St. Paul's Lutheran Church

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Mark 9:2-9
February 11, 2024

“Listen to Him.” That’s our theme, “Listen to Him.”

But here’s the thing…listening to the Lord isn’t necessarily going to bring ecstatic, mountaintop experiences all the live-long day. And in fact, let’s talk about Peter, James, and John and what “listening to Him” brought to their lives.

But let’s first consider the Transfiguration. Jesus brings Peter, James, and John, the future pillars of Christianity, He brings them up a high mountain. And Jesus is transfigured; His appearance changes, giving the three a glimpse of eternal glory. Not only this, but Moses and Elijah appear, two other pillars, both who had their own mountaintop encounters with the Lord. Peter, James, and John recognize that this experience is good and they even long for it, and they should. This is heaven and eternal life opened to them, heaven brought to earth for the three to enjoy. They even hear the voice saying, “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.”

But it is brief, and no sooner is heaven opened upon the earth than it is closed again and all that remains is three bewildered disciples and Jesus. And then down the mountain they go as Jesus walks onward toward Golgotha.

Now the appearance of Moses and Elijah is an interesting thing. Moses was the great law giver, and he was very much the first pastor – a pastor or priest for an entire nation of people. His mountain top was first his encounter at the burning bush where the Lord called him and set him apart to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt. His second was at Sinai where he stood before the Lord and received the Law.

And for Moses, both mountain top encounters brought suffering and trouble. The first encounter forced him back to Egypt where Pharaoh would mock him, and the Israelites would deride him for making promises which he seemed unable to keep. Even the very first demonstration of God’s power resulted in the Egyptian magicians doing the exact same thing and the Israelites saying, “leave us alone to tend to our strawless bricks.”

Moses even went back to the Lord and said, “I can’t do this, find someone else, why did you send me.” And this went on for years until finally Pharaoh let the Hebrews go, only to later pursue them all the way to the Red Sea where, again, the Hebrew people mocked and chided Moses for leading them to their death. But the Lord, through Moses, parts the sea and they all cross on dry ground and head to Sinai.

And what happens? Moses goes up the high mountain and, once again, stands in the presence of the Lord. And the people grow impatient, and they build a large golden idol and dance before it, kindling the Lord’s anger.

This is the life of Moses, and when all was said and done, he wasn’t permitted into the promised land because he struck a rock. The people worshiped idols and complained and longed for the rotten food of Egypt, but Moses struck a rock. Moses suffered because of his mountain tops.

And what about Elijah? Like Moses, Elijah was a great prophet to his people, sent by God to preach to wicked Ahab and the people of Israel. And no sooner had God sent a great drought upon the land, than Ahab and his wife Jezebel try and have Elijah killed. And atop a mountain, Elijah says some of the most depressing and heart-wrenching words ever spoken: “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of Armies, but the people of Israel have abandoned your covenant. They have torn down your altars and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking to take my life.”

Two men, Moses and Elijah, both faced unsurmountable conditions, both meet God on mountaintops, and both suffered because of it. And yet, there they both are, speaking with Jesus on the mountain of transfiguration, speaking of His own exodus at the cross.

Well, what about Peter, James, and John? Did their mountaintop lead to a lifetime of “glory” and “prosperity” and bliss and excitement? No, it didn’t! In fact, James was the first to die; his head cut off by order of king Herod not ½ way through the book of Acts. What of Simon Peter? History tells us that Peter was crucified around 66 AD and that he chose to be crucified upside-down out of honor of his Lord. And John, he certainly outlived all the Apostles, but much of his life was lived exiled on the island of Patmos where he watched the suffering of his fellow believers and wrote letters of comfort and encouragement as they were martyred – burned at the stake, beheaded, disemboweled, fed to wild animals or used for target practice by the gladiators.

