Grace without Transfiguration
This past Sunday was Transfiguration Sunday, where we heard about Jesus taking his three Apostles (Peter, James, and John) up to the top of a mountain with him. I won’t do the story justice by paraphrasing. Here’s the passage to which I refer:
About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)
While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen. (Luke 9:28-36)
I never understood how Peter could say that he wanted to build a tent for the Lord and Moses and Elijiah, until our Pastor explained it. I don’t recall exactly what he said last Sunday, but the idea that stuck in my head is “wouldn’t you have wanted that glory to stick around, too?” The answer in my head was, and is, yes.
Like Peter, I want to have the Lord’s glory now, yesterday, even. I don’t want to wait in this sinful body any longer, but want to be with him now. Rather, if I’m really honest with myself, I want the Lord to come to my “mountain” and share his glory with me on my terms. Peter thought he had the opportunity of a lifetime – to be with Jesus, Moses and Elijiah in glory now. We want his rule and glory, but we think about it in terms of our own.
Thinking more about this, I began to look at all of the challenges that we face in this world. Sometimes, we are broken down even by those who are our Christian brothers and sisters. They don’t know what they are doing, sometimes; yet, we want our Jesus to come down in “glory” and envelope us in smoke attesting to our own righteousness. But, no sooner had Peter said he’d build the “tents” than the Lord refocused his attention and took his sight away with a cloud: “This is my son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”
I take a look at myself and my interaction with the Lord and confess that I want his glory impatiently and without thinking about what I am saying. If I was God, however, and someone challenged me to share my glory with them in such a way, I doubt that I would have mercy on them saying such a thing as Peter said. Yet, our Lord did. He blinded the three disciples so that they could see Jesus with their hearts, not eyes. They were blind before, but now they could see the truth.
This truth brings us to another high point: the cross. Looking at Jesus on the cross after having seen him with his Old Testament leader and prophet must have been anti-climactic. But, the grace and wisdom of God makes us fools in our own understanding so that we can see the point – Jesus. He is the Savior about whom God was so certain would prevail in saving the world from sin, that he allowed three men the opportunity to watch him discuss it with those who had already gone to heaven on the basis of it being accomplished.
Elijiah and Moses were in heaven long before Jesus came, but their faith in his salvation was so sure that it prevailed because of God’s power. It was not something in them, it was Holy Spirit inspired faith that led them to see this, even though they did so after their time on earth had ended. This is a miracle of God’s glory. We hold on to that through faith just like the men on that mountain. Through any cloud, we can see Jesus. If you’re like me, you can attest that it’s better that way. Far better.
Though we may not have seen those sights on the day Jesus transformed, we attest with the angels that marked his birth “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14) because we have seen the latter hill where Jesus was crucified and the empty tomb of his resurrection with the eyes of our soul through faith.