Luke 9:28-43 – Transfiguration Sunday: Listen to Jesus

Transfiguration by Laura James

Jesus took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)

While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.

The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him. A man in the crowd called out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. A spirit seizes him, and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.”

“You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.”

Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the impure spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. And they were all amazed at the greatness of God. (New International Version)

When Jesus is around, extraordinary things happen. And yet, sometimes we just don’t perceive it. The three disciples of Jesus – Peter, James, and John – experienced something incredible, yet they were not really aware of what it meant, at the time. The Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain was unimaginable and awesome. The disciples, however, were confused, sleepy, and walked away silent about the whole affair. 

Woodcut of the Transfiguration by Sister Mary Grace Thul

Coming down from the mountain, the other disciples were found scratching their heads about a boy in need of healing. Jesus seemed rather perturbed about the all-around lack of faith. After curing the boy, everyone was amazed, as if they did not expect such a thing to occur.

We are not always told in the Gospels why Christ’s disciples often did not understand or perceive the significance of the miraculous, supernatural, or extraordinary events that took place right in front of them. Maybe their minds were somewhere else.

It could be that Peter had ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and was having trouble focusing.

Perhaps James trying to do some sort of ancient multi-tasking. 

Maybe John had some road rage on his way to the meeting on the mountain and was having a hard time thinking straight.

It could be that the three disciples were caught up in the anxiety of wondering where their next shekel was coming from.

Perhaps they were just up too late the night before binge watching the fishermen on the lake. But whatever was going on with the disciples, they were distracted.

So, we actually have God the Father step into the scene at the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain and speak. God isn’t typically in the business of exhorting people to listen unless they are not paying attention. The heavenly Father is clear, succinct, and to the point:

“This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”

We are to listen to Jesus because he is God’s Son. Everything centers round him. 

Jesus is the full bodily and human representation of God on earth. Jesus is Savior, Lord and Master, Teacher and Healer.

Jesus is the complete fulfillment of all the Old Testament promises, and the one who will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Jesus is the mid-point of history, the hinge upon which all the universe swings. Jesus is the one whom we must listen to when he speaks and acts.

Therefore, our identity is to be fully bent, molded, and shaped in Jesus Christ. This spiritual formation of our lives happens as we intentionally seek to be with Jesus, listen to him, and do what he says. 

Transfiguration by Macha Chmakoff 

Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountain to experience his Transfiguration in a prayer meeting. Extraordinary things happen in prayer meetings. The early church gathered often in prayer meetings, following the example of their Lord Jesus. As the church listened to God and responded (in a rhythm of revelation and response) they saw Peter miraculously delivered from jail; ordinary people delivered from empty lives and demonic influence; and guidance in how to proceed as followers of Christ. 

Prayer is as much or more about listening to God as it is talking to him. It is in listening to God that we are filled with God’s Spirit and empowered to come down from the mountain and engage in God’s mission.

Jesus wanted the disciples to learn and discern something on the mountain. Jesus was changed in front of them. Moses and Elijah showed up and talked with him about his “departure,” that is, his “exodus.”

Moses was the one who listened to God and led the people in a mass exodus from slavery in Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land.

Elijah was a prophet who listened to God and led the people out of centuries of idol worship and dead religion into the freedom of spiritual and national revival in Israel. 

And Jesus came to lead people in an exodus out of sin, death, and hell so that they can experience a new life of freedom, hope, peace, and joy.

Changed lives are God’s goal for us.  And a changed life will occur when we listen to God’s Son, Jesus, learn from him, and lean into faith in him – all of which takes humility.

Eventually, Jesus and his disciples came down from the mountain. Prayer meetings are great, but there is a time to descend the mountain and engage in God’s mission.

We are to participate with God in seeing changed lives through the work of Jesus.

We must bear witness to the redemptive saving events of Jesus to a world which desperately needs him – his healing work of both body and spirit.

The glory of God is presently here among us. We need to perceive it and be aware of it.  But to do so, we must listen well. 

Erik Weihenmayer is blind, yet on May 25, 2001, he reached the peak of Mount Everest. Suffering from a degenerative eye disease, he lost his sight when he was thirteen years old. But that did not stop him from mountain climbing. On a mountain where 90% of climbers never make it to the top—and 165 have died trying since 1953—Erik succeeded in large measure because he listened well. 

He listened to the little bell tied to the back of the climber in front of him, so he would know what direction to go. He listened to the voice of teammates who would shout back to him, “Death-fall two feet to your right!” so he would know what direction not to go. He listened to the sound of his pick jabbing the ice, so he would know whether the ice was safe to cross. 

