Please turn in the pew Bibles to Mark chapter 9 and follow along as I read verses 2-8. Roddey read Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration of Jesus. This is Mark’s account of that same incident.
2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them,
3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.
4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
5 Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."
6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.
7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!"
8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
Suppose one day that you decide that you are going to organize your thoughts about religion. You might begin with the various proofs for the existence of God that our theologians have developed over the centuries.
Most people don’t actually need those proofs. We all have a built-in religious sense that gives us an intuition of the reality of God. We look at nature, and we see God. We perhaps cannot prove God in any scientific way, but we don’t need to prove God, because we already know that God exists, just as we already know that the world exists.
Theologians call this a General Revelation of God. It is not based on the Bible, it is not unique to any religion. All people have this General Revelation that assures them of the reality of God. The Bible assumes this General Revelation. The Bible never tries to prove that God exists. It assumes that we already know that.
The problem of the General Revelation of God is that it does not reveal much of the nature and character of God. We see evidence of God’s power in creation, and we sense God’s presence in our lives, but what kind of God is this?
I tend to be something of a nature mystic. I look down a mountain valley or along an ocean beach, and I see God. I see God in a tree or in a newborn baby. But I also have a little skeptic that lives in the back in my mind that rises up and says, OK Tony you see God everywhere, but this God of nature can be mean, can sometimes seem uncaring, even nasty. We are just beginning to reconstruct what Hurricane Katrina destroyed. In Pakistan, they are still working through the damage wrought by the earthquake. In the Philippines, they are trying to deal with the aftermath of a mudslide that buried a village. What kind of God are we talking about here?
Nature seems often cruel. The big fish eat the little fish. The lioness does not hunt the strong and fast among the gazelles. She hunts the weak and the old and the sick. Darwin called it “the survival of the fittest,” and he was pretty much right. But it does not seem fair. For example, an adult sea turtle, because of its protective shell does not have many natural enemies, but many creatures eat turtle eggs—raccoons, foxes, and humans. And many creatures eat young turtles—birds, fish, and again humans. It is estimated that for every thousand turtle eggs only one will survive to adulthood. That seems like a horrible waste of turtle eggs. What kind of God would organize such a process?
My point is in nature we sometimes see the beautiful God of the sunrise, and sometimes see the ugly God of the slaughtered turtles. What then does the General Revelation tell us about God? Not enough. We need a Special Revelation. A Special Revelation is a unique witness to the way God acts in the world. The Bible is a Special Revelation. In the Old Testament, we see God’s relationship with Adam, Noah, and Abraham. We read of the giving of the Law through Moses. We read of the history of God’s actions and of how God spoke through the prophets. God was faithful to Israel, and God sought to mold the Israelites into a people more like him. God wanted a people who reflected the divine character, and we are shown something of that character.
God revealed his wrath against injustice, and, the other side of that coin, God revealed his love. In the Old Testament, justice is people caring for people. Justice means that we relate to each other in ways that help us all. Thus, when people act against justice, they act against love. When the wealthy take advantage of the poor, from the Old Testament viewpoint, that is not only unjust, it is unloving, and therefore it is a sin against God. The Old Testament reveals the intensity of God’s care for people.
This special revelation continues in the New Testament with the person of Jesus Christ. The revelation through Jesus builds upon the revelation of the Old Testament. That is the point of the transfiguration.
The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have accounts of the transfiguration. Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him up upon a high mountain. We are reminded that Moses received the law upon a mountain and that Elijah spoke with God upon a mountain, so this is very much in Old Testament tradition. Then there was some sort of divine manifestation. The disciples saw this dazzling white vision in which Elijah and Moses appear to be talking with Jesus. Moses represents the Law. Elijah represents the prophets. Together they represent the whole Old Testament. The significance of the vision then is that the Old Testament approves of Jesus. Jesus is seen as continuing the ministry of Moses and Elijah.
But then the vision adds something new. Mark 9:7 says, “A cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" This is certain not anything we would find in the Old Testament. Jesus is not just a lawgiver, not just a prophet. He is God incarnate.
This incident shows us something of the way God acts in the world. God takes what is and produces from it something new. Jesus was in the tradition of the Old Testament, but he changed the tradition dramatically. So, in Jesus, we have both continuity and change. We are told in the story of John the Baptist that John was preparing the way for the Messiah. All the previous history of Israel was preparing his way.
