Good morning, Friends!
We’ve got a bit of a problem. And the problem is, nobody really knows what Jesus looked like.
We don’t have any pictures of Jesus that were made at the time. Nobody was taking photographs, or making sketches.
We don’t know if Jesus was tall or short. At a guess, he probably had dark hair. He may or may not have worn a beard. We don’t know.
We have no idea how well off he was. The gospel says that he wore sandals, and a knee-length robe, and some kind of a prayer shawl with tassels at the corner, which Jewish men wore. In cold weather, he might have worn a heavy cloak, kind of like a blanket, to wrap around himself. Some people wore a belt to go with it.
But what did Jesus look like? Was he thin, or fat, or somewhere in between? Was he handsome? Was he ordinary? We really have no idea.
Today’s Scripture reading gives us one glimpse of Jesus. And it doesn’t tell us what he looked like most of the time. It talks about how Jesus looks, as he really is.
Even the people who walked with Jesus every day – most of them didn’t know Jesus’ real identity. They thought he was special, but they didn’t really know how special.
Anyway, let me read you the story.
Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Peter did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.Mark 9:2-8
Message – “Who is the real Jesus?” Josh Brown
All through the year, we get different glimpses of Jesus. Even though there aren’t any actual pictures in the gospel, it’s almost as if each of the gospel writers was trying to put together an album full of snapshots, of Jesus as they remembered him.
For example, there’s Christmas. Christmas is full of pictures from Jesus’ baby book. Here’s Mary, standing with the angel putting his arm around her shoulder. Here’s Joseph, looking responsible and serious.
Here’s the first crib Jesus laid in. Pretty rough, wasn’t it? And here are the shepherds who showed up that night. And the rich visitors from out of town who showed up a few days later.
Then there’s a picture of Jesus at his bar mitzvah, surprising the socks off all the famous teachers at the Temple.
Most of the pictures in the gospel are of Jesus as the man from Galilee, the teacher on the mountainside, or out in the boat, or walking along the dusty roads and talking with people along the way.
There are a whole lot of pictures in the gospel of Jesus as a healer. Bending down to touch the sick and the paralyzed, reaching out to heal the blind and the mentally ill. Those are some of our favorite pictures of all.
Then there’s the picture in the gospels of Jesus as the good shepherd, going out into the waste land to search all night for his lost sheep. When he finds it, he puts it over his shoulders, and comes home with it, and calls everyone to rejoice with him.
A few weeks from now, we’ll be looking at a picture of Jesus riding into Jerusalem, with thousands of people lining the roads and waving palm branches over his head and shouting “Hosanna!” at the top of their voices.
These are all pictures of Jesus. But are they the whole story? Do they show us who Jesus really was?
The final week, Jesus is like a front page picture from the Old Testament. He’s chasing the moneychangers out of God’s holy place, calling them a bunch of crooks and thieves, and daring anyone to do anything about it.
Some people have a picture in their minds of Jesus as a prosecutor at the Last Judgement, dividing the world into the guilty and the saved, handing one group their ticket to heaven and sending the other group down the highway to hell.
But are those the only pictures we have of Jesus? Is that all that he is?
There’s a very vivid portrait of Jesus in the gospel of John, where Jesus took off his everyday clothes, and tied a tattered old rag around his middle like the lowest slave would wear, and washed everybody’s feet. John said that was a true picture of Jesus, and said that we’re all supposed to do the same.
Do you see what I’m getting at?
Jesus is all of these pictures, and he’s more than any of them. If we just look at one, we’re going to miss out on the complete Jesus. We won’t know who he really is.
The week before Easter is a whole collection of pictures that were permanently burned into the memory of the entire Christian movement. It’s like the whole church got a collective case of PTSD and we can’t get those scenes out of our heads.
- Jesus, getting arrested
- Jesus, on trial
- Jesus, getting whipped and beaten
- Jesus, carrying his own cross to the execution place
Those are pictures we can’t forget.
Today’s picture of Jesus is one that’s in three out of the four gospels. You can even make a pretty good case that it’s in the fourth gospel, too, because John talks about Jesus as the light that’s been shining since the very beginning of all things.
Jesus and his three closest friends go out for a hike one day. He takes them up a high mountain. And there, it says Jesus was transfigured before them. That means that his whole appearance was suddenly changed.
Instead of his everyday clothes, what he was wearing turned dazzlingly white, whiter than anything they’d ever seen.
And next to Jesus, on either side of him, were the two greatest people in the Jewish scriptures – Moses, the giver of laws, the one who led God’s people out of four hundred years of slavery and taught them how to be free people, under God.
And there on the other side of Jesus, stood Elijah – the greatest prophet of all time, the one who called people back when the whole country was worshiping fake gods, that were no gods at all. Elijah stood up to kings and said that their day was over.
Moses and Elijah standing on either side of Jesus. That means he wasn’t just their successor, the most recent in a long chain of religious leaders. One stood on Jesus’ right, and one on his left, and they were talking with Jesus and acknowledging that Jesus was greater than either of them.
Peter and the others didn’t know what to make of all this. Was it a dream? Were they hallucinating? They could see, but they didn’t know what the picture meant.
And to top it all, a cloud came over them, up on the mountain top. And they heard a voice in the cloud that said, “This is my Son, who I love. Listen to him!”
Then the cloud cleared away, and the only one there with them was Jesus.
It’s as though all of the gospel writers are trying to say, “This is the real Jesus! All these other pictures are true, but this is who Jesus really is, all the time! He is God’s own son. He is more than you ever imagined!”
Like I said, we want to know who Jesus is. We want to know what Jesus really looks like. All of the pictures in the gospel show us a piece of him. We try to put those pieces together, and some people say one piece is more important than all the others.
I don’t know if any of you have ever tried to put together a jigsaw puzzle. You know how it is? You sort through all the different pieces, and try to put it all together.
Each story we read in the gospel is like a puzzle piece. We try to figure out where each one goes. But today’s scripture is like the completed puzzle. It’s like all the pieces suddenly fit together, and we see what the whole picture was trying to be all along.
Yes, he’s the man from Galilee. Yes, he’s the great teacher and healer. He’s the prophet, and the good shepherd. He’s the judge, and he’s the servant. He is, beyond question, the suffering savior, who died for us all.
He’s the stranger we meet as we walk along the road. He’s the one who sits down with us, and blesses our meal.
If you want to know what Jesus looks like, you’ll see his face in every person who’s lonely, or hungry, or sick or in prison.
There’s a whole bunch of amazing pictures in the Book of Revelation, where we see Jesus as the Lamb of God, the glorious king, the slayer of the dragon and the faithful witness, the beginning and the end. You need a code book to make sense of all those pictures.
But today’s scripture is the one that puts them all together. Who is Jesus, really? What does he really look like?
He’s the Light. He’s one of us, but he’s more than we are. Everyone else in the Bible looks up to him. And when the cloud clears away, we see who he is. He’s the Son of God.
Let’s take a few minutes to pray together.