Summary: On Transfiguration Jesus gave his disciples a glorious experience that would help them get through some pretty hard things until finally arriving at Easter Sunday morning. Jesus continues to show his glory to us today, a glory that helps us through the hard times of our lives.
Supper is still about an hour and a half away. Lunch seems like an eternity ago. Your stomach is calling, “Feed me!” What do you do? If you’re like me, you grab a snack. Something that will help hold you over until the next of the three major meals of the day. Maybe it’s a cookie or some chips, maybe some fruits or vegetables. It’s not a full meal. It’s what we might call, “hold-me-over snack”, just enough hold you over to the next meal.
On a mountain top in Israel Jesus gave three of his disciples what we might call a spiritual “snack.” It was something that would help hold them over until that glorious Sunday morning when Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus knew that they were going to need this because what they were about to see Jesus go through would appear rather inglorious at times. What Jesus showed them on that mountain would feed their souls and strengthen their faith in who Jesus was and the truly glorious things that Jesus had come to do for them and for us all people.
The account that you heard of in our gospel lesson from Luke 9 takes us towards the end Jesus’ ministry and Jesus life. Jesus had spent the previous three years travelling throughout Israel, preaching and teaching the people, and performing miracles. The events of Luke 9 take place about a week after Jesus had asked his disciples who they believe that the he was. It was Peter who spoke up on behalf of the disciples and said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). What a beautiful confession of Christian faith Peter made! But then Jesus dropped this bombshell on his disciples about himself, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Luke 9:22). That was the last thing that Jesus’ disciples wanted to hear! Again, it was the disciple Peter who pulled Jesus to the side and reprimanded him for making such comments, almost trying to talk Jesus out of it.
A week had passed since that incident and Jesus now took three of his disciples, Peter, James, and John, away from the crowds of people to the top of a nearby mountain to pray. By the time the four men reached the top of the mountain it was likely evening. They all went to the Lord in prayer, and before they knew it, the disciples had fallen asleep.
Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night, and been a little confused? For whatever reason it takes you a little while to figure out where you are. Now imagine those disciples waking up to see what they saw on the top of that mountain! There must have been a little bit of confusion at first. They immediately recognized Jesus, but “The appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning” (Luke 9:29). Jesus had partially pulled back the vail of his human nature to reveal his divine glory. But that’s not all. There are two men talking with Jesus who had not walked up the mountain with them. Jesus paused in his conversation with the two men and introduced them to the three disciples. First you have Moses, the man we heard of in our first lesson. He is one of the greatest leaders of God’s Old Testament people – the leader of the Exodus – who brought God’s people out of the slavery of Egypt and eventually to the Promised Land. He was the one who received God’s written law on Mount Sanai and regularly spoke with the Lord in what was called the Tent of Meeting. And when Moses returned from those conversations with the Lord, his face glowed from being in the presence of God. The second person is Elijah, what many consider the greatest of the prophets of the Old Testament. Elijah was one of the many men who God sent as his spokesmen, calling God’s people to repent of their sin, and pointing them to the forgiveness of sin that God would bring through the promised Messiah. Both of these men had been dead for nearly a thousand years, but there they stood, alive speaking with Jesus.
What could be so important that heaven and earth would meet on this mountaintop for a few moments? Did you hear what these three men were talking about? Listen again, “They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). That word for “departure” is kind of an interesting one. Yes, they were talking about Jesus’ physical departure from this life, they were talking about his death. But it’s more than that. The word for “departure” is literally the word “exodus.” Remember what the exodus of the Old Testament was. It was one of the greatest events in Israelite history as God delivered his people from the slavery of Egypt. Jesus was going to Jerusalem to lead his own exodus on an infinitely greater scale. These three men were not only talking about that Jesus was going to face death, but they were talking about WHY Jesus was going to die, what his death would accomplish. They were talking about the glorious deliverance that Jesus was going to accomplish in Jerusalem by his death.