Posted by: Johnold J. Strey | March 3, 2018

Sermon on Mark 9:2-9


Based on Mark 9:2-9


EaglesLombardiTrophy2018The end of last Sunday’s Super Bowl came as close to resembling a church service as you could have imagined. The congregation of Philadelphia Eagles assembled on the field with an aisle between them. At the appointed moment, not a hymn but an NFL-committed song called “Lombardi Trophy Processional” played. NFL retired player and Hall of Famer Darrell Green, wearing not a robe and stole but his gold NFL Hall of Fame jacket, processed forward as the congregation of Eagles faced him. Green held in his hands not a processional cross but the Lombardi Trophy. After a long procession, he arrived not in the chancel but on the stage where the Lombardi Trophy for Super Bowl LII was officially presented by the commissioner to the Eagles. (If you didn’t think football was a substitute religion for some people, you might want to think again!)

Super Bowl LLIThen came time for the “readings”—the speeches from the owner, head coach, and MVP of the game. We Wisconsin Packers fans all recognized Eagles Head Coach Doug Peterson as the Packers’ former back-up quarterback during the Brett Favre era. And when Coach Peterson was given the chance to speak, one of the first things he said was, “I can only give the praise to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for giving me this opportunity.” Later Eagles tight end Zach Ertz was asked about his game-winning touchdown; in his comments he responded, “Glory to God, first and foremost. We wouldn’t be here without him.” And a bit later, Eagles back-up quarterback and Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles also said, “All glory to God.”

I am glad to hear world-class athletes on the biggest stage in American sports give glory to God. It’s much better than what we often hear and see from professional athletes. And at the end of the day, it is true: God gave them the physical abilities and talents to play professional football in America and to hoist their first Lombardi Trophy in their team’s history. In some ways it is a breath of fresh air to hear NFL champions give glory to God.

But from another perspective, I wonder if that little phrase, “glory to God,” means anything significant at all. When God is mentioned in public, this is often the context: We give God glory because he gave us the ability to do something. But doesn’t the glory of God extend far beyond that? Isn’t the glory that God has because he is the all-powerful and eternal God far more grand and glorious and great than a mortal human being saying “thanks” for winning a silver trophy? Could it be that we could use a nationwide lesson about the glory of God?

Today is the last Sunday in the Epiphany season. Every year, on this Sunday before Lent begins, we celebrate an event that took place about six months before Jesus’ crucifixion. That event is called the transfiguration. You heard about it in the Gospel for today. That event gives glory to God not because someone is crediting Jesus for their ability to do something, but because that event shows us the incredible divine glory that Jesus possesses because he is true God. And the way Jesus’ glory is revealed in this account teaches us to understand how God does and doesn’t use his glory in our lives. The transfiguration teaches us to see Jesus’ glory on God’s terms. 


Mark begins, “After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone.” The phrase, “after six days,” alerts us to the fact that something happened recently in the verses prior to our reading. At the end of the previous chapter, Jesus explained to his disciples that he was heading to Jerusalem to suffer and die on the cross as the divinely-prescribed, perfect payment to atone for the sins of the whole world. But one of his disciples—Peter—tried to deter Jesus from such a future fate. The last thing Peter wanted for the rabbi that he hoped was the Messiah was for him to die. Jesus had to rebuke him harshly and teach all 12 of the disciples that the cross was absolutely necessary if he was going to complete his work as the promised Messiah.

Peter wanted to see Jesus’ glory on his terms—terms that didn’t involve a cross, that didn’t involve suffering. And you can see Peter’s continued confusion as we move into the Transfiguration account. Peter, James, and John certainly saw Jesus’ glory, but not on their terms or timetable! Mark tells us, “There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.”

New Testament Illustrations 025Peter saw Jesus’ glory. All the Super Bowl-advertised Tide detergent in the world could not bring about the gleaming display of glory that Peter and the others unexpectedly witnessed. The term for “white” in verse 3 was used in other literature to describe the brilliance of shining stars—and Jesus shone with far more glory than the stars he once created. And to this dazzling display were added two significant prophets of the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah. Not only does their presence tell us that the message of the Old Testament is in harmony with the New, but in Luke’s Gospel we find out the topic of conversation among Jesus and the two prophets: They were speaking about his impending journey to Jerusalem where he would be betrayed, condemned, and crucified.

And there’s that “suffering talk” that Peter detested so much just a chapter earlier. Whether or not Peter remembered that conversation from a week earlier is hard to say, because he was so shocked and scared by the spectacular display of Jesus’ divine glory as God. But you can see that his tendencies hadn’t changed from a week earlier. Rather than taking Jesus’ conversation with the two prophets seriously, in his dumbfoundedness he looked for a way to stay up there on the mountain and to keep basking in the glory. “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Peter’s vote was to stay up there, cloistered from the world, and avoid the necessary cross and suffering that were waiting at the bottom of that mountain.

