February 23, 2020
I remember watching an episode of The Walton’s. He was one of the older kids in the one room school house who always sat in the back of the room, always looking out the windows and never being very comfortable in class.
I remember the teacher would write a question on the blackboard and call on him to answer it. Sometimes he’d just sit there and say nothing and other times he’d say “I don’t know.” Dumb…the kids would call him. Stupid, they would say because he never knew the answer…not even to the most simplest question.
I remember Mrs. Walton (Olivia) being the substitute teacher in the old one room school house for a period of time and after watching the young man fail to answer questions she deduced that he wasn’t dumb and that he wasn’t stupid. She decided that the kid couldn’t see the blackboard. The kid needed glasses.
I remember that she took him to the store and he tried on pair after pair of glasses but nothing seemed to help, his sight was just as blurry with them on as without them. But after what seemed like hours of putting on and taking off glasses, he put on a pair of glasses that changed his life forever. A world that was once blurry now became a world that was crystal clear. What was once totally out of focus could now be seen. With the right pair of glasses his vision went from blurry to crystal clear, the young man could finally see.
Jesus’ disciples had been following him for a long time but they still couldn’t see things clearly. They knew Jesus was a special person. They had seen him heal the sick, open the eyes of the blind, allow the lame to walk again and even bring his friend Lazarus back from the dead. During their time with him they had heard him teach, preach and tell all sorts of fascinating stories.
Peter even told Jesus that he believed Jesus was the Messiah but Peter’s vision wasn’t quite as clear as he thought it was because he didn’t fully understand what kind of Messiah Jesus really was.
They all thought he was there to overthrow the Roman government and restore Israel to power, but when he said that he would suffer, and be killed and then be resurrected, Peter would have nothing of it: “No way! It isn’t going to happen to you! You’ve got it all wrong. You’re the Messiah, it’s not supposed to happen this way” or words to that effect (Matthew 16:22). It turns out that even Peter, who boldly proclaimed that Jesus was the Son of God, didn’t quite see things as clearly as he thought he did.
Peter, James and John, disciples who were sometimes called part of Jesus’ inner circle, got a much clearer view of who Jesus was from the top of the mountain that day. You know the story. Jesus went to the top of Mount Hermon to hear God’s voice, to ask God if he was doing God’s will by going to Jerusalem to eventually be crucified.
Jesus took Peter, James and John with him that day…and as the disciples looked on a drastic change came over Jesus. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than any amount of Clorox bleach could ever get them. His face glowed as though the sun was both shining down upon him and shining out from within him at the same time. Jesus didn’t have to say a word; his appearance said it all. And to top it all off two of the greatest people ever known to the Jewish faith, Moses, the one who brought God’s law to all men and women and Elijah, the greatest of all the prophets, showed up and spoke to Jesus as well.
By knowing the importance of Moses and Elijah and by seeing them there with Jesus and by offering to build three shrines, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah, Peter at the most was allowing Jesus to be an equal to Moses and Elijah.
But despite all that was happening with Jesus and Moses and Elijah, Peter still didn’t clearly see the significance in what was going on; despite all that went on that day Peter had underestimated Jesus’ divinity; sure he believed Jesus was the Messiah…but on the other hand, he had totally underestimated what the term “Messiah” really meant.
It’s been suggested that because of Jesus’ divinity he was shining brightly that day. But if we go back and look at Luke’s story of the Transfiguration we see that Moses and Elijah were both shining just as brightly as Jesus was.
But if we go back and look in the 13th chapter of Matthew we see where Jesus said that “those who hear and do God’s will, will shine like the sun in God’s kingdom” (v. 43). And that’s where Moses and Elijah come in. Moses and Elijah are there, both shining brightly, representing all the people who will someday be in Jesus’ coming kingdom.
Moses was there shining brightly representing all the saved individuals who have already died or will die. Elijah was there shining brightly representing all the saved individuals who will not experience death but will be taken up to heaven alive at the second coming of Christ. That in itself suggests why Jesus took the disciples up on the mountain with him – so that they could enjoy a foretaste of the coming of the kingdom that Jesus had promised those that follow him (John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament, Colorado Springs, CO, ChariotVictor Publishing, 1983, 59).
Those who follow the ways of God’s kingdom will have an eye opening experience. They will experience a dramatic change in their life. Those who follow the ways of God’s kingdom will experience a complete reorientation of life, a complete change of life and lifestyle…and it is Jesus’ perfect humanity, a humanity shown on the mountaintop that day that gives us a glimpse of the glory that all of his people will one day share.