That is not miraculous or unusual. It is true of any event or person. We see this in the life of the Apostle Paul. Paul’s past as a Greek-speaking Jew who lived most of his life outside of Palestine—that past--made possible his great missionary journeys. Our particular past makes possible what we can do and achieve. Having said that, we add that we are not only our history. We each bring our unique personality to our history to influence and change our present.
Jesus was fully human and fully God. The Old Testament showed us that God’s aim was to produce a loving and just society. In such a society, the individual becomes a better person, a better human. A person who fully incarnated God would be that better human, would in fact be the best human. That is what Jesus was. God incarnated in a human being became the perfect human being, the perfection of love and justice.
The apostle Paul writes in Galatians chapter 4, that Jesus came in “the fullness of time.” The Israelites had over a thousand years of the covenant behind them, deeply ingraining them with the awareness of God’s nature as love and justice. Furthermore, Jesus was born at a time when people were oppressed political and economically. Expectations were high for a redemption wrought by God. History was ready for God to communicate himself to us, and so God sent Jesus who was “Immanuel, God with us.”
But though history and tradition was part of what Jesus was. Jesus transcended the past to produce something very different. The Apostle Paul writing in Romans 5 stresses that the gospel is “much more” than we could ever have expected it to be. No matter how much we saw of the love of God as shown in the Old Testament, we never expected God’s love to lead to a cross. We never expected God’s love to lead to a resurrection. The Resurrection is that radical new thing that changes everything. Jesus, we realize, was not only the expected deliverer from oppression, but Jesus was the manifestation of God for us. Jesus showed us God. He showed us that God loves us and accepts us.
In the gospels, we read of Jesus reaching out, with healing power, to the lame, the blind, the deaf, and the leper. These people were outcasts. They were excluded from society because of their physical misfortunes. Jesus included them.
Again, we read of Jesus; dining with tax collectors. These people were regarded as traitors. They collaborated with the Romans. They were political outcasts, and decent people avoided them. Jesus reached out to them.
Sinners are called by Jesus and accepted before they repent. In the story of Zaccheus the tax collector, in Luke 19, Jesus calls him down from the tree and tells him he, Jesus, is going home to eat with him. Jesus accepts him, and only then does Zaccheus repent of the way he has cheated and oppressed his neighbors. That goes against a lot of preaching. A lot of preachers say, you must repent then you are accepted. They ought to read the story of Zaccheus. Jesus says that he came to seek and save the lost--not the repentant. Jesus accepts the unworthy.
The gospel of John tells us about an encounter Jesus had with a woman of Samaria. She already had three strikes against her. First, she was a woman. Jewish rabbis did not talk to women. Secondly, she was a sinner caught in an immoral lifestyle. Thirdly, she was a Samaritan. Jews hated Samaritans. Yet Jesus enters into a theological discussion with this woman, and reveals for the first time in the gospel of John that he is the messiah. The disciples, when they return from the town, are astounded at what Jesus has done. He overturned all the accepted boundaries of his society by his openness toward women. What is Jesus doing? He is living love. He is showing us that God is love and showing us how to live love.
In a General Revelation, that I mentioned earlier, there is a hiddenness about God. Yes, we sense God is there, but God is hidden behind the patterns and events of nature. We might say that the world reflects God, but the world also reflects the world, and sometimes it is difficult to see God acting in what is going on. In the Special Revelation, we have through Jesus Christ, God is more fully revealed. Jesus shows us a God of love.
This Special Revelation demands a response from us. Understand what we are saying here. Jesus revealed something of the nature of God that we do not find in any other place. Jesus told us and showed us a revelation of God that we find only in Jesus.
I know that some folks say that all religions are pretty much the same, and therefore it does not matter which religion you believe. These folks have a General Revelation of God, they have some vague ideas about God, but they really don’t know much about God. They cannot know without the special revelation of Jesus Christ. Jesus showed us some things about God that you don’t get anywhere else.
That is why it is so important that we believe in Jesus. That is why it is so important that we tell others about Jesus. We need Jesus because only Jesus shows us that God is love, only Jesus shows me that God loves even an outcast like me. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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