Click play to listen to the audio version of this sermon.
Moses called Israel to follow him. He promised to lead them out of Egypt and it's dreadfully dreary and deadly dangerous, day to day existence, to the Promised Land, where the rivers flowed with milk and honey and the trees were always ripe with the luscious fruit and life was good. And they followed him.
Jesus called His disciples saying, “come, follow Me.” People were looking for another Moses who would lead them out of their world where they lived under ‘foreign occupation’ into a new and improved Promised Land. Jesus called His disciples, 12 altogether, one for each of the 12 tribes of Israel, to follow Him from their world into His world. And they followed Him.
The world is still a mess and it seems like it’s getting messier by the minute. Lot’s of people are looking for someone to lead them out of this world into a better world and they’re willing to follow whomever promises to deliver a “promised land” according to their own definition.
The disciples followed Jesus. To tell the truth, for the most part, His world didn't look a whole lot different than their world. Sickness, diseases, paralysis, demon possession. It was all there, and I don't know but it sure seemed like since He came around there was more of it than ever before. Same politics and turf wars. If anything, tensions were higher than they had been. They don't remember this kind of questioning and suspicion from the religious leaders. Still there were the poor and hungry. Still there was the dying and the dead.
It wasn't a world removed from this world that Jesus had called His disciples to follow Him to. It was a world in this world, this world of sickness and disease, of paralysis and demons, of arguments and accusations, of poverty and death.
What did He want them to see? What did He want to show them? Where did He want to lead them?
“And after six days, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.”
For an all too brief moment, He took them out of their world and into His world. Not an underworld but an over-world. They were above it all, removed from it all. There are no words in the human language that can capture what it was actually like. How do you tell someone what the Grand Canyon looks like with words? Matthew, Mark and Luke do their best, but whatever picture we have in our mind is not even close to the reality. Just a short hike up a mountain, but they were in another world.
“He was transfigured before them.” “Metamorphose.” His form was changed. His essence was not changed. He is who He was. He is who He is. He is who He will be. They saw what was there the whole time but that they had never seen before. ‘He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.’ (John 1:10) “Who do you say that I am?” Even Peter never saw this.
It had to have been something like the creation in the beginning. Everything covered in darkness, eyes that could see but couldn't really see because of the darkness. And God said, “let there be LIGHT!” “And the light shattered the darkness.” And their blind eyes SUDDENLY saw that the “true light that gives light to all men, was in the world.”
“And God saw that the light was good.” “Tov.” “Perfect in every respect.” “Exactly the way God meant it to be.” And whatever the light shined on was “good.” Paradise. Heaven. How do you describe it with words?
And Peter said, “Rabbi, it is GOOD that we are here.” He didn't know where he was or what was happening but this much he knew, this was GOOD. They were in the ‘light’ and it was ‘good.’ Perfect. Just the way God meant it to be.
“His clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.” The light could not be contained, either by skin or by clothing. What was on the outside revealed what was on the inside without contradiction or confusion.
In the beginning, the Lord God made clothes to cover Adam and Eve because they were full of sin. He couldn't stand to look at their sin and so He hid their sin from His sight. But here stands the 2nd Adam. And He is full of grace and truth and what God the Father ceaselessly beholds, and the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven ceaselessly behold. For a moment, these three get an eyeful of the glory of the only-begotten Son of God – the light of the world.
'Rabbi, it is GOOD that we are here.'
“And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses and they were talking with Jesus.” They represent the 'company of heaven,' those who have died in the faith, are gathered around Jesus here, just as they are there, just as we are here. So, where is this?
These three had never seen these two before. Thousands of years separated their life on earth. But they knew who they were. They had died a long, long time ago, but they were certainly not dead. They were more alive than they ever had been in this world.
Where are they? Where is this?
“They were talking with Jesus.” Just as relaxed and natural as Adam and Eve talked with God in the Garden in the beginning.
'Rabbi, it is GOOD that we are here.'
“And a cloud overshadowed them.” A cloud, as in, Israel followed a cloud by day and God was in the cloud. Hidden from their sight yet always present with them. It overshadowed them, as in, “the Holy Spirit shall overshadow you.” They were in the cloud as a fetus is in the womb.
“And a voice came out of the cloud…” This 'voice,' was it thunder, or was it an earthquake? Or was it a 'still, small voice' like the one that whispered to Elijah when he wanted so much to hear God speak to him and assure him that he was not alone and that God was with him to deliver him?
Who knows? That's always the problem with the written word, and the e-mailed word and the texted word. You can't hear the tone of voice and the tone of voice makes all the difference doesn't it?
