His was no borrowed radiance.
Some things are worth the cost. So one day a guy finds himself in front of the Pearly Gates. St. Peter explains that it’s not easy to get into heaven. There are some criteria that must be met before entry is allowed.
- For example, was the man a church-goer or religious? No?
- St. Peter told him that’s bad.
- Was he generous, giving money to the poor or to charities? No?
- St. Peter told him that that, too, was bad.
- Did he do any good deeds, such as helping his neighbor? Anything? No?
- St. Peter was becoming concerned.
Exasperated,the Saint says,’Look, everybody does something nice sometime.Work with me, here! I’m trying to help. Now think!’
The man thinks for a minute, then says,’Well, I did help this old lady once. I came out of a store and saw that a dozen Hell’s Angels had taken her purse and were shoving her around. I threw my bags down and got her purse back, then I told the biggest biker there that he was cowardly and I spat in his face.’
‘Wow,’ said St. Peter,’That’s impressive! When did this happen?’
‘Oh, about 10 minutes ago,’ replied the man.
Some things are worth the cost. Following Jesus is worth the cost. We explored the cost last week. This week Jesus shows them His glory and how “worth it” it is to follow Him.
Jesus takes 3 disciples with Him up a very high mountain where He is transfigured. At the same time 2 legends of Israel’s history appear and speak with Jesus. The voice of the Father speaks to the disciples out of a cloud and then as if waking up from a dream everything is normal again. Descending the mountain two conversational points arise: they must not tell anyone what they have seen until His resurrection, and, they discuss the return of Elijah to the earth.
We will go through 5 Headings Today: (1) Up A Mountain, (2) A Glorious Glimpse, (3) Legends of the Faith, (4) Peter’s Proposition, (5) The Father Interrupts
#1: Up a Mountain (1-2a)
Following the flow of events, it makes sense that the Transfiguration takes place at this point. He just finished rebuking Peter for having in mind the things of men, and the Transfiguration was a powerful way to put the glory of God in Peter’s mind. He just finished laying down the costly terms of following Him, but, the Transfiguration was a snapshot of the glory that awaits those who follow Him – the glory is more than worth the cost! For a few brief moments they got to see what everyone will see in the kingdom of God everyday all day forever.
This moment of His transfiguration is actually what He was referring to in verse 1, “Some who are standing here (disciples) will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.” In seeing a glorified Jesus they saw the central Person of this kingdom of God, and, thus could say they saw the One who would come, with power and bring in the kingdom of God.
To argue this a little more, let’s keep in mind that Jesus is representative of the whole kingdom of God scheme. In chapter 1 He preached the kingdom of God was near, which meant that because He personally was in their midst, the kingdom was literally in their midst, in front of them, represented by Him. So, by seeing Jesus glorified here in the Transfiguration, they saw in Him the representation of the power and coming of the kingdom of God. He is central to that kingdom. It will happen because of Him.
Then Jesus takes them up a mountain. Mountains have always been a key feature of God’s interaction with men. Moses, Joshua, Aaron, and 70 leaders of Israel all went up Mount Sinai and beheld the glory of God (Ex. 24:9-18). Elijah was led to a mountain to hear from God (1 Kings 19). Isaiah 2 tells us that in the kingdom all the nations will go up to the mountain of Jerusalem to hear Jesus teach. The most famous sermon of Jesus was the Sermon on the Mount, which happened on a mountain in Jerusalem.
Mountains were places where God commissioned new projects. Israel’s covenant with God began with Moses on a mountain with God. Right after his mountain experience Elijah was told to go get Elisha to succeed him as God’s new prophet. Now, the disciples would become the Apostles, responsible for carrying the Gospel to the ends of the earth, and, that can’t happen without a mountain experience with God.
Viewing His Transfiguration would be exclusive. Only 3 of the 12 disciples were allowed to see it: Peter, James and John. These 3 were the “inner 3” for Jesus out of the 12. Peter and John would write NT books, and, much of the NT narratives center these guys.
#2: A Glorious Glimpse (2b-3)
In John 17:24 Jesus said, “Father, I want those you’ve given me, who have believed on me, to be with me where I am and to see me in my glory.” When Peter, James and John heard Jesus pray that later on they would know that glory Jesus was speaking of.
