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THE TRANSFIGURATION

Luke 9:28-9:36
Key Verse: 9:29

For the last two weeks we studied about Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?”; Peter’s answer, “The Christ of God”; about the way of the Messiah, his suffering, death and resurrection; and about the way of the disciples, that is, to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily and follow him. Today’s passage concerns the transfiguration of Jesus, the appearing of Moses and Elijah, and a voice from heaven. This is a very unique passage in the gospel story. The transfigured Jesus is the original image of Jesus and the preview of his glorious resurrection. The transfiguration of Jesus took place soon after Jesus’ teaching of his suffering and death. Let’s think about the meaning of this event.

First, Jesus transfigured (28-29). Look at verse 28. “About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray.” About eight days before, it was a big day: Peter’s confession of Christ, Jesus’ shocking teaching of his suffering and death, and his unambiguous teaching of self-denial and cross-taking for his disciples. Perhaps, for the intermittent period of the eight days, Jesus wanted them to ponder on all these. Then Jesus took Peter, John and James with him to go up to a mountain. Why did Jesus take only these three? Certainly, it must have been difficult to take only the three disciples, leaving nine behind. We don’t know the reason fully. Yet, we can clearly see an aspect of discipleship-making ministry. Also, we believe that this did not mean the other nine disciples were out of Jesus’ mind. It is a constant, important teaching of the Bible that God treats each person in a way most proper to that individual, although what is seen by people seems to be unequal and unfair. There are many people who say, “I am left out.” But there is no such a thing as being left alone before God, who truly cares for each individual. Certainty of God's absolute sovereignty and goodness is really critical in our life of faith--that is, to have the mind-set that God leads me in a most fitting way, regardless of the seeming differential treatment.

We remember that about eight days before, Jesus had prayed in private and his disciples were with him. Here also, Luke wrote that Jesus went up onto a mountain to pray, and while he was praying something glorious happened. Here we learn more about prayer. Through prayer a sorrowful heart can be changed into a joyful heart, and bitterness into thanks; a troubled soul can have peace; inglorious things can disappear and God’s glory can fill our hearts. May we long for prayer life more and more.

Look at verse 29. “As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.” In Luke’s gospel, we have seen the beauty of Jesus’ inner person. When he was born, he was laid in a manger. He was so humble that he was baptized by John. He was so compassionate that he reached out his hand and touched a man who was covered with leprosy and cleansed him, saying, “I am willing. Be clean!” (Lk 5:13). When he saw a widow whose only son was dead and carried in a coffin, his heart went out to her, and he said, “Don’t cry.” Then he raised the dead young man and gave him back to his mother (Lk 7:12-15). Throughout the gospel story his humble, merciful and compassionate heart abounds. And Jesus was so holy and at the same time so forgiving that he declared the forgiveness of men’s sins and led them to live a new holy life. He accepted a tax collector, Levi, and called him as one of his disciples, offering him a totally new life. When a woman who lived a sinful life received Jesus’ grace of forgiveness of her sins she was so thankful that she broke her alabaster jar of perfume and poured the perfume on Jesus, which was pouring out her heart and devotion on Jesus. Anyone who was touched by his loving heart and words was changed, and began a new life with faith and hope in him. This all showed the inner beauty of Jesus, his beautiful heart.

His appearance, however, was not spectacular at all. There was nothing special in his outward appearance. Rather, it was like that of ordinary people, probably even less than ordinary. Isaiah prophesied it in 53:2, “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” So many people despised and looked down on him, especially Jewish authorities in high positions, and those who achieved something in this world (men of social standing). Proud people rejected him. They expected a glorious Messiah, who was glorious inside and out. Even Jesus’ disciples, although deeply moved by Jesus’ love and followed him, could not easily accept the Messiah’s suffering, rejection and death.

