“This is my Son, the Beloved! With him I am well pleased, listen to him!”
These words of affirmation of Jesus’ identity are at the heart of Matthew’s gospel, a claim concern the nature of Jesus and his relationship with God. It is from this central truth that the gospel radiates out.
Yet as human beings when we encounter this message there is a sense of bafflement and confusion, and incomprehension to this other worldly claim of who Jesus is. It is as if we are like infants given a book for the first time. Not knowing what we should do with it and not comprehending its purpose we assume quite wrongly that it goes in our mouth. Like the infant with its first book we need help to understand the content and purpose of the gospel message
Today is the day we remember the transfiguration of Jesus as we come to the end of epiphany. Looking behind this jargon we find that today and these past few Sundays have been focussed on how God reveals the truth of who we are and who we are in relationship with God. It is as if a light has been turned on in the darkened room of our world view.
This morning as we listen again and reflect on the story of the transfiguration I want to encourage you to listen with fresh ears and open hearts to the good news of Jesus Christ.
The story of the transfiguration of Jesus is clearly related to the story of Moses ascending the mountain. The Old Testament reading from Exodus that we heard today gave us a snippet of the encounter between God and Moses on the mountaintop.
To help us understand the claims concerning Jesus identity and what God is up to I want to take a moment just to fill out a few details of the story.
Obviously there are parallels in the two stories. Moses and Jesus both encounter God’s presence on a mountain top, in the high places. God’s presence is both hidden and revealed within a surrounding cloud. And standing in the presence of God brings about change. Both Moses and Jesus glow reflecting God’s glory.
But the Moses story also provides the backdrop to the transfiguration of Jesus because in the encounter between Moses and God God’s relationship with humanity and in particular the Israelites is shaped. God promises to the people of
“I shall be your God” and gives Moses the commandments. Israel
But while Moses is on the mountain the chosen people of God are basically running riot. With Moses preoccupied in the company of God on the mountaintop the people bring their gold to Aaron who shapes a God for them cast in the image of a calf and they begin to worship and to revel.
God seeing the behaviour of the Israelites names them a stiff necked people and sends Moses down the mountain. The relationship hangs on a precipice but in conversation with Moses God chooses to remain faithful to this wayward people.
Moses plea for the people is that God would forgive their wrongdoing and to remain open in the relationship.
God’s ultimate response to Moses plea is the sending of Jesus, his only son, to live and walk among us. Jesus who is fully God identifies totally with the brokenness of our human predicament sharing our flesh and becoming for us the essence of true humanity which he share with us not for his own benefit but for our sake. He is the representative human being.
This is why 6 days prior
Peter’s declaration that Jesus was the Messiah is now
reiterated by God’s decree from the cloud: “This is my Son, the Beloved!” Jesus identity as God’s Son is the outworking
of God’s faithfulness to humanity and to the whole creation. In Jesus, God himself, fulfils the human side
of covenant and so the requirements of human and divine faithfulness coalesce
This is God’s choice and more than that it is God’s choice to involve these stiff necked and fallible human beings; that is to say Peter, James and John in the revelation of this truth. By so doing God invites us all to participate in the experience and sharing of God’s glory.
At the beginning of the reading we are told that Jesus took with him
James and John up the mountain. Just as
last week we hear about Jesus choosing of these disciples so now we hear we
hear a reiteration of Jesus, and God’s commitment, to involve people in his
ministry and mission. The disciples
become witnesses to the work of God in Jesus Christ.
Are these three men better than those stiff necked people who made their own God’s and revelled whilst Moses spoke to God? The simple answer is no. 6 days earlier Jesus had called
On the mountaintop their incomprehension of the event is emphasised when
Jesus tells them that they are not to share what they have seen until after the
Son of Man has been raised from the dead.
In fact it is a story that we can only really guess at the historical truth of because the accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke differ significantly. This may be another reflection perhaps of their incomprehension of the moment. Whilst the Scriptures do reveal God’s truth to us we need to be honest in our appraisal of the different versions of stories such as this which have significant discrepancies: if anything, Matthew lets
James and John off more lightly than the other gospel writers.
In Luke’s telling of the account
Peter’s comment about the
making of the dwellings or tabernacles is reportedly said because “he did not
know what to say”. The idea of making
dwellings for Moses, Elijah and Jesus indicates the human propensity to want to
domestic encounters with God. In
thinking of making the dwellings is Peter
not trying to seize control of the situation and contain the experience?
I suspect for
Peter, James and John not unlike the infant with the
new book they just did not know what to do.
But Jesus chose that they be there. Jesus invited them to be on the
journey with him for it is exactly for men and women such as these that Jesus
comes to bring the light of God’s forgiving and loving mercy to a misplaced and
Yet these approaches which seek to wrest the truth of divine revelation from God’s hand or to domestic them and house them in mundane pious religiosity miss the point.
At the heart of the church is truth of the gospel message that Jesus Christ, God’s incarnate Son, comes to be for all humanity what we have failed to be and so help us to walk in newness of life with him. This is indeed good news for us despite how difficult as it may be for us to consume in Christ we have a foretaste of the coming kingdom, here and now.