Our theme for the last few weeks has been ‘exploring behind the ranges’ spiritually and finding something of the depths of God. Continuing on this theme, I want to look today at the Mount of Transfiguration.
We are not quite sure which mountain it is. Some think it is Mount Tabor, but with fortresses on top it seems unlikely. Others think it was one of the slopes of Mount Hermon. I love to think of it as Mount Hermon with its covering of snow. They probably wouldn’t be at the very summit (over 9,000 ft), but they could have been on one of the lower slopes.
Christ on this occasion takes three of his disciples with Him when He goes to pray. It is shortly after the declaration of Caesarea Philippi, where Peter has said: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. He has then gone on to argue with Christ when He predicts His own death, and soon after that there comes this very remarkable occasion, which Peter never forgot. He refers to it in his letters: We were with Him in the holy mount, and we saw His majesty (2 Peter 1:18, 16). There comes a revelation of Jesus Christ, for the recording of which we are exceedingly grateful – because it lets us know that there is this to be discovered, that in the spiritual world there is a beauty, there is a glory, there is a majesty that only the Holy Spirit can reveal to us. We may not go up a high mountain; we may not be taken up in quite the way that Christ took these three, Peter, James and John. But He still reveals Himself, and we go on a journey all our lives to discover more of this Christ. We’re not satisfied knowing about Him and even the details of His life, or even finding Him as Saviour at Calvary. There comes to us the awareness that there is a revelation of the innerness of His beauty, His glory and His purity that comes to those who truly believe in Him and whose life is a search for more.
These three men are taken out of the realm of the ordinary and transferred, or translated, for a little into the spiritual world, where they see Christ transfigured before their eyes. He is actually the same Christ, but they are now seeing Him as He is. We read in Luke’s gospel just what happened for them:
About eight days later Jesus took Peter, John and James up on a mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was transformed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly, two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared and began talking with Jesus. They were glorious to see. And they were speaking about his exodus from this world, which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem.
Peter and the others had fallen asleep. When they woke up, they saw Jesus’ glory and the two men standing with him. As Moses and Elijah were starting to leave, Peter, not even knowing what he was saying, blurted out, ‘Master, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials – one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ But even as he was saying this, a cloud overshadowed them, and terror gripped them as the cloud covered them.
Then a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him.’ When the voice finished, Jesus was there alone. They didn’t tell anyone at that time what they had seen.
As Christ was praying, His appearance was transformed. I wonder how often that had happened when nobody was present. But they were here to see it. We read that his clothes became dazzling white and His face like the noonday sun. Another translation (literal, I think) is ‘became white, or bright, as a flash of lightning’. We know how a flash of lightning can light up the whole landscape in a moment, too dazzling to look upon. What it must have been: a sudden flash of lightning that remained, the brightness of Christ. No wonder that they went prostrate as they saw the shining out of the inner purity, the beauty that is Christ’s, wholly other. He had said He was the Son of God, they had believed Him, and now they see the absolute, unmistakable evidence. He is who He said He is.
There came a cloud over the mountain. It wasn’t unusual for Mount Hermon to have a cloud, but this was a different cloud, luminous and bright, that overshadowed them. We read that terror gripped them as they entered the cloud, because they were in the presence of the divine. They were familiar with the whole concept of the cloud that had appeared to Israel, that had led the Israelites through the wilderness, that had come down into Solomon’s temple – the luminous cloud that was associated with what was called the Shekineh glory, ‘the Lord is there’. Sometimes the priests hadn’t been able to go into the temple because of that cloud of glory. Now these disciples are being drawn into the midst of it. Did they remember Moses on Mount Sinai? Now Moses is here with Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration. Moses had entered into the cloud on Sinai and had heard that voice speak to him words of graciousness. Now they are entering in. And it’s bright, it’s glorious. From out of the midst of it there comes a Voice saying: This is my beloved Son. Hear Him. ‘Peter, it’s not a time for you to speak. It’s not a time to be looking at even Moses or Elijah. This is My Son. Believe what He is saying. Listen to Him.’
They were talking, Moses and Elijah, about His coming death, resurrection and ascension, His exit from this world. We don’t know all that it meant to Christ on that mountain; it’s speculation. But Peter knew that he had been wrong in contesting what Christ was saying, and we can understand something of what it meant to the three disciples. They were baptized into that cloud, just as (we read) the Israelites as they went through the wilderness were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. That cloud had come to them at a difficult time, when they were about to cross the Red Sea with no seeming means of that to happen, and with the army of Egypt behind. The cloud had appeared, protecting them from behind and leading them from the front, and they were baptized into it in that hour of difficulty. To be baptized into something means that we actually take on its properties. If you baptize or dip a piece of wool in a colour, it takes on that colour. They were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, but now they were being baptized into that glorious cloud of the presence of God, revealing Christ. What an inheritance is ours! To be baptized into the cloud of His glory, to take on something of that glory into our inner being, something of the revelation of that beauty, that purity. If you remember the priests in Exodus, Aaron’s sons were given garments for glory and for beauty. That was in the outward, but Christ’s garments of glory and beauty weren’t just outward: they were the innerness of His being.
Into the innerness of our being He would imprint something of that, so that even in our situation now and in any cloudiness that it brings, there is a place apart. There’s a place for our spirits to be lifted out of the humdrumness, the ordinariness, at times the dreariness, of life as it is at this moment. It is not dreary when our spirits begin to probe into the spiritual world … and He is revealed.
I have felt an overwhelming sense of His compassion in these days for us: for His world, for His own church, and for us in Struthers Memorial Church. Believe Him. Let your spirit – let our spirits – soar into that other world, and we’ll find the glory and the beauty that is there in the Godhead. He will show it to us.
The brightness shines all the brighter on a cloudy day.
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