So, imagine the disciples huffing it up the mountain, sweating, thirsty, gasping for air in the higher altitude. They come into a clearing, perhaps looking out across the horizon at the view, when all of a sudden Jesus isn’t Jesus anymore. One second He is just “Jesus” and the next He is transfigured before their very eyes.
The word transfigured is the Greek word metamorphoo, where we get our word “metamorphosis”. It means to change into another form. The same Greek word is used in other NT letters describing the believer’s progressive metamorphosis into the moral likeness of Jesus, “Do not be conformed to the world but be transformed [metamorphoo]…” “And we all” 2 Cor. 3:18 says, “are being transformed [metamorphoo] into His likeness”
Mark tells us that His clothes became so white, verse 3 says, “dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. White can’t be that white in this world, it has to be from another world. It’s like when Isaiah saw the holiness of God Isaiah knew instantly that there was no one on earth holy like God, no one pure like God, and compared to God everyone was unclean and filthy. The disciples knew in that moment that what they thought was white and pure on this earth, was dingy, compared to the heavenly whiteness of Jesus. Matthew tells us that His face shone with brilliant light. John, who saw the Transfiguration, would get the chance to see Jesus in this glorious state again in Revelation: “His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.”
What Jesus changed to wasn’t really a change, but, a revealing of what had been covered over in His humanity – His divine glory. “The Son” Hebrews 1:3 says, “is the radiance of God’s glory”. I love how Wuest says it, “there shone that dazzling glory of the essence of Deity which He possesses co-eternally with God the father and God the Spirit. It shone right through the clay walls of His humanity and through the clothing He wore. It was that same dazzling radiance which the angels saw in His preincarnate state….here there was no borrowed radiance.” I love that part. Moses was radiant when He came down from the mountain, but, it wasn’t his own radiance. It was God’s. It was still “on” Moses after being in His presence. But that radiance diminished from Moses, because it wasn’t his radiance. Not with Jesus. This was His own radiance as the eternal, divine Son of God.
They needed to see His glory also because they needed to see that His suffering and death was always to be seen in view of His divine glory. Serving Jesus is done from seeing Jesus. He faced His own death seeing the glory after it, as Hebrews 12:2 says, “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
What you see now is not all there is. What you see now is not how it will always be. I want them to behold me in all my glory. And they will. But not only the disciples, all creation will bow to Him in His glory (Php. 2:9-11).
Serve Him now, no matter the cost, no matter the sacrifice, because you can see Him in all His glory, and, because you will see Him in all His glory.
#3: Legends of the Faith (4)
As if seeing Jesus transfigured wasn’t enough, God adds a double bonus for the disciples. Moses and Elijah are two legends of Israel’s history. Several questions arise in light of their appearance:
First question: Why these two? Why Elijah and Moses? Why not Abraham, Noah, David, Isaiah, Daniel, Job? Several reasons.
(1) Moses and Elijah represented “the Law and the Prophets”.
(2) The deaths of both men were mysterious, so, perhaps their reappearance is fitting (Dt. 34:6; 2 Kn 2:11).
(3) Elijah – eschatological emphasis, Elijah comes before the Lord’s Coming (Mal. 4:5; Mk. 9:11)
(4) Moses – the mediator of the Law
Second question: Did they have bodies, or, were they spirits? Their personal identities continued after death, that’s for sure because they were identifiable.
Third question: What were they talking about?! I wish we had the record of that conversation! Actually, Luke gives us something. In Luke 9 it says “they spoke about His departure, which would soon be fulfilled at Jerusalem.” This would have been of interest to them because once Jesus was dead He was coming to get them. Until Jesus came all the departed spirits went to Hades. Hades had two compartments: one side of blessing for the righteous souls, and the other for the wicked. One is the “bosom of Abraham”, the other is the bosom of anguish and suffering. One side is Paradise, the other is Punishment. When Jesus died He did not go up to heaven with the Father. He told the thief on the cross: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Ephesians 4:8 says, “When He ascended on high He led captives in His train”, meaning, He went to Hades and freed the one side of righteousness and led the whole group up with Him to heaven. The other group is still down there, and, will be released for judgment at the Great White Throne (Rev. 20). Moses and Elijah had a chance to be out on release briefly and meet Jesus at His Transfiguration. Naturally they would have been asking: So, how much longer before you come get us? “Soon. Very soon” Jesus was sure to be saying.
