|Text: Matthew 17:1-9
Six days later Jesus took with him Peter and the brothers James and John and led them up a high mountain where they were alone. As they looked on, a change came over Jesus: his face was shining like the sun, and his clothes were dazzling white. Then the three disciples saw Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus. So Peter spoke up and said to Jesus, "Lord, how good it is that we are here! If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." While he was talking, a shining cloud came over them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased—listen to him!" When the disciples heard the voice, they were so terrified that they threw themselves face downward on the ground. Jesus came to them and touched them. "Get up," he said. "Don't be afraid!" So they looked up and saw no one there but Jesus. As they came down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, "Don't tell anyone about this vision you have seen until the Son of Man has been raised from death."
Once upon a time, a man took his new hunting dog on a trial hunt. After a while, he managed to shoot a duck and it fell into the lake. The dog walked on the water, picked up the duck and brought it to his master.
The man was stunned. He didn’t know what to think. He shot another duck and again it fell into the lake and, again, the dog walked on the water and brought it back to him.
What a fantastic dog – he can walk on water and get nothing but his paws wet. The next day he asked his neighbour to go hunting with him so that he could show off his hunting dog, but he didn’t tell his neighbour anything about the dog’s ability to walk on water.
As on the previous day, he shot a duck and it fell into the lake. The dog walked on the water and got it. His neighbour didn’t say a word.
Several more ducks were shot that day and each time the dog walked over the water to retrieve them and each time the neighbour said nothing and neither did the owner of the dog.
Finally, unable to contain himself any longer, the owner asked his neighbour, "Have you noticed anything strange, anything different about my dog?"
"Yes," replied the neighbour, " come to think of it, I do. Your dog doesn’t know how to swim."
The neighbour missed the point completely. He couldn’t see the wonder of a dog that could walk on water; he could only see that the dog didn’t do what other hunting dogs do to retrieve ducks – that is to swim.
The disciple, Peter, was good at missing the point. In the previous chapter Jesus asks the disciples who they think he is. After several different answers from the other disciples, Peter steps forward and declares, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Peter has got it right and Jesus praises him for this insight. But as we read on Peter in typical fashion misses the point. Jesus announces for the first time in Matthew’s Gospel, "I must go to Jerusalem and suffer much from the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law. I will be put to death, but three days later I will be raised to life" (Matt 16:21).
Peter has missed the point of all the Jesus was trying to tell him and the others about what lay ahead in the near future. He was explaining how suffering death and resurrection were all part of God's wonderful plan to save all people through his Son. But Peter missed the point completely and sternly tells Jesus that he would have none of this kind of talk about suffering and death.
Jesus, Peter, James and John then climb a mountain and there, before their eyes, they see a change come over Jesus. His face was shining and his clothes dazzled whiter than white, and two men appeared from nowhere and were talking with him. Could it be Moses and Elijah? Again, Peter missed the point of this wonderful occasion. All he could think of was settling down and enjoying the spectacle for as long as possible.
He knew how Moses met God face to face on a mountain with lots of lightning and clouds. He knew all about the prophet Elijah and the mighty things he did for God. Now he was witnessing Jesus talking with the two great figures of his faith, Moses and Elijah. This is far better than the image Jesus had just given about suffering and dying. For a moment he may have even contemplated that this is the Christ who will conquer the world – this glorious, shining, dazzling super-human Christ will wipe away all opposition. What a spectacle this will be when they get to Jerusalem. Jesus with Moses and Elijah what a sight as they enter the city. People will come to him, and see and know his true majesty. Surely this, and not the cross, is the full revelation of Jesus as the Son of God.
Peter has missed the point completely. He needed help from God. A voice comes out of the cloud that had descended on the mountain, "This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased—listen to him!" Jesus truly was the Messiah, the son of the living God, as he had earlier stated. He is the suffering Messiah. God declares that is pleased with Jesus who is obedient to the point of suffering and dying. He knew what was waiting for him in Jerusalem. The voice from the cloud reminded peter that jesus is the Son of God – when he speaks about the suffering and dying and rising that will bring about salvation, he is not making this up, listen to him.
The moment of glory had passed. The mountaintop experience was over. And as they reached the bottom of the mountain, they came across a young boy who was having a fit. Jesus healed him – and went on his way to Jerusalem, teaching and healing. Jesus came down the mountain to be a part of our suffering, to offer healing, to take our death upon himself and to touch our lives with the glory of God.
As we read this Gospel story, it is easy for us to miss the point or get only half the picture. The Transfiguration experience does highlight the glory of Jesus. His radiance and the voice of God affirmed that Jesus was not just a bloke from the outback town of Nazareth but that he was the Son of God. The disciples were given a ringside seat and a close up experience of the splendour of God as they witnessed the transfigured Jesus. They were given a future glimpse of the glory of God's Son beyond his suffering, death and resurrection. Death will not be his end. Beyond death, he will appear in glory, his face ‘shining like the sun’. What they saw must have encouraged and supported them in the gloomy days ahead.
But if that’s all we see then we are missing the point. What the disciples saw that day underscored the announcement of Jesus that he would suffer, die and rise from the dead. This was Son of God speaking – God is not inclined to make up stories – what Jesus said was the truth, "I must go to Jerusalem and suffer much from the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law. I will be put to death, but three days later I will be raised to life." The disciples suddenly were able to see Jesus in a new light. Yes, he was the Son of God, but he was also the suffering Messiah.
There are those who think of Jesus as a good teacher, a great example of how to live a life of love and generosity. Some see him as the great healer, or provider of all we need. Others see him as a protector from danger and ill health, or the one who answers prayers when call out to him in desperation. Some see Jesus as a nice person; others see him as one who rights all wrongs. Some think of Jesus only as God who sits on the throne of God and rules with power and majesty.
All these are true but the point is
completely missed if that is all you see in Jesus. Jesus is God's Son and
the suffering Messiah. The fact that he is God doesn’t stop him from allowing
himself to suffer and die for the sin of all people. Jesus is your Saviour. To
know all the stories about Jesus, to know chapters and verses that you can quote
off by heart, is all good stuff, but you miss the point if you don’t trust
rely on him,
have faith in him,
regard him as your personal friend
who will save you from the consequences of sin,
who will comfort you when life’s troubles get too much to bear, when death strikes close to home,
who will strengthen you when you wonder how you will ever be able to see through the pain that has come your way.
He will forgive you for those times when your eyes go out of focus and somehow you miss the point of who Jesus really is and what he does for us.
The Transfiguration reminds us that even though Jesus is God, nothing is too small for him to handle or he is never too busy to handle the big things that trouble you.
I could also include here that we miss the
point if all we think that all our Christianity consists of, is going to church
We miss the point when we think that the work of the church is everyone else’s responsibility and not mine.
We miss the point when Jesus tells us to love one another and we interpret that as loving some of the people some of the time.
As we enter the Lenten season during this week, we do so with a prayer of repentance on our lips for all the times we have missed the point. Let’s remember with joy what Jesus has done for us. Let’s not miss the point of what Good Friday and Easter are all about. Let’s remember who Jesus is – God’s Son whose powerful love for you and me, led him to a cross.
© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
10th February, 2002