Summary: The transfiguration points us to Jesus the Son of God, to the cross and is an encouragement to persevere in prayer.
There are moments, often extremely rare, when the scales fall away and we see reality as it is.
It is a bit like looking through a microscope or telescope. What we thought was a blob suddenly appears transformed into something wonderful.
Well, in a sort of way, that is what happens here.
Peter, James and John are given a glimpse of reality, of ultimate reality.
Most commentators agree that Jesus, in Mark’s gospel, is trying to get over two key points about himself:
1. He is the messiah, the Son of God.
2. He is not a wonder working messiah, but a messiah who has come to save people, and that he will save people through his death on the cross
Mark 8:31, and this may have been pointed out last week, is a turning point in Mark’s gospel. Peter has suddenly realised it: his eyes have been opened. He is able to confess that Jesus is the Messiah (v29). But Jesus commands the disciples not to tell people because they’ve still only got half of the message. And so in verse 31, we are told, "Jesus then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things .."
The transfiguration, which happens 6 days after, is God writing those two messages large. The disciples have been slowly beginning to understand who Jesus is. It has been a bit like driving through thick fog: they’ve been able to see enough to edge their way forward. Now God strips the veil away from their eyes and they see clearly.
THE TRANSFIGURATION POINTS US TO JESUS THE SON OF GOD, THE BELOVED ONE.
It shows us who Jesus is.
The Son of God: the voice from heaven says, "This is my Son"
The one who is bigger than space and time:
I mean here are Elijah and Moses talking with Jesus. Moses lived 2000 years before Jesus and Elijah about 700 years before Jesus.
It is significant that both Moses and Elijah had significant encounters with God on the same mountain. Moses on Mt Sinai (Exodus 33), when he asked to see God’s glory; Elijah on Mt Horeb (which is another name for Mt Sinai) when he met with God in the absolute silence. Now they meet with the glory of God again - but this time together and on a different mountain.
For Peter and the others it was terrifying. "He did not know what to say; they were so frightened".
When a person begins to encounter the glory of God, of the God who created this universe, of the God who is bigger than space and time, of the God who is absolute holiness and love, then of course there will be an element of what people have called ’holy fear’. For the disciples there were many times when we are told that they were frightened: when Jesus walked on water; when he calmed the storm; when he appeared to them after the resurrection. And that is inevitable. We are encountering the one who is beyond everything we know and understand. Paul tells us to ’work out our salvation with fear and trembling’. Of course, we try to domesticate God - to logically explain him; to restrict him to speaking to us in certain ways; and meeting with us at certain times and places. But we are only kidding ourselves. We cannot tame him; and we cannot have a real relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, without having moments when we at the same time are really really scared and yet also still long for more of him.
The transfiguration tells us of Jesus Christ, the one who transcends space and time.
The pre-eminent one:
Moses was the law giver. Elijah was the great prophet. Both of them appear not to have died, but to have been quite literally taken. They were the great ones of the Old Testament.
But it is not Moses and Elijah who are transfigured. It is not Moses or Elijah who are dazzling white. It is Jesus who shines. In the icon of the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah do shine, but the source of their light is Jesus.
And the voice from heaven tells Peter, James and John not to listen to Elijah or Moses. It tells them that they are to listen to Jesus. That doesn’t mean that they are to reject Moses or Elijah; rather they are to listen first to Jesus, and that we are to listen to Moses and Elijah through Jesus.
The transfiguration points us to Jesus the Son of God, and it tells us that it really is all about Jesus.
I’m sure you know the story of the Sunday school teacher who was asking her class: "What climbs trees, eats nuts, is furry, has a long snout, sticky up ears and a very bushy tail?" And a little boy said to his neighbour. "It sounds like a squirrel, but I bet the answer is Jesus".