6th Week after The Epiphany Year B
The season of Epiphany, the manifestation of Jesus to the world, ends with a visit to the mountaintop. With words from the baptism of Jesus, God reminds us that Jesus is His Son and then commands us to listen to Jesus.
The story is known as the Transfiguration.
Many of us wish for some sort of exciting, profound, unforgettable, personal phenomena of revelation to anchor our experience of God. Flashing lights, smoke, and heavenly voices certainly capture our attention. But, what if we never hear more than a still small voice or sense a gentle urging? What if God reveals Himself to us through circumstances that seem quite ordinary.
Just a week before our scene today, on the way to Caesarea Philippi, Peter clarified that Jesus was the Messiah. But, as Jesus went on to describe how the Son of Man must suffer and be killed and rise again, Peter rebuked Jesus, trying to change the mission.
Knowing who Jesus is does not mean that we understand how God works. We want to trust Jesus as Savior and Lord, but we may resist accepting that following Jesus calls for the surrender of our own lives as well. Peter objected! So, Jesus rebuked Peter, and told him to mind God’s interests instead of looking out for himself.
Six days later, after teaching the disciples to deny themselves, take up their crosses and to follow Him, Jesus took his inner circle up high on the mountain by themselves. Jesus took Peter, James and John to the mountain, and He was transfigured before them. Jesus’ clothing radiated a heavenly gleam brighter than any bleach could create. Elijah and Moses met with Jesus, right there before the wide-eyed disciples, and the God of the universe displayed His glory and spoke His will.
Consider the elements of this transfiguration. Radiant, white garments signaled a heavenly visitation. They spoke of purity and dignity and glory. White garments recalled the prophecies about a deliverer and anticipated the promises for salvation. Then, Elijah and Moses talked with Jesus. Elijah the prophet and forerunner of Jesus joined with Moses the Lawgiver to meet with Jesus signifying that all the law and the prophets found their apex in him.
Were Elijah and Moses encouraging Jesus? Did they appear for the benefit of the disciples? Regardless, the meeting had its impact on Peter.
"Let’s build three tabernacles!" Peter said to Jesus. "We should honor You and our spiritual heroes, Moses and Elijah!"
Maybe, Peter was trying to improve his standing after his uncomfortable rebuke, just a week earlier.
Maybe Peter thought his suggestion offered a fitting tribute to these giants of faith.
Maybe he thought this was heaven.
Maybe we have great ideas but also miss the point. Jesus never asked for tabernacles to be built for his honor or comfort. Jesus never asked us to control great empires, powerful nations, or political processes.
Jesus came to give Himself for God’s world. And, Jesus asked us to give ourselves to God as we go into the world to love and serve God’s creation. As we pursue faithful relationship with God, we will promote justice, mercy, and peace. We must hear God’s admonition and turn from our own interests and listen to Jesus!
Notice Jesus did not answer Peter’s question about building tabernacles. Instead, God filled the silence with God’s own voice from the cloud of glory. "This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!"
As at the baptism of Jesus, God affirmed His Son, but now, instead of simply declaring God’s pleasure, God urges our attention to Jesus. This is the culmination of Epiphany!
Listen to Jesus! Pay attention to him!
Jesus said, "the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" (1:15). Listen to Jesus!
Jesus said, "Your sins are forgiven" (2:5). Listen to Jesus!
Jesus said, "Follow Me!" (2:14). Listen to Jesus!
Jesus said, "Whoever does the will of God, they are My brother and sister and mother" (3:35). Listen to Jesus!
Facing a hungry crowd, Jesus said to His disciples, "You give them something to eat" (6:37). Listen to Jesus!
Jesus said, "Out of the heart, proceed evil thoughts ... All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man" (7:20-23). Listen to Jesus
Jesus said, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me" (8:34). Listen to Jesus!
Suddenly, all were gone except Jesus and the three disciples. They went down from the mountaintop, back into normal life. Jesus brought both His death and resurrection back to mind after their mountaintop revival. Jesus "gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen, until the Son of Man rose from the dead".
All this “mountain” talk puts me in mind of Martin Luther King Jr.’s last sermon. He delivered it fifty years ago this April on the eve of his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee. He concluded his remarks that night with these words:
And Jesus had said, "Whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it" (8:35)