The Transfiguration of Jesus, Prayer and the Work of the Saints

March 1, 2014

The historical event of Jesus’ transfiguration is one of the seminal events recorded in the New Testament.  The image of Jesus on the mount clothed in glorious light, talking with Moses and Elijah and the overwhelming voice of the Father startle readers of the Bible. We become like the three disciples, Peter, James and John who stumble and bumble in their bewilderment.  Matthew, Mark and Luke all recount this story with similar words in their gospels.  Peter verifies its accuracy and glory in his letter. (2 Peter 1:16-18)

Like many of the events and parables of Jesus, the narrative accounts of the transfiguration of Jesus reveal endless riches, mystery, and instruction for the church today.  I want to explore the events relation to prayer and communion among the followers of Christ in the context of the noisy, crowded and busy world. 

Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a mountain to pray.  Jesus must have been praying for a while during which the disciples fell asleep.  As he is praying, his countenance becomes brilliantly bright, his clothes become dazzling white and he is clothed in splendor.  Moses and Elijah appear also in the cloud of glory, and speak with him about his departure.  The disciples who were asleep suddenly wake up and fearfully behold this.  As the cloud of glory covers them, they hear a voice from the cloud saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5) 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.   This glorious event occurs while Jesus is in prayer.  In one sense, we see the kingdom of God that is present and active whenever Jesus prays. 

Jesus has communion with his Father whose presence and glory are revealed to the three witnesses.  This event also reveals what is within Jesus.  Jesus’ being displays the bright 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.”

Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus.  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.  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.  Jesus fulfills the words of the Law and the Prophets.  Here he is in fellowship and communion with the greatest of Old Testament saints during a prayer event over which the Father presides.

The cloud of heaven is the glory of God’s presence.  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.  Jesus is the gate and ladder between earth and heaven.  He is the Word and the person in whom we must abide.  All that has ever been holy on earth finds its fulfillment in Jesus the Most Holy One of God who makes people holy.

This, however, 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.  Jesus is about to perform a new exodus that will deliver people from their bondage and slavery to sin.  Like all of Jesus’ life and ministry, his transfiguration is pointing to the cross and the resurrection.

This prayer event occurs in the context of a fallen world that Jesus will die to save and renew.  He follows his Father’s will and walks off the mountain into the valley of human sin and despair.  What he is on the mountain, he is in the valley of the cross—the Son of God and man, fully God and fully man, obedient to the Father.

Immediately after he came down from the mountain of his transfiguration, Jesus enters the midst of a chaotic scene of conflict, arguments, failure, despair and finger pointing.  All of this is indicative of the enemy’s territory.  The enemy has possessed a boy.  A demon flaunts darkness’ power and slams him to the ground at will.  The boy suffers seizures and the humiliation and abuse of being thrown to the dirty, rocky ground.

The boy’s dad brought him to the disciples for healing and deliverance, but they were unable to help. Their failure led to controversy and conflict.   The boy’s father is one of the most desperate people in the Bible. Upon his arrival and assessment of the situation, Jesus seems to rebuke them all for their unbelief and impotence in the face of Satan’s realm.

The father pleads with Jesus that, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” (Mk 9:22)

Jesus responds with a measured rebuke of the man, “‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” (Mk 9:23)

The father answers hopefully, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” (Mk 9:24)

Jesus, of course, rebukes the unclean, tormenting demon and heals the boy instantly.  Upon his healing, the boy lies stiffly on the ground for a few seconds causing the crowd to assume and announce that he is dead.  Jesus alone takes him by the hand and raises him up and returns him to his father.

Once away from the crowds, the disciples eagerly question Jesus about why they could not accomplish the healing and deliverance.  The gospel accounts record Jesus making two points in explaining their failure: because of a lack of faith and because of a lack of prayer.

