THIS IS MY SON
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It can be challenging to look at a story like this, a story that some of us have heard many times and have heard sermons on many times. The Transfiguration. One of the major events of Jesus’ life. Recorded in all four Gospels. They name churches after this event. It’s a big deal as they say.
One commentator warns that we must never try to reduce this type of story into how it is like our lives. It would be like taking the story about Abraham taking his son Isaac up Mount Moriah and talking about how we are called to sacrifice. There are events that happen in Jesus’ life that cannot simply be related to us. The story of Jesus’ baptism is one such example. For sure we can take the words “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased” to heart and know that through Christ we are beloved children of God and adopted into the family of God in love. But this was a revelation of who Jesus is.
Today’s story is a revelation of who Jesus is. Who is this Messiah that we are called to follow as he makes his way toward Jerusalem? You may have heard a sermon on this passage that goes something like this. Oftentimes in life, we have mountaintop experiences of God. Experiences where the presence of God is felt like never before. We go from there to service – just as Jesus does after this story, healing a young boy. We are told that the Christian life includes both of these things. Transcendent experiences of God and getting down into the trenches of service.
And these things are true.
And there are stories that we can look at that would point these truths out to us.
I don’t think though that is all we’re called to do with this story.
Someone has said that there are stories of Jesus to which we are called to respond with awe, wonder, and worship. So let us ask for God’s help as we respond to this wonderful story.
We need to look at where Luke puts this Transfiguration scene and what happens in it that is peculiar to Luke. Before this scene, Jesus is praying. His disciples are near him. He asks them “Who do the crowds say I am?” The answer comes “John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.” Jesus says to them, “But who do you say that I am?” A question that we’ve looked at here in past Lenten seasons. Peter answers, “The Messiah of God.”
The chosen one. The anointed one of God.
Jesus tells them not to tell anyone and then says this. “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” He goes on to talk of how it is the role of his followers to deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow hum for those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for his sake will save it.
Is it any wonder we talk about awe, wonder, and worship in the face of such words?
Eight days after this Jesus takes Peter and John and James up on the mountain. What do they go there to do? To pray. It’s a pattern we see throughout Jesus’ life. Before his baptism, he is praying. Before choosing the 12 he is praying. We want to know more of what God is like. We want to know more of who Jesus is and who Jesus calls his followers to be. We want God to be revealed to us.
So pray. Look to the Scriptures. This is where we read about God being revealed on a mountain in cloud and fire. Mount Sinai. This is why we do things like go through the book of Exodus. God speaking to Moses.
Pray and look to the scriptures. Let us be a people who are in conversation with the scriptures. Jesus is in conversation with two men who represent the Hebrew Scriptures – the law and the prophets. Moses and Elijah. While he was praying the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men. The glory of God breaks through. Later when Jesus’ followers find the tomb empty we are told that suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood with them. Later still when Jesus is being lifted up out of their sight we are told that two men in white robes stood by them. We’re talking of awe, wonder, worship. The realm of the heavenly is meeting the realm of the earthly.
Coming back to our scene - they’re talking. Moses and Elijah. The Messiah. The one who is the fulfillment of the words spoken by Moses about God raising up a great prophet. The one to whom all the law and prophets looked forward. They’re talking.
Look at what they’re talking about. They’re talking about his departure, which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. That’s where this whole story is going. That is where we are headed together as we follow Jesus together on his journey to Jerusalem. The first part of the story is over. Soon we’ll read these words “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” (9:51) May God grant us the same resolve. They’re talking about his departure. The thing he had just been speaking about to his followers.
This is the Greek word that’s used here. When you go to Greece today and you look at Exit signs they say “Exodus”. I was speaking earlier about why we look at things like the book of Exodus and why we spend so much time with them. Jesus is in conversation with the one who led the first Exodus. That prototypical saving event which meant deliverance for the people of Israel. Deliverance from oppression. Rescue from a situation from which they were unable to extricate themselves.
They’re talking about his Exodus. The appearance of Jesus’ face has changed and his clothes are dazzling white. The great prophet Moses and the great prophet Elijah, who have appeared in glory because they’re part of the heavenly realm, are speaking to Jesus about what he is about to accomplish in Jerusalem. A new exodus. A new deliverance. A new passing through the waters for a people who are oppressed and unable to help themselves and he’s going to be leading us to freedom.
What we must remember as we’re looking at this scene is that they’re not just speaking of glory and triumph. Look at how this exodus is going to be accomplished. Look at this with awe and wonder and worship. I know I say this every year but surely it bears repeating -don’t go from the triumph of Palm Sunday to the triumph of Easter and miss something about which these three figures in our story are talking. Don’t miss Good Friday (seriously come to church on Good Friday because it’s important). How is this exodus going to be accomplished? Suffering and rejection and death and new life. The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
The way of the cross. Let us not go straight to new life without taking into account suffering and rejection and death because these things do not, as someone has said, simply lie across the path to the exodus that Jesus is going to accomplish. They’re part of the path. Why do we keep a cross at the front of our sanctuary? Why does Jesus bears the wounds in his hands and in his side?
Awe. Wonder. Worship. There’s no easy application to our lives here. There is a continual striving to know what it means to take up our crosses daily, to lose our lives for his sake so that our lives may be saved. Perhaps it’s best if we sit silent before all this.
Peter is not silent. Here is an application. Impulsive is Peter. Man of action. Act first, think later. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” – not knowing what he said. Not knowing. Wanting to mark the occasion maybe. Wanting to link the event they have just witnessed with a time and place. That day on the mountain.
This exodus that Jesus will accomplish is for all of life. This call to take up our cross is a call to take it up daily. There is always an immediacy in Luke. To you is born this day in the city of David. Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. I must stay at your house today. It’s not something we’re supposed to contain. We’re not supposed to contain it to Sunday morning in the church. Or Saturday night in the church basement. Or Wednesday morning in church or in someone’s home during the week when we get together. This is not something we are to contain and compartmentalize and put in tents on the mountain where we can come back to it and remember it from time to time.
This is for our whole lives. So let us approach this story with awe and worship and praise. Let us stand with Peter and James and John and listen as we are overshadowed by the presence of our Almighty God and listen to God’s voice.
“This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him!”
Listen to him. Listen as he says “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” Who says “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Who says “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do what I tell you?” Who says “Your sins are forgiven.” Who says “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
They don’t fully get it, these followers. We don’t fully get it. They’re unable to heal in the next story. Soon after they’ll start arguing about who’s the greatest. Even after Easter Peter will not fully get it. He’ll need to learn about things like who he’s able to sit down and share a meal with – even Gentiles. They kept silent because it was only after Jesus’ death and resurrection that all this made any sort of sense. It’s only when you’re following the risen Jesus that something like losing our lives to have them saved makes any kind of sense.
We don’t fully get it but my prayer is that we are ever more fully coming to get it. To commit ourselves to this suffering, rejected, dying, living Messiah in such a way that we are coming to know life. To make this our prayer:
Pray – Lord I give my life to you. Do with me as you will. Make of me what you will.
To find life in this surrender.
To live in awe and wonder and praise.