Sunday, February 19, 2012

Glory Reflected, Glory Obscured

Texts:    2 Corinthians 3:7 - 4:6;  Mark 9:1-13

    SOMETHING I'VE NOTICED THESE past few years, and I'm sure you've noticed it, too, is how people like to leave their Christmas lights up all year round.  Now, they don't call them Christmas lights.  But you know what I mean.  The little white lights that stay lit in the trees outside buildings all summer.  Even more, the artificial evergreen trees in offices and homes that change decorations depending on the season.  Now it's a Christmas tree, now it's for Valentine's, now it's decorated for Easter, now for Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. 

    But always with lights.  Always with ornaments that glitter and shine.  Always echoing the glory that is Christmas.  We like glory.  We don't want it to fade away.   So we decide to keep the pretty lights burning all year round, and maybe the hope and optimism and sense of wonder and possibility will keep going, too.

    It's right to associate Christ and His birth with light and glory.  All of Jesus' life was glorious, in Who He was and what He did and in Who and where He is today, risen and glorified at the right hand of the Father.  Since that's true, it's hard to understand the gospel of Mark has so much about the glory of Jesus being hidden or concealed.

    From the first verse, we, the Christian reader, know that this Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.  We read how John the Baptist came in the Spirit and power of Elijah, proclaiming that soon One would come who would baptise with the Holy Spirit.  And how when Jesus was baptised by John, the heavens were opened, the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove, and the voice from heaven declared, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." 

    Isn't that glorious?  But immediately we see that same Spirit driving Jesus into the obscurity of the wilderness, to be tempted.  We hear Jesus forbidding the demons He cast out to talk about who He is.  Even though people in the villages are thrilled with His miraculous healing power, He won't remain there and soak up the fame.  Jesus heals a leper, and charges the man not to tell anyone what He, Jesus, has done.  Jesus teaches in parables, and tells His disciples that He does so in order that those outside of His followers would not be able to understand.

    Yet He keeps on performing miracles that could only be done by the finger of God alone.  Jesus, why all this obscurity?  Why not just come out and proclaim who You are, that you're the Messiah, the Holy One, the glorious promised King and Ruler of Israel?

    Then one day, near Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asks His disciples, "Who do people say I am?"  And Peter answers, "You are the Christ."  (St. Matthew gives us more; in his gospel, we read that Peter went on to say that Jesus is the Son of the living God).  Well, at last!  Now would be the time for Jesus to declare His Messiahship all over Galilee and Judea, to march into Jerusalem and take up His crown and reign.

    But no.  After Peter confessed the truth about who Jesus was, our Lord strictly charged the disciples not to tell anyone about Him.  More than that, He began to teach them that He would suffer many things and be killed by the chief priests and scribes!  And He told His followers, not just the Twelve but also those in the crowd, that if they wanted to be His true disciples, they had to be willing to follow Him to crucifixion, too!  Where's the glory now, Jesus?  Why must it be so hidden, so obscured?

    But as Jesus was teaching His followers that they must be willing to suffer the most demeaning of martyrdoms for His sake, He added this amazing statement, which we find in verse 1 of chapter 9 of Mark's gospel:

    "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power."

Which is to say, "Yes, many standing here certainly will drink the cup of martyrdom for My sake, but some of you before that will see that the kingdom of God has come with power."

    That is, something will open their eyes and they will see and understand the power and glory of God's kingship, where it had been obscured before.

    Six days later, Mark tells us Jesus took Peter and the brothers James and John up to a high mountain by themselves.  And there He is transfigured before them, appearing in garments blindingly white, beyond any earthly power to bleach them.  Moses and Elijah appear and confer with Jesus, Moses being the one to whom God gave the Law on Mount Sinai, and Elijah being the mightiest of the miracle-working prophets.  This, indeed, was a vision of the kingdom of God having come with power.  Why shouldn't Peter respond in awe and worship?  Why shouldn't he want to build all three of them tabernacles, where they could shelter, where God Most High could be adored in their holy presence?

    But this was not God's plan.  This was not the final demonstration of His power and glory that He meant to reveal.  A cloud overshadowed them all; the glorious scene was obscured, and a Voice said, "This is my beloved Son: listen to him."

    Listen to Jesus, you disciples of His, for He has something even more hidden and even more glorious to reveal to you.  When the cloud lifted, Jesus only was there.  And as they came down the mountain, He charged the three disciples not to tell anyone what they had seen.  He had wanted them to get this glimpse of His unveiled glory, but they were not to go about proclaiming it.  They weren't to give the other disciples and the crowds the idea that this revelation was the kingdom of God having come with power.  So they were to keep it hidden, obscured-- until the Son of Man, that is, Jesus, had risen from the dead.

