Today is the last Sunday before we start Lent; in church tradition, we always read the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. This is the story when Jesus is standing on top of a mountain, blazing with glory, and the voice of God thunders like it did at Jesus’s baptism: “This is My Beloved Son.”
Jesus’ baptism; Jesus’ transfiguration: “My Beloved Son”. It sounds like a phrase that should be really common in the Bible. After all, God is a God of love. But the interesting thing is that that phrase, “Beloved Son”, only shows up 3 times in all of the Hebrew or Greek scriptures. At Jesus’ baptism; here, at Jesus’ transfiguration. And in one other place: in Genesis 22.
In Genesis 22, God tells Abraham to take his Beloved son, the child of Promise, the child that Abraham had waited over 100 years to have…God tells Abraham to take his Beloved Son, Isaac, and go up on top of a far mountain, and bind him to the altar, and offer Isaac as a sacrifice.
And Abraham takes his only son, his Beloved Son, and he lays the wood for the fire upon his son’s back. Abraham himself carries the fire for the altar and the knife for the sacrifice, and together they walk up the mountain. And Isaac looks up to his father and says, “Father! The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” And Abraham, his head turned, his eyes streaming with tears that his son can not see… Abraham chokes out, “God Himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son. My Beloved Son.”
And they reach the top of Mount Moriah, and Abraham builds an altar there, and he binds his son, his Beloved Son on top of it… And then, in the most dramatic moment in the whole Hebrew scripture, Abraham raises the knife to plunge it into the breast of his Beloved Son…
“Wait! Abraham! Stop! Stop!” The angel screams from the heavens: “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your only son, your Beloved son from me.”
And Abraham looks up and sees a ram caught in a thicket, and he takes the ram and offers it up as a burnt offering instead of his Beloved Son. Abraham calls that place, “The Lord Will Provide”, for on that day, the Lord provided a sacrificial ram to save Abraham’s child.
Beloved Son. It is a code-name for the Son who must be sacrificed. It is a prayer that somehow, someway, the Lord will provide.
2000 years later, Jesus was sitting at the base of a mountain, telling his disciples, “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 will find it.”
6 days later, Jesus takes his disciples up to the top of the mountain. Six days. That’s important. The gospel writer is whispering, ‘Listen up! Six days! You know what God does after six days. God created the heavens and the earth out of chaos, out of the void. And creation reached its fulfilllment… after 6 days.
Moses went up onto Mt Sinai to receive the Torah, God’s great commandments. And the clouds lifted and the glory of God was revealed to Moses… after 6 days.
The walls of Jericho seemed impenetrable. But God called on God’s people to trust, not in their own power, but in the power of the Holy One. And the people marched around Jericho and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down.. after 6 days.
And 6 days after Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, he, John and Jesus are on a high mountain- like the mountain Abraham and Isaac stood on.
And on this mountain, Jesus is transfigured before Peter and John; his face shining like the sun and his clothes a dazzling white. And the very voice of God makes the earth tremble as the bright cloud of God’s presence overshadows them. And God says, “This is my beloved Son: listen to Him.”
And then Jesus orders them not to tell anyone what they have seen…until after He has risen from the dead. What does it mean that He will rise from the dead? A week ago, Jesus was talking about dying; Today, he’s talking about rising from the dead. What does it mean? What does it all mean?
You see, when they first got involved with Jesus, it seemed pretty simple. Jesus told people to turn back to God, like John the Baptist preached. Then, He started healing people. And feeding people. And taking care of people. That’s good. We can understand that. That’s what Christians do- heal others. feed others. love others.
But now, the message of Jesus was getting bizarre: I’m going to suffer, and I’m going to die, and if you follow me, so will you. Follow me. I will rise from the dead. What does it mean? What does it all mean?
There are some folks who believe that when we become Christian, God should protect us from all the pain and suffering of life. It’s a deal: We honor God; God protects us. I once got a note from a person that said: “I’m quitting the church because God hasn’t answered my prayers.” “Give me a good life, a safe life, a happy, comfortable life, and I will follow You to the ends of the earth, Lord!”
That’s what the disciples wanted: a good life, a safe life, a happy, comfortable life. But those of us who have been Christians a while know it doesn’t work like that. The most faithful believers in the world are stricken with cancer; see their children die; lose their jobs and their homes.
How many of us have lost someone we love? How many of us have had a life-threatening illness? How many of us have had our homes or our livelihoods torn from under us? Doesn’t God love us? Isn’t God powerful enough to protect the ones that God loves?
Of course God loves us. But becoming Christian doesn’t have anything to do with being protected from suffering. It has everything to do with being given hope and strength through suffering. God will provide. One way or the other, God will provide.
We’ve served the same company for 20 years, and they decide it would be cost-effective to close our store, and so they cut us off without even a thank-you. And it cuts to the quick, and there’s nothing we can do except go through the pain. But a different life, a new life awaits: God will provide.
We care for our spouse for 6 years, watching them being eaten away by cancer. And when they die, a part of us dies with them, and we know life will never be the same. And we’re right. But a different life, a new life awaits: God will provide.
The prognosis comes in, and it is not good. The blood we’ve been coughing up is the lining of our own lungs, and all the doctors can promise are a few months, maybe a few years. And we’re scared, and it feels like the end. But Beloved Son, Beloved Daughter, Beloved Child: God will provide.
God provides God’s own ending to our story. And when we read the story of Abraham, we know that God’s ending to that story was Life and Hope for the Nations through the very people who were asked to trust God in the face of pain and death.
And when we read the story of Jesus, we know that God’s ending to that story was Life and Hope for the World through the very Person who trusted God in the face of pain and death. Suffering doesn’t win in the end: God wins, and brings Hope. Death doesn’t win in the end; God wins, and brings Life.
On the other side of pain, on the other side of suffering, on the other side of death, God will provide. God will provide. God will provide.
Through the Beloved Son, the One who will never let us go; even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Scripture for Feb. 11, 2018. MARK 9:2-10
(Jesus was teaching the disciples something they didn’t understand- didn’t want to understand. “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the authorities, and be killed, and after three days will rise again,” Jesus said. “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for My sake and for the gospel will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and lose their souls?”)
Six days later, Jesus took Peter, James ad John, and led them up a high mountain, apart from the other disciples. They were all by themselves with Jesus. And Jesus was transfigured before them, and His clothes became dazzling white- whiter than anyone on earth could have bleached them. And then the prophet Elijah and Moses appeared, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He didn’t know what to say, for the disciples were all terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a Voice saying, “This is My Beloved Son; listen to Him!” In that moment, they looked around. But no one was there except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the experience to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.