When we journey through this life, listening well makes all the difference. So, how might we listen well to Jesus?  Here are some basic principles of active listening:

  1. Stop talking.  It was Mark Twain who said: “If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear.” Proverbs 12:15 says, “The way of a fool seems right to him (therefore he has no need to listen) but a wise person listens to advice.”
  2. Prepare yourself to listen to God.  One of the ways I do this is by sitting in a quiet spot, free of distraction, and repeat several times to God, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10). Then, I am quiet… and listen….  If this practice is way off your radar then I would recommend, at first, being quiet for only a few minutes. Then, after a few weeks, be quiet in longer stretches so that you can go 20-30 minutes or even an hour. We might even consider a silent retreat in which the sole purpose is to listen to what God is saying to us.
  3. Slowly and carefully read God’s Word. Scripture is meant to be digested in small bites and thoroughly savored. Slow down and be quiet enough to hear God speak through the Word. A contemplative and meditative readings of Holy Scripture will always yield spiritual health and vitality.
  4. Pray back to God what you hear him saying to you. This is active listening – a genuine dialogue between us and God. “Come, now, let us reason together,” the Lord has said (Isaiah 1:18). God wants a conversation with us.

God speaks, if we have ears to hear, through so much more than an audible voice.

The Lord’s Supper is a tangible proclamation of the person and work of Jesus Christ. It speaks to us, and, so, we must listen well. The Table proclaims Christ’s identity as God’s Son, the one who came to live a holy life, teaches us the way to live, and how Jesus died a cruel death so that we might be born again and experience new life. 

We Are All One in Jesus Christ by Soichi Watanabe, 2009

The Table proclaims our mission, that as often as we share in communion, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again. That is, we witness to the reality of Christ’s redemption in our own lives. We share our own changed lives with others. We pray for them so that they will experience new life, as well. 

The Table proclaims our spiritual formation in Christ. At the Table, we are lifted and joined with Christ through the Holy Spirit. It is a mysterious joining that defies description, just as the disciples had a mysterious encounter that they could not fully explain. Yet they experienced it, nonetheless.

May we listen well, without distraction, to God’s Son. May we know God’s purpose for our life. And may we encounter Jesus at the Table, and in all of life, so that we experience new life. 

O God, teach us to listen to those nearest to us, our family, our friends, our co-workers. Caring God, teach us to listen to those far from us – the whisper of the hopeless, the plea of the forgotten, and the cry of the anguished. Holy Spirit of God, teach us to listen for your voice — in busyness and in boredom, in certainty and doubt, in noise and in silence. Gracious God, teach us to listen well to the message of your Table. May you change and transform us to be like Jesus. Teach us, Lord, to listen. Amen.

Mark 10:32-34, 46-52 – The Irony of Following Jesus

Jesus healing blind Bartimaeus by Johann Heinrich Stöver, 1861. St John’s Church, Hesse, Germany

They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again, he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise….”

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted even more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So, they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. (NIV)

“Irony” and “ironic” are terms describing when an outcome of an event is contrary or different from what would be expected. Here are a few examples of irony: The firehouse burnt down. The police officer got arrested. When I was a kid, my family physician’s name was Dr. Fail (really!).

There is an overarching ironic lesson to our Gospel story today. The people following Jesus with 20/20 vision are spiritually blind. Their great need is the same as blind Bartimaeus: to have their eyes opened to Jesus and to what God was doing around them. Bartimaeus was marvelously and miraculously given sight by Jesus – the others, however, remained unchanged and in the dark. 

Irony #1: Many followed Jesus, but only a few were his followers.

All kinds of people physically followed Jesus around for all kinds of reasons while he was here on this earth.  Some wanted to bask in the latest celebrity buzz that Jesus generated. Others wanted to see all the cool stuff Jesus did, like healing people. Some were plain curious. And a few were interested in being like Jesus by showing selfless compassion. Jesus continually sought to press the crowd following him into authentic disciples who would follow his teaching.

Many people desire to conform and go with the flow. That’s great if the crowd is good, and not so good if the group is going in a bad direction. In the Old Testament, a few unruly complainers got the Israelites all stirred up with the result of making a golden calf and turning away from God. However, sometimes it is right and necessary to go against the crowd, which leads us to the next irony….

Irony #2: Out of all Christ’s followers, it is a blind man that sees Jesus for who he is, the Son of David.

Spiritual blindness afflicted many people, yet Bartimaeus discerned it was Messiah who was walking by him. So, he went against the crowd and shouted to Jesus. Blind Bartimaeus didn’t care how he looked to others, and it didn’t matter to him that he stuck out like a sore thumb. 

