Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before themMark 9:2
Of all the miracles recorded in the gospels, the miracle of the transfiguration might be the most difficult one to believe, to really believe that it actually, historically happened. To believe that Jesus really did take Peter, James, and John up Mt. Tabor about 2,000 years ago; and he really was transfigured before them; and he really did talk with Moses and Elijah; and that Peter, James, and John really did hear a voice from heaven say, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
I believe that it is true, of course, and many – if not all – of you believe it, too. But there are some in our world who question it. I mean, transfigured? And seen talking with two people who had died centuries earlier? And a voice from heaven? It would be easy to question this story, and to wonder if it really is true. But believing that it is true, that all of it is true, can change the course of a person’s life.
The Myth that Is True
Some of you know the story of C.S. Lewis, who wrote some wonderful books about the Christian faith, but who started out as an avowed atheist. C.S. Lewis had a good friend, another very famous writer, named J.R.R. Tolkien, who was a devoted Christian. They both shared an interest in fairy tales and myths, the great stories of old, told in cultures around the world. And they were good friends who talked about many things. C.S. Lewis had long been an atheist, but was now moving toward belief in some kind of God.
And one night, Tolkien said something like this to his good friend: Imagine the greatest fairy tale or myth ever told. Good defeating evil. A world rescued by a great Savior, who sacrifices himself for everyone, and then is raised in glory. The whole thing. Imagine it all. Now – what if it were all true?! You see, J.R.R. Tolkien said to his doubtful friend that night, the gospel is the greatest fairy tale, the greatest myth, ever told. And, it is all true.
And C.S. Lewis, as a result of this conversation, became a Christian. And he went on to write many famous books about this great truth of the gospel of our Lord. And through his writings, like The Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity, he has convinced many to believe in the truth of Christianity.
Superheroes and a Savior
We certainly live in a world that wants to believe there is more, that wants to believe that the supernatural can break through, and reveal itself to us in miraculous ways. Even those who are not Christian want this world.
It reminds me of a conversation that I once had with a friend who is a fan of comic books. He was telling me of an incident that took place in his favorite comic book store. He goes there often, and sees the same person working at the register almost every time, and they usually make some small talk as he pays for his new comic book purchase. But one day, the small talk became big talk. On a whim, my friend asked the comic book store employee why they worked there. And he said:
“I work here because I like this world better than the real world. I like a world with magic and fantasy; I like a world that has superheroes; where it’s easy to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys; and where there are heroes strong enough to save us from the messes that our messed-up world creates. I wish I could live in this world all the time.”
People in this world really do want to believe. And there are many myths, old and new, that point in one way or another to a Savior. Many of the superheroes made popular in our movies and books have characteristics of a Savior. They are mythological heroes who point, in one way or another, to the one myth that is not only the greatest of them all, but also happens to be true. In fact, another point made by C.S. Lewis after he became a Christian is that being a Christian is easier than being an atheist for this very reason. As he puts it:
If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions, even the [strangest] ones, contain at least some hint of the truth. When I was an atheist I had to try to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most.C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
All religions, in other words, and even many of the great stories and myths told in our world, contain at least some hint of the truth. But the greatest story of them all, the greatest myth, the greatest fairy tale? It just happens to be really true. To quote C.S. Lewis one last, in a letter to a friend following his conversion to Christianity:
Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened.
An Unexpected Savior
So why is it so hard for so many to accept that this Savior is real, and that his name is Jesus? Lots of reasons, I suppose. But one reason might be that this particular Savior doesn’t always work in the way that we expect. Take the Transfiguration, for example, which we celebrate today. What a great way to prove to the world that Jesus really is the Son of God! But Jesus only invites three of his closest friends to go up the mountain and witness this great miracle. And on their way down, he orders them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after he has been crucified and risen from the dead.
Our Savior doesn’t always work in the way that we want or expect. And this can make it hard for many to believe. And it can lead many of us who do believe to doubt at times. That’s pretty natural.
There are times when we can’t help but say, how can all this be true? How can Moses and Elijah really have appeared on the mountain with Jesus? How can this water in a font really bring salvation and the Holy Spirit? How can Jesus promise to be with us when we gather in his name? How can all this be true?
When In Doubt … Listen to Him!
One way to react to this is to reduce Christianity to something that is easy to believe. That the Transfiguration, for example, is just a way for the gospel writers to tell us of Jesus’ importance. But Martin Luther, in his last sermon preached in Wittenberg before his death, suggests another way. In this powerful sermon, Luther is looking back at all the times that his faith was attacked, all the times he struggled with whether he was doing the right thing, and all the trials he had faced in his life. And he is reflecting on how easy it would have been to start doubting it all. But he says in this sermon that whenever he was attacked, and whenever he began to doubt, he would simply cling to this word that we heard in today’s gospel reading, the word that came from heaven itself:
This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!Mark 2:7
Luther would open his Bible, and read about Jesus, and listen to this amazing story again, and his doubts would fade away. Listen to him. This is Jesus, God’s beloved son. Listen to him. Listen, and believe.
What Christianity Is Really All About
It’s all true. We know it because our Lord told us. Before he went to the cross and died for our sins. Before he was raised from the dead on the third day. Before he then appeared to his disciples and many others, and then ascended into heaven before them.
Before all of that, he told us these things, and his Father in heaven confirmed his words, and told us to listen to him. Before all that, our Lord and Savior told us the truth of our salvation. And then, on the mountain, his Father in heaven confirmed this truth. And then, on the cross, he made this truth real for each of us.
This is, first of all, what the Christian faith is really all about. It is about God’s glory, and God’s love, being revealed in his Son, Jesus Christ. And it is about the good news, that we really do get to live in a world that has been redeemed by this Savior. Not in the way that we always want or expect. But always in the way that we need. Redeemed from captivity to sin, to death, and to the devil, and ushered into the very kingdom of God.
This is the truth that we celebrate today, on this glorious festival of our Lord’s Transfiguration. And it is good to listen to this amazing story again, and to be reminded of the promise of life, the forgiveness of sins, and salvation again; and to be filled with the goodness of God again. And to listen to the glorious voice of God’s son, our Savior, spoken to us through the gospels. And as we listen, we pray:
Lord, help us to listen to your word, that we might always believe in your promise. And help us to share this word, with a world that is dying to believe that it is true. In Jesus’ name. Amen