“The White Clothes of Jesus” (Mark 9:2-9)

The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Sunday, February 19, 2012

“The White Clothes of Jesus” (Mark 9:2-9)

Today on this last Sunday in the Epiphany season the church celebrates a great, pivotal event in the life and ministry of Jesus, namely, the Transfiguration of Our Lord. Jesus goes up on a high mountain, taking along with him his inner circle of disciples, Peter, James, and John. There he is transfigured before them, that is, his appearance changes, and his clothes become dazzling white. Two great figures from the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah, appear with Jesus and talk with him. The disciples don’t know what to make of all of this. Then a cloud comes, a voice comes from the cloud; it is the heavenly Father’s voice, saying, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” The disciples look again, they no longer see Moses and Elijah, they see Jesus only. Those are the essentials of the Transfiguration account, as it occurs in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the basic facts of the event being the same, but with each gospel writer highlighting this or that detail, or describing it in his own way.

There are so many things going on in this narrative, and with three gospels to work from, that a preacher could go for many years and focus his sermon on a different aspect each year. Today I want to focus on one point in particular, in verse 3, where it says, “and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.” What is the significance of this bright white clothing, and what does it mean for us? Thus our theme this morning: “The White Clothes of Jesus.”

All three of the gospel writers who have a Transfiguration account mention this detail, each saying it in his own way. Matthew has “and his clothes became white as light.” Luke says, “and his clothing became dazzling white.” And here in Mark we find the most complete description, where it says, “and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.” “White as light,” “dazzling white,” “radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.” Surely the glorious appearance of our Lord must have made a deep impression on the disciples who witnessed it. They hadn’t seen anything like it.

Jesus’ clothes became radiant, shining, intensely, exceedingly, dazzling white. Mark adds the phrase, “as no one on earth could bleach them,” that’s how extra bright white they were. And actually there’s a word there in the Greek that isn’t brought out in this translation. The text actually says, translating it, “as no launderer on earth could bleach them.” Or, as no “cloth refiner” could bleach them. “Fuller” is the old-fashioned word for someone who launders and bleaches clothing so that it comes out clean and white. And Mark is saying, you couldn’t find anybody on earth who could get those clothes that white. Pour the Clorox on ten times over, and it wouldn’t come out so shiny white.

Now Jesus’ clothes were not ordinarily exceptionally white. Jesus was a man who walked around a lot on the dusty roads of Palestine. He got in among the crowds, and people were pressing in on him, wanting to touch even the hem of his garment. He got in and out of fishing boats, which can have their own distinctive stains and smells. Jesus was not afraid to get his hands dirty, hanging out with sick people and demoniacs and low-life sinners. There was nothing about Jesus’ appearance normally that looked out of the ordinary. You wouldn’t have seen a halo around his head as he walked through town. His clothes would have gotten dusty and dirty and stained with sweat.

But now, on this occasion, suddenly his clothes become cleaner than clean, brighter than bright, whiter than white. What gives? What gives is that Jesus here is being revealed in his true glory as the only Son of God. This is a manifestation, an epiphany, of the divine glory that was always his, from eternity, but which had been hidden, subdued, during the days since he came in the flesh as the Son of Man. But now, for this brief moment, the light switch is thrown back on, giving the disciples a glimpse of who Jesus really is.

The white clothing, then, whiter than anybody on earth could come up with, is sending the message that this man is actually the Son of God sent from heaven. The white clothes of Jesus are shouting out, “God’s Son! Divine, holy, wholly without sin, pure and undefiled!” Pile up the adjectives, as many as you like, and the white clothing, so brilliant and dazzling, is the sign and the visual aid that is sending that message.

Now the disciples are seeing just who it is that they have been following. To be sure, Jesus’ words and his works have been sending the same message. This is God’s Son, this is the Messiah, come in the flesh. Jesus’ wisdom and mercy, his divine authority, so eminently displayed in his teaching, his preaching, his works of healing, casting out demons–all this has led the disciples to this point to confess with Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of God.”

