 (after the law)
Psalm 45:1-3
Hymn 20
Hymn 48

Readings: Exodus 24, 1 Kings 19:1-18
Text: Mark 9:2-13
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ,


You usually don’t realize it at the time, but teachers have a lasting impact.  You often don’t appreciate them, but they say and do things that stick with you for the rest of your life.  For instance, there was this junior high teacher who was a recent Dutch immigrant.  He still loved all things Dutch and one of his great loves was the art of Rembrandt.  There were posters of the seventeenth century artist all over our classroom and a book too.  What was so great about Rembrandt (besides the obvious fact that he was Dutch)?  Well, our teacher told us that it had to do with the way that he used light and dark.  He created powerful contrasts that highlighted certain things.  Later on, I learned that this technique has a cool Italian name: chiaroscuro (pronounced: key-aro-scuro).


Chiaroscuro is not only a technique found in the art of Rembrandt and others.  It’s also a literary phenomenon found in our text for this morning.  There’s a powerful contrast between glory and suffering, between dazzling light and deep darkness.  One minute you’re on the stairway to heaven and the next on the highway to hell.  What happens here is meant to lead the disciples and us further on the road to understanding who and what the Messiah, the Christ, is all about.  We see the glory and suffering of the Messiah revealed on the Mount of Transfiguration.


We’ll see:


1.      A glimpse of his glory on the mountain-top, contrasted with

2.      A reminder of his suffering on the way down the mountain


In the last chapter, Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ or the Messiah.  His eyes were opened and he understood that Jesus was the one promised in the Old Testament.  However, at the end of chapter 8, Peter showed his lack of insight as to exactly what the Messiah was to do.  His vision for the Messiah involved a path straight to glory, onward and upward.  The Lord Jesus rebuked his vision and corrected it.  The Messiah and his disciples only attain glory after having travelled through suffering, and even death. 


That passage ends with the Lord Jesus telling the disciples that some of them would see the kingdom of God come with power.  That’s a reference to a whole complex of events included in his exaltation.  Now the transfiguration gives a glimpse of that, you could say that it’s prophetic of the coming glory.


We’re told that it happened six days later.  Is it a coincidence that Moses only entered the cloud in Exodus 24 after six days?  Why would Mark include the detail that it happened exactly six days later?  It seems to be suggestive of the pattern installed at creation.  After six days, on the seventh you have an opportunity to rest and meet with God.  Today too, one day in seven we have the great blessing of meeting with God in a very special way.  Someone once said that the public worship service is the closest that you’ll get to heaven on earth.  And it’s true.  Meeting with God after six days here is not an incidental detail, rather it tells us that heaven was coming down to earth for a special encounter.


Jesus took three of the disciples up on the mountain – Peter, James and John.  These three were the representatives and they accompany the Saviour up the mountainside.  Where was this mountain?  Traditionally, it’s identified as Mount Tabor, southwest of the Sea of Galilee.  However, the Bible doesn’t really tell us and to be honest with you, it doesn’t really matter.  What really matters is what happens on this mountain-top. 


Mountain-tops figure prominently in the Bible.  All kinds of important things happen in the Bible on the top of a mountain.  In fact, the Bible starts off on a mountain-top.  According to Ezekiel 28, the Garden of Eden was on the top of a mountain.  The Bible ends on a mountain-top too.  In Revelation 21, John is led to a high mountain and the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven and is established around him.  In between Genesis and Revelation, the high mountain top reappears again and again.  In Exodus 24, God meets Moses, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu on Mount Sinai.  In 1 Kings 19, Elijah is on the same mountain.  God often reveals himself on the mountain-tops.         


Christ and his disciples climb the mountain together and when they’re at the top, something changes with the Lord Jesus.  Suddenly he was transfigured before them.  Literally, he was metamorphosized.  Metamorphosis is a familiar concept from biology; it’s what happens when a caterpillar is transformed into a butterfly.  Something similar happened to the Lord Jesus here.  He was transformed.  No longer did they see Jesus the ordinary man, but suddenly they saw the Son of God in all his majesty and splendour.  His clothes became whiter than anything you can possibly imagine.  The light so bright it would leave no shadows.  What they saw at that moment was who the Son of God was before he emptied himself and took on human flesh.  What they saw at that moment was who the Son of God would again be after his ascension into heaven.  They saw his glory.  In 2 Peter 1, Peter recounts this event and he says that he and the other disciples were “eyewitnesses of his majesty.”  John recounts it too in his gospel and he says in 1:14, “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”


