Summary: Jesus' Transfiguration
LIFE AT THE TOP
As any real estate agent will tell you, the most important element of selling a property is location, location, location. A terrific view, a good school, and a safe neighborhood are all crucial to making a home seem like a good fit. There are locations in the Scriptures that keep appearing again and again until they have become familiar parts of our vocabulary; Jerusalem, Galilee and Babylon just to name a few. Among those recurring landmarks are mountains, and one in particular that saw its fair share of historical biblical moments.
The mountain in question is Sinai, although it also goes by Mount Horeb and the mountain of God. It was the place where Moses spoke with God in a cloud and received the Ten Commandments for the people of Israel newly freed from slavery. It was also the retreat of the prophet Elijah when he was on the run from Queen Jezebel in fear for his life. It is featured in our gospel today as the location of a miraculous event that has come to be known as the Transfiguration of Jesus.
Get the feeling there’s something special about this mountain? Well, you should. However, in our gospel reading there is also the importance of timing, for this passage in Luke 9 begins with the statement, “About eight days after Jesus said these things, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray.”
If it sounds as though we started somewhere in the middle, we did. We need to know what things Jesus said before these verses that we read. What He said was Luke’s account of the commandment for anyone who would be a follower of Jesus to deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Him. Varying from Matthew’s account, however, is the addition of taking up the cross daily, which would seem to indicate that discipleship requires daily reminders if it is to be a lifelong pursuit.
Because Peter had just identified Him as the Messiah, Jesus had urged them not to tell anyone who He was, but He did inform them of His upcoming arrest and trial and death and resurrection. He was asking for a commitment, maybe weeding out the hesitant from among the dedicated. Then He took three of the dedicated to show them something glorious; a glimpse of heaven on earth.
Being on the mountain with God is indeed a life-changing experience; it was true for Abraham when he was asked to sacrifice his beloved son. He had faith in God on his way up the mountain, but how much greater his faith had grown on the journey down when his son’s life was spared? Moses had more than one mountaintop experience of God, but when Moses came down from the mountain, more than his life was changed. His time spent in God’s presence showed on his face; it was radiating the glory of God.
So dramatic was the change in his appearance that the people of Israel were afraid of him; they could not tolerate it. Moses wore a veil over his face to put the people at ease and he removed it when he returned to the mountaintop to speak with God. While on the mountain he had a private audience with God. He could have stayed there, leaving the people to fend for themselves, but he knew what happened the first time they were left alone. If he refused to come back down to the people, they would have never received the commandments. Their knowledge of God would have been incomplete.
Yes, if Moses had stayed on the mountain, the whole story of humankind might have been different. There might never have come a day when three men followed their spiritual leader to the top of a mountain to witness the glory of God for themselves. In that moment in time, those three men would witness the true nature of the one they had been following, the one they had pledged their lives and devotion to; the one Peter had just correctly identified as the Messiah sent by God.
If Peter was confident in Christ’s identity, then what he witnessed on the mountaintop along with James and John should have solidified his conviction. Perhaps he was a little too convinced. Maybe it was the change in Jesus’ appearance; the dazzling brilliance of His clothes or the glow of His face. Maybe it was the fact that Jesus was engaged in conversation with Moses, the giver of the law, and Elijah, the mighty prophet; both of whom had their own unique moment on the same mountain.
They were discussing Jesus’ upcoming departure or exodus which would once again lead people to a promised land. Unlike the exodus Moses led, this one would require the sacrifice of a son, more accurately the Son of God, whose death would lead people into a resurrection. The glory revealed in this transfiguration was a kind of foretaste of glory divine, as the old hymn says. It was a glimpse of what the resurrected Jesus would be.