In the 5th chapter of Matthew’s gospel Jesus said, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. “Now we have an episode in his life where he really lets his light shine. On this last Sunday in the season of Epiphany we have to remember that one of the major symbols or themes of Epiphany is Light. We have this glimpse of Jesus shining with the glory of the Almighty God his Father.
“After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters - one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’ When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. ‘Get up,’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid.’ When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, ‘Don’t (tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’ [Matthew 17:1-9] (ATIV)
This vision will bring about a new and different relationship between Jesus and his closest disciples. This Sunday is the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany. On Wednesday we will enter the season of Lent. We will move into a period of reflection on our relationship with the God as we prepare for the glorious celebration of Easter and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Prior to beginning, the period of reflection and we have a glimpse of Jesus, glorified as the Anointed One of God. As we enter a period of reflection, it is like a train entering a tunnel. We have a glimpse of the Light at the end of the tunnel. We can look back to the Transfiguration and see Jesus glorified and transfigured as He really is. The lessons for this Last Sunday in Epiphany manifest the glory and power of a God known by names that describe his attributes:
El Shaddai - God Almighty
El Elyon - God Most High
El Olam - God Everlasting
In our Old Testament lesson, Moses is confronted by Adonai, the LORD on the top of Mount Sinai. He is confronted with the mighty power of God in the display of natural events such as the burning bush and the fiery cloud. They were indeed powerful signs of God’s presence. Have you ever been so close to a lightning strike that you smell the ozone in the air? Think of the purity and holiness of God as so startling, so awesome, that it is as if you were bathed in lights that are a hundred times as bright as the lights that light up a nighttime ball game. I suspect we would react like Peter, James and John in this morning’s Gospel reading. They were confronted with the Transfiguration of Jesus right before their eyes. They saw him changed with the dazzling brilliance of HIS glorious holiness. It is no wonder that they fell down in awe before Him. Peter, James and John formed the core group of the disciples and they accompanied Jesus when he raised from the dead the daughter of Jairus and when he went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. As Peter recounts in his 2nd Epistle that they were fortunate to be with him on the mountain to see him in his glory with Moses and Elijah.
“We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For 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. And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. [2 Peter 1: 16-2 1] (NIV)
These two men in the Old Testament who also spent forty days and forty nights fasting before the Lord, who also went up on a mountain to meet with God and talk with Him. These two men, Moses and Elijah, who represent the Law and the Prophets. This reading gives us a Divine Echo from the 1st Sunday after Epiphany when we celebrated the Baptism of Jesus where he heard the voice from Heaven also declare; “You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” Now in this instance, the disciples hear the voice from the cloud, another Old Testament symbol of the presence of God, say:
“This is my Beloved Son, listen to him.” These are appropriate brackets for the Season of Epiphany, when Jesus is manifested. He is manifested at the beginning of his earthly ministry and now toward the end of that earthly ministry he is manifested in all his glory before his closest disciples. You sort of get the feeling of what happens to ordinary humans when confronted by the divine. Here, Jesus is transfigured in all his majesty and glory, talking to Moses and Elijah and what does Peter do? He butts into the conversation mumbling something about building booths. For he did not know what to say, for they were exceedingly afraid. They were terrified by what they saw. This is the normal human reaction to supernatural events that we see. In all the episodes of scripture when an angelic being confronts a
human the angel has to tell them to “Fear Not”, or “Be not afraid.” We are not prepared to be confronted by the supernatural, and the disciples just react normally to this event. But the outcome to all this was, “And suddenly looking around they no longer saw any one with them but Jesus only.” Listen to that, THEY SAW JESUS ONLY. That is the culmination of our Epiphany season when we can say that we see Jesus only. What happens when we see Jesus? How do we react when we come face to face with the reality of God? Do we just stand there in gape-mouthed awe? Being in the presence of God is awesome!!
