TITLE: The Daily Grind SCRIPTURE: Mark 9:2-9
Two men were shipwrecked on an island. One was in total despair. "There's no food or water on this island," he said. We're going to die.
The other man didn't seem to be bothered, which made the first man furious. "What's the matter with you?" he asked. "We've got to do something or we're going to die."
The second man said, "Calm down. I make ten thousand dollars a week."
"What difference does that make?" the first man asked.
The second man responded, "I make ten thousand dollars a week, and I tithe. You can relax. My pastor will find me!"
The transfiguration! I always found this story overwhelmingly mysterious. I liked the stories about Jesus healing and teaching, but this transfiguration story didn't make sense to me -- so I tended to avoid it.
But I have had the opportunity to spend some time with this story -- to study it. I think that I have begun to get a grip on it, so I would like to talk about it this morning in the hope that you might get a grip on it too.
It is no accident that we find this story of the transfiguration right in the middle of Mark's Gospel. It's a turning point. Until now, Mark has been telling us about Jesus healing and teaching. Then we have the story of the transfiguration. Shortly now, Jesus will enter Jerusalem.
Jerusalem, of course, is where they will kill Jesus. When Jesus goes to Jerusalem, he goes to die. He told his disciples that he would suffer and die, but it went in one ear and out the other. The disciples were pretty clueless. To be very honest, if I had been one of Jesus' disciples, I would have been pretty clueless too. Jesus wasn't easy to understand.
But the disciples knew that Jesus was special. They had never heard anyone teach like Jesus. They had never seen anyone heal like Jesus. But they were otherwise clueless. Jesus had told them about the next chapter of his life -- the part where he would suffer and die -- but it just sailed over their heads. I can't say that I blame them. It would have sailed over my head too. Why would a Messiah suffer and die? Why would a Savior let himself be killed? You have to admit that it is hard to understand.
There were three disciples -- Peter, James, and John -- who were especially close to Jesus, so he wanted to prepare them for what lay ahead. He decided to let them in on the secret -- to show them who he really was -- to give them a glimpse of the God inside him.
And so he took them up a high mountain. Mark says, "He was transfigured before them" (v. 2). Then Mark tells us that Jesus' clothes became dazzling white -- whiter than any bleach could have bleached them -- whiter than any detergent could have washed them -- blindingly white -- knock-your-eyes-out white.
In the Bible, that sort of dazzling whiteness is often how God makes his appearance. That's the significance of the dazzling white. The disciples are being treated to a sudden appearance of God on top of this mountain -- like Moses was treated to the blinding glory of God on Mount Sinai.
And then the disciples saw Jesus talking with Elijah and Moses -- great leaders of Israel-- men who had lived hundreds of years earlier. Again, this was intended to show the disciples something of Jesus' greatness. Jesus didn't have to hobnob with the ordinary dozen whom he had chosen as disciples. He could summons Elijah and Moses for a visit.
So Jesus put on a spectacular demonstration for these three disciples. We call it the transfiguration. The New Testament was written originally in Greek, and the word that we translate "transfiguration" is the Greek word "metamorphothe" -- which is the word from which we get the English word "metamorphosis."
I learned that word "metamorphosis" in high school biology. We used it to describe a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. To be honest, I don't understand that either. I don't understand how a caterpillar -- something that I really don't want to see in my garden -- becomes a lovely butterfly -- something that we are all delighted to see. I don't understand how that happens. Nor do I understand why God chose to do it that way. I understand only that it does happen -- that the caterpillar that used to chew its way through my garden becomes a butterfly that graces it. It is one of those little artistic details that God worked into the creation just to give us pleasure. That is metamorphosis -- the Greek word for transfiguration.
So now, when I think of the transfiguration, I think of the caterpillar becoming a butterfly.
But there is a big difference! When the caterpillar becomes a butterfly, it becomes what it has never been before. Its whole character is changed. Where it once could only crawl, now it can fly. Where once it was ugly, now it is beautiful. It used to be one thing, but now it is something totally different.
