(This week, Jesus’ sermon is not so much in the form of his words, but from his appearance on the Mount of Transfiguration and from the Father’s lips. As we finish the season of Epiphany and get ready for Lent, we get a glimpse of God’s glory in the person of Jesus. Only a man with power from heaven could save us. He gives us the message we need from this mountain: God is here to give his people salvation that came from heaven and provides an eternal home for us. Listen to him and you will not be disappointed.)
1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
It’s all about the glory. That’s how a lot of these competition shows work. I’m no expert, but I think most of the intrigue is wrapped up in the glory. Who’s going to be left standing at the end of the episode? Who’s going to have the best voice? Who lost the most weight? Who will she choose?
I think they’re all a bunch of nonsense, because there’s one huge flaw: what happens after the glorious reveal? What happens when it’s all done? After fighting over one man and doing anything, and I mean anything, to get him, the Bachelor never has love. What he has is someone who won a competition. He doesn’t have someone who will get a bucket for him when he is sick or make his favorite meal once a month. After the dress is picked and the wedding day comes, then where does this fancy and pricy dress go? I know in my house it sits in a box in the back of a closet. When all the pounds are shed, then what happens? This person who just lost 200 pounds is out of the spotlight. There’s really no glory in maintaining a diet and exercise plan. No one watches that show.
The glorious moments on TV are just that, a few fleeting moments. The glory fades and life gets back to normal. Do you think that is how Peter, James, and John felt as they walked down the mountain?
They had seen his miracles before. They all knew who Jesus was. He was God’s chosen one. He was the Savior of the world. But they had never seen Jesus glorified like this. Even during all the big moments of Jesus’ life, he didn’t morph like this. Sure there were angels singing at his birth, but he was actually quite a normal baby lying in the manger. The people of Nazareth saw a little boy grow up like little boys normally do (except without any of the mischief). The miracles were certainly out of this world, but at those times Jesus didn’t change. He changed the lives of other people with his divine power, but his appearance never resembled God on earth… until now.
Peter, James, and John witnessed something that wasn’t even a little bit normal. We say that a bride shines on her wedding day. We use the expression that expectant mother glimmers during pregnancy. When a child is born with an elevated bilirubin count (that’s called jaundice) we might talk about the orange glow. Those things aren’t really happening; it’s a metaphor. But on this day, it did happen. Jesus’ face actually lit up like that big ball of hot mass that we wish would make it warmer right now. His shining face and clothing brought grown men shaking to their knees.
And then, Moses and Elijah showed up, too. Moses and Elijah both had their own glorious moments. We heard about Moses on Mount Sinai today. He witnessed the glory of God as he received the Ten Commandments. God’s prophet, Elijah, saw God’s power on Mount Carmel, when fire from heaven consumed his burnt offering. Elijah saw God’s glory when the fiery chariots took him from this earth.
These two didn’t show up to give Jesus a pep talk, but it was all a part of the glory that Jesus was given. Moses is the one who was given the Law. Elijah is one of the most powerful prophets of the Bible. Do you see what’s going on here? Jesus’ eternal identity is revealed in all its glory. He is the Almighty God. But along with his power, Jesus is also the one who fulfills all of the Old Testament laws and prophets.
On the top of that mountain, God shows us what kind of Savior he sent to us. Can you blame Peter for saying, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters – one for you, one fore Moses, and one for Elijah”? I would want to stay in that moment as well. But they didn’t. After this gush of glory, after seeing Moses and Elijah, and after hearing God voice his love and approval of the work Jesus was doing, everything went back to normal. The glory and the grandeur, the big reveal was done.
Do you ever feel that way? You know, like those shows on TV. The glorious reveal is exciting and uplifting, but then it doesn’t last. Do you feel like the disciples walking down from the mountain, just wishing you could stay longer and get another glimpse?
Let me tell you what I’m talking about. Life as a Christian starts out great. Whether it happened when we were baptized as a baby or, for some, when a friend, spouse, or neighbor introduced you to the God who saved you. God’s glory was bursting as he opened up our hearts and minds to a love that we didn’t think was possible. God’s Spirit planted faith in each of our hearts. We were changed from darkness to light. We learned things about our God and our Savior that opened up a completely new life for us – a life that isn’t about rules or opinions or making up for past mistakes, but a life of grace, good news and forgiveness.
But then the glory of it all started to fade. It happens after confirmation, as if studying God’s Word regularly is only for kids. It happens when life gets really challenging at the loss of a job or a loved one. It happens when friends and family start to make you the butt of their jokes. It happens when rumors start to tear God’s family apart. It happens when temptations come at a fever pace. It happens when guilt keeps you up at night. It happens whenever we fail to regularly see and hear what great things our Lord has done.
Getting farther and farther away from the glory of the Lord, we become convinced that it is less and less exciting to be a part of God’s family. Like defiant children we start to plow our own path beyond where we should be. We start to find more acceptable or more pleasurable avenues. The wonder of the Christian life fades. We start to say things like, “Lord, maybe it isn’t so nice to be here.”
Today, Jesus clears up some of those misconceptions about the glory of being his follower. And it happens after his glorious reveal. While the four of them are coming down the mountain, Jesus says, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” Jesus isn’t being selfish here. He’s not the type of guy to keep good news to himself. What he is doing is telling us that his job isn’t finished. You see, God’s plan isn’t about earthly glory. Sure it would be nice to have a fatter bank account and a life filled with earthly honors, but God doesn’t need you to have those things now because he has something better waiting for you. Jesus came down from that mount because there was something more important than earthly glory and power. Jesus had to finish his work. That’s what made him leave the glory and power of heaven and live in a place that was lacking it. God loved you so much that he set aside glory and power so that your eternity could be filled with it.
Today as we have a brief glimpse of the power and glory of God and hear his voice boom from the clouds, we get a preview of what’s coming. We get a preview of what Jesus has won for us. And he didn’t do his saving work with power and glory. He did it with the most brilliant display of love and humility. Just think of his betrayal, his anguish, his arrest, his “trial,” how he was used as a punching bag, how he was stripped of his dignity. Think of his physical pain and suffering, and then think of his mental pain and suffering as his Father abandoned him to suffer for the sins of the world.
You and I are allowed to witness Jesus’ glorious reveal along with those disciples because God wants us to know that Jesus is the right one for the job. What’s the job? It’s not bringing you glory and power for your lives on earth. Jesus’ job wasn’t to make people afraid of God’s power. Jesus’ job was to save you from darkness of your sin. Jesus’ job was to remove your guilt forever. Jesus’ job was to restore our broken relationship with God. Jesus’ job was to give us a home in heaven.
Did you remember those words Jesus uses? “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” Unlike the participants in those TV shows, who have to keep the results quiet until the show airs and unlike the disciples who had to keep this transfiguration silent for a while, we get to speak up because we know what happens. We know that Jesus’ work didn’t end with suffering and death. It ended in life. He rose from the dead. We are about to start that journey this week as we walk with Jesus down from this mountain to Mt. Calvary. But let’s never forget that his journey ends at the empty tomb.
So take note of what’s going on today. Pay attention to the sights and sounds. God has a message about Jesus for us, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” Listen and learn from Jesus over the next 6 weeks during Lent. We are going to see him do things for us that no one else can do. And don’t worry about your problems and guilt. Jesus calmly reassures us, “Don’t be afraid.” This is not like one of those garbage shows on TV, where the glory wears off in the weeks and months that follow. This is God showing us the glory of our Lord Jesus. He is your God and your Savior. And always will be.
This is the kind of show that will never get old. Yes, Lord, it is good for us to be here. Amen.