Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Who is Jesus? What was he attempting to accomplish? The answers to these questions remain a hot button issue in our world today. Every year there are a new set of documentaries and magazine articles exposing the “real” Jesus. Many of the world’s religions hold that he was some sort of prophet. The average North American is likely to say that Jesus was a good teacher. People are inclined to say nice things about Jesus, and to lump Him together with the great figures of history. He came to teach people about how to behave and be nice to each other. Since the mid 18th Century people have attempted to separate the “Historical Jesus” from the “Christ of faith.” For some, the real Jesus was a doomsday prophet, predicting the end of the world. Others say he was a failed hippie revolutionary. He has been reconstructed to be everything from a new age guru, to an Egyptian freemason, to a preacher of liberal values born out of his time. Now, we often hear the question, “Who is Jesus to you?” As if Jesus identity changes according to each person’s needs. But Jesus is not one thing to one person and another thing to someone else. The question which the Transfiguration puts before us is “Who is Jesus?” Who is He objectively for the world, for all? What did he objectively accomplish? And what are we supposed to do about it?
About two-thirds of the way through his ministry, Jesus paused from his busy routine of preaching, teaching, and healing. He withdrew to the region of Caesarea Philippi. This same question was on his mind, so he asked the disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of Man is?” (Mt. 16:13). The disciples inform Jesus that opinions varied. Like today, the opinion polls gave mixed results. He then asks them what they think, “Who do you say that I am?” (Mt. 16:15) Peter responds with his confession that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Mt. 16:16). Our Lord then clarifies that this means he must be crucified and rise again on the third day. Matthew begins by saying that the Transfiguration takes place exactly six days after those events. This means, that when Jesus takes his inner circle, Peter, James, and John, up the mountain, Jesus intends to show them who he is! In the Transfiguration Jesus discloses his glory, his mission, and our response.
His Glory is Revealed
Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him to the top of an undisclosed mountain. Suddenly, Jesus changed in appearance. He was metamorphosized — transfigured. What happened to Jesus’ appearance and form was as drastic a change as a caterpillar becoming a butterfly or a tadpole becoming a frog. His face had the brilliance of the sun and his clothing was white as if it were light itself. Jesus was letting a glimpse his Divine majesty shine through. We say it in the Creed: God of God, Light of Light. True God of true God. We confess it, but Peter, James and John saw it with their own eyes. Jesus’ humanity is joined with His divinity. He is True God and true Man all in the same Person.
His Divine glory, which he had been concealing since his birth, is now revealed. The same Divine glory that once filled tabernacle and temple— the same Divine glory that departed from Israel— is now seen in Jesus. God with us. Immanuel. This isn’t about how a man became God, but how God became Man yet still retains the fulness of His glory. God and man united without confusion, without change, without division, and without separation. All of God in human flesh. The Transfiguration reveals who Jesus is – true God and true Man. It discloses that even though Jesus’ divinity was hidden beneath his humanity, nevertheless the fulness of the Godhead dwells bodily in Jesus.
His Mission is Foreshadowed
But why does Jesus do it? Why such a visible revelation of his Divinity? Because Jesus is heading towards Jerusalem. The Lord himself was about to enter into the depths of humiliation by being arrested, mocked, tortured, cruelly executed on a cross, and buried. But hidden behind all shame and cruelty of the cross would be the triumph of the empty tomb. His transfiguration authenticated his claims and prepared the apostles for what was coming. Peter later wrote about this in our Epistle, “We did not follow cunningly devised fables, when we made know to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pe 1:16).
The Transfiguration offers an interesting parallel and contrast to the crucifixion (Matthew 27:33–54). The one serves as a sort of backdrop for the other. On the Mountain of Transfiguration, Jesus is revealed in glory; but on that hill outside Jerusalem, Jesus is revealed in shame. Here his clothes are shining white; there, they have been stripped off, and soldiers have gambled for them. Here he is flanked by Moses and Elijah, two of Israel’s greatest heroes, representing the law and the prophets; there, he is flanked by two robbers. Here, a bright cloud overshadows the scene; there, darkness comes upon the land. Here Peter blurts out how wonderful it all is; there, he is hiding in shame after denying he even knows Jesus. Here a voice from God himself declares that this is his beloved son; there, a pagan soldier declares, in surprise, that this really was God’s son.
The Mount of Transfiguration explains Mount Calvary—and vice versa. We only really understand one when we see it side by side with the other. There is glory in the cross. There is the cross in the glory. He is fully God and fully Man. But His death and resurrection tell you who He is for you – your Lord, your Redeemer, your Savior, God’s sacrificial Lamb who dies for the sin of the world. On that cross the God-man pays an infinite price for the sins of the whole world. The Jesus who stands on the mount in glory bright, suffers a gory death so that you may be put right with God. He exchanges his glory for your shame so that you may be given his glory.
Our Response is Commanded
But what is our response to be? Peter finds himself suddenly interrupted by a cloud bedecking the mountain. This is a theophany, a visible appearance of God to man. God the Father hides own his bright splendour in a cloud. All at once, the same cloud that covered Sinai and filled the tabernacle and temple, the same pillar of cloud that guided Israel, covers the entire scene. From the cloud there came the voice of the Father, echoing Jesus’ baptism. “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.” (Mt. 17:5).
Hear His words. His are the words of eternal life. Moses can’t save you, but he can point you to the One who can. Elijah can’t save you, but he can point you to the One who can. Who is Jesus? Jesus is the one who saves you. Jesus is the one who makes the restitution of your sins. Jesus is your mediator between God and Man because He is both God and Man. Moses and Elijah reflected the glory of God, but Jesus is the the glory of God. Moses and Moses and Elijah reflected the light; Jesus is the Light of the world.
God says, “listen to him!” Listen when he tells you to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul. Listen to him when he tells you to actually love your fellow man as yourself. Listen to him when he tells you that your sins are forgiven. Listen to him when he says that the bread is his body and the wine is his blood, given and shed for you. Listen to him when he promises you eternal life. Listen to him when he says that because he lives you too shall live. Listen to him.
In the end the three disciples saw Jesus only. He came and picked them up off the ground, raised them up out of their fear. They saw no one but Jesus only. He’s all they need. He’s all you need. Jesus is God in human flesh. His mission is to die for the forgiveness of your sins, and rise again to new life. And our response is to listen to him.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.