The Transfiguration Of Christ
February 26, 2006
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
1. Today's reading of the gospel tells about the time when Jesus' appearance was changed. It happened on a certain high mountain. The text doesn't say which one, but any way you look at it, in saying "on a high mountain" it is not [your] ordinary place. It is a special set of circumstances. What's more, not all of the disciples were there. Only Peter, James, and John were [there]. It was these certain men to whom [this situation] was limited. These men to whom this unique set of circumstances was limited had an extremely special mystical experience. That's the subject matter written in this passage here. Across many generations of time the Christian church has been telling forth this very unique experience of just these men among humanity and lifting up the entire church from it. They've been doing so because what they had both seen and heard has a universal message from God for all believers for all times, to which we ought to pay heed. Today, I would like for us to pay heed to that message.
The Transfiguration Of Christ
2. I will read to you once more from verses two to four. "After six days, Jesus climbed a high mountain bringing with him just Peter, James, and John. The figure of Jesus changed right before their eyes, his clothing sparkled with pure whiteness and became so white such that no skilled bleacher in this world would ever reach it. Elijah appeared with Moses and they were speaking face to face with Jesus," (verses two through four).
3. It wasn't just the transformation of Jesus' figure that Peter and the [two] others had seen. The scripture says that they had seen Elijah and Moses there. Moses and Elijah are representative characters from out of the Old Testament. Moses represents the law, Elijah represents the prophets. In other words, you might say, these two men's being with Jesus there means that the Old Testament scripture itself is with Jesus.
4. Why is this so important as that? We'll see why when we read on in this gospel. We've already entered the latter half of this gospel since the half-way point of chapter eight. The narrative is heading towards the Passion of Christ. Do you remember how this gospel began, the words it began with? [It began with] the words "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the son of God." But, the life of Jesus has been moving along in a totally opposite direction to that of the glory of the son of God. The one who was supposed to have been the son of God would soon become like a raggedy mop head and nailed on a cross.
5. But, today's passage of scripture is saying that Moses and Elijah were with Jesus when he was about to head for the cross. The Old Testament scripture was with him. What [could] this mean? It means that the things that happened with Jesus Christ, especially his Passion, are the fulfillment of what the Old Testament scripture has already said. To say that it is a fulfillment of the Old Testament, to put it another way, means that it happened in accordance with the will of God and that it happened according to the plan of God. The Bible says, "Elijah appeared with Moses and they were speaking face to face with Jesus." What were they talking with each other about? The subject matter [of their conversation] is not written in this gospel account. But, it is clearly written about in The Gospel According To Luke. The record states, "When they looked, two persons were speaking face to face with Jesus. It was Moses and Elijah. The two appeared enveloped in glory and were speaking about the final period which Jesus was about to accomplish in Jerusalem," (Luke 9:30-31).
6. "The final period which Jesus was about to accomplish in Jerusalem" -- the final period of being crucified by a cross and being killed -- if that came to pass within God's will, then it is clear cut that [his] suffering would not end with suffering. [His] death on the cross would not end with death. When it comes from God, you should expect more ahead. The truth be told, the Bible does say there was more ahead. The Bible describes it as "the resurrection."
7. Peter and the two others actually got a glimpse of the glories of the resurrection. Just exactly as the light of the sun shines in from a crack in a rain cloud, they had seen the light of the resurrection shine into a scene in the life of Jesus. In short, the three man group including Peter was shown ahead of time that the suffering that happened to him would not end with suffering and that there was a resurrection ahead [for him].
8. The Petrine group was forbidden to say anything, "You mustn't tell what you've seen." "When they all descended the mountain, Jesus commanded his disciples, 'Until the son of man is resurrected from the dead you must not tell anyone what you've just seen.'," (verse nine). What does the fact that we know the things that happened that they were forbidden to speak to anyone about mean? It means that they, [once] forbidden to speak, had soon begun to speak about it. After encountering Christ's resurrection, they began to speak on it. They began to speak about the fact that they had already seen a glimpse of the light of the resurrection even before Christ's passion.
9. In this way then, the transfiguration of Christ is an event that points to Christ's resurrection. But, that's not all. It also points to our own resurrection. Let's look at this next.
10. I will read starting from verse five. "Peter interrupted Jesus and said to him, 'Master, our being here is wonderful. Let's build three booths; one for you, one for Moses, and another for Elijah.' Peter didn't know what he was supposed to say. The disciples were very afraid. Whereupon, a cloud appeared and covered them, a voice from within the cloud spoke aloud. 'This is my beloved son. Listen to him.' The disciples looked hurriedly all around, but didn't see anyone any longer, just Jesus alone was with them," (verses five through eight).
