Sunday, March 3, 2019
While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.
There’s a story of a man who decided to build a scale model of the universe. He began with a ball one inch in diameter, which he labeled as earth. To his amazement he discovered that in order to be in scale to the size of the universe, he’d have to place a ball representing the nearest star, Alpha Centaury, 51,000 miles away. It would be a pretty big family room to hold a scale model of the universe.
It’s easy to be in awe of the wonders of creation. It’s also easy to be in constant amazement at the accomplishments of humanity. Regardless of the technological progress humans have made in the 18 plus years in just this century, our brains are too tiny to even imagine the frontiers yet to be explored. To paraphrase Al Jolson’s great line, “Chances are we ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”
It’s easy to have a feeling of awe about creation and amazement about the accomplishments of humanity. But what you and I may have difficulty experiencing is the sense of awe that the disciples felt in the presence of Jesus. Especially, Peter, James and John. Today’s story takes place on a mountain we call The Mount of Transfiguration.
At other times in the New Testament all of the disciples were there for events in Jesus’ life. But from time to time there were those times when only Christ’s inner circle accompanied Him. This was one of those times.
Peter, James and John went with Jesus up the mountain to pray. We all agree that prayer was important to Jesus. If you and I were smart, we’d spend more time alone with God in prayer. Surely, if Jesus needed time for prayer, you and I do as well.
Luke tells us that, on this occasion, as Jesus was praying, “the appearance of His face changed, and His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.” Then two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared and were talking with Jesus. What did Moses and Elijah and Jesus talk about? Luke tells us. About His leaving and bringing everything into fulfillment at Jerusalem. In other words His crucifixion and resurrection.
This was obviously no ordinary mountain top experience. Moses and Elijah had been dead for many years, yet here they were with Jesus on the mountain.
Peter, James and John had been sleeping again, which seems to have been their custom every time Jesus went to pray. When they shook the cobwebs out of their heads, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him. As Moses and Elijah, were leaving, Peter said to Him, Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters; one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah. I wonder if Jesus was getting used to fact about Simon Peter.
Peter wanted to stay on the mountain with his teacher and these two iconic figures. You can’t blame him. All of us want to stay on the mountain. And like Peter we want to build monuments to memorialize high sacred moments. These were shelters, of course, not monuments in the traditional sense. But the intent was the same. To erect a building to capture the moment to use as a place for rest and inspiration. But the kingdom isn’t about erecting buildings or monuments.
The pyramids of Egypt are the world’s most impressive man-made monuments.
The Great Pyramid is staggering in size. Nearly 500 feet tall, it contains about 2.3 million blocks of stone, each of which weighs at least two tons. Some math student once figured that just using the base of pyramids would be enough space for the cathedrals of Florence, Milan and St. Peter’s in the Vatican, as well as St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey in London. And there was enough stone in all three of the pyramids to build a wall ten feet high and one foot thick around the entire country of France. We too have monuments, but who remembers anything about those who built them? The Christian faith is not a monument but a movement. It’s a encounter with the living Christ.
Peter couldn’t have been more wrong in his wanting to build three shelters. He doesn’t have time to take back his suggestion, though, because as he’s saying this a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid. And a voice came from the cloud, saying, This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him.
And when the voice had spoken, the cloud lifted, and Elijah and Moses were gone, and the disciples found Jesus by Himself. Luke tells us that the disciples kept silent and told no one at that time anything of what they had seen.
No wonder! Who would have believed them? How can you make such an extraordinary event credible to an unbelieving world? But the experience of the transfiguration of Jesus is important because Paul tells us in Philippians 3 that there’ll come a time when we also shall be transfigured. He writes, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body” (3:20-21). The whole purpose of His revealing His glory to us is that we might catch a glimpse of the glory that awaits us.
The disciples viewed that glory in a deep and dramatic way, and it transformed their lives. That’s what’s important to us today. Before we can be transfigured, we must be transformed. Before we can put on His glory, we must take up His cross. Before we can be resurrected, we must be willing to die.
