Summary: The Transfiguration declares the unique nature of Jesus Christ.
Jesus, Among Others
I read a story recently about a terrible fire in a chemical plant. Several area fire departments responded to the blaze, and the whole community gathered at a distance to watch. The media was there in helicopters and satellite remote trucks. The president of the company was among the crowd, and he was frantic. He gathered together the chiefs of all the fire departments and explained to them that in the midst of the fire was a safe that contained all the company’s super-sensitive documents including the top-secret formulas for all their best-selling products. He pledged to give a $500,000 donation to the fire department that brought the blaze under control and saved all the super-sensitive documents in the safe.
The chiefs rallied their firemen and women, pulled out all the stops attempting to bring the blaze under control, but it wasn’t happening. The fire continued to rage. After quite some time the crowd heard another siren in the distance that kept growing louder. Before long this old beat up, dilapidated 1930’s style fire engine filled with a bunch of men in their 60’s and 70’s came roaring through the crowd, right past all the other fire departments. The truck didn’t even slow down as it burst through the front door of the plant and right into the middle of the blazing inferno. Everyone, firefighters, media members and the crowd just gasped thinking about what these guys did. However, before long the fire was under control and this group of aged firefighters stumbled out the front of the plant coughing. Everyone cheered their heroic effort. They saved the safe.
A few hours later in front of the gutted plant the president of the company handed the 82 year old chief a check for half a million dollars. In the press conference that followed, one reporter asked the chief what they planned to do with that incredible reward. He didn’t even hesitate. "These guys already told me they want to buy a new fire engine that has some brakes!"
There are two reasons to tell that story. First, it was funny. Second, there are usually two levels to every story. One level is the level of what—what are the facts of the story. This level tells us what happened. The second level is the why level—why did the event happen. To understand the story of the Transfiguration we have to get to the why level—why did the Transfiguration happen? The Transfiguration happened to reveal the unique nature of Jesus Christ. As we review the events of our Scripture today we can discover that Jesus was unique in his person, in his mission and in his message.
The historian Luke records for us that Jesus took Peter, James and John to the mountain to pray. The mountain carries great significance in the biblical tradition. At God’s command, Abraham took his son, Issac, up on Mount Horeb to offer him as a sacrifice. Moses encountered God on the mountain and answered the call to lead the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt, and this very scene causes us to remember when Moses came back down Mount Sinai (the mountain of God) carrying the Ten Commandments, and in Exodus 34, we are told that Moses face “glowed because he had spoken to the Lord face to face” (Ex. 34:29). Moses brought a glimpse of God’s glory back down the mountain with him. And Elijah, too, remember, had his greatest victory in life on Mount Carmel as he called fire down from the sky and consumed the 600 priests of Baal. So it was to the mountain that Jesus took the disciples, and there on the mountain they experienced a glimpse of the glory of God.
The mountain and God’s glory have a history in the Hebrew tradition. This unique moment recalls the “shekinah” glory of God in the Old Testament—the glory of God’s presence. It was the glory of God’s presence on Mt. Sinai in the Old Testament days of Moses, that led the Hebrews in a cloud by day and fire by night. It was the glory of God’s presence that filled the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle during the nation of Israel’s wilderness wanderings, and that would also fill the Temple built by Solomon in their later history. This moment was a brief moment in time when three seemingly hapless disciples (they couldn’t even stay awake, for Pete’s sake) had the opportunity to glimpse the divine nature shining through Jesus Christ. They got to glimpse behind the veil of eternity and they literally saw the brilliance of God’s glory in human form. And they were amazed. So amazed, in fact, that Peter wants to build some shrines to all three men in the vision, but before Jesus can respond, the cloud of God’s presence overshadows the scene and speaks to reveal the unique person of Jesus—“This is my Son, my chosen One.”