Have you ever been someplace where you just knew that God was with you? If you are thinking of that time and place right now, how did you know God was there? Did God make His presence known through nature, through a person or through some special and unique situation or was there just a strong inner feeling that He was there? Did you hear a voice or did God make his presence known in a sense of overwhelming stillness and quiet? The day of my Grandmother’s funeral it rained all day, but late in the afternoon as we were all gathered at her beach house which was her favorite place to be and our favorite place to be, and just before sunset the clouds parted enough for the sun to shine through with the most amazing colors and rays that we had ever seen. We all went outside and simply stood in amazement. We knew God was there and at least for me His message was clear – everything is ok, I’m with you.
For Peter, James and John, they knew God was present with them on the mountain this day with Jesus but it wasn’t because they heard a voice, it was because God revealed Himself to them in all the ways God revealed Himself to His people throughout the Old Testament. First of all, they were on a mountain top, look at Mark 9:2a. God often revealed himself and spoke to His people from mountain tops. God told Abraham to go to Mt. Moriah where he was to show his faith by giving God his son Isaac and when Abraham got to the top of Mt. Moriah God spoke to him again. Moses went to the top of Mt. Sinai to be in the presence of God and it was there God spoke and gave Moses the 10 Commandments. The city of Jerusalem itself, the place where God chose to make his home on earth is also on the top of a mountain. God reveals himself on mountain tops so when Jesus takes Peter, James and John to a mountain top, they know something important is going to take place because they will be in the presence of God.
When they arrive at the top, there is an unexpected and unexplained light, look at Mark 9:3. This light that washes over Jesus is a sign of God’s presence because God is light. If we go back to the creation story we hear that God created light before He created the sun and the moon and the stars which tells us there is a light of God that shines separate from the natural light of the world. In 1 John 1:5, it says that God is light and so when unexpected light shines it was a sign of God’s presence. Think about Moses at the burning bush; the bush was on fire but was not being consumed by the fire which tells us it wasn’t a natural fire but a divine light. God led Moses and the people through the wilderness at night with a pillar of fire; again, it was not a natural fire but the fire or light of God’s presence. At the birth of Jesus a new light appeared in the sky and it symbolized God coming into this world. So the light that washes over Jesus on the mountain top was a sign to the disciples that God was with them.
And then there is the cloud, look at Mark 9:7a. Clouds were also a clear sign to people that God was present. God led his people through the wilderness during the day by a cloud and God spoke to Moses on the top of Mt. Sinai in a cloud, so when a cloud suddenly appears while Peter, James and John are on a mountain top with Jesus, it is clear sign that God is there. There is no mistaking what is going on here; God is present so when Peter, James and John hear a voice, there is no mistake – it is the voice of God.
So let’s look at what God says, Mark 9:7b. These words of God are very similar to the only other time in the gospel of Mark that God speaks, which is at Jesus’ baptism. After Jesus came out of the Jordan River a voice was heard from heaven saying, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” These words identify Jesus and the message given is for Jesus, but here on the mountain God again identifies Jesus and reminds him that he is deeply loved, but the message God includes isn’t for Jesus but for the followers of Jesus and it’s three simple words. Listen to him.
Let me first go back and remind us that a few weeks ago we heard that the first priority for Jesus in this world was to teach and preach because the power of God is in the words of Jesus that remain with us, so we need to pay attention to all that Jesus said, but for Peter, James and John and for the first readers of Mark’s gospel, I wonder if they asked themselves this question, what did Jesus just say? What had Jesus just been talking about that God wants them to listen to? Well let’s turn back to the very last teaching of Jesus and find out. Look at Mark 8:34-38.
This is what God wants us to listen to. This is the teaching God is pointing us to. To follow Jesus means we need to deny ourselves and take up a cross which means to sacrifice what we want and who we are for God and others. To find our lives and to enter into the glory of God, a glory that Peter, James and John are actually experiencing, means that we have to be willing to lose our lives or give up what we want in order to serve and love others. If we step back and look at this scene what we learn is that the glory of God is only found through the cross. The fullness and power and true meaning of life that God has for us is only found through a lifestyle of self denial and sacrifice. A life where we say no to ourselves and yes to God and yes to others is what leads us to glory – not the glory of heaven but the glory of faith and love and life, here and now.
