Feb. 22, 2009
Transfiguration Sunday (B)
One of the earliest sermons I ever preached attempted to tie together two different texts. One of those was the story of the time that Moses went up on the mountain and met with God. When he came down, his face was so radiant and bright with glory that he had to place a veil over it when he met with his fellow Israelites. In that sermon, I connected that passage with the verse from John’s prologue where John writes, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory” (
In the Transfiguration, what does it mean for Jesus’ disciples to come face to face with God as He is revealed in Christ? For them to get a glimpse of His full glory?
Peter has just made his great confession: Jesus is the Lord. As associates of the Messiah, His disciples began to jockey for the best places in the kingdom.
Now, six days later, Jesus takes the inner circle of His disciples up onto a high mountain. We’re not told which one. These men had difficulty understanding the true nature of Jesus’ messiahship. They’d seen Jesus do remarkable things.
They went up onto the high mountain, and they were all alone. In a moment’s time, Jesus’ clothes became whiter than any bleach could ever bleach them. Imagine the sight, there on a dusky, high mountaintop against the dark Mediterranean sky, on a snow-topped mountain. Jesus’ glory, which had been concealed for the time that He was on Earth, was revealed; and the inner circle of His disciples were able to see it. That would be awesome enough without anything else, but in the midst of all of that, Elijah and Moses appear and start talking to Jesus. Even in the presence of overwhelming holiness, Peter is never at a loss for words. Well, he really is, but that doesn’t stop him from saying something, regardless of how silly or ridiculous.
When the Israelite children were wandering in the wilderness, the cloud led them by day. When Moses was up on the mountain, a cloud enveloped the mountain so the community would be shielded from beholding God’s glory. A cloud covered Jesus, Elijah and Moses; and from the cloud, the voice came, “This is my beloved Son. Hear Him!” Then the cloud lifted, and they saw no one before them but Jesus.
One of the things I never understood about this story was the appearance of Elijah and Moses. But Elijah represented the great prophetic tradition within Judaism, and the transfiguration showed the disciples that Jesus is now superceding the prophets. Moses is known as the
law-giver; but now, God Himself basically says to the disciples, “You’ve had Moses and Jesus side by side, and I’m telling you, ‘Listen to Jesus’.”
Here is a glimpse of Jesus in all His divine splendor, and it is an awesome sight the disciples are sure never to forget. The disciples often didn’t see. Now, as an antidote to their spiritual blindness, Jesus appears before them in the most dazzling white they would ever see. After that, how could they possibly ever again miss the point?
As I ponder this story, I wonder how the disciples could ever describe what they saw on that mountain. I also wonder how they could ever keep silent about it. But Jesus gave them strict orders to keep quiet about what they had seen. They even rebuked Jesus for mentioning the cross.
It’s interesting, though. Jesus threw in that phrase about rising from the dead. He had said earlier, when He called Peter “Satan,” that He would die and would rise from the dead; and they just couldn’t figure out what it meant. They didn’t understand. They talked about it for a little while, but when you don’t know what else to do, what do you do? You change the subject.
They asked Jesus, in essence, “What’s this about Elijah coming first?” Jesus replied to them that Elijah does come first; and one like Elijah has already come, and he will suffer and be rejected. John the Baptist came and prepared the way for the Messiah, and you know what happened to him. The things that happened to him are not unique to him but are representative of the kind of things that happen to those who deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him.
What is glory? Words don’t do it justice. It is the crucified and risen Messiah enduring agony for us. He could despise the cross, focusing on the glory that awaited Him on the other side of that event. Look to the radiant, shining, glowing Christ. That’s glory.
What does that really mean for us?