Luke 9:28-36, (37-43a)

This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on February 7, 2016.

Transfiguration - Raphael
Transfiguration – Raphael

Luke begins this section on the transfiguration by telling us it happened “about 8 days after Jesus said this.” (Luke 9:28) This should prompt the eyes of the preacher to look up the page and see that Jesus’ transfiguration comes just after Jesus offers words about the meaning of his messiahship and, consequently, the nature of discipleship for those who choose to follow him. Jesus asks the disciples to tell Him what the crowds are saying about Jesus’ identity. Some say he’s John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the other long-gone great prophets, but Peter says he is God’s Messiah. (Luke 9:20) Notice then what happens next: Jesus affirms his messiahship, asks them to keep a lid on it for a while, and tells them that His messiahship will be characterized by submission and suffering, death then resurrection. In Matthew and Mark’s gospels this description prompts confrontation between Peter and Jesus (Matthew 16: 22-23; Mark 8:33), but here Jesus moves on to what this will mean for his disciples – that they must be prepared to follow suit. Before and after the transfiguration Jesus offers clarity by teaching and experience regarding exactly who he is and who he isn’t, and consequently, what it will and won’t look like to continue following him. The preacher will want to remember this distinction as they survey the possibilities within our text this week.

Jesus’ company on the mountain clearly answers the question of whether he might be the second coming of Elijah (Luke 9:19), or Moses for that matter. He is not, but Luke does want us to see Jesus’ connection to them. Perhaps intentionally, Luke does not tell us what mountain Jesus is transfigured upon. Some think it was part of Mt. Hermon, near Caesarea Philippi, since the transfiguration occurs shortly after Peter’s confession there in Mark, still others have identified it as Mt. Tabor, near Nazareth, however, symbolically Luke may prefer we sense similarity with the experience of Moses and Elijah on Mt. Sinai and Mt. Horeb. This gives some added content to the glory (Luke 9:32) seen in Jesus in this moment. It is not a glory divorced from the past. Rather, Jesus, his glory and his mission are connected to Israel’s great past. For instance, the word “departure” utilized in their discussion about Jesus’ mission, means exodus, and there is little doubt the author wants us to make this connection. Jesus, like Moses, will lead his people out of bondage. How many connections might be made here with people in the congregation who are longing for freedom from something that has a hold on them?

This connection to the past also addresses those who claim Jesus has somehow defied the Hebrew Scriptures. Seen here discussing the future with the great prophet and the great lawgiver we are reminded that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17). This could present an opportunity for the preacher to talk about how the work of God’s kingdom in the present and future must rise from its past. The past, for all of its riches and tragedies, cannot be ignored as a people moves forward. The past informs and shapes the present and the future, whether we like it or not. What significant events from our past need to be mourned, addressed, or celebrated before a person, a family, a church, a business or a country can move forward into a better future? And, what might we mean by “better?”

This is something disciples of Jesus must continue to wrestle with. One might assume, or hope, that transfiguration-like moments would be the goal of the Christian life. Peter certainly expresses a desire to linger, asking to set up three shelters in a way reminiscent of the Feast of Booths, Israel’s annual celebration of the wilderness wanderings. Peter wants to worshipfully slow down and commemorate the place, but this is not the point. Perhaps this is why we are not given the name of the place. As amazing as the transfiguration must have been to experience, the purpose of the moment wasn’t to stay in it but to move from it. The transfiguration was about preparation. Ultimately, these disciples were meant to move from the mountaintop to the cross. This scene echoes Jesus own baptism (Luke 3:21-22). His baptism marked the beginning of His earthly ministry. His transfiguration marked the beginning of His move into Jerusalem – toward submission and suffering. The transfiguration, then, is about preparation for their ultimate calling, which is a call to follow Jesus to the cross. This deserves serious reflection.

How many times have we, like Peter, wanted to remain in mountaintop moments? How often do we look back at those moments as the true high points of our lives with Christ? The transfiguration challenges these notions. Our mountaintop experiences with God are significant. They are filled with meaning and purpose, but they are not the point. Instead, these special, non-normative experiences in our spiritual past might be given to us to prepare us for something else, something difficult, yet significant in the future. The preacher might invite those gathered to consider their own moments of transfiguration and how they might illumine future purpose.

Oh, and one more thing, Peter and his friends were asleep when this all started. Sleep is usually a great thing, though here it symbolizes unfaithfulness, just as wakefulness does faithfulness. The preacher could, of course, make a joke about those who might choose to sleep through the sermon and miss the message, but if they do, they shouldn’t miss the larger opportunity here. Peter and his friends almost missed this moment entirely. The transfiguration! How many moments like these are we missing, because we are not fully awake?

6_jasonsquareDr. Jason Edwards
Senior Pastor
Second Baptist Church, Liberty, MO



Tags: transfiguration, mountain top experience, suffering, messiah, wakefulness, Jesus and the Old Testament

Post a comment

You may use the following HTML:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>