6th Sunday after Epiphany
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, our Transfigured Lord and Savior, dear friends in Christ, What do you picture in your mind? I think it’s safe to say that each of us has certain pictures that are etched into our brains of times or experiences in life that we remember and recall. For some, maybe it’s the picture in your head of the first time that you held your child and looked into his or her little eyes and saw the child that you waited so long to see. For some, perhaps it’s the sights, sounds, and smiles of a family reunion where you saw family members you hadn’t seen for years and had a wonderful time. Perhaps that’s a picture etched in your mind. For others, perhaps it’s a view of nature that just took your breath away, maybe a view of a mountain or a forest in the fall or out on a lake. In a way, the pictures that we have stored in our brains affect us too. Perhaps the picture of a child communicates love and joy and happiness. Perhaps the picture of a family reunion communicates fun, memories, and good times. Perhaps the picture of a view of nature communicates peace, contentment, relaxation. We all have certain pictures etched into our memory that we don’t just recall but they have a way of affecting us, influencing us, maybe even changing us.
Today in our text we have such a picture that God wants etched into our minds and memories. We know from at least two of the three disciples who saw this that this picture was engraved in their minds. John tells us in the beginning of his gospel, which was written perhaps 50 or 60 years after this event, “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth.” Peter tells us in his second letter that he wrote perhaps 30 or more years after this account: “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘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.’” (2 Peter 1:16-18) And God had this account recorded for us that it might be engraved also in our minds.
Just before this event Jesus had asked his disciples a question: “Who do people say that I am?” And they gave some answers some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, others one of the prophets. But then Jesus asked, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” And to this the apostle Peter said, “You are the Christ the Son of the Living God!” And right after that, Jesus began to explain for what seems to be the first time very clearly that he would be rejected, suffer many things, be killed, and after 3 days rise again. And to this Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Jesus for saying such things. But Jesus then rebuked Peter for getting in the way of His mission to go to the cross and pay for the sins of the world.
So just after all of that, Jesus took Peter, James, and John, why those three? Well, we don’t really know. But it seems like those three were a closer group with Jesus and their mission was going to require some special training and revelation from Jesus, so Jesus brought them along to see what was about to happen. He led them up a high mountain. We don’t know what mountain this was, but north of Galilee there are fairly high mountains that would have taken several hours for them to climb. When they were at the top something incredible happened. We’re told that “Jesus was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.” Jesus was “transformed” or “changed” right before their eyes. Jesus, who is both 100% human and 100% God in one, was unveiled for a moment so that the disciples could see His incredible, brilliant, blinding glory as God. Perhaps the closest we can imagine this is if you’ve ever accidently looked at the brightness of the sun on a clear day or perhaps accidently looked at metal that was being welded. This bright whiteness was beaming from Jesus –even his clothes!
Then, all of sudden there’s Moses and Elijah- two huge figures from the OT who both had been in heaven for hundreds and hundreds of years, there talking with Jesus. The disciples are just frightened by this whole experience and Peter has to say something, but he doesn’t know what to say and says, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters- one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Then a cloud envelopes them and God the Father speaks, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Then they look up and everything is gone, except Jesus. Then they went down the mountain and most likely in order that people don’t get the wrong ideas about Jesus, he told them not to tell anyone about this until he had completed his mission of dying and rising from the dead.
Wow! I’m thinking if you were one of these three disciples, this picture, this event, would be etched in your mind for the rest of your life. But Jesus didn’t mean this just as something that the disciples could picture and remember, He wanted them to picture this and be changed by it, be transformed by it into the disciples He wanted them to be.
The disciples had spent much time with Jesus and Jesus is every bit a human being just like them, just like you and me with one exception- He was without any sin. The disciples ate with Jesus, drank with Him, walked with Him, talked with Him, Jesus was hungry, thirsty, tired just like them, Jesus cried and slept just like them. Perhaps it would have been easy for them to forget just who Jesus really is. Actually, Peter had just done that a few days before this event. Just after Jesus explained that he would suffer and die, Peter rebuked Jesus, Peter- a sinful human- rebuked Jesus- the very eternal God! Really?? How foolish! How silly! How sinful! And notice how Peter reacts to this picture of Jesus: he’s terrified. And rightly so. But…do we do that? Do we rebuke God? It’s so easy for us to become comfortable with sin. To begin to think that it’s ok to lie, or ok to share some gossip, or ok to get angry or upset with my spouse, or ok to lust a little bit, or ok to fail to hear God’s Word, or ok to be selfish. But really, when we do those things, aren’t we rebuking God?! When we sin aren’t we are telling God that we know better than He does? Rebuking God??!! To do so is to invite His eternal judgment, wrath and punishment. God wanted the disciples and He wants us too to remember His Words about Jesus, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” This is God’s Son! God wants us to listen to Him!
The disciples were terrified. But when they looked up, everything is gone, it’s just Jesus, once again His divine glory was hidden. Yes God wanted the disciples and us to picture Jesus shining with the glory of the eternal God, but God also wanted them and us to picture something else here. They went down the mountain. Jesus went down that mountain. Think about that. They had just seen proof positive that Jesus is the very eternal Son of God. That means He has the very power as the Son of God, the power over everything. If Jesus is the eternal Son of God, then no matter what is going to happen to Him down that mountain He has to and will remain in control no matter what, and it will have to serve for the good. Soon, the disciples were going to see what we’re about to see during the season of Lent. They and us are going to see Jesus’ bitter suffering and death. I can imagine later on when they pictured this event in their minds it must have blew them away to know that Jesus was so clearly the Son of God who shined with all the glory of God and, yet, he went down the mountain! He went down the mountain to die on a cross for their sins, for our sins, for the sins of all! That must mean He has an incredible, mind-boggling love for us! What a picture!
But Jesus doesn’t want us to picture His transfiguration and remember it, He wants us to picture His transfiguration and be changed by it. When you’re tempted to sin, picture it as rebuking the very Son of God shining with all glory. When you’re nervous or worried about the future, picture Jesus shining with the glory as the very Son of God who not only knows the future but controls it for your good. When you’re scared or afraid of death, picture Jesus in His glory talking with Moses and Elijah who are unafraid and know that one day you too will get to talk to Jesus one on one unafraid. When you’re troubled by your sin or the guilt of past sins, picture Jesus once again alone and walking down that mountain, walking down that mountain to suffer and die and rise for you to forgive all your sins. When you doubt God’s love, picture Jesus, the eternal Son of God Himself, descend that mountain to save…you! This week, may this picture of Jesus’ transfiguration transform you with God’s power and His love. Amen.