Summary: "This is my Son ...listen to him!" The heart of faith is Jesus. That is the message this mountaintop experience.
February 18, 1996 AM
The Transfiguration "This is my Son ...listen to him!"
Mountains as Points of Reference
One Sunday afternoon, a long time ago, instead of taking the usual Nazarene nap, I took my four sons on a hike up Mount Beacon above the majestic Hudson River in Beacon, New York. We lived in Poughkeepsie where I was pastor at Vassar Road Church.
It was sultry and hot, and the thought of climbing in shady, cooler woods sounded like fun.
It was a twenty minute drive to a place where we could leave the wagon as far up the mountain as it could go. Then it was just over an hour's walk to the top where you could look up and down the river for miles.
On the way up the trail we heard the sound of a brook off to one side, and followed the sound and found a beautiful place where the water was falling through a U shaped place in a big rock into a shallow pool like a basin underneath it. It was hot, and the water was very cool.
The four boys stripped down to their shorts and into the water they went.
One of them would sit in the cleft in the rock and dam up the water it was that narrow until it spilled over his shoulders then he'd jump into the basin below with the wave gushing after him.
We stayed at that pool half an hour or less that hot Sunday afternoon and that was thirty years ago. I drove back to Vassar Road and preached and led the evening service. I haven't a clue as to what I preached it has been long forgotten. But every one of those four boys, now grown men with families of their own, remembers that day we climbed Mount Beacon. And somehow it has a good place in our family history. It was one of those defining moments that help give life direction.
We've all had those times, those defining moments, that we remember as we look back across the landscape of our lives to those mountains, literal or figurative, that show us where we've been, and to some extent, who we are and where we're going. Perhaps the day the story in our Gospel lesson began started out like just any other day for the disciples. But it was going to turn out to be a day they would never, ever forget.
Jesus called to Peter, James, and John. He often went apart to pray, and a prayer time was all they really were expecting. Up and up the mountain trail they went, until they reached the top. And there they stopped. Luke's Gospel says that Jesus began to pray, and he also tells us that the three disciples became very sleepy.
Peter, James and John were not expecting what came next. While they watched in awe something wonderful beyond description began to happen. The kindly face of the Galilean carpenter began to change in ways the evangelist has found difficult to describe. Later the three men tried to find words to express what they had seen: "Light streamed from his face, as bright as the sun. His clothes became whiter than white they shone with light."
These men knew Jesus well. They had been with him three years and had heard him speak, and heal, and raise the dead. They had even confessed their faith that He is the Son of God, the Messiah. But they were NOT prepared for this display of dazzling glory. They knew Jesus. But they also realized they hardly knew him at all!
(Our doctrines are good/necessary; they try to explain the mysteries of faith: Jesus is very God and very man, the Son of God and the Son of Mary. The Father in heaven helps us to confess our faith with Peter, and say with conviction: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!" But NOTHING is as convincing and satisfying and thoroughly frightening as a mountaintop glimpse of Christ's glory!)
Then, as they watched, the three disciples became aware that two other people were present, talking with Jesus in the cloud of light. In some mysterious and wonderful way, they knew that these two glorious figures were Moses and Elijah, the Lawgiver, and the greatest of Old Testament prophets.
Moses on a mountain long before this great giant of faith, the meekest man who ever lived, had talked with God face to face, and had received the Ten Commandments, the holy Law of God by which all mankind is supposed to live, but especially the people of God.
Elijah on another mountain years later, but still a long time before, this rugged prophet had prayed fire down from heaven, and had defeated the false prophets and brought God's people back to Him.