The Transfiguration

Scriptures: Luke 9:28-45; Psalm 36:5-10

We have here this story, one of the best-known and one of my favorite stories in the Scriptures about Christ. And one of the things that we need to look at is, why did it occur? Why have the Transfiguration? Was it so that the disciples would know that Jesus was God?

Right before this, in Luke, we had Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ, when Jesus had asked, “Who do you say that I am?” In Matthew and Mark it’s the same, although in one of them they had sort of a little thing about the way of the cross, that everybody’s going to be called to the way the cross. but Peter had just said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

Was it for Jesus, so that he could figure out what he was supposed to do? After all, it says they discussed his departure. Well, Jesus already spoke about his death. He knew what he was going to do.

Was it for God the Father, to declare once and for all that Jesus was His Son? We had that at the beginning of Christ’s ministry, and now at the end of Christ’s ministry, that Jesus had a special purpose for being there.

I don’t know – God was pretty definitive when Jesus was baptized. “This is my Son, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” And everybody heard it. (Though it depends on the Gospel you read. Some heard it as thunder. I believe Mark makes it a personal vision. But in Matthew everyone hears it.)

So why do they need the Transfiguration? And why are some of the details in there? I find it fascinating – and this should be a comfort to you all – Jesus is praying there up on the mountain, and the disciples are sleepy. How many of you have fallen asleep while you’ve been praying? How many of you have fallen asleep while somebody else has been praying?

We see that again in the Garden of Gethsemane. It’s tough. It’s tough sometimes to stay awake, as you try to communicate with God, and certainly as you’re standing by while somebody else is.

I have questions like, how did they know that it was Moses and Elijah? It could have been any two people. And in the other Gospels, although not here in Luke – it says here the disciples kept this to themselves, but in the other Gospels, Jesus instructs them and says, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen today.”

And you wonder why he did that as well. Think about hard it must have been for that inner circle of three to keep their mouths shut, especially Peter, since he was fond of opening his mouth and sticking his foot in it, of saying whatever popped into his head.

James and John, they were always vying to be on the right and left hand of God. They wanted to be second in command, as it were. They were the ones that Jesus named Boanerges, meaning the sons of thunder, because every time Jesus got rejected somewhere, they wanted to call down the thunder and lightning of God, the fire of God, on the town, to teach them a lesson. (One of those things that shows Jesus has a sense of humor there is his nickname for them.)

And yet, they were privileged to this very special event. And they couldn’t say anything about it. Think how they must have itched to tell the other disciples, “Guess what I saw that you didn’t. Jesus loves me.”

Why do we need the Transfiguration? I’m not going to talk about what actually happened in any kind of depth. He revealed his nature in prayer. He was communicating with the Father, and for a moment, that which was always within him shone through.

He was lit up from within. This was not a reflection. This was the glory of God This is what he had given up, when he took on the form of man in an incarnation. He showed the disciples there just a little bit, a glimpse of his ascended being.

But he still had something to do. His clothes became whiter than any anything could wash them. Or here in Luke it says “as bright as a flash of lightning.” And the disciples, who were very sleepy, became fully awake when they saw this.

Now again, I put myself in the shoes of the disciples there. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced something like that, where you’re drowsy, you’re half asleep, maybe you’re daydreaming. Especially if you happen to have the lights out and all of a sudden somebody turns them on. There’s a tendency for us all to go [covers face with his hand], I’m sure. They became awake.

And they saw this strange scenario, with Jesus as he was with these two men, whom they knew somehow were Moses and Elijah. It does make sense in a way. Moses, while he was the greatest of the prophets in Israel, was more known for the law.

He was the one who is the bringer of the law. He went up there on the mountain and he came down with the Ten Commandments. He was the one who created the Mosaic Law that they were following at that time. it was part of the Mosaic Covenant.

Elijah was known as one of the greatest of the prophets. He never died. When the time came for him to leave, the flaming chariot came swooping down and took him up. So he must have been something special. That would be so cool if someday a flaming chariot comes roaring down for me. I would be excited. Talk about your rides.

So we have the law and the prophets represented. And they’re talking to him. The entire Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, sort of encompassed, embodied in those two, talking to him about his crucifixion.

The disciples may not have known it that time, but I suspect that those two were there, not to give Jesus’ guidance, because he didn’t need that. Not to give Jesus encouragement, because he was determined already.

But rather, to point to the fact that the Old Testament, through the law and in the prophets, pointed to Christ incarnate, pointed to God being with us, pointed to the sacrifice that Christ was going to make on the cross, for you, and for me.

The men were standing with him. And as they were leaving, Peter tries to keep them there. He didn’t know what he was saying, he was just kind of overwhelmed, and in the moment. “Master, it’s good for us to be here. Let us put up three booths, three shelters. One for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

Now these booths, or these shelters, were reminiscent of the time when they were in the wilderness, when they had made the exodus from Egypt, and they lived in tents. Some say it was indicative of the festival of Booths, which comes at Pentecost, a time when all the men gathered in Jerusalem and celebrated God’s grace and provision.