On the other hand, faith and prayer are two elements that are not absent from the transfiguration event of Jesus.  The event establishes Jesus’ own faith in the Law and Prophets and in the Father.  The event itself is Jesus’ prayer life—earnest and consuming.

Regarding the lack of faith, Jesus explains that they could not cast out the demon and heal the boy, “Because of your little faith.  For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Mt 17:20-21)

Mark records Jesus also answering the question by explaining that, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.” (Mk 9:29)  Most Bible editors will comment in Matthew’s and Mark’s gospels’ notes that some manuscripts include something like “this kind cannot or never comes out except by prayer and fasting.”

I want to relate the above narrative to our contemporary Christian culture and context.  In this story, there is a stark contrast and dichotomy between Jesus’ experience in prayer and ministry and the disciples’ and crowds’ experiences.  Both instruct us regarding the power of prayer versus the experience of chaos and impotence without prayer and faith.

Jesus prays anywhere and everywhere.  Here it is on a mountain in the midst of a wilderness.  When the followed Jesus up the mountain, the three disciples had no idea what was about to happen.  Heaven was about to open to them.  The inner circle of Peter, James and John get up on the mountain and appear to be hanging around until they fall asleep, as Luke reveals in his account.  In fact, Luke writes that they were “overcome with sleep.”  The phrase implies that sleep took control of them, and they were helpless in the face of it.  It is not until they are “fully awake” that they see Jesus in his glory with Moses and Elijah.

I believe that the Bible and Christian Tradition teach us that when Christians pray we are in the midst of the kingdom of heaven with all of its glory.  We pray in communion with the saints of God before his throne.  As we pray, angels surround us ministering to us and guarding us.  We pray in the midst of God’s presence—his very glory.  Experience of Christians, teaches us that when we ought to pray, we are too easily overcome by actual sleep or a figurative sleep that precludes earnest prayer and revelatory discernment.  If only we could become fully awake, alive and aware of the kingdom of heaven in our midst.

Imagine having a call to prayer.  Announce it like a worship gathering.  We don’t categorize worship music as for some specific purpose.  We just say, “Let’s worship God.” What if you announced, “This Friday night we are going to gather and pray to God for an hour.”  Or “This Sunday, we are going to begin the service with 30 minutes of quiet prayer.  We are bringing in a great prayer leader who is going to pray with us.”  Have you ever seen a church position description for “Prayer Leader?”  Either have I.  I believe there is a deficit of sustained, earnest corporate and individual prayer in the church; therefore, there is a deficit of faith and power that has led to a derelict and impotent church in general.

Our Christian media culture has produced celebrity worship leaders, preachers, pastors, speakers, authors, etc.  Something cool about prayer is that any Christian can do it.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t have skill or eloquence, you can join with Jesus in prayer.  You can have stage fright and be the most earnest prayer warrior in the church.  It doesn’t have draw, though.  We associate prayer with a lack of sensory stimulation.  We can’t look at pretty or cool musicians, no lights, no smoke, no slides or videos, no joke or stories—just quiet stillness…and God.

In the centuries of humanity, the transfiguration event must be in the top ten of sensory-stimulating events.  The cloud of glory, Jesus’ brightness, seeing “dead” people and hearing the voice of God!  It doesn’t get much better.  Yet, pastors can’t get more than a faithful few to a prayer meeting where this happens every time on a spiritual level at least.

We choose encounters with touchy-feely sentimental stuff everyday over encounters with the heavenly.  Christians have to train and discipline ourselves to engage with the Almighty and the servants of heaven on a regular basis.  On the Mount of Transfiguration, we see what happens in prayer and what exists around and within us.  Jesus Christ, our hope of glory, lives in us by the Holy Spirit.  The Father hears us because of Jesus.  In prayer, we are before the Father’s throne.

It is in prayer where we move mountains and overcome the kingdom of Satan.  If you have faith, you can move mountains.  If you pray, you can overcome the most dug-in demon.

