Luke 9: Face of Glory – The Transfiguration

Who is this man?

This year we’ve been reading through the gospel of Luke.

So far Jesus has been very busy.
Crowds of people followed him everywhere.
Sometimes Jesus and his disciples, his closest followers, didn’t even have time to eat! (Mark 3:20, 6:31)

Last week Gordon told us how Jesus tried to get away from the crowds.
He wanted some quiet time alone with his disciples by the lake.
But what happened?
5000 men followed them!
Jesus multiplied bread and fish to feed them all.

After that, in our reading for today, Jesus walked around 50 km north,
where he wasn’t so famous.
And at last they had some time alone.

They probably relax, Jesus prayed, and then he asks a question.
“Hey guys.  All these crowds who keep following us.
What are they thinking about me?
Who do people say I am?”

Well, that was a hot question.
The crowds were often amazed.
Jesus taught with power and made sick people healthy again. (4:32, 5:26)

Jesus set people free from their past, he gave them a new start, and they asked

Who is this man, that he goes around forgiving sins?”  (Luke 7:49)

Jesus calmed down a big storm on the lake.

The disciples were terrified and amazed.  “Who is this man?” they asked each other.  “When he gives a command, even the wind and waves obey him!”  (Luke 8:25)

Even King Herod asked,

Who is this man about whom I hear such stories?”  (Luke 9:9)

“Who is this man?”

Most people thought Jesus was a prophet.
A prophet is someone who brings God’s message.
There were many in the Old Testament of the Bible.

Many thought Jesus was Elijah or one of the other prophets risen from the dead.  (Luke 9:8)

What about today?
If you walked down Queen Street and asked people, “Who was Jesus?”
What would they say?

Maybe most often: a good man, a religious leader.
Indians might say: a great guru like Mahatma Gandhi.
Chinese or Koreans, maybe a wise teacher like Confucius or Lao Tzu.
Muslims say the same as the people in Luke: Jesus is a prophet.

Most of these ideas are right.
Jesus was a great leader and teacher, a guru and a prophet.
But Jesus was more.

Now he asked a more personal question.
I imagine he looked into the eyes of each disciple, one by one.
He asked,
“What about you guys?
James, what do I mean to you?
John, what are you thinking about me?
Peter, who do you say I am?”  (9:20)

Have you heard Jesus asking you that question?
Maybe he is today.

They say when you are about to die,
Your whole life flashes before you.

Maybe it was like that for Peter.
Because this was a life and death question.
As he stared into Jesus’ eyes,
He remembered everything he’d seen Jesus do and heard him say.
Everything he’d lived through.
And I think his mind went further back
to the history of his people Israel.

The Messiah

Long ago, the people of Israel were slaves in Egypt.
They worked hard in the burning sun, they were not free.
Then God defeated the Egyptian army.
A man called Moses led the people out to freedom.
It was the birth of Israel.
Who knows the name of this event?
The Exodus.

Moses led them to a mountain called Sinai.
The presence of God came down in a cloud.
There was thunder and lightning. (Exodus chs 19, 24, 33, 34)
It was awesome, it was scary.
There God gave Moses his Law.
The 10 Commandments on stone tablets,
how to live as a free people in relationship with Him.

It was a good gift, but
Over and over through the Bible,
the people of Israel turned away from God.
Over and over, enemy countries attacked and made them slaves again.
Now in the time of Jesus, the Romans were in charge.
The people were still not free.

It was pretty bad, but over and over God made a promise.
One day he would send a great king to set them free forever.
Who knows the name of this king?
The Messiah.
That means the anointed one, the chosen one.
In Greek, the Christ.

Peter learned all of this since he was a boy.
Now, as he looked into Jesus’ eyes, it all came together.
All the hopes of his people, all the dreams of his heart,
pointed towards this man.

“You’re not just a prophet, a great teacher, are you Jesus?
You are the One we’ve been waiting for,
The promised King come to set us free.
You are the Messiah sent from God” (9:20).

Let’s read Luke 9:18-22         (page 790).

18 One day Jesus left the crowds to pray alone. Only his disciples were with him, and he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
19 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other ancient prophets risen from the dead.”
20 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”
Peter replied, “You are the Messiah sent from God!”

21 Jesus warned his disciples not to tell anyone who he was.22 “The Son of Man [=Jesus] must suffer many terrible things,” he said. ”He will be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He will be killed, but on the third day he will be raised from the dead.”

