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Transfiguration Sunday, Cycle B (2015)

Christ be glorified! These texts and the festival provide more occasion for sermons on the glory of God, Christology, Realized Eschatology, and how we might live in light of these insights (Sanctification).


Psalm 50:1-6
This Psalm of Asaph (see Psalms 73-83) as a whole is a liturgy of divine judgment. (Asaph was one of David’s chief musicians [1 Chronicles 6:39; 15:17; 16:5-7].) With one exception, God is identified as Elohim in the psalm. The verses considered focus more on the majesty of God, his beauty, perfection, wrath, and righteousness. Elohim is said to “shine forth” out of Zion (the hill on which the temple in Jerusalem was built) (v. 2). This phrase is a way of speaking of God’s appearing in might to do battle. A devouring fire [esh] is said to go before him (v. 3). It seems that judgment will be on those under the Old Covenant who base their relation with God on sacrifice (vv. 5-6). (The Hebrew term for judgment in ancient Hebrew, mishpat, can refer to a sense of comfort, not just to punishment [Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, p. 358].) Hints of the establishment of a new covenant echo elsewhere in the psalm (v. 23). The term Selah is a liturgical direction indicating that there should be an instrumental interlude at this point in the singing.

Application: Preaching on this psalm could be an occasion to highlight that God does not want our sacrifice — that he is too awesome to need us to do things for him. It might be pointed out that the New Covenant to replace the sacrifices has been established by the risen Christ (Atonement). Or the Old Testament understanding of God’s judgment as a word of comfort (Justification by Grace) could be proclaimed.


2 Kings 2:1-12
Once again the First Lesson is taken from the second half of the Old Testament’s account of Israel’s history from the death of David through Jehoiachim’s release from a Babylonian prison. There is some speculation that these texts are the product of the Deuteronomistic reform of Josiah in the seventh century BC but later revised after the Babylonian exile in 587 BC. This book recounts the history from the reign of Ahaziah (850-849 BC) to the Assyrian destruction of Samaria (721 BC), as well as the story of Judah from the fall of Israel through the destruction of Jerusalem, ending with the elevation of King Jehoiachim in exile (chs. 18-25). As we have noted, the book largely follows Deuteronomistic themes regarding loyalty to Yahweh alone and a criticism of all the kings of the Northern Kingdom for sanctioning the worship of God in rival sanctuaries outside Jerusalem. Yet the promise of the eternality of the Davidic covenant is said to remain secure.

This lesson is the story of the prophet Elijah being assumed into heaven and his mission continued by Elisha. This is testimony to Elijah’s greatness, as only Enoch ([of the patriarchs the one who is said to have “walked with God”] Genesis 5:24) and he were deemed worthy of this honor. From a Christian perspective Elijah’s ascent is a kind of prophetic prefiguring of what would happen to Jesus. The two [Elihah and Elisha] are reported to travel from Gilgal (to the north of Bethel). This event tugged at the Hebraic religious imagination so that by the end of the Old Testament era, continuing into Jesus’ lifetime, Elijah’s return was associated with the coming of the day of the Lord.

Elijah charges Elisha to stay there as he journeys to Bethel (twelve miles north of Jerusalem). But Elisha refuses to depart, and they continue to travel together (vv. 1-2). Prophets [nabi] in Bethel inform Elisha of the Lord’s plan to take away his master (v. 3). Elijah again tries to have his disciple stay behind, but Elisha refuses and they continue to Jericho. There Elisha is again confronted by prophets telling him that Elijah will be taken away (vv. 4-5). Again Elijah directs Elisha to stay behind, but he refuses to leave. They proceed to the Jordan, accompanied by a company of prophets at some distance (vv. 6-7). At the Jordan, Elijah strikes the water with his mantle and the water parts so that they can cross on dry land (v. 8). This act recalls the entry of Israel into Canaan (Joshua 4:7-17) and Moses’ parting of the sea during the Exodus (Exodus 14:21-22). Elijah asks Elisha what he can do for his disciple before being taken. Elisha requests a double share of Elijah’s spirit [ruach, life force] (v. 9). Elijah notes that Elisha’s request will be granted as long as he sees his master taken away (v. 10). A chariot and horses of fire [esh] come and take Elijah in the whirlwind [searah, a sign of God’s presence (Job 38:1; 40:6; Psalm 83:15; Jeremiah 23:19)]. Elisha grasps his own clothes and tears them (as a sign of mourning) (vv. 11-12).

