That Defining Moment
July 28, 2019 Pastor: Series: Mark Your Summer
Topic: Christ Seeks Us Scripture: Mark 9:2–9:13
All of us have defining moments in our lives. Those rare junctures in our story where something changes and then things cannot remain the same. I wanted to share a few with you. When I was in high school, I was standing in the bookstore of a small church in Brooklyn, New York. My youth group was on a mission trip there and as I stood at one of those spinning book racks, my youth pastor, Andy, came up behind me and started a conversation that ended with him saying he believed I was being called to ministry. From that point forward, no matter how much I fought it at times, a trajectory was set for me that lead me to this place right now.
Another moment was on the top deck of a small cruise ship in the Spring of 2008 when I got down on one knee and asked the girl of my dreams to marry me. From that moment on, I’ve never been alone through the up’s and downs. Valentine’s Day 2016. I’ve never shared this before, so this is a little “behind the scenes”. The weekend Caitlin and I visited Normal for the first time for my interview weekend. I had several interviews, met Larry and some of you for the first time, and preached out in Clinton. All of it wrapped up that Sunday and Caitlin and I were dropped off at our hotel by Dave, the chair of my search committee, and I was told that the church would be in touch soon. Caitlin and I exhaled a bit, took a little recap of the day, and then later went down to the hotel hot tub. We weren’t in there 5 minutes before I got a call on my phone from Dave asking if I could meet him in the hotel lobby in 10 minutes. I asked for 20, so I could get changed, and it was then that a formal offer was made to me to become a Pastor here at First Pres. And, of course, how can I forget Sunday, February 4, 2018? A day that changed my life in every way possible. You all know what happened that day, right? For the first time ever…the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl.
Alright, maybe that last one wasn’t quite the same as the others. And, truth be told, there are plenty of moments I didn’t mention, including the birth of my boys. All of us have these types of experiences, those special occurrences where something shifted in our lives when we just know something changed with That Defining Moment. And Jesus had a few of those rare moments as well and this morning we’re going to look into one of them. We’re in Mark 9:2-13.
This is one of the most bizarre and brilliant moments in the account of Jesus’ life. There is no conflict. No disease to be cured. No demon to be cast out. No politician or Pharisee to oppose. It is a pure moment of Christ’s presence and person. In that alone, we find a rare gift in this scene called the Transfiguration and we can appreciate why it is warranted for us to look more closely at That Defining Moment. Because it truly was that. This was one of those subtle but powerful pivot points in Christ’s story - where nothing after it was the same. And that’s true for his followers as well.
Speaking of his followers, maybe you wondered why Jesus only brought Peter, James, and John with Him for That Defining Moment. He had 12 disciples after all. It’s a fair question and one we really don’t get a firm answer to. But it does establish a helpful understanding for us as to how Jesus went about the important work of helping His closest followers grow in their faith. I actually adopted this very scene as a strategy when I was in full-time youth ministry. I had an amazing team of adults who volunteered their time and energy to invest in our youth group and one of my most important priorities was making sure each of the students in our group had an adult mentor. Someone to laugh with, and go to with questions. Someone to advocate for them, and be that close, personal example of Jesus in everyday life.
To try and accomplish this hope, I put in place what I called the 12-3-1 model. Jesus had 12 disciples that he brought into His company. They traveled with Jesus, witnessed His miracles and His mercies. And they were known for their proximity to Christ. Out of those 12, Jesus selected three to come with Him to the mountain top, to That Defining Moment that was the transfiguration. For some reason, Peter, James, and John were given a rare witness the other nine were not. It was an extra investment of Christ’s time and personhood. And of those three, Jesus chose one, in whom to build the church: Peter. I asked each leader to look at our youth group, generally about 40-50 students, and I asked them to pick out 12 students. 12 students that they would go out of their way to make them feel welcome and valued. Then, the next step, out of those 12, choose three. Those three received the next level of investment. More personal contact, more time and presence, but also more expectation and more encouragement to live like Jesus. And then, out of those three, each leader was supposed to, after some prayer and discernment, pick one student. And that student was supposed to be their Peter. The one they had tough conversations with. The one that leader sacrificed more for and fostered into a leader, into someone who could even begin to find their own 12 and start it all over again. You see, That Defining Moment on the mountain gives an example of how important it is for us to invest in the lives of others.