Loved ones, don’t let the majesty and glory of Christ slip by you here.  Don’t take this for granted.  Think of how you may pray to the Lord Jesus.  You can.  He is a person with whom you may communicate.  The early Christians did it.  While he was being stoned to death, we hear Stephen praying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  Stephen prayed to the Lord Jesus and in the centuries to follow, thousands of martyrs would repeat his prayer. In 1 Corinthians 12, we read of how Paul prayed to the Lord Jesus and pleaded with him to remove the thorn in his flesh.  In 1 Corinthians 16:22, we read the brief prayer of Paul for the coming of the Lord Jesus, “Maranatha!  Come, O Lord!”  The apostle John echoes that prayer in Revelation 22:20, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”  If the apostles and early Christians prayed to the Lord Jesus and their example is in the Bible, certainly we also have that freedom.  It is not sinful or wrong to pray to the Lord Jesus.  But this story of the transfiguration reminds us that as we pray to him or as we sing to him, we must always give him the respect and honour that he deserves as the Son of God.  While he is your elder brother, and while he calls you friends, he is still the highly exalted One, transcendent God.  The glimpse of his glory here reminds us that we can never be cavalier or flippant about our relationship with the Lord Jesus or our communications with him.  Respect and reverent awe are always needed.


Peter, James and John were in awe, terrified actually.  They had a fear that would make the hairs on your neck stand up on end.  They saw Jesus for who he really was and then Elijah and Moses too, speaking with him.  How did they know that these two figures were Elijah and Moses?  According to Scripture, Elijah did have a special appearance to him.  1 Kings 1 tells of how he wore special clothes that helped people readily identify him:  a garment of hair and a leather belt around his waist.  However, his cloak fell off as he was being carried off alive into heaven, so this might not have been what tipped the disciples off.  More likely, they heard Jesus address them as Moses and Elijah and that’s how they knew.  Mark also doesn’t tell us what they were talking about, but from the parallel in Luke we know that it was about the suffering to come, about Jesus’ date with death in Jerusalem. 


But why?  Why did Moses and Elijah come down from heaven to meet and talk with Jesus in front of Peter, James, and John?  It was to emphasize his status as the Messiah who had been promised.  Moses and Elijah were among those who were looking for this day, they saw the things promised from a distance.  Their presence on the mountain would have affirmed that Jesus was truly the promised Messiah.  It would have said to these disciples:  “You were right that Jesus is the Messiah, but you were wrong about what he needs to do.  We understand very well that he needs to go to Jerusalem and die.  You need to understand that and believe it too.”


Moses and Elijah are having a talk with Jesus on top of the mountain.  Jesus is there in all his glory.  This is a moment that would be hard to wrap your head around.  Peter blurts out the first thing that comes to his mind.  In his terror, he doesn’t stop to think but just talks.  He says that it’s good to be here.  And then he proposes to set up three shelters.  What is this all about?  John Chrysostom was an early church father and he said that Peter wanted to slow things down, hold on to the glory of the moment, and maybe still turn Jesus away from the cross.  I think Chrysostom was right.  Building shelters indicates that Peter wants to make the moment last.  Maybe we can stay here overnight, maybe longer.  Glory is good.  Moses and Elijah here – this is even better.  This is starting to look like what the Messiah should be about.


Peter makes the suggestion but nobody responds.  At least there’s no response from below.  However, there is a response from above.  A cloud appears and surrounds them.  Anyone familiar with the Old Testament knows that this is the presence of God.  When God takes up residence in the Holy of Holies, there’s a cloud resting on the tabernacle.  Here the cloud rests on the mountaintop and suddenly the voice of God is heard:  “This is my Son, whom I love.  Listen to him!”  Who was God speaking to?  For whose benefit did this whole mountain-top experience take place?  It was for Peter, James and John.  God is telling them that Jesus is his Son, he knows what he is talking about when he talks about the work of the Messiah.  The disciples should pay attention, listen to him, and learn from him.  There they are and they can see it all clearly:  Jesus in bright white glory – not just a rabbi (which makes Peter calling him that in verse 5 all the more odd); Jesus with Elijah and Moses at his side – he is the Messiah; Jesus with the stamp of approval from God his Father – he is the Son of God.  Everything is laid out as clearly as it possibly can be.          