So, let me ask you…how is it that, after reading the biographies of these men of faith, Moses, Elijah, Peter, James, John, the other Apostles, the other Prophets…how is it that we modern Christians go from…that…to “Christianity is about your best life now and prosperity and wealth and everything being just how you want it”? How do we get from James having his head cut off for his confession of faith to a Christian culture which says, “don’t hurt my feelings, don’t assert your doctrine on me, I don’t judge me, just preach love, don’t be so offensive…”? How did we get here, and when did we ever fall into the deception that the Christian faith is to be easy and fun and happy every day and that “God is love” means God doesn’t care if we sin or what we do or what we believe, or what we listen to, or who we befriend? When did this happen? When did modern Christianity become so scared of suffering for the faith that we are more than happy to jump ship whenever a bit of wind or a small wave hits us?

The Lord calls out to us from above and says, “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him.” Listen to Him; hear Him.

We don’t read 2 Peter all that often, but listen to what Peter writes concerning the transfiguration:

To be sure, we were not following cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the powerful appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.  For he received honor and glory from God the Father, when the voice came to him from within the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. [Listen to Him]” We heard this voice, which came out of heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.

We also have the completely reliable prophetic word. You do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the Morning Star rises in your hearts, since we know this above all else: No prophecy of Scripture comes about from someone’s own interpretation (opinion).  In fact, no prophecy ever came by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were being carried along by the Holy Spirit.

In other words, Peter is saying, “We saw Him in His glory, and we heard the Word. No, you don’t get to see the glory in this way; you don’t get to be on the mountain top…not until the Last Day…but you get to HEAR the same Word every day. God speaks to you now through the Scripture. Find Jesus, not in your head or from voices on mountaintops, but find Jesus in the Scriptures. Listen to Him.”

What endures forever? The mountaintop, the experiences, the encounters, revivals? NO. But the Word of the Lord endures forever. Listen to Him.

For you see, the devil will never stop tempting you to find a god, an idol, through experiences or emotions. He will always find ways to draw you, not to the Scripture, but to yourself, so that, as you are drawn more and more to yourself, you are drawn further and further from God and His church. He will tempt you with a faith, not in God’s Word and promises, but a faith that looks inward, and he will promise you that as long as you keep looking into and rummaging around in your inner darkness, you will eventually find light.

You know, the worst and most addictive and most deadly drug there is, it’s not fentanyl. No, it’s the words of the devil, it’s the lies of Satan which draw you to believe that you can have your mountain top in this life, that you can have heaven opened to you by pursuing the things of the world. You can’t. The only thing that opens in this world is the gates of hell.

And the more you recognize this spiritual battle, this reality of struggle between good and evil that goes on around us and even in us, the more you will see that the things of this world are not for your good. The music, the venues, the knowledge, the politics, the lust and greed for money and power. How can any Christian ever expect to pursue true holiness when, no matter what you see on TV or the internet, it’s all tantalized with premarital sex, a celebration of broken families, a distortion of male and female, the worship of animals and creatures and the continued demeaning of humanity, with leaders who just don’t care about chastity or humility or holiness?

YES, we will suffer as God’s children because we do not stand with those things, and heaven forbid that we should stand with any of it. And those things, those vices, those lifestyles become enraged against us and fight, either by great temptation or by full on slander and threat. No Christian can stand against the armies of this fallen world, this spiritual battle with a “Don’t worry, be happy” attitude that sort of turns a blind eye to it all. But this is what modern Christians have become. See, we have lived a relatively comfortable and persecution-free life on this side of the world, and it has left us as a people indifferent to the word of Christ, becoming permissive, as if the human mind is lord of the Bible.

In 248 years of American freedom, of little to no suffering or persecution for the faith, Christians have become theological agnostics. An agnostic is a person who doesn’t really believe anything or can’t be sure of anything, and this is modern Christianity, isn’t it? We can’t be sure what the Lord really teaches because the Bible can’t be understood, right, at least that’s what we’re told? Theologically agnostic, right where the devil wants us.