Both those understandings could play into here. God was providing sacrifice for the world. And while Peter is here stuttering and putting his foot in his mouth, a cloud appeared and enveloped them. The word that is used is actually shekinah, which is a Hebrew, not a Greek word, and it represents the glory of God.

This was not like a big fog that suddenly appeared and it was like pea soup and you couldn’t see. This was the way they described it when Moses went up to Mount Sinai. It talks about a cloud of smoke and flame that was on the crown of the mountain. That was the word that was used there too, shekinah. The glory of God was on the mountain.

And the glory of God was here, on this mountain. And they were afraid. Now that’s not surprising. The angels merely reflect the glory of God, and the first thing that they have to say whenever they appear is, “Do not be afraid.”

Because the glory of God is an awesome and awful thing. It’s scary. But then something scarier came out, as a voice from the cloud spoke. So from His glory, God spoke, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen. Listen to him.”

I can’t imagine what the voice of God sounded like. I do know that, in the other Gospels, it says that the disciples fell over unconscious. So apparently it was a pretty overwhelming thing. he didn’t need a microphone, I guess, to sound BIG. No reverb on the mixer.

And His message, which I’m not going to go into this week, but I’ve always found fascinating, is not the declaration of “this is my Son” but “listen to him.” Hadn’t the disciples been doing that? Peter had said, “We’ve given up all to follow you.”

What did the Father mean by that? I suspect it links to Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, for their pointing to the Passion of Christ. Christ, therefore, supersedes the Law and the Prophets.

In just a little while, when Jesus is in Jerusalem, he’s going to institute the Lord’s Supper. And in that supper, in the Words of Institution, he says, “This cup is the new covenant, sealed in my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink of this, do this remembering me.” The new covenant comes from Christ himself. That was what we needed to listen to. Jesus was here for a reason.

And then Jesus tells them, “Don’t tell anybody yet. The time will come. But not yet.” So all these things occurred, and I still wonder, why this particular way? Why just these three? It’s one of three times when Jesus goes away with just those three disciples.

I suspect it wasn’t for the benefit of Jesus, but rather for the benefit of the disciples. Even though they couldn’t say anything about what they had seen at this time, the memory was, I’m sure, seared into their brains. Even though they didn’t understand yet about the Law and the Prophets and Christ superseding them, the words that God had spoken, about listening to Jesus, would never be forgotten.

And the picture of Christ, lit up from within with just a taste of his glory, was what sustained them through their time of grieving. And then after the resurrection, Jesus was different, in his glorified body and his resurrected self, but I still don’t think he was anything quite like what they saw at the Transfiguration.

The only one that ever saw Jesus like that, post-resurrection, would have been Paul on the road to Damascus. And talk about your conversion experiences there! But I’m sure that that memory of that glory helped strengthen them. In his gospel, John wrote, “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only.”

Peter also wrote of it: “We do not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty, for he received honor and glory from God the Father, when the voice came to him from the glory, ‘This is my Son whom I love, with him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven, when we were with him on the sacred mountain.” That’s from 2 Peter.

We have the opportunity today to be like them. We don’t get to see the glory that they saw, not yet. Not now. But neither did any of the other disciples. But they depended upon and believed in the witness and testimony of their brethren, Peter, James, and John. And it strengthened them, and lifted them, and supported them.

We too can look at the eyewitness of these disciples and their record of it, and take comfort in knowing that God himself became incarnate for us, out of love. We can draw strength from the fact that the one whom we follow is the one to whom all authority and power have been given. That He is fully God. We can take determination from God’s comments, as it said to listen to Christ, and he tells them as they go down, that they need to go back down the mountain.

We have a mission, as the disciples did, totally dependent on Jesus. Because He does what we cannot do on our own. Even was as was exhibited in the next story, of the healing of a boy with an evil spirit. Can you imagine that? They’ve just come down from this mountaintop experience, and they try to cast a demon out – which they’ve done before, many times – and they couldn’t do it. So they go to Jesus. And he rebukes the evil spirit and heals the boy. And all were amazed at the greatness of God.

Through Jesus, we can do whatever He calls us to do. And so we want to hold onto this story. Because in this little story here, in these thirteen or fourteen verses, is packed, in many ways, the entirety of the gospel, sort of a gospel within a Gospel.

As we see how Christ was incarnate, as we see how Christ came for a purpose, as we see how Christ’s glory and honor was shown. As we see how the spirit and the Father spoke of Jesus, as the one to follow, the Way, the Truth, and the life. And we see the call to the church, to share the good news. Because Christ has been resurrected.

So now is the time. The Transfiguration has meant many things to many people. To some, it’s a story. To some, it’s a myth. But to us, it’s the ground – I hope it’s the ground, to us, of all that we believe. And may we lean on that image, as together we seek to praise and worship God, and share the good news of His salvation.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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