A prophet, God’s messenger?
The Messiah, God’s promised King?

Peter was right, but he had more to learn.
He thought the Messiah was a fighting man, a superman.
A mighty warrior to drive out the Romans by force.

What a surprise when Jesus started talking about:
Suffering, rejection, death.

The disciples didn’t understand.
It made them confused.
So they were afraid to ask (9:45).

The Transfiguration

About a week after that they had another surprise.
Let’s read what happened.[i]
Luke 9:28-36

28 About eight days later Jesus took Peter, John, and James up on a mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was transformed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly, two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared and began talking with Jesus. 31 They were glorious to see. And they were speaking about his exodus from this world, which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem.
32 Peter and the others had fallen asleep. When they woke up, they saw Jesus’ glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As Moses and Elijah were starting to leave, Peter, not even knowing what he was saying, blurted out, “Master, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 34 But even as he was saying this, a cloud overshadowed them, and terror gripped them as the cloud covered them.
35 Then a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him.” 36 When the voice finished, Jesus was there alone. They didn’t tell anyone at that time what they had seen.

The heading here is “Transfiguration”. [ii]
That means “a complete change of appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state”.

The disciples had walked with Jesus for over a year.
They had seen him tired and hungry and covered in dust.
A human being like you and me.

Now, on the mountain, Jesus was transfigured, transformed, completely changed.
His face was shining
Like the sun on pure white snow.
Like a flash of lightning across the sky.
He was blazing, blinding bright. [iii]
It hurt their eyes to see him.

What did it mean?
Let’s ask those two men who were talking with Jesus.

First, there is Moses.
Long ago he stood on top of Mount Sinai in the cloud of God’s presence.
Here he is again, on another God-clouded mountain.
He’s talking with Jesus about another Exodus.

Moses rescued God’s people from physical slavery in Egypt.
Jesus will rescue us from slavery to sin – everything we do wrong.
He will set us free from death.
He will bring a deeper relationship with God, one that lasts.
Not commandments on stone, but his Spirit in our heart.
He completes on a deeper level what Moses began.

Second, there is Elijah, a great prophet from the Bible.
He also saw God’s glory, blazing out on a mountaintop (1 Kings 18:38).

Every year Jewish people celebrate the Passover, the Exodus, with a special meal.
They have an empty place at the table with a cup of wine for Elijah.
They believe he will return, just before the Messiah comes to save the world.
The idea comes from the last verses of the Old Testament:

“I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord.”  (Malachi 4:5)

That’s probably why some people thought Jesus was Elijah.
Jesus wasn’t Elijah.
He was more.
He was the One that Elijah and the prophets talked about and pointed towards.
Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, Jesus fulfilled them both. [iv]

And a third Person visited the mountain that day.
He gives the final answer to Jesus’ question.
The voice of God the Father speaks from the cloud,
“This is my Son, my Chosen One”.

Who is Jesus?
A prophet?  Yes!
The Messiah?  Yes!
But most of all,
The Son of God.

The Image of God

Did you ever see a baby boy and say,
“He looks just like his dad!”
The baby grows older.
He starts to walk like his dad, talk like his dad.
He becomes a man and, wow!
You look at his face and see his father.
We say he is the “spitting image” – he looks just the same.
“A chip off the old block” – made of the same stuff.
Do you know anyone like that?

That’s something of what it means to say that
Jesus is the Son of God.

You see, God wants a relationship with us.
But there’s a problem:
We can’t reach God.

God lives in light so brilliant that no human can approach him.  No human eye has ever seen him, nor ever will.  (1 Timothy 6:16)

That’s why he came to us in human form.
2000 years ago,

The Love that dances at the heart of things
Shone out upon us from a human face [v]

Paul writes in the Bible,

The glory of God is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.  (2 Corinthians 4:6)

The Son is the visible image of the invisible God.  (Colossians 1:15)

Jesus is the “spitting image” of his Father.
Do you want to meet God, to know what he’s like?
Look at his Son.

He’s a chip off the old block.
Jesus does what God does, he says what God says.
He loves what God loves and hates what God hates.
Like father, like son.

The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God.  (Hebrews 1:3)

And that is what the disciples saw on the mountain.

The curtain between the physical world and the spiritual world was pulled away.
They saw Jesus as he really was.
The bridge between heaven and earth.
The man who is God.

