Summary: Transfiguration sermon.
How many of you here this morning have heard of the phrase “Mountaintop Experience?” How many of you here today have had at some time in your life what you’d consider to be a “mountaintop experience?” They can take on many forms, moments where we consider ourselves to be “on top of the world”. For some of you, that day may have been when you graduated from high school or college, got married, became a parent for the first time, earned that promotion or finally got your dream job. These are moments in our lives where there’s cause for great joy, celebration, and the feeling that nothing can get better than this! Sports teams can go through that as well. For either the New York Giants, or the New England Patriots, today is going to be a “mountaintop experience” for one of these teams and their fans, depending on who wins the Super Bowl later today.
From a spiritual standpoint, there are a LOT of people who are out there, seeking a “mountaintop experience” in their spiritual lives, a time and place where they feel they experience God like they never have before, and that God is more present there than anywhere else. There’s a lot of people doing it, and a lot of preachers telling you to go out and find your “mountaintop experience”. But is that the right way to approach our faith? In our Gospel reading for this morning, we read of a “mountaintop experience” that Peter, James, and John had with Jesus. As we look at this mountaintop experience, we’ll learn that the focus isn’t so much about the moment, but about what was spoken to them on that mountaintop and where Jesus was headed once he left that mountain.
As our text opens, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a mountain. It starts out as a seemingly uneventful trip up a mountain, perhaps to find some solitude and quiet. Then, suddenly, it happens! Moses and Elijah are present on that mountain, appearing out of nowhere, and they’re talking with Jesus! Now there’s something you don’t see every day. Moses had died approximately 1400 years before this event took place, and Elijah had been taken up to heaven in a chariot about 850 years earlier. Yet here they are. Now that had to have been an impressive sight for these three disciples! Can you imagine the thoughts that were racing through their minds at that moment? It had to have been a moment like no other they’d experienced in their lives up to that point.
Now if that were not enough, something spectacular happened to Jesus as well. While all of this is going on, Jesus’ face turns a bright white, and he’s radiating light from within. This isn’t the sun or some other outside source of light reflecting off of Jesus, this is Jesus shining light from within Himself. Visible proof that he is indeed “The Light of the World.” Up to this point, Jesus had appeared just like any other man. Isaiah had told us that the messiah’s appearance would “have no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2b) Yet here, he’s glowing this bright white from within. It’s pretty clear who Jesus is.
Now before we move on, there’s great significance in this picture we have on this mountain. The Old Testament scriptures are often described as “The Law and the Prophets” by Jesus himself in the New Testament. Here on the mountaintop, we see them represented. Moses, you may recall, was the one who led the people of Israel out of Egypt. After they left Egypt, Moses made his own trip up a mountain, in this case, Mt. Sinai, and it was there that God gave Moses and the people of Israel the 10 commandments, the Law. In fact, the first five books of the Old Testament, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, were considered to be the books of the Law, the “Torah” as the Hebrews called it. So Moses appearance there represented the Law. Elijah had the reputation among the Jews as the greatest of the Prophets. Who can forget the great things he did in his ministry? There were others who followed him as prophets, with John the Baptist being the last of them, yet Elijah was the personification of the Prophets. His presence on that mountain represented the Prophets and their writings of the Old Testament. So, we have Moses, representing the Law, and Elijah, representing the Prophets, and they’re on this mountain, talking with Jesus? And what exactly are they talking about?
Are they talking about this spectacular show they’re putting on for Peter, James, and John? Are they encouraging Jesus to stay on this mountain and be the “Super Human Trinity”? No. Luke’s account of the Transfiguration gives us the answer: “And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:30-31) His departure at Jerusalem. Notice they’re not talking about Jesus’ glorious appearance, they’re not talking about how they’re equal, they’re talking about Jesus upcoming journey to Jerusalem, the way that Jesus would become the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. This is pretty important, because this journey to Jerusalem was the very topic of discussion among Jesus and his disciples just a few days earlier.