Now about eight days after these sayings [Jesus] took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” – not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.
(Luke 9:28-36 ESV)
The account of Jesus’ transfiguration is simply amazing. That Jesus’ face was ‘altered’ as Luke says – his clothing dazzling white – and in the company of Moses and Elijah who appeared in glory – while Jesus seems to have had his own glory – one gets the impression that the scene was very bright. A sun on a mountain top perhaps? And yes, we imagine it being so amazing! We want to be there – to see for ourselves. And what is amazing in the last 2,000 years is how peripheral the transfiguration has been. What could be more glorious and memorable than a transfiguration? Hmmm … I think a resurrection might be it – especially since we know we don’t glow and have no instructions for doing so – but the possibility of a resurrection exists for us.
The disciples were silent according to Luke – he doesn’t say for how long – but the fact that he is writing about it – and that Matthew and Mark also mention it – and it is clearly referenced in 2nd Peter and perhaps behind any reference to Jesus as light in this dark world – means that someone ‘blabbed’! The transfiguration isn’t a secret for 3 disciples but an event granted to them to help them and us, I think, understand Jesus and salvation – and God himself – correctly.
God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit are all powerful, glorious, holy and against them nothing and no one can stand. And yet from Christmas onwards, when Immanuel enters the world’s stage, Jesus is seen as one of us with all our limitations and especially death. The powerful empties himself of power to rescue us from darkness and death, sin and stupidity (that we could create a world better than God) and we sense his power most fully when he doesn’t call on it in pain, suffering, and death!
This makes the transfiguration interesting because in prayer Jesus is closest to his Father and who knows what that means for him personally? We don’t know but with Moses and Elijah there – representatives of the Law and the Prophets – we have an interesting conversation happening. Luke describes it as Jesus’ ‘departure’ or in Greek ‘exodus’ which has all sorts of associations with the Law and the Prophets. God rescued his people from slavery and made them his people at Mount Sinai and he bared his arm, showed his power – plagues, pillars of cloud and fire, and Red Sea destruction – and the people were both excited and terrified – and still they would rebel even at the mountain with a golden calf. Sight and experience always seem to trip us up. We think we know what is good and right for us – and so often we don’t. What God gave them were words – a pattern for worship and the tabernacle – ten words in particular for how to live – and what do you do with words?
You either believe them or not; trust them or not; follow them or not.
And that has to be true for Jesus as well. We have no idea of the tone or the context of Jesus’ ‘exodus’ discussion with Moses and Elijah – was this Round 10 of a 15 round bout and Jesus is in his corner confident ready to get back into the ring punching again? Or was he saying to the support team that he wasn’t sure he could go on? He was tempted in every way just as we are. We don’t know! But what we know is that Jesus left the mountain with his face set for Jerusalem and all that happened there and he did die and was raised again – God in his own creation, dying at the hands of his creatures, to rescue them so that they may live now and always.
The transfiguration is awesome! Of course it is! But it is even more awesome than we first imagine because it adds extra awe to the crucifixion!
The transfiguration orients us towards Jesus correctly when we hear as the first disciples did the message ‘Listen to him’ and there is only Jesus.
You’ve heard me many times describe the Bible as a ‘library’ and when people want to read it, I’ve been known to say ‘Read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John for a year or so and get to know Jesus’. Listen to Jesus. Relate to Jesus. Struggle with Jesus. Follow Jesus. Trust Jesus. Why would I make such a request? Because Jesus fulfils the Law and Prophets and is the foundation of the New Testament and we need to hear him – not our theories about him – not our words in his mouth – but him! And that exodus to Jerusalem for us means that Jesus’ first message to us – God’s heart towards us are two words: ‘for you’ – or three words: ‘I love you’ or another three words: ‘Don’t be afraid’ or four words: ‘Peace be with you’ or ‘I am with you’.
Why emphasise all this? Because God doesn’t always do what we want and his refusal to fit our concept of God challenges us. He won’t be our genie and click his fingers on our command. Not all our prayers are not answered as we want. There is evil and suffering in the world and we wonder (a) why he allows it; and (b) why things don’t change when we ask for it. God is haphazard to our experiences – sometimes we feel close to him, our prayers are answered, and we are joyful – and other times, it’s not like that all and we wonder if God is real or we are fools. Peter wanted to keep the experience on the mountain and we can only guess why but what would he have done if he asked for something and got told ‘No’ by Jesus? With all that power visible, I reckon, he’d shut up quick but smoulder on the inside. The transfiguration suggests power but we are very much aware of corruption and the misuse of power. Can Jesus be trusted? Yes but not up on that mountain – there we are to listen to him. It is only at the foot of the cross that we will be able to trust what Jesus says to us.
That is why we come together and listen to a fallible bag of bones that will one day die speak in Jesus’ name, rejoice at handfuls of water, and hunger for bread and wine, and then pour out our hearts and lives to Jesus – because this glorious Jesus has rescued us from the power of sin and death and helps us live each moment even when we think he’s wrong and lost the plot about us or our loved ones or our world.
The transfiguration and the exodus to Jerusalem reveal that Jesus hasn’t lost the plot at all and he can be trusted. Listen to him.
- Luke 9:28 - 36