#4: Peter’s Proposition (5-6)
Then we see Peter’s Proposition, verses 5-6 say, “….”
Peter, overwhelmed, frightened, and at a loss for words, says the first thing that comes to his mind. It certainly was good for them to be there, for they were beholding Jesus in all His glory and meeting Moses and Elijah! It was the quintessential “There is no where else I’d rather be” kind of moment.
Why did Peter offer to put up the 3 shelters though? Luke 9 records this same event, and, he says that Moses and Elijah were leaving Jesus when Peter made this offer. Perhaps Peter wanted to prolong this incredible meeting by setting up a camp. Can you blame him? While I read a lot of abstract comments on the meaning of this, that project way too much into Peter’s thinking, I believe its as simple as its stated. Peter was simply awed at the whole situation and when it was “winding down” he just blurted out the offer to build 3 shelters.
#5: The Father Interrupts (7)
Fifthly, we see that the Father Interrupts – He interrupts Peter. Read verse 7. Luke 9:34 says “While Peter was speaking…” in other words, God was cutting him off.
There is some deja vu here. It seems like we’ve heard these words before. And we have. In chapter 1, when Jesus was baptized and came out of the water the Father spoke to Jesus and said, “You are my Son, whom I love; with youI am well pleased.” Now, however, God speaks almost word for word the same thing except this time its to the disciples. He adds of course: “Listen to Him!”
Here again we have the ethos of the Christian disciple: listening to Jesus. Listen doesn’t mean hear and live how you want. The Father clearly means live how Jesus says to live, do what Jesus says to do, believe what Jesus says to believe. It is an assault on our autonomy
Then as quickly as it happened it ended. Luke tells us that with the appearing cloud and the thundering voice of the Father the disciples fell to the ground in fear. Every single time this is what happens when a man is confronted by God: Moses, Gideon, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Peter, John, and here Peter James and John. Everytime God appears men fall to the ground and hide their eyes from Him.
So while they are laying on the ground all of a sudden everything goes back to normal. According to Matthew 17’s account, Jesus touches them, tells them not to be afraid and to get up. They look up and Jesus is normal again, and they are alone with Jesus again. I really don’t know how you are normal ever again after an experience like that. And that’s the point. They weren’t going to be normal again.
Conclusion: The Gag Order & The Lady With The Lamp
Now Jesus leads them back down the mountain and on the way He issues a Gag Order (8-10). Read 9-10. So they were quiet about this matter until after the Resurrection. The reason is that Afterwards they talked often about it. Peter wrote in his second letter, “We were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with Him anon the sacred mountain.” (2 Pt. 1:17-18).
Now that it is after the resurrection, we too have the Gag Order lifted. Like them, we are commissioned to speak of the glory of the Lord Jesus. We don’t see that light yet, but, we see it by faith. We haven’t seen it, but, we speak of it, so that the light of the knowledge of that glory would shine in this dark world.
Florence Nightingale was known as the Lady with the Lamp. As the mother of modern nursing she pioneered major changes in nursing at the turn of the 20th century and made nursing a favorable profession. The Nightingale Pledge is used in ceremonies with nurses, and the highest international distinction a nurse can achieve is the Florence Nightingale Medal. Several years ago I had time to wander around Butterworth Hospital and went into their museum. I looked at a lot of fascinating things, but, then I came across a glass case that had an archaic looking lamp underneath. The marker said it was a Nightingale Lamp, given to graduating nurses to remind them of the dedication they would need to do their duty.
It is the history of the lamp though that makes it such a token of the profession. During the Crimean War Florence was sent to care for wounded British soldiers. After long days managing large troops of nurses, and after the doctors and staff would have left for the night, Florence would take her lamp, and make her way around in the dark to all the soldiers to personally tend to their needs. In the dark, in pain, in fear, alone, these soldiers would find encouragement as they saw the lamp’s glow coming their way. To the soldiers she was known as the Lady with the Lamp.
Christians, we have lamps too. And dedication for us is to make our way around in the dark to those wounded, scared, hurting, lost souls. Christ has given us the light to carry to the world. Let us become the “People with a Lamp”.