We Saw His Glory
Luke 9:28-36 27 February 2022
Who is Jesus? That’s a question people have been asking for hundreds of years. Even today people are seeking answers to that question. In the past decades more and more people simply see him as a teacher of wise sayings, a good man, and advocate for the poor and dispossessed. It is quite common to find people, even those who call themselves Christian, who dismiss any notion that Jesus is the visible presence of the Lord God. I have talked with clergy who deny the divinity of the Messiah, who deny the belief in the bodily Resurrection of Jesus and who hardly have a biblical understanding of who Christ Jesus really is. As the season of Lent begins next Wednesday, let’s spend time reflecting on the reality of Christ Jesus. And the best place to begin is in the Bible, the Gospels.
Earlier in Luke 9, Jesus asks the disciples two questions. He asks them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” The disciples answered: John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets. There was confusion as to who Jesus was even among the people. Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.” Peter got it. Then Jesus began teaching that he was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die. That did not sit well for the disciples. A Messiah who would suffer and die was not part of their expectations. They were looking for a Messiah who would rule as King and lead Israel in driving out the Romans.
Six days after Jesus questions the disciples about his identity, he took the inner core of the twelve disciples—Peter, James and John—up a mountain for prayer. Scholars believe he took them up Mount Hermon, an 11,000 foot mountain clearly visible from the Sea of Galilee. In Scripture, mountains are places where people encounter the Lord God. Moses met with God on Mount Sinai and received the Ten Commandments. As we read that they are going up a mountain with Jesus, we immediately know something extraordinarily important is going to happen.
Indeed a mystifying and mysterious event occurred on the mountain. Jesus was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as light. The word, “transfigure”, means to change or transform into something more beautiful or elevated. But this is not just about Jesus becoming more beautiful or elevated.
In Scripture, light is a powerful and rich symbol. In the Old Testament we read about the shekinah glory of God. God is pure uncreated light. When Moses met with God on Mount Sinai, some of that shekinah glory was transferred to him. His face shone brightly or radiantly with it and he had to veil his face for a time to protect the people from it. Light is a complex symbol of the Lord God. In John 8:12 Jesus tells us, “…I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” He also calls his followers, “the light of the world.” God’s light shines through Christ Jesus and his light shines through his people into a dark world.
What does the Transfiguration of Jesus mean? We affirm Jesus is fully human and fully divine. He is completely like us and he is completely unlike us. That’s a hard mystery to rap our heads around but it is completely biblical. Jesus’ divine nature prior to the Transfiguration was veiled in human flesh. When people saw him he looked completely human. However, on the mountain, Peter, James and John saw the unveiled Christ Jesus. They saw his divine nature. They saw his holy and righteous nature. They saw his glory. The writer of Luke tells us that “As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became bright as a flash of lightening (Luke 9:29).” This experience was a preview of the Resurrected, glorified Christ. The writer of Hebrews (1:3) speaks about the glorified Christ: “And he is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
The Transfiguration is confirmation that Jesus is truly God in human flesh. It is the great affirmation that he is completely human and completely divine. One writer said, “Jesus’ outward appearance became an expression of the inward reality of his deity and majesty that heretofore was not expressed.”
Luke tells us, “Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus (Luke 9:30).” This sight must have been a soul expanding experience for Peter, James and John. Being with Jesus was a blessing but then seeing Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus really amazed them. This is further affirmation that Jesus is the Messiah. Moses is the chief law-giver of Israel. He brought the Law from God to the people of Israel. Elijah represents the greatest of the prophets. The three meet to discuss Jesus’ mission. Luke reports they were talking about his departure and what would happen to him in Jerusalem. It is interesting that the word, “departure”, and the word, “exodus”, come from the same root. In the Exodus, Moses led the people of Israel out of bondage in Egypt. Now Jesus goes to Jerusalem to die and be raised and thereby leading us from bondage to sin and from death to eternal life.
There are some who dismiss the Old Testament as irrelevant to Christians. They are completely wrong. The entire Bible, Old Testament and New, is about Jesus. Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesies. Both the Old and New are welded together. Everything was building up to the coming of Jesus and his life, death and Resurrection. Alfred Edersheim, 19th century Bible scholar and Jewish convert to Christianity wrote, “…Jesus was the Very Christ of God, the fulfillment of all Old Testament Prophesy, the heir of Old Testament promise, the realization of the Old Testament hope for Israel, and, in Israel, for all mankind. Without this confession, Christians might have been a Jewish sect, a religious party, or a school of thought, and Jesus a teacher, rabbi, reformer, or leader of man.” The Transfiguration reveals that Jesus is more than a simple teacher of righteousness. He is the Messiah, the very God of very God.
At this point Peter speaks up. He offers to build shelters for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. I suspect he was overwhelmed with all the things he was experiencing and being dumbfounded he just spoke whatever was on his mind. However, he was interrupted by the Voice.
“While he [Peter] was talking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’ (Luke 9:34-35).” If the radiant transformation of Jesus did not get the disciples’ awestruck attention, this surely did. Indeed they fell face-down on the ground and were terrified. They knew who was speaking out of the bright cloud. The Lord God, Creator of the Universe and all that is in it was speaking. Holy awe and reverent fear are the only responses we might have in the presence of the Lord God.
When Jesus was baptized he heard the voice of God speak similar words: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased (Luke 3:22b).” On Mt. Hermon the Lord God again affirms Jesus’ identity. He is the Son of God, the Messiah. But there’s a twist in the second affirmation. He ends it with the words, “Listen to him!” This is a command from God. Listen to Jesus! It’s an imperative, not a suggestion. The Lord God is telling disciples to listen to Jesus. This is not just a command for Peter, James and John. It is a command for all of us who have answered the call to follow Christ Jesus. It is a command for everyone who places their trust in Jesus. We do well when we listen to Jesus and obey God’s commands. In this is life itself.
Who is this Jesus? Some will dismiss this amazing event as a pious legend made up by overzealous disciples. Believing the story is part of trusting in Jesus. Sometimes it is best just to bask in mystery as the disciples basked in the shekinah glory of Jesus on the mountain. The disciples indeed saw his glory as they had never seen it before. Peter later wrote: “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain (2 Peter 1:16-18).”
Who is this Jesus? He’s more than a good teacher or reformer. He is the Son of God, the Messiah. He is, as Paul described him, “…the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15).” He is our Lord and Savior. A key command of God is that we listen to Jesus. How will you listen to our Lord in the coming weeks of Lent?
CH (COL) Michael W. Malone, AUS RET
Veterans Memorial Chapel