“Transforming Our Vision”
Rev. Jeff Long-Middletoton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
March 3, 2019
Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ – Luke 9:35i
Why was Jesus transfigured? Did He need to be? Was He somehow changed? Wasn’t He the Son of God prior to this mountain top experience? So why was Jesus transfigured? You might have your own answer. You might have your own understanding. Let me share mine and if you have a different take on this, please let me know. I’d love to hear what you think. All that said, here we go.
As is the case so often with scripture, one has to place these words from Luke 9:28-36 in their wider context. So what comes before Jesus’ transfiguration? Jesus tells the disciples He has to suffer and die. That is stated in 9:22 and is immediately followed by Jesus telling the disciples that if they want to follow Him, they have to take up their own crosses. Well, that must have struck His disciples as a very odd road to victory and if you have ever been given terrible news, it takes some time to take it all in. So, in 9:28 we are told that eight days had passed since Jesus had said these things. We aren’t told what, if anything, happened during those eight days. It wouldn’t surprise me if the disciples ignored Jesus. Here’s what they might have thought:
- Jesus is wrong. Jesus doesn’t know what He’s talking about. Look at the crowds, the healing and the power of Jesus’ teaching. Suffer! Die! Don’t be silly.
- Well, maybe Jesus thinks that’s what’s going to happen, but just wait. If we ever get the Jerusalem, there will be so many of His followers that the pompous religious authorities and even the power of the Roman garrison wont be able to stop this movement of change and liberation. Jesus may think He controls what’s going to happen, but there a lot of folks committed to His cause that will make sure our movement doesn’t die. So we’ll see.
We don’t know what was said, but one thing is clear, they wanted no part of this talk about suffering and dying.1
And what is that Elijah and Moses talk to Jesus about when that cloud descends – the cross that Jesus is to bear and His resurrection. And then it happens. A voice from the cloud says, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ This voice from God is saying there is no higher authority than Jesus and when Jesus says He has to suffer and die, take it to the bank. Did they? No. In Matthew 16:23 Jesus will tell Peter to “get behind me Satan.” Why? Peter told Jesus that Jesus was wrong. According to Peter, Jesus didn’t have to suffer and die. A voice from heaven, Jesus transfigured, the appearance of Moses and Elijah, all that didn’t matter. They still have the audacity to tell Jesus they know best.
It is time, my friends, for us to take the cross seriously, to affirm the redemptive power in suffering, to bear witness to Him who died for us. As we gather around the Lord’s table this day, may these words from Joseph Sittler ring in our ears:
“A cross is a blunt and graceless form. It has not the completeness and satisfying quality of a circle. It does not have the grace of a parabola or the promise of a long curve. A cross is a straight-up line abruptly crossed by a counterline. The assertive yes of its vertical is crossed and broken by the no of its horizontal. A cross speaks not of unity but of brokenness, not of harmony but of ambiguity; it is a form of tension and not of rest….The cross is the symbol because the whacks of life take that shape. Our lives are full of abandonments, infidelities, tragedies. The affirmation is always crossed by a negation. The vitalities of life move toward death. And unless you have a crucified God, you don’t have a big enough God.”2
On a mountaintop long ago, Jesus was transfigured. Now it is His church that must transform its vision that it might see the power of the cross and the limits of the world’s way. Let us pray…
1Note that in 9:44 Jesus again has to address the disciples lack of understanding: “Let there words sink into your ears; for the Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men.”
2Sittler, Joseph A., Grace Notes and Other Fragments, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1981, pp. 116 & 118.
28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. 34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ 36When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.