When I think of the transfiguration, I think of my 1987 trip to Israel. I was not feeling well that day sick to my stomach. The road to the top zigs and zags for several miles. It’s too narrow and windy for the tour buses. Buses stop at the bottom and tourists pile into cabs going up and down. Since I was not feeling well, my fellow tourists had me sit in the front seat. Uh, oh. The driver was smoking a foot long cigar. That did not help my stomache. It was hot. We piled in the cab and the cabbie stepped on the gas. Off we went like a rocket in a race because the more times the cabbie could get up and down the more money they made! No speed limit. The speed, the cigar smoke, the heat. I thought to myself, “I don’t know if I am going to make this through alive,” but the rule follower that I am I thought “at least if we miss a turn and go hurling down the side of the mountain, I am going to be wearing my seat belt.” So I reach over to buckle up. As I try to click the seat belt to make me secure, turns out the cabbie is watching me. He puts his big old hand over the buckle and refused to let me buckle in. Great. I offended the cabbie.
That was my introduction to the place of the revelation of the glory of Jesus Christ ~ feeling sick to my stomach on a hot dusty day riding with a cigar smoking cabbie racing at top speed that would not even let me put on my seat belt. When I got my feet on solid ground at the top, I was in no mood to try and comprehend the glorious radiance of Jesus Christ, the dazzling companions of Moses and Elijah, the heavenly glimpse of heaven. All I wanted to do was ___________ (never mind).
On this side of eternity, we will never fully understand the complete nature of Jesus, yet it is important to know the Lord Jesus Christ is more than we can imagine. For our sakes, we need to be amazed by the Lord even if we can’t fully absorb his divine nature. A full commitment to Christ demands we be in awe of his true nature. “My ways are higher than your ways, my thoughts greater than your thoughts” God thunders centuries earlier through the prophet Isaiah (ch. 55). “Who do you say I am,” Jesus asked Peter a few verses earlier in Luke 9. “You are the Christ,” Peter replied. Jesus is taking the disciples behind the curtains and unveiling his true nature.
I truly wonder if I would die if I saw the actual transfiguration as seen by Peter, James and John. I am not sure how to fully comprehend the divine nature of Jesus Christ, I try and be awed by lesser things. This past week it was hands… hands are pretty amazing. … Two incidents this past week.
- On Monday A young woman I’ve known for several years was unconscious in ICU at St. Joe’s from a terrible fall. I sat by her bedside, held her hand, and spoke to her. For the first time since the accident Kristina woke up, could not open her eyes, agitated, but clearly awake. I can still see her left four fingers wave at me, letting me know that she knew I was there. Hands are amazing.
- The parents probably did not see it this way, but for me, I am making a new friend name David, a young wonderful boy. I was talking with his father Andre. David, who likes my playing with my keys, started playing with my hand. Then Andre, who knows his son, told me he wanted to High Five, then a fist bump. And this young boy, who communicates in his own way, melted my heart.
Surely the disciples never forgot what happened that day on the mountain. Years later, John, one of the disciples that was there that day, wrote in his gospel that bears his name, “We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only” (John 1:14). I imagine John had in mind the transfiguration. Peter, the one who wanted to set up tents, later wrote with much greater insight, “We did 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 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).
When you follow Christ, he will show you his glory and you will know he is more than you can fathom. Years ago when I was confused about what to do, I seriously wondered about just getting out of pastoral ministry. One night, in the dead of the night, I do not know if I was awake or asleep, but three times I heard in a clear and audible perfect voice my name: Carl////and a few moments later, Carl, and a third time. I can’t explain it, you may think I am crazy, but I heard. And it was God. That experience pales in comparison to the transfiguration, but it was similar in that it was an actual expression of God’s personal and divine nature: he knows me by name. He knows my heart. And it gave me confidence to keep on going even though I did not know where God was leading me. Having Jesus as a friend is wonderful, but we also need assurance that Jesus is more than a friend, more than a wise person, more than a comforting presence: he is full of awe. He is glorious. He is divine. He is more than I am capable of understanding.