But lately, just recently, Jesus has been adding a new note to what he has been telling the disciples. He’s begun saying–crazy talk, really–he’s been saying that he’s about to go to Jerusalem, where he will suffer and be rejected and be killed. Very disturbing stuff. This has not fit into the disciples’ paradigm of what should happen to the Messiah. But this most memorable moment at the Transfiguration will better enable them to handle what will happen, even if they don’t put it all into perspective until after the resurrection.

In other words, the Transfiguration, and these white clothes of Jesus, beyond any earthly kind of white–this is telling the disciples, and telling us, that this is God’s own Son who is going to the cross for us. The disciples need to know this. We need to know this. This man Jesus who goes now the way of the cross–he’s not just a good example of a noble martyr, he’s more than a misunderstood teacher who gets put to death unjustly. No, much more than that, Jesus Christ is God’s own Son, willingly suffering humiliation and death for our sake. Christ is laying aside the glory that is rightfully his, in order to achieve a surpassingly great purpose precisely by his rejection and death.

That Jesus is revealed in his glory by the extraordinarily white clothing; that he is revealed in his glory by the appearance of the prophets Moses and Elijah, who, by the way, had had occasions of their own when they each went up on a mountain and met with–they met with God, don’t you get it?–that Jesus is revealed in his glory by the Father affirming him in the voice from the cloud–all of these things are like giant fingers pointing to Jesus and saying, “Here he is! Look who it is who is going to suffer and die for your sake! Take it in. Think about it. Listen to him. Trust in him. Let him do for you what you cannot do, which is to save you from your sins and from the death that results. This is the one who can do it, the only one, God’s Son, Jesus Christ.”

Dear friends, you need the white clothes of Jesus to save you. Look at your own garments. Not too clean, are they? No, covered with dirt and soiled with sin, they are very unclean. Think about those filthy thoughts you have had, filled with hate and lust and greed. Think about those foul words you’ve been spewing about, maligning others, and the mud you’ve been slinging has gotten on your own supposedly clean clothes. Think of those righteous, religious deeds that you’ve prided yourself in. But the Bible says, “All our righteous deeds are like filthy rags, like a polluted garment.” No, you can’t make it into heaven dressed like that. They’d throw you out at the door. No, you need a change of clothing.

Guess what? You get to wear the white clothes of Jesus! You get to be clothed with Christ, robed with his righteousness! That’s a pretty good deal! The Bible declares–and this is God’s promise to you: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” How does this miraculous cleansing take place? Not through any efforts of yours. But you get to wear the Jesus clothes.

And it’s because of a clothing exchange. Let me explain. You see, those dazzling white clothes that Jesus wore on the glorious Mount of Transfiguration–Jesus came down that mountain and walked the way of the cross, heading for Jerusalem. There Jesus did suffer for our sake. The Roman soldiers took off his garments and clothed him with a scarlet robe, mocking him as the King of the Jews. Stripped even of that, he was then led out and crucified, bleeding and dying in our place, for our sins. From glory to shame, from the mountaintop to the grave, Jesus went this route to redeem us from sin and death.

And when Jesus had completed that mission, suffering and dying for the sins of the world, then on Easter morning at the empty tomb there stood an angel, dressed in white, announcing his resurrection. Do you get it? Yes, you do! The white garments, those glorious white garments, are sending a message to us: Christ is your resurrection. Christ is your life. You too will be transfigured, raised to glorious eternal life, because you have been clothed with Christ’s robe of righteousness.

Dear friends, fellow believers in Christ, you and I have been graciously dressed with the white clothes of Jesus. It happened in your baptism. Galatians says, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” And so the traditional white christening gown is meant to convey just that reality. It’s also why I wear this white alb as your minister. I get to be your visual aid, telling you that we are clean to enter into God’s presence when we are clothed with Christ.

In the Book of Revelation, St. John, one of the three disciples who had witnessed the Transfiguration of Jesus, gets to see a whole multitude of people clothed in white robes. And what he is told about them is this: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” That, dear friends, is the final outcome of those wonderful white clothes of Jesus at the Transfiguration. Through the sin-cleansing blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, by faith we have had our garments washed clean and made white, and we will wear them joyfully unto eternal life.

Published in: on February 18, 2012 at 8:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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