But here on a mountain, the appearance of Jesus’ face changed and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Matthew wrote in 17:2, “There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light”, and Mark in 9:2b-3, “There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.” Here Luke described more vividly that his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. What in the world can be brighter than a flash of lighting? Also, we know that a flash of lightning is seen for but a moment. Jesus’ clothes, on the other hand, held the brightness of the flash of lightning. Surely the brightness of his clothes was the reflection of his whole glorious body. Matthew recorded that Jesus’ face shone like the sun, but Luke just wrote, “The appearance of his face changed.” Why did he write in that way? Probably, he could not find proper words to describe the changed appearance of his face. Certainly, the description, “the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning” was the expression of Jesus’ glorious image as God.

1 Timothy 6:16 says, “(God) who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.” In Exodus, when the LORD descended on Mount Sinai in fire, the whole mountain trembled violently (19:18,19). God warned the people with his word of command, “Be careful that you do not go up the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death” (19:12). Those who heard the voice of God begged that no further word be spoken to them (Heb 12:19). The sight was so terrifying that even Moses said, “I am trembling with fear” (Heb 12:21). And when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony, his face was radiant and all the Israelites were afraid to come near him. So Moses put a veil over his face (Ex 34:30, 33; 2 Cor 3:13). What a grace it is that the Incarnate God Jesus hid all his glory in a human body and appeared to men so humbly that mortal inglorious human beings could approach him and hear his word! Also, now what a grace it is that we can approach God, the glorious God, through the words of the Bible, which were written by humans inspired by God and in various kinds of literary forms. This is truly God’s humble way of revealing himself to weak and fearsome and sinful mankind. God does not scare people with his awesome glory in order to make them believe. If Jesus appeared with a sun-like face and glittering clothes, he could have appealed to people more. But that would not produce true faith in them. God appeals to our hearts. He wants people to know his love through his Son Jesus from their hearts as they study his words, so as to repent and believe in him.

In this part Jesus wanted to show his glorious image to his disciples so that their spiritual eyes might be opened to see a preview of the glorious resurrection and not be swayed at the time of his crucifixion. In our time people do not know and do not recognize the glory of Jesus. So they treat him according to their feelings and desires. But we should recognize the glorious Jesus as well as the humble Jesus. We should be forever thankful for the grace of the Incarnate God, who came in the very humble form of a human, and love him. At the same time may we really know the glory and majesty of Jesus and honour him as God. When he comes again, he will come in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels (Lk 8:26).

Second, Moses and Elijah appeared (30-33). Look at verses 30 and 31. “Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.” This is really an amazing scene. Moses departed this world about 1500 years before, and Elijah, about 800 years. They lived in different times. And both of them were suffering servants. Once when Moses heard the people of every family of the Israelites, wailing in the desert, he said to the LORD, “I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now—if I have found favour in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin” (Nu 11:10-15). Elijah, also while running for his life after destroying all the prophets of Baal, said to the Lord, “I have had enough, LORD. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors” (1 Kings 19:4). Now they appeared in glorious splendor together. Obviously they were in the glorious kingdom of God. And they were talking with Jesus. Here we see the connection between this world and the kingdom of God, beyond time and space. This is the spiritual world. Their sufferings because of their mission did not devastate them at all. Rather, they were ennobled and glorified by the glory caught from the Heavenly Father. Their lives of mission were short in terms of time and space, but their privilege of enjoying the majestic glory of God lasts forever. That’s why Paul said in Romans 8:19, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Moses and Elijah’s appearing in the glorious splendour is a great encouragement to all the suffering servants.

Then why did Moses and Elijah appear on the mountain, while there were also other great and suffering servants? It is because Moses represents the Law, and Elijah, the Prophets. In verse 30, they spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Here “his departure” certainly includes Jesus’ upcoming suffering and crucifixion and his resurrection. In other words they talked about the gospel, the good news of salvation for all mankind, which God had been preparing throughout the generations since man’s fall. Paul said in Romans 3:21, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.” The Law and the Prophets, which represent the Old Testament, pointed toward Jesus, more specifically, the crucifixion of Jesus. And Jesus himself once said to the Jews, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me” (Jn 5:39). So the appearing of Moses and Elijah was very proper at this time when Jesus was about to die on the cross at Jerusalem for the salvation of mankind. The appearing of Moses and Elijah and their talking with him must have been a great encouragement to Jesus.