Have you experienced a time like that?
When God seemed very close.
When you caught a glimpse of his glory.
When the ordinary world seems transfigured.
Don’t you wish these times could last forever?

Peter wanted to build memorial shelters, like little huts or tents.
He wanted to stay up there in God’s presence.
Sunbathing in the glory of the Son.
They didn’t want to leave.

Today people still build shrines and temples in places
where they think a god or spirit has spoken.

They climb up holy mountains.
They travel to holy cities.
Trying to connect with God.
Are there places like that in your country?

Some of these places are very beautiful,
But we don’t have to travel a long way,
go to special places, climb up to heaven,
in order to find God.

Because in Jesus God comes to us, as a man like us.
We see the face of God in the face of Jesus.
And we can meet him anywhere through his Spirit.

Jesus didn’t want them to build shelters and stay up there.
It was time to go back down to the crowds.
And find God’s presence in everyday life,
As they carried on helping people.

The Two Mountains

A year or so later, at the Passover when Jews remembered the Exodus,
We come to another hill.[vi]

Jesus took the same three disciples, Peter and James and John.
They climbed the Mount of Olives (Mark 14:33, Luke 22:39-46).
Once again, Jesus prayed.
Once again, the disciples fell asleep.
Once again, Jesus was transformed.

He was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.  (Luke 22:44)

Instead of glory in his face, there is sadness and fear.
Instead of sunlight pouring out, sweat drips down.

A few hours later,

The soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they put a purple robe on him. “Hail! King of the Jews!” they mocked [=laughed], as they slapped him across the face.  (John 19:2-3)

The shining face of God, scarred with nails and bruised with blows.
This was the path Jesus had to take to fulfil the new Exodus.
To rescue you and me from sin and death.

Can you see him on those two different hills?
The mountain of transfiguration.
The mount of crucifixion.

Standing between two prophets of old.
Hanging between two thieves on a cross.

His face blazing with the glory of God.
His face stained with blood and pain.

Crowned with the sun.
Crowned with thorns.

For you and me,
Transfigured and transformed.

It’s the mystery of the Gospel.
It’s one of the things that keeps calling me back to Jesus.
How suffering and glory come together in God’s plan.

Just as Jesus told his disciples before the transfiguration,
He was rejected and killed on the cross.
And just as he said, three days later he rose to life again, and soon went back to Father God.[vii]

Jesus asked his disciples, and he asks you and me:
“Who do you say that I am?”

What are the answers we’ve found today?

Jesus is:
A prophet, who speaks the message of God.
The Messiah, the promised King who sets us free.
The Son of God:
The spitting image of his father.
The character of God in a humble man.
The Father’s glory in a human face.

An old song says,

Turn your eyes upon Jesus.
Look full on his wonderful face.

That’s what the Christian life is about:
Growing closer to the Father as we look to his Son.
And as we gaze on the glory and goodness of God in the face of Jesus Christ,
We ourselves will be transformed. [viii]

Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.  (2 Corinthians 3:18, The Message)

That’s why Jesus came.
To bring God’s sons and daughters, you and me, to glory like his (Hebrews 2:10)
Shining like the Son.

Questions – Luke 9:18-36

What happened on the Mount of Transfiguration?

What does it teach us about Jesus?

Have you experienced God’s presence and glory?

Who is Jesus to you?

[i] Back in 2007, I preached on the Transfiguration from the Gospel of Matthew.  See here.
[ii] Appropriately, the feast of Transfiguration mostly comes this month, in August.
[iii] Ezekiel saw the figure of a man like glowing metal, full of fire and brilliant light with rainbow radiance: the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord (Ezekiel 1:26-28).  Near the end of his life John had a vision of Jesus, his face like the sun shining in all its brilliance (Revelation 1:16)
[iv] No one saw where Moses was buried (Deut 34:6).  Elijah didn’t die a normal death, but was taken up to heaven in a chariot (2 Kings 2:11).
[v] From a wonderful Sonnet for the Feast of the Transfiguration by Malcolm Guite here. See other transfiguration poems here.  For Transfiguration scenes in movies of Jesus, see here
[vi] See paintings of Gethsemane from around the world here.
[vii] One day, he said, he will return with the glory they saw on the mountain that day. Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory.  (Luke 21:27).
[viii] As Moses’ face shone with God’s glory when he came down from Mt Sinai (Exodus 34:29ff).