    Risen from the dead.  What could that mean?  If nothing else, it meant that Jesus had to die.  How could this be, if Jesus indeed was the Christ and the long-expected King?  And what about the prophecy that Elijah must come first, to be the King's forerunner and prophet?

    Jesus assures them that Elijah-- in the person of John the Baptist-- has come.  And they-- the authorities-- beheaded him.  And the Son of Man, Christ the King, must suffer many things and be treated with contempt?  Coming down that mountain road, Jesus left Peter, James, and John with more questions than they started out with.

    Only in Jesus' death and resurrection is the obscurity cleared away and the mystery revealed.  The glory of Christ is His cross, and His power is the victory He won there over sin, Satan, and death.  It's something we never could have imagined, but now that God has done it, we can see that Christ's work of salvation for us and in us is indeed the kingdom of God come in glorious power.

    St. Paul spells it out for us in our reading from 2 Corinthians.  He speaks in verse 7 of the ministry of death coming with glory.  By this he refers to the Law, given to Moses on Mount Sinai.  The Law of God itself is great and glorious.  It reflects His truth, His purity, His righteousness and love.  It gave the pattern for the kind of people the Israelites were to be, to reflect His image in the world.  But in the end, the Law brought death, because it went to prove how weak, sinful, and inglorious we sinful humans are.  We break God's law, and we are broken on it.

    Yet it was glorious!  So glorious, that whenever Moses came out from God's presence, his face reflected God's glory, and he had to put a veil over his face and obscure it, so the people could bear to be around him.

    But, Paul says, that glory, the glory of the old covenant under the Law, was passing away.  By its very nature it was doomed to blind human eyes to God's plan for our salvation.  For the Law is all about our doing good, our being righteous, our trying to live up to God's standards-- or lowering them to our standards, when we fail.  Isn't that the normal human way of getting in good with God?  We feel we have to earn it.  We're convinced we have to strive to achieve our place in heaven.  "No guts, no glory!" is the motto.

    But in Christ, all that is taken away.  In Christ, we see the glory of His cross and what He did for us there.  In His resurrection and ascension we see that God the Father has put His stamp of approval on the deeds of His beloved Son, and in His gracious will we share the glory of Christ.  Like the kingdom of God, we have not fully arrived.  As we are made more like Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are brought from one degree of glory to another.  And this is not our doing, it is always thanks to the work of Christ on what seemed to be a very inglorious cross.

    So, with Paul and his companions, we do not lose heart.  There is much in our culture that criticises Christians, that says we are fools, that claims that we're in the dark and it's the unbelievers and skeptics who have the light of wisdom.  Even in the Church there are many who say that the gospel message of the cross is outdated, that it's veiled to the world and therefore we should discard it and give the world something they can understand.  Some so-called pastors (I've heard them called "goat-herders") would rather spend an hour telling funny stories about themselves instead of five minutes preaching Christ, because it draws a crowd.

    Sadly, the gospel is obscured to those who are perishing in this world, for Satan, the god of this world blinds their minds and keeps them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.  But there was a time when that was true of us, too.  And the obscured glory of God is brighter and stronger than the blatant so-called glory of Satan and this world, and His Spirit was strong to enlighten our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

    Peter, James, and John had the privilege of seeing Jesus gloriously transfigured on the mountain with Moses and Elijah.  We by the Holy Spirit have seen the kingdom of God having come with power in our own lives, though Jesus' death and resurrection.  Like the first disciples, all of us still have times of darkness and obscurity to go through, before we shall see our Lord face to face.  But let us not lose heart.  No, we won't lose heart, we won't be discouraged, because the glory of Christ shines within us and His Spirit keeps us.

    One thing more, and I'll close.  To share in Christ's glory is to share in His obedience.  Often we're told to do and dare great things for Christ, and we feel down and disheartened because we're not out in the field as missionaries or evangelizing so as to convert hundreds every day.  How glorious that would be!  Maybe I exaggerate, but you know the pressure.  We can't do that! we think, so we just go back to the obscurity of our everyday lives.  But maybe our everyday lives are exactly where Jesus wants us to glorify Him.  It's in our daily work, our relationships, our ordinary struggles and joys that we take up our crosses and follow Him, and it's there that we in ourselves truly see the kingdom of God having come in power.

    For we follow Jesus Christ and reflect His glory, the glory that can never fade, tarnish, or pass away.  Amen.

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