The Lord is king; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake! The Lord is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples. Let them praise your great and awesome name. Holy is he! Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob. Extol the Lord our God; worship at his footstool. Holy is he! Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel also was among those who called on his name. They cried to the Lord, and he answered them. He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud; they kept his decrees, and the statutes that he gave them. O Lord our God, you answered them; you were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings. Extol the Lord our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the Lord our God is holy.
1 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
Today we are finishing our sermon series with a message of a realized hope, a glimpse of what is yet to come, a taste of the glory of Our Awesome and Mighty God, Yahweh. Over the course of the last 8 eight weeks, we began a series after the baptism of our Lord. This has been a series of sermons that we have viewed, reviewed, and analyzed the teachings of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount and how these teachings relate to the fullness of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom that is to be our very first priority in all that we do, all that we say, in the way our lives are carried out, in our relationships with friends to our relationships with our enemies, to the relationships with our children and grand children. The seeking of the Kingdom affects each and every one of these different aspects of life. And today we have uprooted from the mount beside the sea of Galilee to a unknown mountain. Many events have happened between the sermon on the mount and the time in our scriptures today. Jesus has calmed storms, healed demonics, spoken many parables about the Kingdom, sent out his 12 disciples, praised John the Baptist, mourned the death of John the Baptist, fed 5000, walked on water, and most recently have gone off for retreat in Casearea Philippi with the 12 where Peter has finally named Jesus’ true identity. And with this, we now enter this scene of Jesus on a much larger mount.
Six days later… six days after Peter had received a revelation from the Father about the true identity of Jesus, six days after Jesus then told them about the future of their Messiah going to Jerusalem to undergo suffering and death. Six days after Jesus also announces that those who desire to become his followers must take up their cross to follow, and those who want to save their life will lose it. Six days after the announcement that there are some that are standing in the presence of Christ will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom. This passage that we have been uprooted to today is in a very grave time. We are in between Jesus’ announcement of the coming suffering and his arrival to Jerusalem.
These events just previously named must be on the forefront of the minds of Jesus’ followers. It’s like when in our own lives we have just had a large aha moment, that thought or that epiphany is going to remain on our minds for a while. So with all of this background knowledge, let us continue into this text. Jesus takes with him his most inner circle of disciples. This is the first time in Matthew that names these three to be set apart from the other 12, but we know from the other Gospel texts that these three, Peter, James, and John; are all considered a part of the inner most circle around Jesus. While upon this high mountain, it says that Jesus was transfigured before them. Jesus did not change his appearance like that of those who maybe dye their hair, or put makeup on, but Jesus changed form, all of Jesus, including his clothes that were upon his back. Matthew writes, “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.” These symbols of light, brightness, Moses, Elijah are all important in this scene. We MUST keep on the forefront of our minds that Matthew is a Jew and thus writing for a Jewish audience. This understanding of his face shining like the sun resembles that of Moses when Moses had come down off the Mount Sinai and he had seen the LORD. Let me take you back to that scene for a brief moment. Exodus 34:29-35*
Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.
This narrative of the transfigured Christ is clearly bringing about some revelations from the previous knowledge of the Jews. In the Jewish context, this transfiguration into the brilliant light of the LORD is saying that Jesus is not simply reflecting the light, but that Christ is emitting the light, Christ is the source of this great light, Jesus is giving a preview of the future Kingdom in all of its glory.
This word transfigured in the Greek is only seen in three other places throughout our scriptures. We see it once in the Gospel of Mark in his account of telling this very same story, and twice by the Apostle Paul. I point this out to you, because the times that Paul uses it speaks directly to how the transfiguration becomes applicable to our being. These two times that we see this is first in Romans 12:2*,
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
That word transformed is the very same Greek word that is to mean transfigured. And the second time in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 3: 13-18*.
Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
Both of these scriptures from Paul, speaks to the very same thing, and that is our imagination, our minds, and our hopes. Jesus has given us a vision of the Kingdom, and it is with this very same vision that we are to reach for, this higher calling on our lives of becoming a transformed people for the purposes of being the transformational people that God has called us to be. This is not done by our own selves, but as Paul says, this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. Our lives in the act of being justified is not the end all. Once we have said, “Yes Lord I believe in your Son and I know that he is the Lord of my life.” is not the end of our relationship with God, but rather it is just the very beginning of the great work of the Spirit in our very lives. The Spirit then goes on to transform our lives to be the image bearers of Christ to the world, in the United Methodist Church we call this process sanctification. The Spirit has reminded us of all that Christ has taught and it is the Spirit that continues to give us this vision, this hope, this realized final hope that we are being made into.
This brilliant light, is the hope that is placed within all of us who believe, as we are awaiting for the brilliance to return. Oh yes, the light does return. Remember, the light of Christ on this mount is a small taste of what is yet to come. May I point now to the eschatological, final hope that we each carry with us. John’s revelation 21:22-24*,
“I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.”
This brings me to my final observation of this particular passage. We had begun this series with the baptism of our Lord. When Jesus had emerged from the water, the heavens opened up and the Spirit descended like a dove and a voice was heard saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” This so long ago in the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry and now we are on our way to Jerusalem here again we hear these very same words. When Peter was talking the white brilliant cloud overcomes them and interrupts saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” But then in this account there are three words that are added to this…”Listen to Him!” Listen to Him, over the course of these last eight weeks, we have been listening to what our Lord Jesus has preached, this underlying theme of the Kingdom of God, the parables that Jesus spoke was about envisioning this Kingdom, and so I encourage you and myself today just as God encouraged those three disciples, “Listen to Him”.
*All Scriptures Used is from the NRSV