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The text for our consideration is the Gospel reading from the 9th chapter of St. Luke’s gospel, beginning with verse 28, “Now about eight days after these sayings [Jesus] took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray.”
Over the years I have enjoyed hiking a lot of the mountains in Maine and New Hampshire and on several occasions I’ve invited you to come along. And some of you have accepted the invitation and some of you have declined. If anyone whom I have not invited to come along would like to be invited, please tell me. I love the company. But I understand that mountain climbing is not everyone’s cup of tea.
Of the 12 disciples, Jesus invited Peter, James and John to go up the mountain with Him. It’s hard to say ‘no thanks’ when Jesus invites you to climb a mountain with Him. Or, maybe they were pleased. I wonder how the other 9 felt about not having been asked. Were they disappointed, or were they relieved? Can you tell that I’m already thinking about the summer?
Matthew, Mark and Luke each give their report on this episode. John, the one gospel writer who was actually present does too, but not in any detail. John simply summarizes the whole thing saying, “we have seen His glory, the glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14).
Both Matthew and Mark’s accounts are very similar to each other. But Luke’s account has a lot of information that only he includes, and it’s those details that are unique to Luke’s gospel that we’ll try to focus in upon today.
A. “To Pray”
For instance, only Luke tells us that Jesus went up the mountain ‘to pray.’
• Only Luke tells us that when Jesus was baptized, it was “while He was praying the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit descended on Him, and the Father said, ‘This is my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (3:21).
• Only Luke tells us that on one occasion, “He went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God,” which is most likely, exactly what happened at the Transfiguration. (6:12).
• Eight days before the Transfiguration, Luke tells us, “Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And He asked them, ‘who do you say that I am?’ (9:18).
• Several times, Luke tells us that Jesus left the crowds for a solitary place in order to pray.
• Matthew, Mark and Luke each tell us that after Jesus ate the Passover Supper in the Upper Room with His disciples, He led them to the Mount of Olives to pray. But only Luke tells us that as He prayed, He sweat drops of blood.
When the Son prays to the Father through the Holy Spirit there is a Trinitarian conversation taking place like in the beginning when “God said, ‘Let US make man in our image.” The Son has not left the Trinity like He was away on a business trip and would be back soon. Where the Son is there is the Father and there is the Holy Spirit for there are not three Gods but one God. In Him the fullness of godhead dwells bodily. (Col.3:2).
B. His Appearance
“And as He was praying, the appearance of His face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.”
Matthew and Mark both use the word, “metamorphose” – “His form changed.” But Luke simply says “His outward appearance was ‘other,’ ‘different.’ “How do you describe it? There’s nothing to compare it to.’
A long time before this, God invited Moses to hike up a mountain called Sinai. Moses struggles to describe what he saw. “Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain.” (Ex.24:17).
Luke points to the clothes Jesus was wearing saying that they became “dazzling white.” It wasn’t a spotlight shining down on Jesus that made Him look ‘dazzling,’ but a light shining from the inside out. Like water that gushes out from a spring, light was gushing out from the source of all light who says, “I am the light of the world.”
C. Moses and Elijah”
“And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory…”
Down below, His efforts to get away to a solitary place so that He might pray were always being interrupted by the crowds who came looking for Him. Same here on the mountain.
According to Old Testament law, there had to be at least two eye-witnesses to verify any testimony or accusation for it to be considered to be legal and binding. So here they are.
Luke is the only one to inform us that at the tomb where His body had been laid, but which was not empty, there were “two men in dazzling apparel” to give testimony to the fact that “He is not here, He is risen.”
And again, it’s only Luke who tells us that when Jesus ascended into heaven, “behold, two men… in white robes” were there to testify that He “will come again in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Lk.24:4; Acts 1:11).
Two witnesses are on hand for His transfiguration, resurrection and ascension to establish the truth of their claim so that you might believe and not doubt.
