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Throughout the season of Epiphany we’ve been studying Jesus’ ministry in order to find out who He really was, and what He was all about.
At Jesus’ baptism we heard the Father speak from above, saying that Jesus was His sinless Son. When the Devil took the time and effort to tempt Jesus directly, we learned that Satan considered Him a real threat to his power. Along the way we’ve seen Jesus fulfilling Old Testament prophecies that were spoken about the Messiah hundreds and thousands of years before. We’ve seen Jesus preach to ordinary sinners, and call ordinary sinners to be His representatives to the world. Last Sunday we heard what Jesus preached as the heart of His ministry – the Gospel of the Kingdom. The message that through the Messiah, God would save sinners from the hell they deserved. And while Jesus proclaimed the message that would create faith and save their souls, He showed people that He genuinely cared about them by healing their diseases as well.
Today we read about one more event that served to spotlight Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of the world – His transfiguration.
The Transfiguration: a harmony of Matthew, Mark and Luke (NIV)
“About eight days after Jesus said this, He took Peter, John and James with Him and went up onto a high mountain, where they were all alone, to pray.
As He was praying, the appearance of His face changed, His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about His departure, which He was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.
Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to Him, “Master, 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.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
While he was speaking, a bright cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “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 gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.”
Every year around this time a lot of awards are given out. Last Saturday the NFL Honors were awarded to football players for various accomplishments achieved this season. Tonight the Grammys will be awarded for outstanding achievement in the music industry. Later this month the Oscars will be awarded for excellence in cinema.
Getting one of these awards is considered a great honor. And to emphasize the glamour and importance associated with these awards, they have famous people give them out. Having a movie star, or a pop icon hand you an award kinda amps things up a bit. It says, “The person getting this award is so special, we couldn’t just have anyone hand them the trophy. We had to have someone really important just to give it to them.”
That’s what happened on the mountain when Moses and Elijah appeared to talk with Jesus. If you were going to hand pick two stars of the Old Testament, you really couldn’t do much better than Moses and Elijah.
God was active in Moses’ life from beginning to end. He watched over Moses as his mother floated him in the Nile river to save him from an angry Pharaoh. Later in life, God appeared to Moses in a burning bush, calling on him to free His people from Egyptian slavery. God performed many miracles through Moses, including the ten plagues imposed on Egypt, parting of the Red Sea, and many miracles that sustained the people of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness outside of Palestine.
In addition to these things, God also used Moses to write down the first five books of the Bible. This included all the laws and regulations that governed worship life, civic life, in ancient Israel. It also included the moral law intended for the whole world to observe.
When artists try to depict the transfiguration, they usually show Moses holding the two tablets of the Ten Commandments. By doing this they try to sum up Moses in a symbol. Who is this guy? Just the man that God gave the Ten Commandments through. Yeah, he’s kinda important.
And then there’s Elijah. Elijah lived hundreds of years after Moses in a time when false teachers were relentlessly leading the Israelites away from God. Just like He did with Moses, God spoke through Elijah, telling the people of Israel His Word. And just like He did with Moses, God also performed many miracles through Elijah. In a showdown with the prophets of Baal, Elijah showed that the LORD was the true God by calling fire down from heaven to burn up an offering set on an altar. This was quite impressive since the prophets of Baal couldn’t get anything to happen with their altar, even though they prayed all day and cut themselves to please their god. But even more impressive was the fact that in answer to Elijah’s prayer God burned up not only the sacrifice, but also the stone altar itself. Earlier in Elijah’s ministry he had also shown the power of God by raising a woman’s child from the dead. To cap things off, when Elijah’s ministry came to a close, and it was time for him to leave this earth, God sent a fiery whirlwind and a chariot to carry him home to heaven.
Who’s that other guy beside Jesus on the mountain of transfiguration? Oh, just one of the most powerful prophets of God from the Old Testament. Yeah, he’s kinda important too.
But remember, Moses and Elijah are just details here. Just set-dressing. Just spotlights trained on the bigger star – Jesus.
And to visibly show the importance Jesus, God did more than put spotlights on Him. He allowed Jesus’ true glory, the glory of being God the Son, shine out on the mountain. Jesus radiated with an inner light so brilliant that He looked like the noonday sun. And this visible glory was but a taste of things to come.
Just a few days before the transfiguration event happened, Jesus had told His disciples this. He said…
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16:24-28 ESV).
One day, you and I will see the Son of Man coming with His angels in the glory of His Father. As crazy as that sounds, we will see Him. Then we will see what Peter, James and John saw on that mountain, and more.
When Peter and company woke up and saw Jesus in glory, they were frightened. And this is part of the take away from this story. What will we feel when we stand in the presence of the almighty, fully glorified Christ? Will it be fear because our Judge has finally arrived? Or will it be overwhelming joy because our Savior has finally arrived? The glory of Christ on the mountain top tells each of us, “Put your trust in Jesus, and all will be well on that last day, for HIS sacrifice in your place will outshine all your sins.”
You know, if you examine the lives of Moses and Elijah, along with the faithful acts and miracles, you’ll also find sins of weakness and doubt. They were sinners just as bad as you and me, but there they stand beside Jesus, in glory. Through simple trust in the Messiah to come, they found peace at the end of their earthly life. They found that the God they trusted was true to His promise to save them from hell. This is the same faith that we have, and the same destiny - in Christ.
Throughout this Epiphany season we’ve seen a lot of witnesses testifying about who Jesus was and what He’s all about. Moses and Elijah are two more to add to the list. But one thing we don’t want to do is get lost in the witnesses. Jesus is the main event here, the place where the spotlights all point.
When the disciples saw all this light, and Moses and Elijah getting ready to leave, they were full of fear, and at the same time they were super excited at what they were seeing. Peter, being true to his character, stumbles forward and asks Jesus if maybe Moses and Elijah would stick around a bit longer if they had some shelter. Peter could arrange a few tents and everyone could have a bit more time to talk.
Admittedly, we would have wanted to do the same thing. I mean seriously, would you pass on the chance to converse with Moses and Elijah? Think of the questions you could ask about their lives, or the questions you might ask about heaven?
But God would have none of this distraction. This whole thing was about Jesus! And so once again the Father made His presence known. A huge, brilliantly white cloud encircled them. The glory of God Himself filled the air around them, and the Father said,
“This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” (Matthew 17:5 NIV).
When famous people serve as hosts on award shows, it isn’t to draw attention to themselves, but to lend their fame to the one getting the award. The presence of Moses and Elijah was meant to elevate Jesus to His proper position in the minds of the disciples, to elevate Him above all the Old Testament prophets, indeed above any prophet who ever lived. This was God’s Son, the Messiah, the God-Man who would die to set sinners free from sin and it’s consequences! The disciples should be listening to JESUS above anyone else.
When those three disciples heard the voice of the LORD, they fell down in fear with their faces in the dirt. And in the same way, when we hear God tell us that it’s JESUS that we should be listening to, we may also be filled with fear. We know deep down that we haven’t listened to God. We haven’t kept His commandments, we haven’t honored His Son in our lives to the degree that His glory demands.
But as the disciples cowered in the dust, they felt the hand of Jesus touch them. And as they opened their eyes to find the terrifying glory gone, they heard Him say, “Get up. Don’t be afraid”. And that’s what we sinners hear Jesus say to us also. “Get up. Don’t be afraid”.
In the depths of remorse and guilt, remember that it was Jesus who defined His life and ministry by saying,
“God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17 ESV).
This is who Jesus was, and is. This is what Jesus was all about, and what He is still about. This was His MESSAGE in Epiphany, and through the season of Lent, we will now see how He made our salvation HAPPEN.