The lesson that Peter still needed to learn was that he would only see Jesus’ glory on God’s very wise and deliberate terms. As this strange sight continued, a mysterious cloud surrounded Jesus, the two prophets, and the three apostles. This cloud seems to be similar to the appearances of God’s glory in the Old Testament—for example, when God gave the Ten Commandments on the top of Mt. Siani, or when he filled the newly dedicated temple in Jerusalem with his glory. Displays of God’s glory such as these always occurred at significant moments in history when God was about to take another important step forward in his plan to bring about the world’s salvation, and this incident was no exception.

And to the mysterious cloud of God’s glory came the thunderous voice of God’s power. “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Those thundering words sound so similar to the words of approval that the Father first spoke at Jesus’ baptism, but now these words were directed to the disciples with a command: Listen to him! Always listen to him! Keep on listening to him! And we comment: Listen to him even when he points you to the cross and tells you that the glory you seek is not necessarily your next destination.

And then it was all gone. There were no temporary shelters to put up. There was no elongated stay up on the mountain. There was no question and answer period with Moses and Elijah. All there was, was a journey to the cross that resumed as they headed down that mountain. Jesus even forbade them from talking about this miraculous sight of his glory until after he rose from the dead. God’s terms were that they just see a little glimpse of Jesus’ glory, reminding them who it was that was heading to the cross, giving them strength for the faith-shaking journey that was before them, and keeping them focused on the cross first and the glory later.


Now that I have been here for about a year and a half, I have gotten to know the congregation much better than I knew it when the Strey moving van first came into town. But I also know that I still have a lot of learning to do and people to get to know (or know better). So what I am about to say is an observation from ministering to people throughout my ministry, and yet I’m confident it equally applies to us who are here today.

Throughout 17 years of ministry, I have gotten to know all sorts of incredible Christian people who were loyal and devout believers in Jesus Christ. Many of those people really stood out to me as faithful, God-fearing Christians. And as I got to know those people who especially stood out—those whose humility was genuine, whose faith was sincere, and whose commitment was strong—there was always one thing they all had in common. They had all faced (or were facing) serious suffering, struggles, temptations, and crosses. They had not experienced lives of cushy, easy Christianity, or success at every turn (though some of them were quite successful). They faced the cross. They faced illness, addiction, loss, sorrow, disappointment, disease, and death. They faced hardships that we regular pray God to keep from us. And through those hardships they learned trust in God, they sought help against sin, they found strength in God’s Word, and they were polished and refined to be the beautiful Christian people that they were in their hearts and displayed in their lives.

But we so easily forget that! We so easily forget that the cross is not a piece of jewelry on our neck but the reality of the Christian life! We so easily want to become “St. Peter 2.0,” convincing Jesus’ that his cross isn’t that important and the crosses of my life aren’t that helpful. “Jesus, let us bask in a trouble-free, temptation-free, trial-free life that gives me paradise now!” And Jesus says to you what he told Peter on chapter earlier: “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men!”

How satanically foolish we can be to assume that the best thing for us is to always have the best things for us! How sad for us to ignore the words of Jesus, the wisdom from the Transfiguration, and the lessons about the Christian life that can be gleaned from so many of our fellow Christian believers!

Jesus did not let Peter deter him from the cross. But he also didn’t tell Peter to stop following his journey to the cross! Peter, James, and John went down that mountaintop, confused and perplexed as they may have been, and they followed Jesus. And Jesus kept them on this journey to the very place Peter did not want, but the very place Peter—and you and I—needed Jesus to go. The glory that Jesus possesses as true God was seen for a glimpse and then set aside for the journey. But that glimpse of glory on God’s terms helps us to see and believe that Jesus was no ordinary victim of Roman crucifixion. Jesus was the sinless substitute, the holy Lamb of God, the willing victim who faced the cross with determination, paid for our sin and guilt to the Father’s satisfaction, and took back his life and his full glory as God by his resurrection.

And so if the glory that Jesus’ possesses as God is something that he humbly hid until he had completed his journey to the cross, should we expect it to be any different for us? And if the journey to the cross brought about the greatest blessings and future glory that you and I could hope to possess, should we expect that our own crosses and trials will somehow not be part of God’s plan to bless us, strengthen us, mold us, and make us the very people he wants us to be? Our crosses and trials do not forgive sin or open heaven like Jesus’ cross. But they do teach us to look to Jesus’ cross for forgiveness, to cling to Jesus’ cross for confidence, and to find confidence in Jesus’ cross so that we confidently face our crosses trusting that God will use them for our greater spiritual and eternal good.


There is no glory in life—not even the glory of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy—that comes without difficulty or suffering. There are no lessons learned in life that come without the wisdom gained from “blood, sweat, and tears.” But the greatest glory of all—the glory of God, the glory of Jesus on the mountain of Transfiguration, the glory that he will share with you and all his people forever in heaven one day—that glory will be yours someday. It will be yours not because of your blood, sweat, and tears, but because of Jesus’ blood, sweat, and tears–his self-sacrificing suffering and death on our behalf. And so we embrace our crosses now, and cling to Jesus’ cross by faith, and patiently know that glory and prestige and honor are not commodities we need to relentlessly chase now. Rather, as we live our lives to the glory of God now, we patiently wait for the day when Christ will graciously place on us the glorious crown of life that will be ours because of his glorious Easter victory. And then we shall see Jesus’ glory on God’s terms! Amen.



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