February 7, 2016
According to Webster, the word 'transfiguration' means -
a : a change in form or appearance - metamorphosis
b : an exalting, glorifying, or spiritual change
Capitalized: a Christian feast that commemorates the transfiguration of Christ on a mountaintop in the presence of three disciples and that is observed on August 6 in the Roman Catholic and some Eastern churches and on the Sunday before Lent in most Protestant churches.
As the United Methodist Church is a protestant denomination, today is the day we celebrate the Transfiguration of Jesus, which is the event outlined in our Gospel Reading (Matthew 17:1-9) this morning.
So why do you think this happened? And what can we learn from it? There have been quite a few expositions written in answer to those questions. Most agree that the main purpose of the transfiguration of Christ was so that the inner circle of His disciples could gain a greater understanding of who Jesus was. Christ underwent a dramatic change in appearance in order that the disciples could behold Him in His glory. John later wrote, "We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14). Peter also wrote about it, as we heard in our epistle reading today (2 Peter 1:16-19). Thus the disciples, who had previously only known Him in His human body, now had a greater realization of the deity of Christ. The Jews had been waiting since their exile from Jerusalem for the Shekinah - the visible glory of the Lord - to return. The Shekinah is what made Moses' face radiant in our Old Testament reading (Exodus 34:29-35), and now here it was manifested as Jesus Christ - proof that He was indeed God incarnate. It is interesting to note that the Shekinah is also what is referred to in Revelation 21:23, which describes the New Jerusalem at the end of the age. The verses reads: "And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The Lamb, of course, is Jesus.
What about the appearance of Moses and Elijah? Symbolically, Moses and Elijah represented the Law and the Prophets. This visually confirmed that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law, as well as countless prophecies in the Old Testament.
But what else can we glean from this event? Besides the symbolic implication of Moses and Elijah appearing with Jesus, this is also proof that they were still very much alive. You might remember that Elijah was taken into heaven bodily, in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11). The Bible does say that Moses died, and was buried in Moab, but the actual site of his grave remained a mystery (Deuteronomy 34:5-7), and the Bible even says that the archangel Michael disputed with the devil about his body (Jude 1:9). So even though there is a bit of mystery surrounding their departure and death, this should give us solid reassurance that our earthly life is not the end. Whether we are taken bodily into heaven when Jesus comes back for His own in the event known as the Rapture, or we pass from this life via death of the body, we will immediately be in the presence of the Lord. The apostle Paul told both the church in Philippi (Philippians 1:23) and the one in Corinth (2 Corinthians 5:8) that he desired to be apart from the body - and with Christ - which is far better than life on this earth. But he knew he was to remain on earth for a while yet to do what the Lord had appointed him to do. So you need not worry that a loved one who has departed in the Lord is wandering around aimlessly looking for the light, or sadly trying to participate in the events on earth, or is still lying in the grave.
And here is something else I thought was interesting¦ None of the three Scriptures that document the Transfiguration say that Jesus introduced Peter, James, and John to Moses and Elijah - and yet they knew who they were. Peter suggested he put up three memorial shelters - one for Jesus, one for Elijah, and one for Moses. Moses had died 1300 years before Peter saw him on the mount. They didn't have photography back in those days, so that Peter might have recognized them from a really, really old photo either. In their glorified bodies (which we will have in heaven also), they were recognizable to someone who had never seen them before. So think about that¦ When we are in heaven we will recognize Moses and Elijah. And we will recognize everyone else that is there also. There will be no strangers in heaven!
You might also note that this is the second time God the Father speaks from heaven and says that Jesus is His beloved Son and we need to listen to Him. (The first time was at Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist - Matthew 3:17) Whenever God says something twice, or sends the same vision twice, or the same sign twice - it is a confirmation. There is no mistaking, no doubting, and absolutely no excuse for not heeding what God is saying. God said Jesus is His Son. Period. No debate. The apostle John later wrote, "if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here." (1 John 4:3 - an important verse to remember!)
So, since the day is coming that we will also get to see Jesus as the disciples saw Him that day on the mount, we ought to live each and every day in joyful service to our Lord; anxiously awaiting the day when we will be with Him forever, in a kingdom lit by His glory, with no shadow or darkness ever again. Yes, soon and very soon, we are going to see the King! (Hymn #706)