Suddenly they look around, and everything is back to normal.  The brightness is gone, Moses and Elijah are gone, the cloud is gone.  It’s just them and Jesus again.  They had a glimpse of his glory, the past and future glory. 

The intensity of the glory and the depth of his suffering comes out in greater detail when we notice the contrasts between what happens on this mountain-top and what will happen shortly near Mount Zion.  The glory at the transfiguration is a private affair – the humiliation on Golgotha is public.  At the transfiguration he has prophets at his side, at the crucifixion criminals are his companions.  In one instance he has white garments of glory, in the next he is stripped naked.  On the mountain-top he has three male disciples close by, at Calvary there are only three female disciples watching from afar.  Here he has the voice of God announcing him to be the Son, there it’s left to a Roman centurion.  Elijah is present here and then later people mock thinking that he’s calling for Elijah and they think if he is truly who he says he is, then Elijah will come, but he doesn’t.


You see, there is this sort of Rembrandt effect here, chiaroscuro.  It helps us to understand that an over-emphasis one way or the other misses the full picture of who Jesus is and what he came to do.  You can’t have the glory without the suffering.  They belong together and in fact, the suffering must precede the glory.  The Lord Jesus can only take up his glory once again and permanently, after he has travelled the road to Jerusalem and then up to Golgotha.  Through suffering to glory.  It’s the pattern of our Saviour and it’s to be expected as the pattern of those who have union with him too.


Martin Luther said that there are three things necessary for the Christian life:  prayer, study and afflictions.  Most people will affirm the first two.  Of course, we need to pray and of course we need to study and be busy with the Word of God.   But afflictions, suffering?  We would rather skip that.  Yet brothers and sisters, it is exactly those things which shape us and cause us to grow the most.  We shouldn’t become masochistic and seek out suffering, but neither should we misunderstand its place in God’s plan for our lives.  Suffering and afflictions are how God grows us best and when he brings them our way we should remember that.  God is not only sovereign when it comes to our sorrows, but also our heavenly Father who loves us.  We need perspective, the big picture.  Remember Acts 14:22, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”  And Romans 8:17 reminds us that we will be co-heirs with Christ, “if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”           


Have you ever noticed that most of the psalms are laments?  Many of the psalms teach us how to sing the blues.  God provided those songs and prayers for us, because he knows we live in this kind of messy, broken world.  When we suffer and it doesn’t really matter how, sometimes it’s hard to find the right words.  We want to pray and speak to God, but we can’t get the words.  God gives us the right words, the perfect words, and he gives them in a form that speaks to the heart – in poetry that’s meant to be set to music.  When you suffer, let me encourage you to open your Bible or your Book of Praise to the psalms and use those prayers to speak the words you need.  Pray and let your gracious God give you the words.        


On the mountain-top, the glory of Christ is accentuated.  However, as they come down from the mountain, the suffering again comes to the surface, growing more and more obvious with each step downwards.  The Lord Jesus told them to keep what they saw to themselves.  They weren’t to talk about this until after the resurrection.  This event belongs with his glory days, not in his suffering days.  And indeed, the disciples respected his wishes.  But they were confused about one thing:  they had no idea what he meant by “rising from the dead.”  It wasn’t that they didn’t believe in a general resurrection from the dead – that was a common belief among Jews of this time.  But they didn’t get what Jesus meant when he was talking about his resurrection – he made it sound like he was speaking about something different.  There was a cloud on top of the mountain and now there’s a cloud inside their heads obscuring their understanding.  They have so much to learn, so far to go. 


In verse 11, they’re in the posture of students who will listen to their teacher, just like God told them to.  They bring him a question.  They’ve always been taught that before Messiah comes, there will be another appearance of Elijah, a public appearance, not like the private one that they just had on the mountain-top.  This came from Malachi 4.  They’re confused.  They haven’t seen Elijah in this public appearance (though they’ve now seen him privately), but yet the Messiah, the Christ is obviously here.  How can this be? 