Sometimes we might forget that Jesus often avoided crowds, and that most of his life occurred away from the centers of power and influence. Jesus swam upstream of the prevailing notions of righteousness. Christ did not cow-tow to the crowd, but instead, paid attention to those in need and forgotten by others. Jesus did not “work the crowd” to get ahead and further his agenda. He did not cozy-up to the rich and powerful. And he deliberately avoided celebrity status. Jesus showed extraordinary love to an overlooked person. He used his immense power for one powerless person.

Irony #3: The ones following Jesus were the ones trying to keep a blind man from Jesus.

It seems to me one of the ironies about the church is that Christ’s own followers can be the greatest obstacle to others following him. I can imagine a group of gossipy church folk shushing Bartimaeus: “Don’t bother Jesus, he is such a busy man! He has important work to do!” I can also picture them standing next to blind Bartimaeus saying, “Just stop, man, you’re embarrassing yourself.” 

But Bartimaeus would not stop. He shouted all the louder. True and genuine faith is a needy person crying out in desperation for Jesus to help. Jesus asked a beautiful question: “What do you want me to do for you?”  “I want to see,” Bartimaeus responded. So, Jesus had compassion on him and gave him his sight. Here we have two men, Jesus and Bartimaeus, ignoring all the people around them, and having a divine encounter.

This all makes me wonder why it is so hard for us to simply say what we want. It could be that we don’t want to buck the crowd, or to look different. Maybe we don’t want to admit our need in front of others. So, we just stick to superficial conversations and insist that everything is okay, when it isn’t.

Jesus said, concerning the crowd, “Although they see, they don’t really see.” (Matthew 13:13) If we are concerned about how we will be seen by others, we will likely not be seen by God, and will miss Jesus when he walks right in front of us.

Conclusion

How might we raise our ability to see Jesus and truly follow him as he desires us to?

Listen to Jesus. Jesus was headed to Jerusalem and had a lot on his mind and heart with anticipating his passion and death. What made Christ attentive to Bartimaeus out of all the people around him was that he was listening. If we want to see Jesus and follow him, we must be listeners and attentive to compassion, like Jesus, to the needy and lowly among us. 

I recently read a story from a Christian who lived during Nazi Germany. He said, “I considered myself a Christian. We heard stories of what was happening to the Jews, but we tried to distance ourselves from it, because what could anyone do to stop it? A railroad track ran behind our small church, and each Sunday morning we could hear the whistle in the distance and then the wheels coming over the tracks. We became disturbed when we heard the cries coming from the train as it passed by. We realized it was carrying Jews like cattle in the cars! Week after week the whistle would blow. We dreaded to hear those wheels because we knew we would hear the cries of the Jews in route to a death camp. Their screams tormented us. So, when we heard the whistle blow, we began singing hymns. By the time the train came past our church, we were singing at the top of our voices. If we heard the screams, we sang more loudly, and soon we heard them no more. Years have passed, and no one talks about it anymore. But I still hear that train whistle in my sleep. God forgive me. Forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians yet did nothing to intervene.” 

Respond to Jesus. Once Jesus listened, he responded by asking a question. Christ took the time to heal Bartimaeus. Jesus could have simply healed him without even stopping. He could have even started a healing factory where everyone with a need just moved through a line and got healed. Jesus was doing more than giving sight; he was giving a blessing – the blessing of time and relationship.

The gospel is personal, which is why we ought to resist being non-relational in ministry to others. It’s about more than meeting a physical need. It is about blessing other people with the gift of relationship. It begins with recognizing self as the one who needs Jesus. It starts with having our own eyes opened to see our own need and then the great need of people around us.

God of all compassion, I confess that it is natural for me to do things my way. I recognize that I am limited, but that you know all things. I yield my spiritual eyesight to you so that my spiritual vision will be clear. Jesus Christ came to give sight to the blind and to open our eyes. I commit my ways to you so that I can see your ways and not my own. Amen.

Mark 9:2-9 – The Transfiguration of Jesus

Welcome, friends! On this Transfiguration Sunday for Christians everywhere around the world, let us celebrate the good changes which come from our Lord Jesus Christ, who is our ultimate Deliverer and Revivalist to new hope and new life. Click the videos below to worship Christ and listen to Jesus…

Mark 9:2-9, Pastor Tim Ehrhardt
“Transfiguration” by Hillsong Worship. From the album “Open Heaven / River Wild”. Written by Scott Ligertwood, Aodhan King, Brooke Ligertwood, and Taya Smith. Worship leader is Taya Smith.

Not all is as it seems. There is glory hidden in everything, waiting to be revealed to the eyes of those who believe, beyond what seems inevitable, who do not want to live in the status quo but in the promises of God.

Hold onto this vision as we turn towards Lent and walk the more difficult path. There is yet a greater glory still to be revealed. Go in peace. Go in hope. Go in love, to serve the Lord Jesus, who is love incarnate. Amen.