Today, as we get ready to begin the period of Lent, our approach to the wonder and drama of Easter, we are directed towards looking into this mysterious event in the life of Jesus and His disciples – what we know as the “Transfiguration” of Jesus on the mountain side.
Like so many events in the gospel, this is loaded with meaning, with symbol, and with instruction – pointing us to the truth, the amazing significance, of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, and gives us such a jolt towards the conclusion – “surely this man was the Son of God”.
Readings: Exodus 24v12 to 25v9:
The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.”
Then Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. He said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.”
When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
The Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give. These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather; acacia wood; olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.
“Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.
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 covered 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 but Jesus.
We have heard two stories here, thousands of years apart, in Exodus, at the beginning of the formation of the Hebrew nation as the people of the living God. Refugees moving towards their promised land, and then later, in Galilee, in the midst of the life of the Messiah, Jesus, taking His disciples to a new understanding of His place as Son of God. Two very different events, in very different cultures.
Moses is called by God up the mountain to speak with God, Jehovah, and receive instructions for His people. There are some similarities with Jesus story – Moses waited six days before God called him to his presence, Moses met God in a cloud, but there the similarities dissolve.
Jesus waited six days in Galilee before going up the mountain, and yes he did seem to go into a cloud to meet God, no, to meet Elijah and Moses.
Moses was meeting God for 40 days – Jesus was in His meeting for a few hours possibly.
Moses is given lengthy instructions on what God wants his people to do: we often only think that this is when Moses was given the ten commandments – yes, but these were already given to him on a previous meeting with God. This time God first gives extremely detailed instructions as to how to build “The Tabernacle” – a tent like building in which God could visit and instruct His people – or at least the chief priest of his people.
There are 7 chapters following Moses meeting with God in which Moses recites the instructions of God as to how to build the tabernacle, how to furnish it, how to prepare the priests, how to dress the priests and then finally who to use to build it all. Then God writes the ten commandments on to stone tablets – and gives them to Moses.
God is saying, I have given you rules to live by, and made promises to you to be your God, but I need to keep communication open with you always – and to do that you need to make this very precious, and very holy and complex building, with special furniture, and specially prepared people in symbolic clothing into which I can come to meet you and you need to get the details absolutely right – its got to be perfect
God is saying to Moses, we are so far apart, so different, we need to have extraordinary preparations before we can come near each other.
Let’s go back to Peter, James, and John, up the mountain with Jesus.
Jesus does not go into a cloud, but he himself is changed – transfigured, transformed in some mysterious way – He shines like the sun, his clothes become dazzling white – and he is joined by two others – Moses and Elijah – the two outstanding prophets and leaders of the Hebrew nation, the chosen people. Two people who have been recorded in the scriptures as knowing God.
It is as if Jesus is entering another dimension, he has stepped out of the material present in Galilee and is with others from another life time – or to put it another way, he has drawn the others from their eternal life place, into His presence in Galilee. This is sounding like “science fiction”, isn’t it – I would rather call it “Spiritual reality” – it is beyond our normal human experience – but really – Jesus is showing the disciples that he is more than a man, He is giving them a glimpse of His divinity.
Peter, as you can imagine is deeply affected by this – he recalls this later in his letter –
“We didn’t follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses to His majesty. Eye witnesses – we saw His majesty – , God revealed in Jesus.”
Moses was given 7 chapters of detail as to how to prepare a place where God could talk to his people.
God gives us 16 words of instruction on the mountain with Jesus as to how God can talk to His people:
“This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased, listen to Him”
If you want to hear what I am saying to you – listen to Jesus.
If you want to know how I would like you to live – listen to Jesus.
If you want to know my will for you – listen to Jesus.
I do not need special buildings any more, I do not look for special clothes, I do not need you to appoint special people.
Here is Jesus – This is my Son, He represents everything of me, listen to Him.
This is not complicated, it is not easy, it asks for commitment, it asks for faith, it asks for trust – but it is not a complicated message.
This is my Son, Listen to Him.
You know, in talking to people, in reading stories of Christian lives, in hearing people speaking of their Faith in Jesus, I have heard many people say that they came to follow Jesus after reading one of the Gospels, reading of Jesus life and words, His teaching and His actions.
I have never come across anyone who came to faith in him after reading Genesis, or Exodus, or even the Psalms.
People come to know God through the life of Jesus.
It was not an empty phrase that God gave to Peter, James and John as they watched with awe as Jesus talked with Moses and Elijah. These words are the very essence of life for all.
Here is Jesus – transformed before you, here is Jesus moving beyond your material existence into the realm of eternity, into the place of continuing life – into timeless reality
Here is Jesus – my Son, Living God of creation and all that is
Listen to Him.
How simple, how uncomplicated, how welcoming,
As we read the Gospels again and again – as we refresh our memories of the words, actions, promises of Jesus.
So we hear again and again His words. We hear His words, are we listening.
And so as we live our lives: Are we listening?. What has he said to us in the past, how has he led us up to now? and –
What is He saying, to you, to me, to us, for our lives, for our actions, for our Faith in Him. – for our comfort, and our challenge –
What is He saying – Are we listening – today