Jesus answers and he affirms that it’s correct that Elijah has to come first and get things straightened out.  Elijah has to reorient people.  But then the Lord Jesus throws them a curve ball.  Forget about Elijah for a minute, let’s talk about the Son of Man.  Let’s talk about the Messiah, the Christ.  You remember what you were taught about Elijah, but what about the Christ?  Why does Scripture say that he has to suffer much and be rejected?  Let’s get back down to earth here and what I came to do.  Notice how he doesn’t directly answer his own question and neither do the disciples.  But what is the answer to that question?  Why did the Old Testament prophesy a suffering and dying Messiah?  It was to bring redemption for God’s people.  To bring salvation for Peter, James and John, for us, for you and for me.  The humiliation and suffering begin to snowball in the chapters ahead and it all culminates at the cross.  All of that was done in our place, for us. 


But to get back to Elijah, guess what?  Elijah has already come.  He was here and now he’s gone.  He was treated with contempt.  They gave him a prophet’s welcome, which for the Jews historically means that many of them blew him off and some even got angry and took it out on him physically.  The so-called King of the Jews had him thrown in prison and allowed him to be beheaded.  Elijah, of course, is John the Baptist.  Rather than treating him the way that God would have them treat a prophet (i.e. listen to him!), they did whatever they wanted (i.e. put him to death).  All of this fits with what was written. 


What was written is what’s found in Malachi 4.  Elijah would come and he would set relationships straight and if people would not listen, God said that he would strike the land with a curse.  When John came preparing the way for Christ, many listened, at least for a time.  But ultimately, John was too much and he even became a political problem.  John lost his head, following in the footsteps of other Old Testament prophets.  God said that he would strike the land with a curse.  The Lord Jesus is alluding to this.  He’s alluding to the words heard from heaven, “This is my Son, whom I love.  Listen to him!” 


Not listening to his forerunner has consequences, not listening to him has consequences.  Look at what happened to the Jews.  In 70 A.D., the Romans sacked Jerusalem, destroyed the temple and thousands of Jews were killed throughout the land.  It was a time of horrible, dark suffering.  That was God’s judgment on the unbelief of the Jews.  They refused to listen, they did what they wished instead of what God wanted and they paid the price.  The price they paid here on earth is nothing compared to what they would pay for eternity.


There’s a warning here for us too.  Like the Jews of Jesus' day, we are God’s covenant people.  They received the sign and seal of circumcision, we’ve been baptized.  We’ve been blessed richly with promises, including the promise of future glory.  God promises that the glory displayed on the mountain-top will some day be ours.  God promises a place on his mountain for us.  The way to receive those promises is through faith in Jesus Christ.  Jesus asks the question, “Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected?”  Faith answers that question, “For me, and for all who believe in Christ, resting in his perfect work, trusting that his sacrifice is all I need to be right with God.”  Unbelief says, “Whatever.  Heard that before, don’t really care.  It doesn’t do anything for me.  It’s nice, but I could care less.”  The warning says, “If you say ‘whatever’ to Jesus’ question, you’ll receive a punishment worse than Sodom and Gomorrah.  If you spurn God’s promises and treat them with contempt, you’re not getting the standard punishment for unbelievers, you’ll get special treatment in hell.  And it won’t be pleasant.” 


Brothers and sisters, listen carefully to the warnings of Scripture.  Warnings like the one found in Hebrews 3:12-13, “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”  Instead, let us accept and rejoice in the gospel as often we hear it proclaimed to us.  When we hear the gospel we say, “That’s God’s Son speaking to me, the one who he loves, and I love him too and I will listen to him!  I know that believing in him means that I’m called to share in his sufferings.  I’m called to deny myself and take up my cross and follow him.  I’ll do it.  It will be hard, and it will be painful, but I trust him and I trust my Father’s love.”    


With that kind of perspective, with faith, we’ll pass through this vale of troubles, where there is suffering and sorrow and only the occasional glimpses of glory.  Sometimes in this world, the shadows seem to overcome the light.  However, brothers and sisters, in the end we can be sure that there will be no shadows.  The new heavens and new earth have no Rembrandt effect.  There’s no chiaroscuro in the new Jerusalem.  There are no shadows, no darkness, no night.  It’s all light all the time and the light is the light given off by the glory of God.  The Lamb is its lamp.  We have a glorious hope!  AMEN.             






We have heard your Son and we have listened to him.  We thank you that he suffered much and was rejected for us.  We thank you that he entered into his suffering gladly and willingly in our place.  Father, we praise you for revealing something of his glory to us.  Lord Jesus, we praise you as the glorious Son of God.  Help us always to be in awe of you.  We pray that you would give us more grace with your Holy Spirit so that we would always hear your voice, and respond in faith. 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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