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai his face shone like the sun. The same thing happens when there is a new awakening within. I love baptisms, because that is when you see a new light shine within the newly baptized. I have seen tears of joy and faces turning red as beets as the newly baptized have become a glow with the light of Christ. How do we react to a change in someone who has been fired up with the light of Christ? Do we allow that change in them to affect a change in us? Second, the GLORY OF GOD IS REVEALED IN THE FULFILLMENT OF THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS. Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus in conversation together. We do not know what they said, but I will bet they did a lot listening. Jesus told his disciples in last week’s reading that he had come to fulfill the law and the prophets. The law brings us an understanding of the right and wrong. The prophets bring us an understanding of the spirit of ethics and morals. Jesus exemplifies and fulfills the law and the prophets, in his body and through his blood. At this point the voice of God is heard to confirm the authority of his Son. God the Father confirms that someone greater than E.F.Hutton is here, and we better to do the same thing. “Listen to him!” Third, the GLORY OF GOD IS REVEALED IN WORSHIP. You notice the disciples fell on their faces when the cloud descended in them. I always tell my Old Testament classes that when you see a reference to a cloud that usually refers to the presence of God. The only attitude around the presence of God is worshipful respect. It is the only safe attitude. Even when the High Priest went into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, he had to have a rope tied around his ankle, just in case something happened to him while he was in there. It’s the kind of respect you have to have when working around high voltage lines. We are never safe around God except when we are in an attitude of worship. Fourth, the GLORY OF GOD IS REVEALED IN A PERSONAL TOUCH. What a paradox, we have to be in awe of God, but he comes with the personal touch of Jesus. He touches each life that will allow him to enter. Christ would die for the whole world but that world is made of individuals, like you and me. The glory of God has that personal touch for each of us. John La Rue of the Christianity Online staff recalled how as a college freshmen he had been searching for answers in all the wrong places. He met a young lady who was really vocal in her defense of her faith. He threw in her face how all Christians are hypocrites. She asked him to answer the question, “Who Is Jesus?” Then she told him to read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and seek an answer to the question. When he honestly sought an answer to that question, he was confronted with the obvious truth that Jesus is who he said he is. That night he got down on his knees and turned his life over to Jesus. One of the main problems we face in life is the problem of who is in control. We like to keep our hands on the steering wheel rather than let God have control. It is a matter of transfiguration, letting God’s light shine out and not just our light.
The following quote from Carlo Carretto reminds us that we can encounter God not only in extraordinary "mountain-top experiences," but also in the ordinary spiritual disciplines of prayer and sacrament. Yet even in these spiritual disciplines, it is God who comes to us:
“Personal prayer is the meeting place between the Eternal One and me; the Blessed Sacrament is the visible sign of my covenant with him. That is why I believe in personal prayer, and why ever day I wait to meet him in the Eucharist. To pray means to wait for the God who comes. Every prayer-filled day sees a meeting with the God who comes; every night which we faithfully put at his disposal is full of his presence. And his coming and his presence are not only the result of our waiting or a prize for out efforts; they are his decision, based on his love freely poured out. His coming is bound to his promise, not to our works or virtue. We have not earned the meeting with God because we have served him faithfully in our brethren, or because we have heaped us such a pile of virtue as to shine before Heaven. God is thrust onward by his love, not attracted by our beauty. He comes even in moments when we have done everything wrong, when we have done nothing... when we have sinned.” (Carlo Carretto, The God Who Comes [Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1994].)
Look what happened to the Jesus and the three disciples when they came down from the mount of Transfiguration:
“And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd about them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed, and ran up to him and greeted him. And he asked them, ‘What are you discussing with him?’ And one of the crowd answered him, ‘Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a dumb spirit; and wherever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.’ And he answered them, ‘O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.’ And they brought the boy to him; and when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, ‘How long has he had this?’ And he said, ‘From childhood. And it has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you can do anything, have pity on us and help us.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘If you can! All things are possible to him who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’ And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, ‘You dumb and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again.’ And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse; so that most of them said, ‘He is dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ And he said to them, ‘This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.’ [Mark 9:9-29 RSV]
We are about to enter on a period of fasting and prayer. Jesus told the disciples that essentially, they had to be ready at all times for spiritual warfare. We must be prayed up to encounter the enemy at any time. Lent is a training period for us as we prepare to celebrate Easter but most importantly it prepares us for duty as a Christian.
1. JESUS IS REVEALED FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF OLD TESTAMENT HISTORY: Jesus and his three companions go up a mountain like Moses and Elijah did and encounters God. While Jesus is joined with God in prayer, the very glory of God present in him becomes visible.
2. JESUS IS THE ESCHATALOGICAL [END TIME] PROPHET OF THE NEW AGE: Just as Moses and Elijah are the prophets of the Old Testament Jesus is the prophet of the New Testament, that was foretold by Moses.
3. JESUS WILL BE ULTIMATELY GLORIFIED BY GOD: The vision affirms that the one who will suffer, die and rise will be glorified. God’s salvation will culminate in Jesus, the Suffering Servant.
The episode in the gospel this morning shows us four things. First, that the GLORY OF GOD IS REVEALED IN CHANGE. The word Transfigured comes from the Greek word Metamorphosis, which denotes a complete change of state. We know about the metamorphosis of caterpillar to butterfly but this change that results in a light bursting forth comes from within.