The transfiguration gave the disciples a glimpse of the glory of God. Jesus had just told them he was going to die, and they need to be prepared to suffer. If he would have stopped with the message of suffering that might seem hopeless and discouraging. Jesus gives his disciples time to ponder the news of his coming death. About eight days later it says in Luke 9:28 Jesus changed in appearance. He was praying and took three of the disciples. READ 9:29. the light appears to come from within. This description is clearly an unworldly transformation. The glory of Jesus. The reason we like sunsets so much is because it is a glimpse of God’s handiwork radiating across the skies ~ only the most stoic of people would not have at least a moment of reflection that God is amazing. Even unbelievers are given a God consciousness causing them to wonder if maybe there is more…
In Luke 9:30-31 two companions appear with Jesus, Moses representing the Law, and Elijah representing the prophets. As they talk, Luke uses the word “fulfillment.” The disciples are like a fly on the wall as they listen in on this amazing moment, but I doubt they understood anymore than if you talk to me about fixing an engine, or the finer points of computers. Moses is there. Elijah. Fulfillment. That’s big.
We’ve already looked at Peter’s crazy reply in trying to make sense of what is happening….The revelation of who Jesus is continues to unfold: READ Luke 9:34-35.
The cloud covers them. Perhaps this is something like the time I was on top of Mt. Baker and a cloud descended, white on white, we were lost. Ever been driving at night in a thick fog bank going back and forth from low beam to high beam and neither one helps, barely able to stay on the road, hoping you don’t run into a car… Out of the cloud comes a voice… Later after the cloud lifted as we wandered around the top of Mt. Baker we figured out that at one point we were headed straight for a cliff. It had to be the Lord that re-directed our path, no greater sight than a wand we had placed on our way up to mark our trail ~ the voice from the cloud at last explained: “This is my son, whom I have chosen, listen to him.”
The Law and the prophets were there, they were talking fulfillment, suddenly there is an affirmation in the confusion overwhelming cloud, suddenly there is clarity, Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, the scriptures all point to Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of all that God came to do to redeem the world for himself. Jesus is my son. This is my plan, my choice. Listen. Jesus is the fulfillment and more of all we expect, all we imagine, all our dreams. These words are like a caption on a picture….
When you are afraid to follow the Lord, when you are overwhelmed and uncertain, the answer is to listen. LISTEN. You want an application for this message: that’s the one word I see in this scripture for how we are to respond. LISTEN. Listen for God, and you will be amazed. Look for God and you will be overwhelmed. The answer is to go back to the foundation of who Christ is in all his glory, and listen.
What a day for Peter, James and John. That’s a lot to digest. I have to smile at the response because I get it. READ Luke 9:36. The disciples are now back to “normal” ~ Moses and Elijah are gone, the cloud is a memory ~ back to normal, but nothing will ever be the same. Earlier it was Jesus who instructed the disciples to wait about telling everyone he is the Christ. Jesus wanted them to understand in greater depth what that means. Now they are so overwhelmed by what they saw that they just refrain telling people because it was too big and people would think they were nuts…But the important thing is that they are changed. They are broken. The way they see the world will never be the same. Until we are overwhelmed, get over that sense that we can know it all, get away from our pride and arrogance, we will not change. Even a glimpse of the glory of God is enough. When you have an unmistakable encounter with the divine nothing is ever the same. You are changed.
We call this story the transfiguration. ~ all that means is a complete change of appearance into something more beautiful. Best symbolized as the caterpillar into a butterfly. Transfigured. Changed. But who is changed in the story?
It’s not Jesus. Jesus is who he is. The transfiguration as far as Jesus goes is only an unveiling of who he has always been.
Who is changed? Who is transfigured. You are! A glimpse of the glory of God changes you. From now on do not think of this story as the transfiguration of Jesus Christ. Think of it as the transfiguration of the followers of Jesus Christ. When you catch a glimpse of the amazing glorious nature of Jesus Christ, when you are transfigured, all that means is that you are changed into something more beautiful. Amen.