Here we also see that the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection is the main talking topic in heaven and on earth. All human history hinges on this. It will be so until the end of the age. When Jesus talked about the end of the age, he said to his disciples, “The gospel must first be preached to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Mt 24:14; Mk 13:10).

Third, listen to him (34-36). Look at verse 32. “Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.” Why were they sleepy at this important moment in their lives and in the history of God? Most probably they were not interested in a conversation about Jesus’ departure, and were also tired. Then, they suddenly became fully awake, and saw the glory of Jesus. They had almost missed this glorious moment because of their sleepiness. Then how did they respond to this glorious atmosphere? Look at verse 33. “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.)” This shows what was in Peter’s sub-conscious mind. He did not want to suffer any more. Here and now, he wanted to live in ease and glory. We wonder why his wife and Peter Jr. were not in his mind. Anyway, at that moment he was happy and really wanted to live in ease and glory, being separated from this problem-filled world. He mentioned only three shelters (cottages), and no extra shelter for him. He was probably so sure that Jesus would live with him, or that Jesus would build one for him, that he did not mention it. Peter's response is a representation of all men’s longing desire to live in paradise, where there is no suffering, no cross, no annoyance of evil spirits, no war, no fighting, no allergies, and no other human problem.

Then what happened? Look at verse 34. “While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.” We know that in the scientific world, the appearance of a cloud is related to weather condition. But in the Old Testament, such a cloud represents God’s coming to his people (cf. Ex 16:10; 19:9; 24:15; 33:9). A cloud coming down also represents God’s glory being revealed (Ex 24:16). In this case, it is a bright, white, or luminous cloud. A cloud appeared and enveloped them. They were afraid as Jesus, Moses and Elijah entered the cloud. They were afraid at this moment of God’s full presence. Then a voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” Peter and his companions’ longing for the paradise seemed to be all right. Yet in their desire for ease and glory they rejected Jesus’ words in their deep hearts: “The Son of man must suffer many things, be rejected by the elders, chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Most probably they were afraid to hear it again. They really did not like the words, “…you must deny yourself and take up your cross daily...” To them following Jesus was okay, but they wanted to do it without self-denial and cross-taking. Jesus said, “The Son of Man must…” and “You must…” but it did not work in them. So God himself intervened and said, “…Listen to him, my Son whom I have chosen.” At that time Peter was like a spiritual baby compared to Moses and Elijah. But when he accepted the cross of Jesus, he grew tremendously. He grew to be a spiritual giant like Moses and Elijah until he could say to the early Christians in fiery persecution, “Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ” (1 Pe 4:13).

God’s speaking from the clouds to his disciples, “Listen to him,” shows how we also need to struggle to truly listen to Jesus and accepts his words concerning the cross of Jesus. When we think of Christian belief and Christian history, there seem to be two kinds of Christians, one kind to recognize the suffering Messiah and follow the way of the cross, and the other, just want to receive blessings and glory in the name of Jesus. In fact, any Christian community or congregation can be split into these two. Furthermore in any Christian’s heart and life there is a conflict between the two. This does not mean that there are two ways of salvation. No. There is only one way of salvation as Jesus had said, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” May God help each one of us to deeply recognize that Jesus went through the way of the suffering and cross for our salvation and in this grace accept and keep his words in our hearts, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

Look at verse 36. “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.” What a meaningful description, “…they found that Jesus was alone.” This is true and will be true in life. All people and all things will be gone in each and every one’s life, but only Jesus will remain in the end. Francis of Assisi was once tired and the human desire to have a wife and two sons arose in his heart out of nowhere. So he made snowmen and was comforted by them throughout the night. The next morning, he hoped that they would be there and safe, but he saw they were melting in the sunshine, and then he cried.

Thank God for the transfiguration of Jesus. Jesus is God in glory but he came to this world in a human form hiding all his glory to serve God’s will of salvation for mankind. May we deeply recognize the glory of Jesus and also know that those who live for him and suffer in his name will participate in his immeasurable glory that lasts forever. In this hope may we listen to him and willingly and positively take the way of the cross in this generation.

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