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Luke’s Account of The Transfiguration of Jesus (Sermon for Church of the Redeemer — Anglican, Feb 14th 2010)

February 14, 2010

The Transfiguration
Lectionary Readings: Exodus 34:29-35, Psalm 99, 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2, Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a]

The story we heard today from Luke’s gospel is one of the most remarkable stories of Jesus’ ministry. It is called the transfiguration because Jesus’ appearance is transfigured before his three disciples, Peter, James and John. Matthew, Mark and Luke all recount this story with similar words in their gospels.

Jesus takes Peter, James and John up on a mountain to pray. And as he is praying, his countenance becomes brilliantly bright, his clothes become dazzling white and he is clothed in splendor. Then Moses and Elijah appear also in glorious light, and speak with him about his departure. The disciples who were asleep suddenly wake up and see this and are baffled. Then a cloud of glory overshadows all of them, and as they are entering the cloud, they hear a voice from the cloud saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One or my Beloved (Mk 9.7; Mt 17.5), listen to him.!” And then it is quiet and the disciples are alone with Jesus.

Wow! What is the meaning of this? That is what Peter, James and John wonder, too. Luke writes that they are going up the mountain to pray. This glorious event occurs while Jesus is in prayer. In one sense, we see what happens whenever Jesus prays. Pope Benedict writes the following in his book, Jesus of Nazareth:

” The Transfiguration is a prayer event; it displays visibly what happens when Jesus talks with his Father: the profound interpenetration of his being with God, which then becomes pure light. In his oneness with the Father, Jesus is himself “light from light.”

He has communion with his Father whose presence and glory are revealed to the three witnesses. This event also reveals what is within Jesus. Unlike Moses whose face reflected God’s glory. Jesus’ being displays the glory of heaven that is within him. Here, we and the disciples get a glimpse of who Jesus really is. He is the one from heaven where he has lived in glory with the Father for eternity. As the early church Fathers proclaimed, “There was never a time when he was not.” And prior to being born as a tiny baby, his existence had been in the glory of heaven. We see evidence of where Jesus has come from and to where he will be returning.

Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus. These are two guys who had been gone a long time before Jesus arrived on the earth in the flesh. Moses, author of the first five books of the Bible and conveyor of the law and Torah of Israel, represents the authority of the law and teachings of Israel. He represents the commandments of God. Moses also predicted that one day a prophet would arise who would speak the very words of God. (Deuteronomy 18:15-18) Israel had been anticipating the arrival of this prophet. Jesus fulfills Moses’ words and all of the Law.

Elijah is one of the greatest prophets of Israel. He never died. He was taken to heaven in a fiery chariot. He represents the prophets of Israel’s Scripture. Israel also anticipated Elijah’s coming again ushering in the day of the Lord. (Mal 4.5-6) Elijah once prayed that God would raise a widow’s dead son, and God did. Jesus spoke to the dead son of the widow from Nain, and he arose. Jesus is greater than Moses and Elijah.

After his resurrection, Jesus explains to his disciples that he has fulfilled all of the Law, Psalms and the Prophets. (Luke 24) He supersedes them and completes all they predicted.

The cloud of heaven is the glory of God’s presence. This is the cloud that filled the Old Testament tabernacle and then Solomon’s temple indicating that God was present. The voice of God from heaven declares that Jesus is his beloved and chosen Son, and he commands the disciples to listen to him. This confirms what Peter confesses in John’s gospel, that Jesus has the words of eternal life. The way to life is to follow Jesus and to keep his word. After hearing the voice of heaven, only Jesus and the disciples remain. Jesus, embodying the Law and the Prophets, is the way, the truth and the life. The disciples must follow him.

John later writes of Jesus’ glory in his own gospel, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Jesus is the tabernacle of God, he is the tent where God meets with all people, as he met alone with Moses. Jesus is the gate between earth and heaven. He is the Word and the person to which we must abide.

Jesus doesn’t remain on the mountain in the glory of God. He comes down. Prior to ascending the mountain, Jesus had raised the dead, healed the sick, driven out demons, stilled the sea and fed the multitudes with bread and fish. But also prior to his transfiguration, he predicts his suffering, murder and resurrection on the third day (Lk 9.22). And after returning from the mountain, he reminds his disciples and emphasizes to them that the Son of man is about to be delivered into the hands of men. (Lk 9.44)

You see, this is not the mountain top experience for which Jesus came to earth. Even in the midst of the glory, he is speaking to Moses and Elijah about how he is going to fulfill their words by his departure in Jerusalem. The actual Greek word that Luke uses is the word for “exodus.” Jesus is about to perform a new exodus that will deliver people from the bondage and slavery to sin. Like all of Jesus’ life and ministry, his transfiguration is pointing to the cross.

Immediately after he came down from the mountain of his transfiguration, he meets a man begging him to save his son who is tormented by demons. Jesus, of course, rebuked the unclean, tormenting demon, healed the boy and “gave him back to his father.” (Lk 9. 43) He then makes his way to the cross on which he defeats sin, Satan and death that he might give all of us back to his and our heavenly Father.

When I was in the counseling field, I listened to an expert in school counseling explain that the best way to combat bullying in school is to recruit the most popular, well adjusted and successful students in the school—the ones that most of the students look up to, and get them to befriend and kids getting bullied. The theory is that once bullies see their victims in the fellowship of such supporters they know that there is no more they can do to intimidate them. This is what Jesus did for us. He is the image of God in the flesh, and he befriends us and defeats our bullies of sin, Satan and death.