11. The Bible says, "The disciples were very afraid." We see that it wasn't pure fear because Peter blurted out that "Our being here is wonderful." It must have been a solemn enough [time] so much so that they would remember their shuddering [with fear], but at the same time a time of the highest and sweetest blessing. In his ecstasy and not knowing what to say, Peter made a proposal, "Let's build three booths." This, the word "booths," could be translated as "tents" as well. Like in the time of Moses, he might have wanted to build a tent as the place of God's presence. Whatever it may have meant, whatever it was, it wouldn't have been built suddenly, so therefore, this was not a proposal that came from a rational decision. However, let's understand Peter's mentality. To get to the point, he was wanting to stay there. He would have loved to remain with Christ resplendent with glory and with Moses and Elijah as they appeared and were enveloped with that glory. He would have loved to remain in that mystical experience. He wanted to stay longer, even if just a little more. If possible, he wanted to experience it again. He wanted to build that kind of place. It is the mentality that human beings have in common during any time period, the tendency to want to build a religious institution at the place related to a mystical experience.
12. But, this proposal from Peter was rejected. A cloud appeared and covered them and a voice from within the cloud spoke. The cloud revealed the presence of God. God himself said the following to Peter and those with him. "This is my beloved son. Listen to him." A message similar to this one has already appeared in chapter one. It was when Jesus was baptized. When Jesus arose up from the water, Jesus had heard a voice from heaven. "You are my beloved son, the one who suits my will," (1:11). As we see from the word "you" from that time, Jesus was addressed by himself. But, here in this text the same thing is addressed to the disciples. [God said] to [them], "This is my beloved son. Listen to him."
13. "Listen to" has the meaning "obey." What does being obedient to Jesus mean? Actually, he already told it to them. The Lord said, "Anyone who wants to follow after me must forsake himself, take up his own cross upon his back, and follow me," (8:34). God the Father had certainly said about Jesus, "This is my beloved son." But, this "beloved son" of God was not to remain on the mountain of mystical [bliss]. He would head down the mountain. He would head into the sinful human world. Because he loved God the Father and he loved people, he would head for Jerusalem and for the cross. How do things turn out when one follows Him? The disciples would also head down the mountain. They mustn't remain on the mountain.
14. As is clear from this, the Christian faith was not meant for mountain top type places, for escapism into an unordinary world of mysticism. The Christian faith was not meant for avoiding reality. Far from that, but rather the faith was given [to us] in order to come face to face dead on with reality. We have been able to see "our own crosses" that we are supposed to bear whenever we have tried to live by following Christ, by coming steadfast face to face with reality, by loving God and by loving people. Most people live by carrying all kinds of anxieties and worries upon their backs. But, in our lives we have a heavy load that we are really supposed to bear because of love, [we have] "our own crosses" that we are really supposed to carry upon our backs, and not these different kinds of anxieties and worries and all that.
15. Then, when we are willing to follow Christ by bearing our crosses, loving God and loving people, we also start to see in a true sense our sinfulness as well. We will understand how we are so lacking in love, how we are so selfish, and how ugly an egoist we are. At that moment our sincere desire will be to have God forgive us. That will become the most important thing to us. And one more thing -- we will know for sure down to the very marrow in our bones that we must have him change us. Then, when we see how that we must be changed, the scene which today's passage of scripture is relating to us will come to have great meaning for us. As far as that goes, the unique mystical experiences of some will simply disappear.
16. Please look. The Bible says, "The figure of Jesus changed right before their eyes ..." The figure of Jesus changed. This word "to change" expresses a green caterpillar turning into a butterfly type transformation. Going further, it is not really "he changed" here in the text, but rather the Bible says it in the passive with "The figure of Jesus 'was changed.'" While he is the son of God, he did not place himself along side of God, but along side of humankind where the Bible says, "he was changed." While one of the people, he "was changed" into a glorious figure. [He did] not [do it] for himself, obviously, but to give us people hope. It was so that we will have the hope that we too will "be changed." Jesus did not only say to his disciples to "Carry your own crosses and follow me," he was showing them beyond that that there would be the "changed" figures of the disciples. That's what happened at the transfiguration of Christ upon the mountain.
17. Finally, I would like to read to you from a place in an epistle of Paul. He composed the following words in a correspondence to the congregation at Corinth. "While the veils on our faces are removed and we reflect the glory of the Lord like a mirror, we are being remade over and over from glory unto glory into the same figure as the Lord. This comes by the working of the Spirit of the Lord," (Second Corinthians 3:18). The phrase "be remade over and over" is the same word as "be changed" that was used for Jesus just before. We too are "being changed." Into the same figure as the Lord. "Into the same figure as the Lord" means the glorious figure of the resurrection of which Peter and the party with him had gotten a glimpse. Therefore, in saying, [we] "are being remade over and over" doesn't mean just that we're becoming more kind all the time or that we're becoming "little Jesus sweetie pies." Something amazing is taking place in us. In [our] faith lives, it has already begun through the Spirit of the Lord. A green caterpillar doesn't stay that way for ever. We won't stay as green caterpillars for ever. One day soon we will be changed into a glorious resurrection figure -- and it is precisely because we are given this hope that we can look without batting an eye face to face into reality. Even though we will come face to face with our own sinfulness, even though sometimes we will stumble and fall, we can walk on on one step after another as we carry our crosses.