2 Peter 1:16-21
We are about to enter the last week of the short season of Epiphany. This coming Wednesday we begin forty days of Lent. Over the past few weeks at various services I have talked about epiphany. As a reminder, the Greek word for “epiphany” means disclosure, manifestation, unveiling or appearance.
Matthew 17 for this week describes one of the greatest “epiphanies” ever; the Transfiguration of Jesus before Peter, James, and John. It is complete with blinding light, a heavenly voice, and visions of Moses and Elijah.
The event was so mind-boggling that the New Testament reading this week in 2 Peter 1 admits that some people dismissed the story as a “cleverly invented tale.” The Transfiguration account is in Matthew, Mark & Luke so we know it is an important event.
Close your eyes just for a moment.
I would like you to consider: what does Jesus look like to you?
What colour is his hair, his eyes, teeth – crooked or straight? Ears – big or small? Tall or short? Hands – rough or smooth?
Just create a picture of what you think He looks like.
By this point in Matthew’s Gospel we have seen a very human Jesus. He was born, had a childhood; Jesus eats, drinks, sleeps, goes to a wedding, goes sailing, meets up with friends. He travels, he cries, he gets angry, he wants to be alone. All very normal and human activities. But we also see Jesus healing people, exercising demons; doing more supernatural things. He is doing a lot of teaching and preaching and the crowds are growing and the Pharisees are starting to close ranks.
Then we have the Transfiguration! If there were hints that Jesus was something more than strictly human, here we have it! Jesus really is more than a mere man, more than human. The Transfiguration is the luminous story of a mystical encounter, not only between God and God’s Beloved but also between those at the centre of the story and those who watch. Those at the centre are Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Those who watch are Peter, James and John. And then, of course, there are all of us watching all of them.
I want to focus on the watching, the listening and the closeness to God that happens in this story.
Peter, James and John are invited to accompany Jesus up the mountain where he physically changes his appearance before them. The description is that of a heavenly being, dressed in white. These three probably had a better understanding of who Jesus was; beyond being only human. Just before the Transfiguration account, Jesus asks Peter ‘who do you say I am?’ and Peter replies ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’. Jesus blesses Peter for this answer.
Once this acknowledgment takes place, Jesus begins to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, to suffer and die at the hands of the chief priests and the elders, and on the third day rise again.
While it might not have made complete sense to Peter, James and John, they have already decided who Jesus is. He is the Messiah. They had stayed close to Jesus throughout his ministry being the first disciples called. They stayed with him through to the end – even Peter who denies Jesus three times never really leaves him.
If we want to see who Jesus is, if we want to listen to Him – we need to stay close to him.
Go back for another moment to your mental picture of Jesus. How far away is he from you? Three inches, three feet, across the room, a speck in the distance?
Where we place Jesus in our thinking and in our lives says something about how close we are to him. If we want to see his face then we need to stay close. Keep Your Eyes on Jesus. Also keep your ears on Jesus.
For the second time, the disciples hear a voice from the cloud saying ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased. They first heard this at Jesus’ baptism; but this time there is an addendum, ‘listen to him’.
If we want to hear Him; then we need to stay close to Him. Jesus is always speaking but we are not always willing to listen to his voice. People sometimes tell me that they don’t think they have ever heard from God or had any encounter with him, what some might call a ‘mountain top’ experience – whatever that might mean for them.
I am always curious to know how people are positioning themselves to ‘hear from God’. Closeness to God is a thread that runs through both the Old & New Testaments.
There is an intimacy to a relationship with God; we see this as he takes aside certain people – Moses, Peter, James and John for particular purposes. Sometimes we have to be taken out of our circumstances and situations to meet with God. Moses is taken up and spends an extended amount of time in the presence of God: forty days and forty nights. Moses is given instructions for the building of the ark of the Covenant and other laws and commandments for the people of Israel whom he was leading.
Moses reappears in the Transfiguration story as representing the OT law that is fulfilled in the coming of Jesus. Throughout the OT God is hidden because he is too glorious to be seen by his people. They could not survive in all that glory.
It is through Jesus that we can stand in the glory of God – the God that is hidden in the OT is the God revealed and exposed in the person of Jesus in the NT.
It is in the Transfiguration that we are reminded of greatness and otherness of Jesus and of God which is helpful as we head into Lent. We need reminding that Jesus is more than we are, he is more than enough.
I think that many Christians try to reduce him down, make him fit into our lives, constrain him to our view of the world. We easily dismiss Him when he doesn’t do or act how we want him to.
With Transfiguration Sunday, we come to the end of another liturgical season. We have spent time with the people who experienced Epiphany (the wise men, Mary & Joseph, Simeon & Anna). We now prepare for the long darkness of Lent. We can’t know ahead of time what mountains and valleys lie ahead. We can’t predict how God will speak, and in what guise Jesus might appear.
But we can trust in this: whether on the brightest mountain, or in the darkest valley, Jesus is with us. Even as he blazes with holy light, his hand remains warm and solid on our shoulders. Even when we’re on our knees in the wilderness, he whispers, “Do not be afraid.”
So listen to the ordinary. Scan the horizon. Keep listening. Keep looking. It is good for us to be here.