In the gospel accounts of the transfiguration, due to lack of prayer and to being out of tune to the kingdom of God, the disciples and crowd are in chaos, disarray and defeat.  That is a picture of the church that does not make prayer a priority. By making prayer a priority, I mean the church that prays collectively and individually as much as it does anything else.  Have food fellowship, a concert, men’s breakfast, women’s tea, youth party night, Bible lesson (to a lesser extent) and regular Sunday service, and people come.  Have a prayer meeting, and what happens? Where is everyone? Why don’t we deem it as important?

“This kind does not come out by anything but prayer.” Jesus says.  What in your life and in your dreams and hopes is never going to happen or come out except by significant prayer time?  What will your church never accomplish except it pray in the desert and on the mountain top.  What will never change in your family or community, unless the church prays and enters the cloud of the kingdom of heaven?  What will you never know, unless you hear God’s voice in the midst of prayer?

We either feel fine with where we are at life, or we may depend on ourselves with a little help from God – the kind of help one can expect to get by showing up to Sunday service and maybe one other thing during the week.  We learn to live in the rut.  We accept the normalcy of oppression and worldliness.  We demonstrate complacency with the suffering and persecution of Christians around the world, as long as it is not us.  We convince ourselves that the poor and needy are not that bad off. The church anywhere ought to be desperate about the suffering and persecution of Christians anywhere.

Any hint of the devil’s presence in our lives, our families, our churches or our communities serves as a red flag to alert us to ask for God to move in our midst.  The reality of the harm the devil and his cohorts do to people around us is reason enough to pray for the sake of others.  Where is the compassion in our hearts that would inspire us to pray?  Where is the devotion that leads to us walking into the crowd of chaos and oppression with the power of God’s kingdom’s to heal and deliver people.

The reality of the transfiguration event invites us to enter into that realm of God in prayer knowing that he is with us and hears us.  The value of hearing God’s voice in prayer giving us sure and solid truth and counsel cannot be overstated. We have got to stop sensing with only our physical eyes and ears and discern with our spirit the reality of things around us.

The experience of God answering our prayers and empowering us will increase our faith.  The meditation on God’s word in his presence will grow our faith.  The reality of the saints and angels of God that exist around us in the kingdom of heaven will encourage us to move mountains and assert God’s victory over the enemy around us.  I guarantee you that if you live a life of mountain top and desert prayer, you will have to go looking for the enemy, because he will run from you

Jesus ascends the mountain seeking God’s will.  He does the same thing in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He seeks strength to go forward and fulfill God’s will and establish God’s kingdom.  We think that if we are currently content, have what we need, not in immediate pain or danger, then we don’t have much to pray about.  We might say a quick prayer…but no need to climb a mountain to pray today–“I’m good,” we say.   If that is truly the case, then get up the mountain, into your prayer closet, into the garden, to the church, wherever, and pray for others.  Pray for God’s kingdom to come in the world.  Pray for the persecuted church, for the unsaved, for your enemies, for the sick, for the poor, etc.  The list of prayer needs in this world is endless.  Pray for our country or for a country like N. Korea or Saudi Arabia where a Christian can only live his or her faith secretly for fear of death, and where no freedom exists for the gospel proclamation.

Jesus does not ascend the mountain or enter the garden for his sake but for our sake.  May the church today turn off the noise and enter into prayer for our sake and the sake of others.  For God’s sake, let us pray!

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.  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.  Not only can your prayers change the world, they can contribute to changing someone’s eternity.

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2 Responses to “The Transfiguration of Jesus, Prayer and the Work of the Saints”

  1. Jeanie Says:

    You offer a wake up call in the face of complacency and a reminder of the privilege prayer should be. Thank you for the vision of Jesus’ glory and the call to more fervent prayer.

  2. Judy Hendrix Says:

    What a wonderful way to start Lent – devoted to prayer, REAL prayer, God in our midst prayer. I know how I’m going to spend the next 40 days – thanks Craig!

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