Sermon St E 9.45 14 February 2021 Year B Transfiguration
2 Kings 2v1-12 Psalm50v1-6 2 Cor 4v3-6 Mark 9v2-9
Let us pray:
Perhaps one of the foundational beliefs of our Christion faith are the words spoken by God the Father at the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to Him”. A lesson for all of us as believers that we must always be ‘listening to Jesus’ if we are truly to become His disciples. So let us take a look at this important, and theologically significant, story of Jesus’ transfiguration recorded in all three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, and referred to by St Peter in his second epistle (2Pt1v16), saying “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty”.
The first question we may have is why did Jesus only take three of his disciples with him up that high mountain to witness his glory? We read in our gospel that this event took place six days after Jesus had been with his disciples at Caesarea Philippi in the north of the Galilee. There Jesus had asked the disciples a searching question “Who do you say that I am?” A question that Jesus still askes of all people today, and a question that each one of us has had to make an answer to, so can we, have we, said like Peter, “You are the Messiah”, you are the anointed one from God. Perhaps it was in recognition of this great confession from Peter that Jesus took him, together with James and John, his closest three disciples, up the high mountain to witness His glory.
So where was that high mountain? If you visit Israel the tour guides will take you to mount Tabor in the Galilee, where there is an easily accessible commemorative church, but in Jesus time there was a Roman garrison at the top. The more probable true location is on the slopes of the towering mount Hermon, in the north, and not so accessible for the average tourist.
Then it was there on Hermon’s holy slopes that Jesus was transfigured, changed in appearance, in the presence of Moses and Elijah, and clothed in ‘dazzling white raiment’, in Luke’s words, or as Matthew says, ‘white as light’, and this reclothing of Jesus was a clear indication of His divinity.
You will remember that throughout the scriptures we see descriptions of God surrounded by light, and as the Hebrew people made their exodus from the bondage of Egypt, what accompanied them? Yes, the shekinah glory, the pilar of dazzling light that hovered over the Tabernacle, the tent of meeting between God and Moses, and signified that God was travelling with them on their journey to freedom in the promised land. And we as Christians have that same light of God, the presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, travelling with us along the path of our present earthly pilgrimage.
But why Moses and Elijah? And of course you know the answer to that. Because they signified how both the Jewish law, the Torah, and all the Prophets, pointed to the coming of Jesus as Messiah. The Torah and the Prophets had maintained throughout Jewish history, a testimony to the coming of Messiah, the anointed One from God the Father. Do you remember the words Jesus spoke to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, that the words of the prophets spoke of him, and of his suffering. Jesus takes up that same theme, in Luke’s account of the transfiguration, speaking to those three disciples of, ‘his departure which was soon to be accomplished at Jerusalem’, through his death on Calvary’s tree.
We then read of what I take as some often misunderstood words from Peter, “Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”, and Mark adds, ‘for he did not know what to say, for they were exceedingly afraid’. Clearly the three disciples had recognised who was with Jesus, Moses and Elijah, but were they afraid, or were they in exceeding awe at the majesty and person of their Lord being transfigured before their eyes in this spectacular way?
I think Peter’s words held in them a pointer for us to indicate the time of year when this event actually took place. Can you make that link?
In speaking of booths the thought that may have flashed into Peter’s mind may have been the upcoming Jewish festival of booths, or Tabernacles. A time when the people still dwelt in temporary shelters for a week, a time to remember their ancestors who had dwelt in tents, or booths, as they moved across the wilderness from Egypt to Canaan during the 40 years.
If that was the case then the transfiguration may have been in late summer of AD 29 just before the celebration of Tabernacles in the September.
But then we have recorded the ultimate testimony to the divinity and person of our Lord Jesus in the words of God coming from that voice from the bright cloud that had overshadowed them all on the mountain slopes.
Matthew records those words more fully than Mark saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him”. What do you notice? There are three short, but very significant, phrases. And just where did each of those phrase come from?
Maybe you already know that the Jewish bible, our Old Testament, is divided into three sections, ‘the Torah’, the law of Moses; the Prophets, the Nevi’im; and the Writings, the Ketuvim. These three divisions form the acronym Tanakh, the name describing the Hebrew Bible.
The three phrases spoken by God’s voice from the cloud, each have their origin in one of those three sections of the Tanakh, showing how God was specifically affirming the person of His beloved Son Jesus from the ancient scriptures.
‘You are my Son’, is a quotation from the great psalm two where God says, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”. This now forms part of our creedal statement, so here reference was being made to the writings.
Then we had, ‘with whom I am well pleased’, a quote from the great prophet Isaiah, where at the start of chapter 42 God says, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights”. Clearly God took great delight, and was well pleased, with the obedience shown by Jesus in doing the will of his heavenly Father. A delight God still experiences as we his children today chose to obey His commandments and statutes.
And finally, the little phrase ‘listen to him’, comes from the Torah, the first five books of the bible, it is a quote from Deuteronomy chapter 18 (v15). There Moses makes a prophetic promise to the people saying, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me, from among you, from your brethren-him you shall heed”, or listen to.
I guess Moses when he also heard the voice from the cloud thought, ‘I told you so, and here he is’, the prophet like me God promised to raise up.
What clearer witness could there be from God the Father in heaven to the person of our Lord than reference to all three sections of the Hebrew scripture, references that would not have been missed by those three disciples. Reference that we, and all humankind, neglect at our peril.
Jesus was indeed shown to be greater than all the law and the prophets.
No wonder Matthew tells us that the disciples hearing that testimony ‘fell on their faces and were filled with awe’. Jesus then went to those three disciples and touched them saying, “Rise and have no fear”, the cloud with Moses and Elijah vanished, and the disciples looked, and saw ‘no one but Jesus only’
What an encouragement for us that at all times and through all our various situations, we only need to look and to see Jesus for us to be able to move along our path with no fear as we exercise our faith and trust in him.
But just why, after such a transformational encounter, as they came down from the mountain to meet up with the other disciples, did Jesus instruct them to tell no one of their experience till after He had been raised from the dead?
Perhaps it was to avoid any possible misunderstanding that such an early revelation of his true and unmistakable identity as the Messiah, could have if too many people shared in that knowledge before his resurrection.
The writer to the Hebrews (1v3) may have seen in the transfiguration a clear indication that Jesus reflects ‘the glory of God, and bears the very stamp of God’s nature, upholding the universe by his word of power’.
That is the Jesus we have been called to love and to serve. The Jesus who not only fulfilled all that was written of him in the Tanakh to be the Messiah and to be ‘the lamb of God who was to take away our sin’, but also the very word who in the beginning was with God the Father.
That is the Jesus who has promised to you and to me an ‘eternal life’, and the hope of a future together with him in the coming new creation. Now that should bring about a transfiguration of our lives and our ways.
Let us take a moment of quiet as we reflect upon the awesome nature of Jesus our Lord, our Saviour and our coming King. Amen