But how does it happen? How can that transformation take place in our lives? There are three important steps.
First, we’re transformed when we see Jesus as He really is. It’s fascinating to watch the disciples as they slowly began to perceive the fact that there was something about Jesus that went beyond mere humanity.
Do you remember early in Jesus’ ministry when He and His disciples were on the Sea of Galilee and a storm arose and the boat being tossed by the waves? The disciples were terrified. They woke Jesus up on the front of the boat and cried out, Lord, save us! We are drowning. Jesus criticized them for their lack of faith and turned to the wind and waves and said, “Peace! Peace! Be Still!” Suddenly there was a great calm.
Now the disciples really were afraid. They were afraid of Jesus. “What sort of man is this?” they asked. “Even the wind and waves do what He tells them.”
That was the feeling that the disciples had in the presence of Jesus. If you catch even a glimpse of the glory of Jesus Christ, it will change your life.
There’s a scene in the movie, The Greatest Story Ever Told. The camera looks out from the darkened tomb into the face of Jesus as He prays. Then it cuts to a long shot from the foot of the hill. Then the crowd buzzes with excitement as they watch Lazarus come out of the tomb.
Three people from the crowd get really excited and begin running. As they run the short distance from Bethany to the walls of Jerusalem, we notice who they are; we’ve seen these people earlier in the movie.
One is the man born blind, [now] having no trouble seeing where he’s going. One is a man who was lame, but now he’s walking, he’s running. And who could forget the face of the leper that was cleansed.
As they run toward Jerusalem, we hear the music coming up from a whisper. It gradually gets louder, and we know this familiar music; it’s the ‘Hallelujah Chorus.’ The three runners breathlessly reach the city walls and, as the music pauses, each in turn shouts out to the sentries on the wall, the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cure and then together they yell the dead now live! And the music returns even louder with its ‘Hallelujah!’”
Such was the power and the majesty that the disciples experienced in the presence of Jesus, as they began to see Jesus as He really is.
They also began to see themselves as they really were. The disciples were continually responding to evidence of Jesus’ glory with fear. That’s because in the light of His holiness they became aware of their own imperfection. You may think the trim on your house is white until a new fallen snow overlays it. Then you notice the yellowing process that has taken place as the paint has aged. So, it is with each of us in the presence of Jesus.
It’s no wonder in the New Testament we so often read, “Do not be afraid.” Christ didn’t come to instill fear. He came to instill hope. He wants us to know that we’re not worms that must grovel in the dirt, but we’re children of the King. When we’re slaves to sin, we’re denying the purpose for which we were born, we’re ruining the image of God in which we were created, we’re destroying the divine potential that’s our birthright.
We weren’t created for sin but for salvation. When we see ourselves as God created us to be, then the possibility of transformation is ours.
We need to see Christ as He really is. We need to see ourselves as God intends for us to be. But one thing more. We need to see the world for which Christ gave His life.
It’s like a kingdom where the grain crop has been poisoned. Everyone who ate the grain goes crazy. But because there were few other food supplies, the people are faced with eating the grain or starving. The king decided, very well, then, let us eat the grain, for we cannot starve. But let us at the same time feed a few people on a different diet so we will at least have some people who will know that we are insane. And that’s what they did.
If you’re not aware yet, we live in an insane world, a world of terror and tragedies that defy comprehension. It reminds me of something the great animal tamer Clyde Beatty once said. He said that the moment in his act that he dreaded most was the one when the big cats that are natural enemies, lions, tigers, and leopards, discovered that they were close together in the same small cage.
That’s the kind of world we’re becoming, and in this insane world there needs to be one group of people who are dedicated to sanity, to love and forgiveness and healing. In order to give the world that kind of sanity, Jesus died. The proof of our transformation is when we move out, as did those first disciples, to transform the world.
Transformation is possible in your life and mine. Let us behold Christ in all His glory. Let us behold ourselves as we may yet be. Let us behold the world for which Christ died, and let us pray that we, too, might awaken and respond to His call as did those men who accompanied Him to the mountain more than 2,000 years ago.