The disciples “were terrified” by the whole thing. Zechariah and Mary and the shepherds and the women at the tomb were terrified when they saw the holy angels in their bright as light robes. But the angels said, “Do not be terrified!” “Fear not.”
But here with these three, there is no such word spoken. Could it be that the tone of the voice was the assurance that they need not be terrified? Never was there a voice that spoke more comfort and peace and rest into the heart of man than this voice spoke, and continues to speak – “This is my beloved Son.”
“Listen to Him.” Jesus led the up this high mountain BY THEMSELVES. They were all alone. It was easy to “listen to Him.” There was no one else besides Him. There on this holy mountain He had their undivided, undistracted, unmultitasking attention. Oh, that He had our undivided attention more often so that we could LISTEN TO HIM. “I am the way and the truth and the life.” “I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full.”
“Rabbi, it is good that we are here.”
“Suddenly, in a flash, in the blink of the eye, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.” Gone the intensely white clothes, gone Moses, gone Elijah, gone the cloud, gone the voice. “Jesus only.”
But, surely, no longer the same Jesus as the Jesus who called them from their fishing and led them up the mountain. Not that Jesus had changed. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow and for that we give thanks. But they were changed. How could they not have been changed after this? How could they not see Jesus in a ‘new light’? (Pun intended)
The peasant who had no house or home or place to lay His head was actually the king of kings and Lord of Lords. He had been living among them in disguise. Now His cover was blown. They had seen Him “as He is.” Everything had changed.
“And as they were coming down the mountain…” He brought them up the mountain, now He brings them down the mountain again. They could not stay there. This is not where His work was to be done. It is not the destination to which His work is headed. Just a preview. Just a foretaste of the feast to come.
“He charged them to tell no one what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” Before the world may know who it is who has come down to them and dwelled among them and healed their sick and cast out their demons and stopped their bleeding and fed them with break and raised their dead, He must die and be raised from the dead. The glory that is rightfully His is not to be known apart from the suffering and death that is also rightfully His. He has come down from the glory of the Father into this world to shatter the darkness with His light. And to do that, He must enter into the darkness.
So the voice that they heard on the mountaintop must be drowned out by the voices of sinful man who call Him not the “beloved Son of God,” but “a blasphemer,” “a heretic,” “a lunatic,” “Beelzebub.” On the mountaintop, they heard the Father say, “Listen to Him.” Here, in this world, they must hear the crowds says, “crucify Him, crucify Him.”
The body that was glorified there on the mountain is covered in blood. And the clothes that were “radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them” are raffled off by the guards.
They know not what they are doing.
He is all alone. No Moses, no Elijah at His side, just two criminals, one of which mocks Him. No overshadowing cloud comforting Him in its womb. The Son calls out, pleading to hear His Father’s voice. But there is nothing. Silence. What can be more terrifying than God’s silence?
Even in this, especially in this, we must learn to say, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here.” Perfect. Just as God intended it to be. It is good for us to be here because He is doing this for us, to bring us into His world, paradise, heaven.
The One who was transfigured on the mountaintop is disfigured on the cross. The Son of God is overshadowed in the darkness of our sin. The light of the glory of God is snuffed out in the middle of the day, and the whole world was covered in darkness………
Just as it was in the beginning.
Just as it was when God made all things new.
Just as it was when before God said, LET THERE BE LIGHT. And there was light. And the tomb couldn’t conceal His light anymore than His clothes could. God has done creation over again, in and through His beloved Son – crucified, died and buried.
Don't we just wish that we could have the experience that those three had? If we could see Jesus, resplendent in 'unborrowed light' shining through the bread and the wine of the Lord's Supper. If we could hear the voice of the Father speak from the pulpit like they heard it from the cloud. Then we would have no doubts. Then we would LISTEN TO HIM and follow Him wherever He leads.
But all that we have is the word of those who were there. Now that He has risen from the dead, they’ve let the cat is out of the bag. John writes, “we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Peter writes, “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." (2 Peter 1:16-17)
For now, we cannot see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ with our eyes. We can only see it with our ears. We walk by faith in the testimony of the eyewitnesses of His glory. We LISTEN TO THEM and in listening to them we are listening to Jesus. And we know that He is with us, among us, in this fallen and sinful world where we live.
And if we will only listen, we will hear that we will one day see Jesus in the fullness of His glory just they did on the mountaintop. The last day will come. It will be the last day of this world of sickness and disease, paralysis and demon possession, warfare and bloodshed, poverty and death.
“He will come again WITH GLORY.” And every EYE WILL SEE HIM, AS HE IS. And every mouth will speak what the Father had spoken – “You are the beloved Son of God.” And all who LISTENED TO HIM, will say, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here.”