Writings from the ministry team
for your refreshment
Luke 9:28-36 7 Feb 2016
What is it about mountains? Even so much later in life than when I first climbed one the very sight of a majestic peak, soaring upwards into or through the clouds still makes me want to set off up its slopes. Iím positive that Iím not alone in this. Itís something almost primeval, like the desire to walk to the edge of the sea when weíre near a beach. We feel drawn towards these natural wonders, with their air of mystery as to what lies over and beyond the horizon.
That sense of amazement at the wonders of the world seems to be innate, probably rooted in us all the way back into prehistoric times. In more recent history, but still 3,300 years ago, Moses led a huge mass of Godís people, the Israelites, out of Egypt on a journey back to the land that the Lord God had given to their ancestors. Land that heíd promised would be theirs for ever. That journey would be a long one, but would begin by God guiding them to a mountain.
A mountain on which God would give their leader even more guidance Ė this time moral not geographical. Moses spent a long time up that mountain. It was nearly 7,000ft high and after that long climb he spent over a month up there. And this was the second time Ė so Moses had spent ages in the awesome presence of his God. The outcome was that he was given what we call the Ten Commandments, Godís rules to govern the way that he wanted his chosen people to live their lives.
When Moses finally got back to base camp everyone could see a sign of that time spent with God Ė his face was radiant Ė bright with light. It was so scary for those there that they persuaded Moses to wear a veil.
Now we move forward in time 1,300 years and move 400 miles north to Mount Hermon, which many theologians think was the mountain on which the transfiguration of Jesus took place; the event described in this morningís gospel reading.
The word transfiguration is a word thatís derived from the Latin translation of a Greek word used in the original gospels - metamorphosis. So today, through our reading of Godís word, we shared the witness of the three closest of Jesusí friends and followers: the metamorphosis of Jesus, right in front of their eyes. But, like any of the miracles described in the Bible, these supernatural events ask us to approach them in faith. There is, by definition, no natural, physical or rational explanation as to how it happened. But we can discover why. To do that we need to know the context in which it happened. When and where in the three-year mission of Jesus are we, and what went before and after this miracle?
The Transfiguration, which is recorded in the first three gospels, took place in the final summer of Jesusí earthly ministry. Jesus had taken his twelve companions into the beautiful hill region near the city of Caesarea Philippi, north of the Sea of Galilee. It was like a summer holiday away from the crowds, in the cool greenness of the mountains.
So much more pleasant than the scorching summer heat around the lake. But it wasnít a time when the band of brothers were allowed to just lounge about. Jesus had a real purpose behind this time apart. He needed to prepare his special disciples for the things to come upon them all in the following spring.
During this period of particular training Jesus spent a lot of time in prayer and he talked a lot about the future. He also started to introduce the topic of his forthcoming arrest and execution. He told them that it was an inevitable part of his mission - to be the saviour of all Godís people. They didnít fully understand, but that was mostly because they didnít want to understand the awful prospect of his premature death.
Eventually Jesus took three of his inner circle, Peter, James and John away from the camp, up the slopes of Mount Hermon. The Hebrew name of this 9,000 foot high peak means Sacred and, over many centuries, it had been revered by most Middle Eastern civilisations.
When they had reached the top and while Jesus was praying, his appearance underwent an amazing change. He seemed to be illuminated from the inside out. A dazzling and no doubt startling transformation. The disciples could hardly believe their eyes. And then, even more amazingly, they could see two other figures with Jesus: they were Moses and Elijah.
I donít know about you, but Iíve often wondered how they knew that. There probably werenít many, if any, images, pictures or sculptures of these two ancient Hebrews. So how did they recognise them. Well, the account tells us that Jesus was talking with them; so names must have been said.
But why those two, of all the Old Testament characters that could have been there? Well, Moses was the one who had also gone up a holy mountain and met with God, heíd been given the Ten Commandments, the root of Jewish Law.
Elijah was a prophet whoíd not died peacefully In his bed, but had been taken from the earth by a whirlwind into a Holy Cloud. Much earlier Jesus had said that he hadnít come to change what was in the books of the Law and the Prophets. Heíd come, he said, to fulfil them. And here he was, changed almost beyond recognition, talking with the ancient representatives of those two fundamental elements of Judaism: Moses for the Law and Elijah for the Prophets.
But what about Jesusí bodily change, what did that mean? By now Jesus the man, had grown to fully understand his spiritual being. He knew that he was a part of God, that Godís spirit and his own spirit were one in the same. I canít believe that there wasnít any tension within the man about his forthcoming self-sacrifice. He needed to be reassured that it really was Godís will and that he would be reunited with his spiritual father in heaven.
The fact that Jesus was in prayer when the Transfiguration happened meant that God had chosen this time and place to confirm that the Divinity and the Trinity were alive and well, and dwelling in this very special man. His body was now aglow with that spirit. People who have experienced the arrival and indwelling of the Holy Spirit will tell you that they felt aglow with both heat and light.
Peterís impetuous desire to build shelters for them all showed that he was getting a glimpse into another world, some might call it heaven, and he didnít want it to stop. In effect he was saying ďStay here, this is so wonderful we donít want you to go away.Ē
And the voice that was heard was Godís confirmation of who Jesus was and is: Godís son. The last time that similar words were heard was over 2 years earlier by the River Jordan, when Jesus was baptised.
This time God added the phrase, ďListen to him.Ē That was obviously for the benefit of those three goggle-eyed and frightened observers of the scene. Then, as quickly as it had come, the cloud went away, taking the spiritual figures of Moses and Elijah with it. Jesus became his human self once more and went over to comfort the terrified disciples. He asked them not to spread the word about what theyíd seen yet. The time wasnít right and he wanted them to hold it all in their hearts and minds, where it would help them understand the final miracle: the Resurrection.
After they came down the mountain they started that final journey through space and time that would take them, by the following Spring, to Jerusalem and the Passover, the Last Supper, the cross and the empty tomb.
In Paulís second letter to his Christian friends in Corinth he reminds them of the difference between the old covenant, made in the time of Moses, and the new one made through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul likens the Jews of the old covenant to those having a veil pulled over their minds, dulling their relationship with God, obscuring the light of Christ and blurring the great message of the good news of forgiveness and reconciliation for all.
If you would like your own transfiguration, your own change for the better and an entry ticket to a bright, shining and eternal future, all you have to do is let your spirit go up the mountain in prayer to commune with Godís spirit. You then have to ask him to come into your life and make you glow from the inside out. He will do it if you ask him. He will help you get your life back on the right footing and bring you to a full understanding of what Jesus has done and can do for you.