The Sunday of the Transfiguration
February 13, 2010
Text: Luke 9:28-36
Dear Friends in Christ,
It is a frequently heard statement: “I’m leaving.” During World War II, many men and women said that they were leaving and going to war. This is the basis for the Roger Whitaker song “Durham Town.” His father left their home in Durham Town, Kenya, then a British colony, to fight for the British. Many children tell their parents that they are leaving to go to college or to pursue employment. In the area where I grew up, there is virtually no one left between 50 and 60 years of age. They all moved away in the late 1970's to find work. People leave for many reasons. Some good and some bad. In the past, when someone left home, they often would never return. A young sailor, in trouble with the law, named John Paul left his home in Scotland and came to Virginia. There under the name John Jones, he carved out a new life, and a legend as the American naval hero, John Paul Jones. But he would never return to his native Scotland. After World War II, large numbers of European Jews left their homes to carve out a new home, a new dream, in a new nation called Israel. Often, leaving is a permanent thing.
Christ was leaving. He was about to have His “Exodus.” This is the word the Greek text uses. Christ was about to have His Exodus in Jerusalem. The word is deliberate. It is intended to connect Jesus leaving to the Israelites leaving Egypt. Jesus about to leave. He was discussing this plan with the prophets Moses and Elijah. These are the two greatest prophets of the Old Testament - Moses who spoke with God face to face and Elijah who slaughtered four hundred prophets of Baal after calling fire from heaven. These two men were summoned back to earth to speak with Christ about His Exodus from the earth. What were they saying about Christ leaving? I don’t know. All I know is the subject. For all I know, Moses and Elijah could have been telling Christ that they would have a cold one waiting for Him in heaven. If it was important that we know exactly what was said in their conversation, it would have been recorded.
Christ’s glory was tied up in His mission. He was not here to perform miracles. He did perform miracles to show the world who He is. You know, if someone can command the fish to fill a net, the wind and the waves to stop, feed five thousand people from seven loaves and two fish, turn water into wine, it sort of gets your attention. Christ here reveals His full glory to the disciples because now He is going to set His face toward Jerusalem. He would exit from Jerusalem. And in Christ’s exodus, His glory would be fully revealed. But here is where many people start getting puzzled. What do you mean, reveal His glory in Jerusalem? He died in Jerusalem. Exactly. Christ’s glory is most fully revealed in the cross. The symbol of the Christian faith is the cross of Christ. Why? Because this is where God revealed Himself to us. The cross, more than the Mount of Transfiguration, is where we see our God. And what do we see? We see a naked man, beaten, bloodied, nearly torn apart, humiliated, mocked and finally, after His death, also pierced. Christ on the cross is an ugly thing. Yet, this where Christ began His exodus. This is where He fulfilled His mission. This ugliness is what Christ wants us to gaze upon. For the glory of God is not found in His raw power, or in His mystery. The glory of God is to be found in the Sacrifice of the perfect Lamb of God for the sin of the world.
On the Mount of Transfiguration, Christ appears in His glory because this the beginning of the end. From there, Luke tells us a few verses after out text, He turned His face toward Jerusalem. His glory is revealed here to say to us, look out, the fire works are about to begin. Many people are really like the disciples, they want to dwell on the Mount of Transfiguration but they don’t want what comes next. They want the glory but not the gory. If we reinvent Christ in the way we want Him to be, we lose the most important thing. For in the death and resurrection of Christ, we have victory over sin and death. The Mount of Transfiguration does not save us. Mount Calvary does. This is why the fullest revelation of Christ’s glory is upon the cross. God’s glory is His service and sacrifice for man. This is why we must not dwell upon the Mount of Transfiguration. It is simply a sign to point us forward to the real thing.
To the world, the cross is a scandal. Why should God suffer and die? This simply cannot be true, the world would tell us. Have you ever wondered if there might not have been something deeper happening in the opposition to the movie The Passion. Of course there is. The world likes wise men and profound teachers. It does not like God intruding into our world. It cannot stand the thought of God actually doing something for us, like paying for our sins. The world, when confronted by the cross will do anything to ridicule it, to make it irrelevant, or to destroy it. The world doesn’t want to see an ugly, bloodied, suffering Christ because then it must ask who is responsible. The answer is that all humanity is equally responsible. In The Passion Mel Gibson had his own hand hold the nail as it is pounded into the hand of Christ. Why? Because, as he explained, Mel Gibson is responsible for the death of Christ. Indeed it is so, just as Jody Walter is responsible for the death of Christ. Just as each human being is responsible for the death of Christ. If we confront the cross, then we must say; “It is I, Lord.” The Jews don’t want to admit this, because they believe that they earn a place before God by fulfilling the law. The world doesn’t admit this because it doesn’t see the need for a savior from sin. Many, so called Christians, don’t want to admit this because the Mount of Transfiguration is a lot more fun than Mount Calvary. But we must leave the Mount of Transfiguration, turn our face toward Jerusalem and move with Christ to His cross. For only there is payment made for my sins and your sins. Only there does Christ complete His work and begin His Exodus.
It should be noted, that though Christ exits this world, He never does really leave it. In fact He is in truth more profoundly present on earth today than when He was preaching in Galilee. Christ’s words at the end of Matthew teach us this: “Lo, I Am with you always, even until the end of the age.” Christ left to be present. That does not make sense in human terms, but for Christ, it is so. He completed His Exodus from this world to be fully present in this world.
Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration gives to us a glimpse of the heavenly reality hidden within this Man. It is beautiful thing to behold. Like the disciples we are tempted to want to stay there forever. But the real glory is at hand. For at this time, Christ set His face toward Jerusalem and the fulfillment of His mission - to die on the cross for the sin of the world. Mount Calvary is the greater revelation of God’s glory. For there we see the perfect Lamb of God offered up for our sin. There, in Christ’s death, we see our life. That is glorious indeed. That is where Christ intends us to be focused - upon the cross, the true glory of God. Amen!