At the same time, if you really want to see Jesus’ divinity, the early Christians would tell us that we need to go back and look at Jesus’ suffering and shameful death on the cross because the scene of the Transfiguration offers both a strange parallel and at the same time a strange contrast to the crucifixion.
Here on the mountain, is Jesus revealed in glory; there, on a hill just outside of Jerusalem, is Jesus, revealed in shame.
Here his clothes are shining white; there, they have been stripped off, and soldiers have gambled for them.
Here his is flanked by Moses and Elijah, two of Israel’s greatest heroes, representing the law and the prophets; there; he is flanked by thieves, representing the level to which Israel had sunk in rebellion against God.
Here, a bright cloud full of God’s presence overshadows the mountaintop; there, total darkness covers the land.
Here, Peter blurts out how wonderful it all is; there, Peter is hiding in shame after he denies even knowing Jesus.
Here, a voice from God himself declares that this is his wonderful son; there, a gentile soldier surprisingly declares that this really was God’s son
(N. T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part Two, Louisville, Kentucky, WJK Press, 2004, 14).
The glory of the mountaintop explains the hill top…and the glory of the hill top explains the mountaintop. Learn to see the glory of God in the cross but at the same time learn to see the cross in the glory of God…and if you do you will bring together not only the laughter and tears of all humanity, but you will bring together all the laughter and tears of the divine God who hides in the cloud way up there on the mountaintop…the God found in this guy named Jesus.
That’s what this is all about…it’s all about Jesus. When the voice of God came out of nowhere and told the disciples to listen to him and to pay attention to him it just about scared them to death. But be aware that the voice and the words coming out of nowhere up on the mountaintop is exactly the same voice and the same words that came out of nowhere as Jesus identity and mission were declared at his baptism.
Scared to death they fell flat on the ground not knowing what was going to happen next and they lay there…until they felt a gentle hand upon them, and they looked up and everything and everyone was gone. They looked up and all they saw was Jesus. They saw no one except Jesus. But then again, what else could you possibly need…if you have Jesus? How could you be better equipped, more prepared to face whatever the world throws at you? They looked up and saw no one but Jesus.
It’s a story about seeing the kingdom of God in a different light. It’s about being surprised by the power and the love and the beauty of God. Open your eyes. Open your eyes to the glory and the light and the color and the wonder and beauty that is all around us and learn to recognize it.
Learn to recognize the power and love and beauty that’s not only within God, but within Jesus as well…but at the same time we need to listen to his voice, especially when he tells us to pick up our cross and follow him.
Pick up your cross and follow him. In other words, “Listen to him.” “Pay attention to him.” That’s pretty much how God put it. Do what he tells you to do. He is the one with the divine authority to lead my (God’s) people. Don’t just stay up there on that mountain, shocked and amazed by what you just saw. You can put your life in his hands. He can be trusted. Come down from the mountaintop and do what he tells you to do! Come down and live your life the way he tells you to live it.
Turn away from the selfish hateful ways of the world around you and follow the ways of God’s kingdom. Follow him…and fish for people. Follow him…be salt to the world. Follow him…and be a light to the world. Follow him…and make a difference in the lives of the people in the world around you. Forgive others instead of retaliating and trying to get even. Love and pray for your enemies. Don’t judge others. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
As much as James and John and Peter would have loved to stay up on the mountain that day they couldn’t. Jesus was coming down so if they were going to be faithful to him, they had to come down as well. Up on the mountain that day it was as though they, like the kid on the Walton’s, had put on a new pair of glasses and they could see better than they had ever seen before.
They had seen Jesus’ true identity more clearly than they had ever seen it before and if they were going to be faithful to God and if they were going to be faithful to Jesus they had to come back down to reality, they had to come back down to face everyday life. They wanted to remain forever in the radiance of God’s glory, but they had to come back down to where God’s glory could also be seen. They had to come back down because there was work to be done for God’s kingdom.
The story of the Transfiguration is the story about the divinity of God being manifested in and through the humanity of Jesus. It’s a story in which God can be seen working to reconcile his world through Jesus…and through us.
What happened on the mountain that day represents what the Christian story is all about: it’s about God is revealing himself in the person and in the work of Jesus Christ…in how he lives and in how he loves…and how we who follow him are to live and to love.
“And as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him and reflect his glory even more” (2 Corinthians 3:18). May the humanity and the divinity of Jesus allow you to see him in ways you’ve never seen him before. The more we learn to listen to him and the more closely we learn to follow him, the more that we will someday be just like him.