And, as I said, this is a kind of bizarre moment. Christ becomes engulfed in this dazzling, beaming white light and they are joined by Moses and Elijah, two pillars of the Jewish faith who had been dead for generations. And they are standing there in plain sight. Jesus standing with these two monoliths of the Old Testament offers powerful symbolism of who Christ truly is. Jesus represents the fulfillment of what Moses and Elijah were called to accomplish. Moses was meant to free God’s people and lead them to a place of promise. Elijah was meant to inspire God’s people and set them on a path of holiness and faithfulness. In Jesus Christ, these works find their completion. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. He displays how to both live in communion with God, the original intention of the Law, and how to hear the inspiration and voice of God, the primary work of the Prophets.
If Peter, James, or John had any doubts about just who it was that they had been following, those doubts are evaporated like dew in the blazing morning sun. They and all who hear this account, including all of us, bear witness to just how reaching and influential the person and mission of Christ truly is. Jesus encapsulates all that occurred between God and humanity and now breaks the seal on what a brand new relationship between human and divine can be for the rest of eternity. A theologian and author named Jared Wilson sums it up well. He says, “Jesus is himself the manifestation of God’s law perfectly done, the lone worker of perfect righteousness. He is holiness personified. And Jesus is himself the manifestation of God’s prophetic vision ecstatically, powerfully, miraculously cast, the prophet who is the prophecy. Jesus is himself the promised land, the chariot of fire, the ultimate and only doorway into heaven. Jesus is the end-all, be-all.” You can understand why I call the Transfiguration That Defining Moment.
And what are we supposed to do with this knowledge? Well, we can take a cue from Peter, James, and John. I think it is absolutely appropriate for us to wrestle with who Jesus is. Even Peter, Jesus’ #1, didn’t quite get it. Peter’s response to the Transfiguration is to build shelters for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. He was flabbergasted by what he witnessed and didn’t know what to do. Having questions about the identity of Jesus is not an offense. It’s part of the work of our faith. As created beings, mortal and finite, we aren’t able to fully grasp the Almighty. But it doesn’t mean we are unchanged by our encounters with our God: Father, Son, and Spirit.
The response I think we can all learn from and strive to imitate - is that of the disciples coming down from the mountain. As I said, we all have defining moments in our lives that change us permanently. And whether it is because we don’t want it to end or because we are afraid, we are called by God to move from those life-altering crossroads and reenter back into the life God has prepared for us. We return changed, transformed, and we are more fully equipped to be the light and hope of Jesus Christ in this world.
Our defining moments of fear and suffering posture us to uniquely and compassionately come alongside the broken and hurting and offer them more than mere presence, but also solidarity and understanding. Our experiences of incredible joy or blessing, help us create a platform to become the beacons and messengers of truth - that God is at work and truly “works for the good of those who love Him” as Paul says in Romans. Those rare, brief glimpses of revelations into who God is, or what our Creator’s will might be - give us the opportunity to offer a proclamation of insight or wisdom into the story of those searching desperately for the face or voice of the Lord.
Friends, we all have chapters of our stories that are pivotal, defining moments. Jesus himself had one in our text. Conversing with two renowned arbiters for humanity and the almighty. Hearing the voice of His Father declares His love for His Son. It was a defining moment for Jesus. For Peter, John, and James it was a dazzling, perplexing, life-altering moment where one question is answered and many more are opened.
I want to challenge all of us to recognize the power that can be contained within a moment or a single experience. These moments shape our own stories and transform the stories of others. I want to encourage all of you to remember that Christ reveals Himself to you in those defining moments and then calls you to return to your life so that you might come alongside another and be a part of their own transformation, maybe at a time they can point to as That Defining Moment.