Application: Several sermon options are suggested. The passing of the prophetic ministry from Elijah to Elisha reminds us that what is done in ministry passes on to the next generation, and what we do in and for the church must be understood in an eternal/eschatological perspective. Another option would be top highlight that God and Christ in all their glory accompany us along the way in our service (Sanctification).


2 Corinthians 4:3-6
This lesson is taken from one of Paul’s authentic letters, written as relations had further deteriorated between Paul and the Corinthian church in the period since writing 1 Corinthians. Chapters 10-13 of the book are so different in style and tone from its first chapters as to lead many scholars to conclude that they may be the “severe letter” mentioned in 2:4. Like the first letter, this epistle aims to address doctrinal and ethical problems disturbing the Corinthian church. In this lesson, while defending his ministry from critics, noting that he and all who are being saved have seen the glory of God with unveiled faces [anakekalummeno prosopo] and so have been transformed/changed [metamorfpsometha] (3:18), Paul observes that we who are engaged in ministry by God’s mercy [eleeo] do not lose heart [faint] (4:1). Consequently if the gospel is veiled, it is veiled [kekalummenon] to those perishing (v. 3). Such persons have had their minds blinded by the god of the world (perhaps the New Testament’s only reference to Satan) (v. 4). Paul and his colleagues do not proclaim themselves he insists, but proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord [kurios] and make themselves slaves of those whom they serve (v. 5). The God who says, “Let the light [phos] shine out of darkness” (Genesis 1:3) shines in our hearts the light of the knowledge of God’s glory [doxa] in the face of Jesus Christ (v. 6).

Application: The text invites opportunities to offer a word of comfort and confidence for the despairing, for when we have such feelings it is because of the work of evil hiding God’s mercy, and yet Christians know that the transfigured Christ in all his glory goes with them, and so the doubts and evil have no chance (Justification by Grace and Sanctification).


Mark 9:2-9
Once again this Sunday’s Gospel Lesson is a text in the first of the Synoptic Gospels to be written, a book that was perhaps the source of other gospels, perhaps based on oral traditions of the Passion narrative and accounts of Jesus’ sayings (the so-called Q-source). Probably written prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, this anonymous work is traditionally ascribed to John Mark, perhaps referred to as an associate of Paul (Acts 12:12-25, 15:37; Colossians 4:10) or as Peter’s scribe (1 Peter 5:13). Some speculate that the original audience was the church in Rome (especially Gentiles), as it presumes readers unfamiliar with Jewish customs and Palestinian geography (see 7:2-4, 31), but it also could have been written for Palestinian Christians.

This text is the account of Jesus’ Transfiguration, an account shared by all the Synoptic Gospels. The event is reminiscent of Moses’ experience reported in Exodus 24:16. The event transpires on a high mountain with Peter, James, and John present. It is said to have transpired six days after Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah (v. 2; cf. 8:29). Jesus’ clothes reportedly became dazzling white [leukos] (v. 3). White clothes are associated in Judaism with the apocalypse (Daniel 7:9; 12:3). Elijah and Moses appear to talk with Jesus (v. 4). (Elijah’s reappearance was expected as a sign of the appearance of the Messiah [Malachi 4:5-6]. Moses’ appearance probably relates to his parallel experience reported in Exodus 24.) Peter asks to be excused or to build temporary shelters/tents [skenas] for Jesus and his heavenly guests largely as a result of the terror all the disciples present felt (vv. 5-6). (Tents were regarded as dwellings for divine beings due to their association with the Festival of Booths [Exodus 25:1-9; Leviticus 23:39-43].) The disciples’ misunderstanding or fear of what transpires in Jesus’ ministry, as it is a reaction to divine manifestations, is a characteristic Markan theme (4:41; 6:51; cf. Isaiah 6:1-5).

A cloud (nephele, associated with Old Testament theophanies [Exodus 24:15-18; Isaiah 4:5]) overshadows all, and a voice is heard identifying Jesus as God’s beloved Son [huios]. Then all the visitors, save Jesus and his disciples, vanished (vv. 7-8). Jesus orders his disciples to tell no one of the event until after the Son of Man has risen from the dead (v. 9). This is another example of the messianic secret in Mark. This also links the Transfiguration to the resurrection as well as to the end of time.

Application: With this text preachers have occasion to preach on Christology (especially Jesus’ divine nature and glorification) in order to understand how he has already brought in the end times (1:15). This vision draws the faithful to respond with lives lived in awe (Sanctification).

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen