Summary: People talk about being “relevant,” even in the church. Being relevant is not bad; in truth, being relevant is most important. But what do we mean by “relevant”? That’s the big question.
People talk about being “relevant,” even in the church. Being relevant is not bad; in truth, being relevant is most important. But what do we mean by “relevant”? That’s the big question.
To some, being relevant in the church means that worship is exciting, not boring. We want to do something exhilarating, not the ‘same-old, same-old.’ Everything must be an experience, an event. We want to be like Jesus’ disciples and live on the thrilling mountaintop, not go trudging down into the shadowed valley.
Today, we remember Christ’s Transfiguration, when Jesus revealed part of His divine glory before His disciples. But as exciting as that was, God had something even more important than the dazzle of brilliance and the flash of light. Amid the awe-inspiring visual effects, the stirring spectacle of it all, God directed Peter, James, and John to something that seemed irrelevant: words. He told them, “Listen to Him!” Listen to Jesus!
God told the three disciples not to remember what they saw. It was what they heard that was important. “Listen to Him!” For it’s ears, not eyes.
On the mountain, they saw a flashing, partial unveiling of Jesus’ glory: a blaze of God’s glory gleaming for a moment as Jesus pulled aside the veil of His human nature. It’s the glory Jesus always had, the glory of God from eternity, which He didn’t lose when He became human. But He put away most of His power as He lived among us, being our Savior, working to buy us back from sin, death, and the devil.
On that day, Jesus peeled back a layer of His human nature, and for a moment, He was ablaze in glory. Jesus was “transfigured”; His appearance was transformed and changed. He beamed as brilliant light. Moses and Elijah appeared there with Him. It was a mini-glimpse of heaven here on earth.
But what do the disciples want to do? They want to stay and build tents on the Mount of Transfiguration. They want nothing to do with what Jesus will do when He trudges down the mountaintop, to Calvary, where God will pour out His blood and be the Scapegoat who will carry our sins to death. They don’t want the cross-and-death talk that Jesus spoke of before they climbed to the mountaintop.
Are we so different from the disciples? Are you tired of hearing Christ and Him crucified? Like the disciples, you want something that you think is relevant, something exciting. That’s what our sinful natures crave. We want a Mount-of-Transfiguration experience and forget about the cross of Mount Calvary.
We’re no strangers to the disciples’ wish to stay high on the mountain. Our wish to revel in the climax of the mountain drives us to seek soaring emotional highs, and our ideas of relevance. It seeks music that stirs the heart, even if it starves the soul. The disciples, like us, want anything and everything but suffering, death, and blood. For to us, to our sinful natures, that isn’t relevant.
Jesus’ disciples saw and experienced the flash of light, and they thought that was the point! But they were wrong. The disciples missed what was most important--and it wasn’t what they saw. It was what they heard. God told them, “This My Son, the Chosen One. Listen to Him!”
Seeing Jesus in His glory doesn’t tell the whole story. Before they climbed the mountain, Jesus had spoken of the cross (Luke 9:21-22). If the disciples had been listening, that’s what they would’ve heard in the heavenly conversation of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. They were talking about His “departure,” His exodus, His cross. Moses and Elijah couldn’t stay, for Jesus had work to do: bloody, hard work--His work of cross and death.
And so the moment of blazing glory ends. The disciples look up and see only Jesus. Moses and Elijah are gone. For Jesus is all they need. They go down from the mountain and Jesus “stiffened His face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). Jesus is going to His death. He knows what will happen in Jerusalem; He knows full well. That’s why He’s resolute and unswerving. That’s why He’s set for nothing to stop Him--not Satan, not even His well-intentioned, but ill-informed, disciples.
And oh, how much more Jesus has for them to hear! Jesus will pray and teach them to pray. He will give them more of the Word and teach with authority. He will correct and reprimand; He will encourage and forgive. He will speak the words of His Supper. He will ordain them as Apostles, giving them His Spirit and the power of the keys, the power to retain and forgive sins. He will give His baptism. He will speak His words from the cross. He will speak of His resurrection.