But Jesus didn't become something totally different at the Mount of Transfiguration. He didn't change. He simply showed his disciples who he really was. If you will forgive me for a couple of rather foolish illustrations, it was like the owner of a Volkswagen opening the engine compartment to show his friends a Porsche engine. Or like Clark Kent stepping into a phone booth to change clothes and to emerge as Superman.
I told you that they were foolish illustrations -- but not altogether foolish. Jesus appeared to be an ordinary man -- a man with unusual powers, to be sure -- but just a man. On Transfiguration Mountain, he gave the disciples a brief glimpse under the hood, so to speak, so that they could see that he was altogether different from what they had imagined-- altogether more than they had expected. Jesus was God come to earth, and he gave them a brief glimpse of his Godliness. It was his way of preparing them for what lay ahead. It was his way of getting them ready for the cross.
What Jesus did for those three disciples on the mountain, he also does for us today. He gives us glimpses of his glory -- of his power. He helps to prepare us for whatever lies ahead. He strengthens us for the journey.
But he picks and chooses. For the transfiguration, he chose only three of the twelve apostles. And he gave them only a brief glimpse of his glory, and then it was back down the mountain. At the base of the mountain they found a mess -- a boy whose convulsions threw him into the fire -- and disciples who couldn't help him -- disciples who didn't know what to do. Jesus healed the boy, but it had been a tough time for the disciples.
Life is sometimes tough for us too -- not at all what we want. We want Jesus to lift us up to a high place and keep us there. We want to be excited and joyful all the time. We want Jesus to reassure us regularly -- to prove himself to us daily. But Jesus gives us only what we need instead of what we want. He gives us glimpses of glory, and then expects us to walk through ordinary life in the faith that we are serving the Lord.
I saw a coffee shop somewhere with a great name -- The Daily Grind. That is where we live most of life, isn't it -- in The Daily Grind. We get glimpses of glory now and then -- enough to keep us going -- but then it is back down the mountain into The Daily Grind.
Peggy Noonan, the famous author and speechwriter, had one of those glimpses of glory. She was raised as a Catholic, but didn't take her faith all that seriously for many years. Then, after becoming quite successful, she found an emptiness within. She began reading religious books. She even began to read the Bible. The Bible had always seemed mysterious to her -- a bit forbidding -- "like something written in a foreign tongue," she says. But listen to what happened. These are her words:
One day, and this still feels like a small miracle, one Saturday morning in the spring, I took my Bible and turned for no reason I remember to Acts of the Apostles. I have never known what 'acts of the apostles' meant, what the phrase meant. But it all made sense to me for the first time. It was history and revealed truth, and it was wonderful, fascinating. Peter and Paul said wonderful things, they had thirsty, brilliant hearts, they were great rhetoricians. I started to read it all in a new way and with a new comprehension.
That was an exciting moment for Peggy Noonan. It was a moment when Christ broke through and gave her a glimpse of glory. It didn't last. Later that day, she was back to fixing lunch -- and doing dishes -- and pounding the typewriter.
I said that it didn't last, but it did. It changed her life -- shifted her understanding -- opened her eyes -- tugged at her heart -- awakened her to exciting possibilities. You can be sure that Peggy Noonan has not been the same since.
Jesus still does that. He can do it for you. You won't know when it is coming. You can't predict it or make it happen -- but you can help it to happen by doing what Peggy was doing -- reading the Bible -- or a devotional book -- or discussing spiritual things with Christian friends -- or praying for those in need.
When it does happen -- when you have one of those special moments with Jesus -- when you get a glimpse of glory -- keep in mind that you will shortly be headed down the mountain with Jesus. The one who led you up the mountain to see great things will then lead you down the mountain to serve. Be glad for both! Be glad to have had a glimpse of glory -- but be glad, too, for the fact that Christ trusts you to be the vessel that carries his precious Gospel to other people. That is glory too!
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