And what has this led to for so very many Christians, especially Generation Xers and Millennials? It’s led to a very strange and untenable belief, nowhere found in the Scripture, that a person can live without true food and drink, can thrive without true nourishment, can be a Christian without Christ and His church. With a refusal to cut back on worldly things and a pursuit of worldly pleasures, it’s no wonder the church suffers decline throughout the nation and a person who thought to himself, “I can skip church for worldliness this week,” suddenly finds that 20 years passed without the Word and Sacrament.

Jesus, while being tempted in the wilderness, was faced with a choice. He was hungry and the devil suggested to Him that He turn stones into bread. He is God in man after all; He could do it. But He doesn’t, but He instead says something to the devil that was long forgotten by the children of men.

But in our wilderness, we do turn stones into bread, don’t we? We fall into the trap. When offered the choice between the eternal food that lasts and truly gives us nourishment, and the temporary rotting food of worldly concerns and pleasures…we really crave that food that doesn’t last, don’t we? It’s the “American way,” isn’t it?

Who, after all, would starve himself of these worldly pleasures, from the immediacy of quick, easy, and still tasty worldly bread? The Hebrews? No, for they wanted to go back to Egypt rather than briefly traverse a desert filled with danger and discomfort while heading for a better land. The Israelites ruled by Ahab and Jezebel? No, for they were just fine with the false gods and the ease and comfort in their concept of modern society surrounded by the priests of Ba’al. The disciples? No, because even after the Transfiguration, Peter himself chastised Jesus for talking about His impending suffering and crucifixion.

And by the time of Luther, the late medieval era, right in the midst of the Renaissance, the church had become the state, and the state the church, and Popes and Kings and bishops and lords enjoyed great wealth and power over the people. They threw out the true bread of heaven and made bread from stones and wood, from silver and gold.

And Luther cried out from the mountain – from the castle high above Wartburg and said, “Listen to Jesus, Listen to Him, abide in His Word,” but they refused.

Man does not live by bread alone, man lives by every Word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. That’s what Jesus said to the devil, right? And guess what? Jesus is right!

There is a food which nourishes you into life eternal, a cup that flows with life and salvation that will never dry up. And should the bank accounts dry up, the careers be taken from you, the sports fail you, your education leave you without true knowledge, should this world come crashing in upon you with flaming arrows and violent attacks, should your health and youth abandon you, there is sure strength and might and muscle and endurance, but you will not find it by looking into yourself or looking for mountaintops in your heart upon which you can stand. You must look to the external, eternal, Word of God, to He who stands before the devil and prevails, to He who overcomes this world, to He who shall return on the Last Day to finally and forever end all suffering and pain and sorrow and wipe away every tear.

The Word of the Lord, God who has become flesh and has spoken His word for these last days in the holy Scripture, THIS is your true food and drink, your TRUE nourishment. Here, where the Word is given in bread and wine, here is your salvation and your strength. Here, at the font, where the Word is given in simple water, is where your children’s true name and purpose and eternal citizenship is offered freely, where the forgiveness of sins drowns out the old Adam and his lusts for the world, and a new self is born again by water and the Spirit.

See, you have no reason to be so anxious that you covet the filth and depravity of this world, because the Lord has forgiven you of your sins and has freely given you eternal life. There is nothing in this world that can improve what God has already done for you.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, do no chase this world with its many failed promises and broken dreams, with its temptations to pleasure and mountain top encounters. Do not repaint Christ and His Word into some 20th century impressionist work of art where each individual is free to interpret as he pleases, because such agnosticism will only feed the beast of worldly tolerance.

Instead, fall to your knees, repent, and turn away from worldly ideologies and philosophies and look to Jesus the author and perfector of your faith who, out of true joy, endured the cross and scorning its shame, is now seated at the right hand of the Father, who is Lord of His eternal kingdom to which you have been granted citizenship forever. Do not renounce your citizenship for the sake of some worldly, godless, devil-enslaved notion of success or freedom. Instead, walk with Jesus and His disciples to Golgotha, and see how He suffers for you so that you learn to find joy in listening to Him. Amen.