Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on February 3, 2008, Transfiguration Sunday. The gospel lesson is Matthew 17:1-9.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Many of us have heard the story of the Transfiguration numerous times. Others here today are hearing it for the first time. I’d like to think that all of us present today will be given a deeper understanding of Jesus, just as Peter, James and John experienced almost 2,000 years ago.
By the 17th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel (that’s where the Transfiguration account is recorded), Jesus is really concentrating on training his disciples and getting them ready for his final days of earthly ministry and getting them ready for when the whole load of ministry will fall on them.
So Jesus selects three of his disciples to accompany him to the top of a mountain. The mountain most likely was Mt. Hermon, 14,000 feet high, within the area called Galilee.
When they got to the top of the mountain, Matthew tells us, “And he was transfigured before them, his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.” The word “transfigured” means to be changed, to have your appearance go from looking one way to looking another way. Matthew goes on to tell us “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.”
What did it mean that Jesus looked this way? Every good Jewish boy would have known that when Moses went up on Mt. Sinai to speak with God and get those Ten Commandments, his face shone like that because he had been in the very presence of God, and all the Israelite people could plainly see how he seemingly “glowed.”
Matthew tells us that along with the transfigured Jesus, also Moses and Elijah appeared. Can you imagine what went through the minds of Peter, James and John, mere mortals being a glimpse of something out of this world?
Please don’t miss what is happening here. The divine stamp of approval is being given. The mantle of leadership is being passed on. It’s like Oprah Winfrey giving her endorsement to Barack Obama, only better. It’s like Arnold Schwarzenegger giving his endorsement to John McCain, only better.
The Moses, perhaps the outstanding figure for Jews, the one God selected to lead the Exodus, to receive the 10 commandments, to lead the people to the entrance to the Promised Land, is in essence saying, “This Jesus is the one you are now to follow.” And Elijah, one of the great prophets who spoke the word of the Lord, who some thought would come back as the Messiah, is in essence saying, “This Jesus is really the one you have been waiting for.”
Matthew tells us what Peter did after looking at this divine picture. He offers to make three tents or booths for them, most likely to keep them here in place so they and everyone else could come to this holy place to also have this holy encounter. And Peter’s offer is not accepted. But please be careful not to be too hard on Peter. For many religious folks ever since have wanted to do the same. They’ve wanted to have this religious high that made the feel good and spiritual and loved, and have not really understood what the Lord expects.
Peter wasn’t even allowed to finish his offer about the booths when the Lord responded. Matthew tells us that a bright cloud overshadowed them and a voice came from that cloud, saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” Have you heard those words before? At the time of his Baptism in the River Jordan, God spoke those very same words, confirming Jesus as coming directly from God.
And then we are given this phrase by Matthew that I think that is really the heart of this whole story, “And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.” I believe this is the essence of being a Christian, that we keep our eyes on Jesus alone.
This afternoon in the Confirmation Session, we are going to be looking at something we are calling “distractions.” We’ll be remembering the story of Jesus calming the storm and Peter walking on water and how, when he took his eyes off of Jesus, he began to sink. In this story today, Peter became “distracted” by wanting to build something to capture the moment rather than listening for what the Lord wanted to say.
A good question for the church today, for Resurrection, is this: What is real? Is it the mountaintop with its glimpse of glory? Or is it the muddling of daily life and ministry? Is it our prayers and worship, our confession of faith, and our hope of heaven one day? Or is it our acts of kindness, words of encouragement, and other concrete expressions of our faith ordinary days?
Matthew ends our story today with these words, “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.” So some truths come to us. We can never stay on the mountain. That is not where God intends for his people to be. We are to be out in the ordinary world of life, with all its ups and downs. Of course. But we are also given glimpses, if only occasionally, of glory. And it is these glimpses, these mountaintop experiences, that sustain us when we return to the places where God sends us.
In these coming days of Lent, I invite you to take the opportunities that are available to catch glimpses of God’s person and glory, so that you too may be sustained in your everyday life.
Thanks be to God. Amen!