D. “His Departure”
Only Luke tells us what Moses, Elijah and Jesus spoke about. They “spoke of His departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”
The word for “departure” in Greek, is “exodus.” “Ex” = ‘out.’ “Odos” = ‘road.” “The road out.” In the first “Exodus,” the road out was paved by God and led right through the middle of the Red Sea. And Moses led the people of God down that road, out of the life of slavery and death in Egypt.
But that Exodus was only a sign that pointed to the Exodus that these three are talking about on the mountain top. God was about to pave the ultimate and final “road out” of mankind’s slavery to sin and death and hell through the true “Red Sea” of Jesus’ blood.
E. Sleep of Disciples.
Only Luke tells us that while all of this was going on, the disciples were asleep. “Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep.” Jesus had probably prayed for a long time on the mountain and the three could not stay awake with Him. Mountain climbing can really take it out of you.
These of course are the same three that Jesus took with Him into the heart of the Garden of Gethsemane, that they would keep watch while He prayed. And they could not stay awake there either.
This would seem to suggest that all of this took place at night, which would have made the whole scene that much more incredible.
F. Disciples Awake
“Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.”
Brothers and sisters, listen to this very carefully. They fell asleep, and they awoke saw the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ surrounded by the company of heaven. I’m surprised that they didn’t start singing the Sanctus.
What is this but a picture of the experience of everyone who dies in faith. We fall asleep in death and we wake up in the presence of the glory of God and we see Jesus – ‘face to face’ and ‘as He is.’ His divinity no longer hidden under His humanity, or under the water or the bread and wine, but fully revealed, not apart from humanity but along with it.
This is what the Prophet Isaiah was talking about when he sang, “You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!” (Is. 26:19).
When St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, he quotes an old baptismal hymn, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Eph. 5:14).
So, I’ve always wondered if when Jesus awoke Lazarus from his death, if Lazarus wasn’t at least a bit disappointed that he was still in this world that is “covered in darkness” and the glory of God in Jesus Christ still hidden from his sight.
“When they became fully awake, they saw His glory…” It’s like they awoke in heaven, which “has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light and its lamp is the Lamb… And there will be no night there.” (Rev. 21:23-24).
Isn’t this just what Jesus prayed for in His “High Priestly Prayer” in the Upper Room after the Last Supper? “Now Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed… Father, I desire that they also, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:5,24).
Here, on the mountain, as Jesus prayed, His prayer was answered.
G. “Good To Be Here”
“And as the men were parting from Him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good that we are here.’” Listen, if those are the first words out of your mouth when you awake from death in the presence of the glorified Jesus, you’ll be in great company. “Lord, it is good that we are here.” I can imagine every single saint who has ever died in the faith and awoke in heaven saying those same words.
“IT IS GOOD” in direct response to God’s “it is good” when we awake in that creation that we have never known.
Peter offered to put up three tents. He thought he died and went to heaven. Who can blame him for wanting to stay? He must have known something of what poor Lazarus must have felt.
But this is not the mountain where Jesus’ departure must be accomplished. He must go to another mountain for that, the one we call ‘Calvary.’
This was what He had been telling the disciples eight days before coming up the mountain to pray. “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Lk.9:21-22).
This was the thing that up to this point, Peter could not get his head around. It made no sense that Jesus would redeem the world by suffering and death. And Peter hardly even heard that part about “on the third day be raised.” So, Luke writes that Peter did not know what he said.
H. The Cloud
“As He was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them…”
“Overshadowed” is the same word that Luke uses to explain how Jesus was conceived in the virgin Mary. “The Holy Spirit shall come upon you and the power of the Most high shall overshadow you.” (Luke 1:35) We can only wonder what was conceived in these three men on that mountain.
“And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One, listen to Him!”
Once again, just as at His Baptism, the Trinity in unity is on display for all to see; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The same Spirit who led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by Satan will now lead Him to the cross to be crucified to death under Pontius Pilate unto death and buried in Joseph’s tomb.
There will be no light emanating from within Jesus for us to see. No company of heaven surrounding Him. No voice from the Father testifying of Him. The departure that He must fulfill in Jerusalem must be fulfilled in darkness, all alone, forsaken by the Father. He must “fulfill His departure in Jerusalem” so that we may depart in peace.
“And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.”