Whatever wondrous miracles and glorious displays Jesus could have done during his time on earth, none could have accomplished what was required to save us, except his death on the cross. Paul calls his death, Jesus Christ crucified, “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor 1.24)

Immediately before ascending the mountain, Jesus warned his disciples that “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) Luke reminds us that like Peter we have to learn again and again that the ministry of Christ is first and foremost the way of the cross and that the transfiguration requires us first to be transformed into the image of the suffering servant who lays down his life for his friends.

It is nice to experience the glories of heaven while on earth, and sometimes we do have our own mountaintop experiences of the presence of God and his clear voice and hand upon us. But like with Jesus, other times of prayer are work and can be described as dark nights of the soul. Jesus also spent a night in prayer in the garden of Gethsemane before his death. He sweat drops of blood and faced severe temptations and loneliness. God was present with him then too, strengthening him, speaking to him and guiding him.

In his times of glorious blessing and in his times of tumultuous trials, Jesus prayed. The door of heaven was always open for Jesus, and he was in constant communication with the Father. Because of his work on the cross, that door of heaven is open to us too. The presence of the Father and of the Son is with us. Paul writes that the glory that shone from Moses’ face and that surrounded Jesus on the mountain is in us, because Christ is in us; he calls this fact of Christ in us the hope of glory. (Col 1.27) So, let us also pray on all occasions, scheduled and spontaneous, comfortable and grueling, alone and with others. Add more prayer to your life. If you are busy with anything, be busy praying.

As we are in Christ and he is in us, we are the beloved and the chosen of God to share his love with the world. Paul writes that we ourselves are being transformed into the image of Jesus from one degree of glory to another. As we conform to the image of Christ, he leads us to follow him in becoming a servant to others, so that they might return to the Father’s embrace.

During Christmas break my freshman year at The Citadel, I went on a retreat and ski trip with The Navigators at their retreat center in Colorado Springs. I remember spending an afternoon in prayer atop one of the rocky hilltops around the retreat center. It was an affirming time of prayer and awareness of the Father’s presence, one of those times that God’s grace overwhelms us. I could have stayed there for days enjoying God’s presence. Like Jesus, we have to come down the mountain and engage in the hard work of serving Jesus and being his disciples in the world that is lost and fallen; this work includes prayers before tombs, prayers with the dying and suffering and in the dark nights before the cross. This includes the hard work of praying that the veil of unbelief would be removed from our loved ones’ hearts that they might believe and be saved.

But the transfiguration gives us a glimpse of our destiny and reminds us that even as we face the trials of this life we are the Father’s beloved and chosen ones. As we enter our Lenten season, we are coming down from this mountain of glory and heading to the cross. Like Jesus, though, we have the reward of resurrection in our sights, and the joy of knowing Jesus is in the glory of heaven preparing a place for us in the Father’s presence.

Craig Stephans
Rector
Church of the Redeemer (Anglican), Camden, NC

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3 Responses to “Luke’s Account of The Transfiguration of Jesus (Sermon for Church of the Redeemer — Anglican, Feb 14th 2010)”

  1. kab Says:

    Craig and all,

    This (Transfiguration) is a wonderful passage of scripture.

    I love it because Jesus for a few minutes reveals the Red ‘S’ under his shirt, and we get to see Him in His wonder and majesty.

    A few observations of mine on this passage:
    – How did the disciples know that they were in the presence of Elijah and Moses, unless of course Jesus mentioned their names, and they happened to hear him say the names?

    – This is only one of a few passages in the NT that talk about the audible voice of the Father, speaking.

    – This passage also exemplifies the Trinity in action simultaneously, with the voice of the Father speaking blessing over Jesus, the Son, and the cloud of the glory of the Holy Spirit hovering over them.

    – I believe we should also heed our heavenly Father’s admonition, to Listen to Him! Oh that we would take time to listen to Jesus and follow His guidance in our lives.

    The mountain top experience that we experience scattered through out our busy lives are wonderful. I also pray that as we are immersed in the daily press of life, that we will Listen to Him!

    • craigstephans Says:

      Thanks Karl. Amen. A question I had while meditating on the Transfiguration was I wondered what was different about this time of prayer compared to the other times when Jesus went up a mountain or to a desolate place to pray. Why was he transfigured at this time? Or maybe he also experienced this transfiguration at other times during prayer alone. I also thought about the difference between this time of prayer and his prayer during the Garden of Gethsemane experience. I also asked God to lead me in prayer that I would know when I need to pray into the night rather than just for a “quiet time.” And of course, I ask for the grace to pray.

  2. kab Says:

    Craig,

    Some of my reply is that ‘it is a sovereignty of God issue’ as the Father was in charge, and chose when to turn on the ‘bold font’ in Jesus’ life.

    As Jesus said at other times, ‘I do what I see the Father doing. He went about His ministry, in full obedience to the Father’s Will.

    Another reflection is that Jesus didn’t take just any of the disciples up the mountain, He took the inner core – P,J and J (I believe). There were things He wanted them to see and experience, as they would be pillars in the NT church. I have to also chuckle at Peter’s nervous reply – paraphrased – ‘Should I build a hut for you to dwell in?’ Don’t we too get a bit nervous sometimes in the presence of the Lord?

    Whether Jesus was transfigured at other times I do not know, but I can assuredly say that He ‘made contact’ with the Father each time He prayed.

    Another reflection – If we are vessels as we pray, then the Father has the prerogative of impressing burdens on our hearts as we pray. (sometimes groanings too deep for words). In the Gesthemane experience, Jesus’ groanings even had ‘drops of blood’. The burden He felt night was one we will never experience, but thank God that He did. We are beneficiaries of the results of His groanings.


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