“Blinded By the Light”
Rev. Mark M. Vickers
February 26, 2017
17 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I[a] will make three dwellings[b] here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved;[c] with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts and the fellowship of our lips, be acceptable in your sight O God, our Strength and our Redeemer. AMEN.
This is one of my favorite days of the Christian year. Granted, I have many favorite days of the Christian year, but this one is a favorite because it is what I call a “bridge Sunday.” It bridges us from that time of Epiphany, that long awaited time following Christmas, and brings us up to Lent and then into the Easter season. It is a story that just kind of jumps out at you for no apparent reason according to the flow of the lectionary, yet it is pivotal to our understanding of the Gospel.
It is one of my favorites, because it is a story that is phenomenal! The action, the characters, the events, and especially the statements that are made and uttered are all defining moments in a Christians life.
As a child, heck, even as a seminary student, I always referred to this story as the “super sonic” Jesus story! The time that Jesus “blasted off” so to speak, like a Super Nova. This probably had something to do with the fact that I grew up during the rise of the space age and NASA. It just made sense that God was so powerful that Jesus could shine so bright.
Yet in all seriousness, we have to look at this text with an open mind and especially an open heart. This is a story that is filled with power, rich stories, history and some unbelievable (to the non-believers ears and some believers) occurrences.
When you look at the story of the Transfiguration in The Gospel of Mark, you get a little circle of explanation–yes this happened and Jesus is in control. As compared to Matthew, where the full blown scenario is portrayed. Why is it so different? Why are the two accounts not the same? It all has to do with audience.
Matthew’s audience was believed to have been a hefty make up of Jewish converts and questionable believers. Hence, he had to help them understand the importance of Jesus period! Not only that Jesus was the Son of God, but that Jesus had something to offer them as they made their journey to a belief in Jesus and an understanding of the cross.
For Matthew, the story has several, what one commentator called “Judaic connection points,” especially as Moses and Elijah are concerned. You see, Moses lived under Pharaoh’s rule; Jesus lived under Herod. Moses raised the laws on Mt. Sinai; Jesus taught with the Sermon on the Mount. Moses interprets the commandments; Jesus completed the fulfillment of the law, not the abolishment of the law. Things began to connect for Matthew’s audience.
In Jewish history, we also note a couple of other important factors that would resonate in the ears of the Hebrew people. There were three companions; there was a mountain involved; there was a cloud on the mountain; and the event took six days with the completion coming on the seventh. It is important to see what Matthew is doing here! He is making the connections in order to get his message across. Matthew intensifies the Mosaic theme in order to preach Christ.
This is so important to Matthew and his gospel, because for Matthew, Jesus is the divine incarnate Son of God; Jesus is God with us! Matthew 1:23, “They shall name him Emmanuel” God is with us! Or even more vividly in Matthew 16:18, “You are the Christ, The Son of the Living God.” Matthew was all about helping his audience to understand that Jesus was important to them as the living God.
If we take this story seriously, the question looms large before us, “Who is Jesus Christ for us today?” That my friends is the key question for the Transfiguration!
You see, in this piece of scripture, we have argument. Imagine that! Argument over scripture never happens, does it?! The problem with this argument is that it teetered on the verge of asking the question, “Did this really happen?” “Was this even possible?” I like to think of this as “the view of history and the Jesus of mystery.” We often find ourselves lost in the translation concerning the understanding of factual, data-based evidence, that absolutely quantifies that it happened verses allowing God to be God and work and appear as God would see fit to interact and be present.
I like Matthew. I like Matthew as a number one best-selling author, when he, in his mind, asked the question, “What’s going to sell?” so to speak. What’s going to get these people to understand that God is alive and active in their lives? Why not a great, almost “too good to be true” story? A true God story! Just imagine, Peter and John walking up the mountain, then all of a sudden, “his (Jesus’) face shone like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah talking with him.”
Now friends, I love a good story!! This is a great story, a great all-star cast, great scenery, and a fantastic plot! If this couldn’t sell Jesus, nothing could. Not only did they get to experience Moses and Elijah, God spoke through the clouds, (yet with another Matthean dialogue) “This is my Son the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” WOW! That’s like having an appearance from the director himself! Then to finish it off, Jesus tells them not to be afraid and tell no one!! No one! Until The Son of Man has been raised from the dead!”
Now if that doesn’t get you prepared for Lent and Easter, nothing will!
Therefore the question still remains for us, “Who is this Jesus for us today?” Is he the same Jesus that appeared to Peter and John along with Moses and Elijah? Sure he is, but I think what the gospel writer Matthew wants us to bring from this is that God through Christ continues to act in our lives in ways that are just as phenomenal as a voice from a cloud, some smoke-filled mountain. God comes into this world not only in that fashion but also with the gentleness of a touch, the warmth and compassion of an infant baptism, the unspoken presence of a friend who sits by you when in need and says nothing, the one who listens to you gripe all week and moan about your job, and then on Friday tells you to have a beautiful weekend. My friends, those stories will communicate the presence of a living and loving God, just as powerful as the wonderful Transfiguration story. You see, it’s about how we communicate the understood power of God’s love through Jesus. That’s the real transfiguration, when Jesus is seen in a new light, in a new form.
This is a powerful story my friends, but it doesn’t end with the voices and smoke and hike up the mountain. The story “makes us continue” in our journey with Jesus. You see, we have to listen to the end of this story if we want it to work. We have to listen to those painful words of Jesus when he says, “tell no one of what you have seen until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” Why do you think Jesus told Peter and John those words? Sure it makes a great pre-amble to our upcoming Lenten journey and Easter story, but I think he told them because he wanted to make sure they fully comprehended what they had witnessed!!
My pet peeve when I go to a movie or talk about a movie with someone, is when they begin to tell me about the movie, and I haven’t seen it yet!! Don’t spoil my movie; don’t spoil my ending. I think Jesus knew that this was an extremely overwhelming event for these two, and when they began to mix with the other disciples and friends, then caution had to be taken that the story be understood.
We are a part of that story! We are a part of this great transfiguration, because when Jesus acts in our life, and acts in the lives of those around us, we want to shout it from the mountain top! I believe that we read this text just prior to Lent for a couple of reasons. First, in order that we are cautioned about what we are going to encounter in Lent and at Easter. We need to be reminded that God is in control, and we have a lot to learn.. Second, I think we are pushed to be excited about what we can’t tell. You see, in a strict observance of Lent, one does not say hallelujah, Almighty, or Hosanna! We have to wait until Easter Sunday.
I’m pretty sure Jesus wants us to be as fully prepared as we can be, when we tell the story of His life changing abilities. I would wager, that Peter and John were fully prepared on that Easter morning after witnessing what they had seen and so can we be fully prepared as we listen to the stories to follow and allow God to come into our lives in any way God sees fit!
Share your God stories, share what Jesus means to you today, and be fulfilled in the promise that God through Jesus Christ is alive and well on your mountain as He was on the mountain with Peter and John.
AMEN and AMEN!!
Discussion Questions for February 26
- Why do you think Moses and Elijah were identified in this story? Would Jesus not have been enough?
- Would you have been afraid like the disciples (v.6), and how would you have reacted?
- When in your life has Jesus told you, “Get up and do not be afraid”?
- Would you have been able to “tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead”?