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I wonder if you have seen this movie. It came out back in 2000. It is called the Family Man, starring Nicolas Cage and Tea Leoni. I love this movie. It tells the story of a man who had risen to the top of Wall Street. He lived in New York City, was wealthy and powerful, but he didn’t have love. One day he wakes up and he is in a different life. It’s still him, but he is in an alternate reality of where he would be if he had married his college girlfriend. They live in the suburbs, he works at his Dad’s tire shop, they have kids and friends.
Just when he realizes that this life is actually better than what he had before, he wakes up all alone in his penthouse in Manhattan.
If you haven’t seen that movie, my guess is that you are probably familiar with these two stories. On the right is George Bailey from what movie? It’s a Wonderful Life.
On the left is A Christmas Carol, which highlights which main character? Ebenezer Scrooge.
There is one thing that all three of these stories have in common…
Each main character gets a glimpse of what life could be like.
What about you?
Have you ever come to a point in your life when you felt like it just wasn’t worth going forward? Maybe you feel that way right now.
I hope that our story today will give you a glimpse of hope for your journey.
That’s how I think about our story today. It’s the story found in Mark 8:27-9:8 and it is usually called the Transfiguration.
This story gives us a glimpse of who Jesus really is.
Let’s look at this big picture of Mark again. We’ve been saying all along that the Gospel of Mark is divided into two very clear sections. The first half, in chapters 1-8, are the green zone. This is the season of Epiphany when Jesus is a rockstar. He is popular with the people and wherever he goes he attracts a crowd. They want to hear him teach and they want him to heal them.
More than anything, though, I think they want him to be the one who finally overthrows the Romans and sets Israel free.
Today’s story is the turning point. Here, at the mountain of Transiguration, we see that the story will turn purple as we enter the season of Lent.
Now, let’s zoom in and look at this story.
The first thing that we must realize is that the where of this story is as important as the what. The scene takes place in a city called Caesarea Philippi.
Here are three interesting facts about this city.
- It is named after Caesar, the Emperor of Rome. When a herald would come into a village to give a message from the Emperor, he would begin, “A message from Caesar, the son of God.” This is the most powerful man in the Empire.
- It is also named after Philip the Tetrarch. He was the son of Herod the Great. Do you remember Herod the Great? He was the King of Israel when Jesus was born. He’s the one who had all the babies slaughtered in Bethlehem, in hopes that he would kill Jesus in the process.
- This city, and this region, was also known as Paneas. It was named after the Greek god Pan. He’s the one who is half goat and half human and plays the pipes. The Romans called him Faunus. He was the god of the wild places and nature.
Do you see what’s happening here? This is not an orthodox Jewish village.
This city represents all of the power structures of the Roman Empire and how they impose themselves upon the Jewish People. You have the Roman Emperor, the King of Israel who is a complete puppet of the Empire, and the Graeco-Roman religion of the power of nature.
Also notice how far north it is. Caesarea Philippi was about as far away from Jerusalem, both geographically and thelogically as one could get within Jewish territories.
I wonder. What is our Caesarea Philippi today?
If Jesus were to position himself in a place that represents what our society considers to be the symbols of power and significance, where would he stand?
That could make for some interesting dinner conversation later.
We must remember that it is here, in Caesarea Philippi, that Jesus has this conversation with his disciples.
He looks around at all these symbols of the world’s power, and asks…
“Who do people say that I am?”
“Well, Jesus, some say you are John the Baptist (we learned about that last week), other say you’re Elijah (he was the prophet who was predicted to announce the coming of the Messiah), and others think that you are one of the prophets.”
Then Jesus stops, looks them in the eye, and asks one of the most important questions ever asked in the history of the universe…
“Who do YOU say that I am?”
We need to pause right here.
If Jesus were standing right here, in the flesh, and looked you in the eye, and asked, “Who do YOU say that I am?” What would you say.
I’m not asking you to turn to your neighbor, but I do want you to take a couple deep breaths and think about that right now.
Well, Peter pipes up and gives the correct Sunday School answer.
The NRSV translates it, “You are the Messiah.” The Greek word is Christ.
“You are the Christ!” he says.
Do you remember the last time we heard this word?
The very first line of the Gospel of Mark says [ADVANCE] “The good news of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, the son of God.”
What do you think the Jewish people were expecting from the Christ?
I think they were expecting a great military leader, like King David, who would rally an army and overthrow the corrupt kings of Israel and free them from the Roman Empire.
What about us?
What is our expectation of God, the Messiah, the Christ?
Most people who flocked to Jesus during his season of popularity just wanted something out of him. They were hungry, so they wanted food. They were sick, so they wanted to be healed. They were oppressed, so they wanted someone to deliver them.
What do we want from God?
Do we really know who the Christ is?
Jesus responds. “Ah yes. There is the word again. I do not think it means what you think it means (yes, that was a Princess Bride reference).”
Let’s read this verse out loud together,
Then he began to teach them 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.
This is what the Christ looks like.
Is that what you think a great leader looks like?
That’s the whole purpose of the Gospel of Mark. This story helps us to understand what God’s kind of power looks like in contrast to the world’s kind of power.
That is why our theme for Lent this year is “Who is the Christ.”
Jesus will teach, through words and actions, who the Christ really is. The power of God is give up his life for the sake of the world.
It is only in weakness that we are strong.
It is only in dying that we can live.
How would you respond to that?
I think I would be right there with Peter.
“NO!” It says Peter rebuked Jesus.
I love how Jesus responds.
“Get behind me Satan!”
What?!? How can Peter be Satan?
The word satan literally means adversary. Anything that is opposed to the ways of God is satanic.
I struggle with satan every day, just like Peter.
Then Jesus speaks some of the harshest words any of us can ever hear.
He say’s, “If you want to follow me, then you are going to have to take this same path. Deny yourself. Pick up your cross. Follow me to death, and beyond.
Would YOU want to follow that?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that the Gospel is free, but it is not cheap.
There is nothing we can do to earn God’s love and grace. But, if we actually want to walk in the ways of Jesus and make a difference in this world, then we must walk this path. There is no other way.
I’d like to guess that the disciples were freaked out a little bit by this turn of events.
Things just got real.
that’s why I think Jesus took Peter, James, and John to the top of the mountain.
Jesus was transfigured. It says that his clothes were brighter than any bleach could bleach. He stood there with Elijah and Moses, the two greatest leaders of Israel’s history.
Then a dark cloud covered the mountain. This is just like the time Moses went to the top of Mt. Sinai to receive the Law.
Then a voice came from the cloud. “This is my beloved son. Listen to Him.”
This happened once before when Jesus was baptized and the sky was torn open.
Do you know why I think this happened?
To give the disciples a glimpse.
Jesus was asking them to take a very dangerous and terrifying path.
He was about to make his journey to Jerusalem where he would be executed.
This glimpse into the truth of who Jesus is was just what the disciples needed to have hope for this journey.
It will be worth it, Jesus says. I promise.
And then it’s gone.
It’s just plain old Jesus, standing alone on the mountain with some very freaked out disciples.
“Alrighty then. Let’s get on with it.”
That is what the next seven weeks are all about.
We will journey with Jesus as he teaches us “Who is the Christ?”
So, right now. Where are you?
Are you tired and discouraged?
Do you wonder if it is all worth it?
Remember this. Each week as we come to the table and share in the body and blood of Jesus, we get a glimpse of the Kingdom of God. We get a glimpse of God’s love and the power of forgiveness.
It is worth the journey.