This week we begin a season in the life of the church called Lent and it is a time where together we focus on self denial and sacrifice. Lent is a 40 day season that reminds us that Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry and during those days Jesus fasted and prayed, he practiced self denial and sacrifice. Now Jesus didn’t just deny himself food, he denied himself the riches and glory that the world had to offer knowing there was something better and eternal that God had to offer. The season of Lent provides us a time to be intentional and listen to Jesus the same way Jesus listened to God. These weeks are a time for us to practice self denial and sacrifice so that our faith can be strengthened. The way to experience more of God is to take up a cross or give some of our time and energy to the way of Jesus.
For the next six Sundays we are also going to be studying the teaching of Jesus on prayer so as part of our self denial can we set aside time each week to both study and pray? Once again, we want to invite you to join a small group or Bible Study to listen more carefully and clearly to what Jesus has said. Personal devotions through the season can also be helpful in leading us to a deeper faith so we want to invite you to keep reading through the gospel of Mark or pick up the Lenten devotions in the lobby that you can do with your family. The glory of a deeper faith and a greater experience of God is found through self denial and sacrifice and our being willing to give time and energy to the development of our faith.
But it’s not just the glory of deeper faith that is found when we deny ourselves and sacrifice; it is also the glory of life and a deeper more powerful love. Yesterday was Valentine’s Day and real love doesn’t come from a box of candy or a dozen roses – as nice as those things are – it comes from our being willing to deny ourselves for someone else. Real love and stronger relationships are forged through acts of service and sacrifice that we freely give to others. In fact, love is defined in ways that can only be expressed through self denial and sacrifice. Look at 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (all on one screen)
What do you notice about how God defines love here? It is defined by always placing others first, which means denying ourselves. Patience means setting aside our agenda and how we want things to go so others can come first. Not being envious or boastful or proud means sacrificing our place so others can came before us. Forgiveness and keeping no record of wrongs often means denying our rights and setting aside our desire for restitution or revenge. And protecting and caring for others means placing their well being and their lives before our own. So God defines love in terms of self-denial and sacrifice so again the way we will be able to experience greater love, the way for us to experience the glory and light and power of love, is through self denial and sacrifice or as Jesus said, by losing our lives.
What God shows us on the mountain top is that the way to a stronger faith, a deeper love and the experience of real life is only found when we are willing to put God and others first and most of us know this, we just struggle to do it. We know that it is better to give than to receive. We know that it is more blessed to love others than demanding others love us and we know that we experience more power and joy in life when we serve others than when we sit back waiting for others to serve us. We know this, but at times we all struggle to do this.
The disciples struggled to do this. When Peter tells Jesus that he wants to make some shelters for him and Moses and Elijah he is saying that he just wants to stay in that place of glory, and while Jesus doesn’t scold Peter, he also doesn’t stay there. In time the cloud goes away, the light disappears and Jesus takes Peter, James and John back down the mountain where they return to a life of serving and a life of sacrifice where they continue to seek more of God through prayer.
We know the way to a deeper faith is found through self denial. We know the way to strengthen relationship with God or with those people God has placed in our lives is through service and sacrifice, we just struggle to live that way. This story of God’s glory on the mountain is a reminder that the way of life that leads to power and glory is the way of the cross, the way of service and sacrifice. Maybe this season of Lent can be a time for us to intentionally strengthen our faith and maybe these next 6 weeks can be a time for us to get our relationships and lives back on track by placing others first. As Jesus so clearly taught us and as God here reminds us, self denial, service and sacrifice is the to life and it is the path to glory.
Listen to Him
1. Read the story of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness to see what he denied himself and sacrificed long before he carried a cross. Luke 4:1-13
2. Continue reading through the gospel of Mark (chapters 5-6) to hear more of what Jesus says to us.
3. Join us for worship on Ash Wednesday as we begin the season of Lent.
4. Join a small group that will be discussing Jesus teaching on and example of prayer. Contact Cassie Marsh-Caldwell for more information on small groups.
5. Begin a Lenten devotion with your family or subscribe to the upper room on line to receive daily devotions via email (go to www.upperroom.org)
6. Strengthen an important relationship in your life (spouse, parent, child or friend) by finding a way to serve or sacrifice for them.
7. Commit to memory parts of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and find ways to live it out in your daily life.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes,