Yesterday was Transfiguration Sunday. This is the culmination of the season of Epiphany and in essence serves as the hinge upon which our call to follow Jesus takes a sober turn. For the last several weeks we have been focusing on Jesus’ magnificent call to follow him. Some of us heeded that call because of the excitement and our eyes being opened to the reality of eternal life–on earth as it is in heaven.
Leading up to this passage we need to keep in mind two things: (1) Jesus’ call is a reconfiguration, a re-orbiting of our small worlds so that we realize the magnitude of living in reference to God. To live the life he intended for his creatures from the beginning–to know him and love him. (2) Life with Jesus begins with death to ourselves. Mark 9.2ff comes on the heels of Jesus’ first of three foretellings of his impending death. In this way, the Transfiguration reminds us that Jesus’ glory is not in spite of his crucifixion, but it is his glorification. The mighty and Shining One on the mountain is the same as the Crucified One.
Why a mountain?
V.2: Jesus leads his three closest disciples up a high mountain alone. A mountain is the place where God reveals himself to his people. Abraham at Mt. Moriah. Moses sees the burning bush at Mt. Horeb and receives the tablets of God’s words on Mt. Sinai—which are the same mountain. David builds the city of Jerusalem on Mt. Zion. Elijah defies the prophets of Ba’al on Mt. Carmel.
The mountains in Scripture are the places of God revealing himself and his purposes to his people. This is no less the fact of what Jesus does. He is not doing anything new and different but follows in the train of God himself in revealing his purposes to his people. Note: It is God who leads each of these individuals to a mountain. Here we see God incarnate leading his people anew.
Why Elijah and Moses?
Why not Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos?
It is important to understand Elijah’s role in the history of redemption. It is more than just that Elijah was the greatest of the prophets—for we read that Elisha had a double portion of the Spirit. Consider our passage read earlier.
There are three separate places that Elijah leads Elisha before he is taken away in a heavenly chariot.
The land of Bethel—lit., “the house of God”—where Jacob saw the angels ascending and descending on a ladder and that Jesus said he would be.
The land of Jericho where the great battle of God’s redemption by trumpet blasts took place. God’s defeat of an enemy by his initiative and power independent of military prowess.
The Jordan River he split in two. The same Jordan that Jesus was baptized in and became our New Joshua to lead us into the Land of Promise we looked at the first Sunday of Epiphany.
Moses infamously receives the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. And is the one who led Israel to the banks of the Jordan River. He is the one who brought them through the wilderness and onto the edge of God’s multi-generational promise. Both Moses and Elijah suffered because of Israel’s rebellion. They were both rejected by God’s people to lead them. But they were both vindicated by God—to be shown to be in the right.
Elijah also heard from God at Mt. Sinai. Remember he was running away from wicked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel? He cried out to God: “I am the only prophet left!” God had to tell him that there were 500 other prophets that hadn’t left the faith. What is more, he had forgotten Moses’ very words in Deuteronomy 18.15: “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.”
It is here that we see two of the greatest leaders in Israel’s history taking a backseat to Jesus.
This is made even more clear in the bright white shining of Jesus’ clothes. Whenever Moses would meet with God, his face would shine. Here we see the entirety of Jesus’ body in bright, other worldly white. And Elijah and Moses just fade into the background in light of Christ’s brightness.
Moses’ Veiled Ministry
Our Epistle reading today was from 2Cor 4 which follows on the heels of the Apostle Paul’s explanation of the passing glory of Moses’ ministry. Indeed, a ministry that pointed to a greater fulfillment in the One to Come.
Whenever Moses would meet with God his face would shine…and he would put a veil over his face. This veil kept the people from gazing at Moses as the substance of the promise. He was merely the one pointing to Another. He was the Bride pointing to the Groom. He was the recipient from the Gracious Giver. It was not and never was supposed to be Moses as the finalization of God’s promises.
From the beginning of Moses’ writing of Genesis all the way through Deuteronomy, we read about a coming Son of God a Coming Seed of the Woman who would right all the wrong. Seth was not him. Noah was not him. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Saul, David, Elijah, Hezekiah…all failed. All fell when temped in the wilderness. All pointed to the Shining One.
They were veils and shadows of the Reality.
This veil is lifted. Listen to Paul (2Cor 3.14-16):
For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.
Don’t forget that this Transfiguration happens right after Jesus foretells his death and resurrection. Why?
Suffering is not in spite of the glory revealed on the mountain. It is the glory that is the cross. At Mt. Calvary. The Mountain of God’s suffering for us to make us new. His death to free us.
This suffering not only lifted the veil, it tore the veil on the Temple Mount to see the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus.
Friends, it is not only that he died, but that he rose again. He rose not only to show his victory over our looming enemy Death. He rose again to give us victory over ourselves. Our self-serving attitudes. Our self-centeredness. In our taking up of our cross daily, we save our lives.
His Transfiguration. His being Transformed assures us that the cross—our daily taking up our crosses—is not the end. It is not defeat. It is in the dying that we find the lives we’ve been looking for.
Paul continues in 2Cor 3:
17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
The beauty of the Gospel is not only that we are forgiven of our sin—which is glorious!—it is that we ourselves are being transfigured from one degree of glory to another! The Spirit has been given to us to transform us. To transfigure us into the self-same image of the glorious Christ.
You may feel downcast or defeated or listless and bored in life. You were made for more. You were made to reflect this glory we see on the Mountain of Jesus’ Transfiguration. And there beholding his glory, we are transfigured.
And I ended my sermon by singing these familiar words:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace
Questions to Consider:
How does Jesus’ Transfiguration give us hope in the face of suffering and death and pain?
Why do you think it’s easy to forget that death is the pre-requisite to life?
Are there ways which boredom or frustration or the mundane of everyday life have crowded out the glorious life God has called you to? How might the Gospel of forgiveness and life help you lift your eyes up ? How might this same Gospel free you to serve?