Luke 9.28-36 (NRSV)
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.
In this study we see Jesus, Peter, James and John on the top of a mountain where Jesus confirmed to them what they had come to understand as Jesus' true identity - that Jesus was the Messiah. Appearing with Moses can be seen as symbolising Jesus as the total fulfilment of the Law; appearing with Elijah can be seen as symbolising Jesus as the fulfilment of everything the prophets had foretold about the Messiah. This great event therefore confirms the truth of what the disciples had confessed about Jesus - that he was in fact the Messiah, the Christ, the Saviour of the world. This reaches a climax in verse 35 when the Father spoke: 'This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him'.
The Father told the disciples to listen to Jesus. Remember what Jesus had been telling them - that he was on his way to Jerusalem where he would suffer. The disciples needed some encouragement after hearing the hard words about bearing a cross; they also needed some graphic confirmation that Jesus was who he claimed to be.
It must have been an amazing experience. It was so wonderful that Peter never wanted it to end. Peter's desire to remain and revel in this ecstasy is indicative of what many of us feel in our moments of glory. The commentator in the Life Application Bible writes:
Sometimes we too have such an inspiring experience that we want to stay where we are - away from the reality and problems of our daily lives. Knowing that struggles await us in the valley encourages us to linger on the mountaintop. Yet staying on top of a mountain prohibits us from ministering to others.
Peter's response also reveals another danger - the problem of people running after wonderful experiences. There is no doubting that it is important to have encouraging and uplifting experiences - but we must never fall into the trap of trying to rekindle them to the exclusion of everything else. So many people fall into this trap. Some have become spiritual grasshoppers - jumping from church to church in search of experiences. Many churches go through times of incredible growth when they introduce something new and exciting. People flock from all other churches and join - but they only remain until some other group creates something fresh and new or the experience has worn off.
This is a truth in all areas of life. We only really enjoy and appreciate the times of delight and happiness when the times of sadness remind us of our great blessings. We take many things for granted until something happens to make us to cherish our blessings. People who are told that they have a limited time left to live start taking notice of their loved ones and their environment in a special way - sometimes for the first time in years. I am sure you can think of many other examples.
To base one's life and faith on experiences is a terrible mistake because our experiences are so fickle. What we need to base of lives on is the Word of God. Wiersbe writes:
As wonderful as these experiences are, they are not the basis for a consistent Christian life. That can come only through the Word of God. Experiences come and go, but the Word remains. Our recollection of past experiences will fade, but God's Word never changes. ... That was why the Father said "Hear Him!" and why Peter made this same emphasis on the Word in his report [in] 2 Peter 1:12-21.
Listen to excerpts from Peter's message in that passage:
... with our own eyes we saw his true greatness ... We were there with Jesus on the Holy mountain and heard this voice speak from heaven. All of this makes us even more certain that what the prophets said is true. So you should pay close attention to their message, as you would to a lamp shining in some dark place. (CEV)
When we base our lives on the Word of God, we begin to experience the process whereby we experience our own personal, spiritual transfiguration. Luke does not actually use the Greek work that is translated as transfiguration. Matthew and Mark do. The word is metamorphose which means to experience a change in our nature and character. This is what salvation is all about, the transforming of people from sin to holiness. This is God's will for us. Paul explains in Romans 12:1-2:
Therefore, my friends, I implore you by God's mercy to offer your very selves to him: a living sacrifice, dedicated and fit for his acceptance, the worship offered by mind and heart. Conform no longer to the pattern of this present world, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds. Then you will be able to discern the will of God, and to know what is good, acceptable, and perfect.
In Christ's transfiguration on the mountain the Father also emphasised this very point - He told the disciples to listen. In the context of the passage the Father was saying to the disciples - as paraphrased by Donald Miller:
Unreasonable as his account of his suffering may seem, and incongruous though it may be with your idea of Messiahship, nevertheless listen to what he is saying, and believe it! You are the ones who do not know what you are saying ... Jesus does. Listen to him!
It is only in Luke's account that we are told of the conversation that took place at the transfiguration. In verse 31 we read: 'They ... talked about all that Jesus' death in Jerusalem would mean'.
Because this was the topic of conversation at such a time 'shows how central the death of Jesus is' (Morris). The word Luke uses to describe 'death' here is exodos. Because this is an unusual word to use in this context we should take note of some special significance. Morris explains that we are intended to see Jesus' death as it is related to Israel's exodus out of slavery in Egypt. He elaborates:
The Exodus had delivered Israel from bondage. Jesus by His 'exodos' would deliver His people from far worse bondage.
Ellis links the significance of this to what Jesus had taught the people beforehand:
The 'exodus' typology is clearly in view. Jesus is the new Moses who establishes a new Israel, gives a new covenant, and through his death and resurrection delivers God's people from the 'Egypt' of sin and death.
The death of Jesus is the central teaching of the Scriptures. The entire Old Testament looks forward to it and the entire New Testament elaborates on it - taking us into the depths of what it means. As J C Ryle states:
Let us take heed that this death of Christ is the ground of all our confidence. Nothing else will give us comfort in the hour of death and the day of judgement. ... Christ dying for our sins and rising again for our justification must be our only plea, if we wish to be saved.
Ryle concludes: 'If saints in glory see in Christ's death so much beauty, that they must needs talk of it, how much more ought sinners on earth!'
The Cross of Christ is central to our faith. But more than that, because of the Cross of Christ we not only have a wonderful eternity waiting for us after death, we have the opportunity to know heaven on earth as we fight and conquer sin in our lives in the power if the Holy Spirit. We are offered forgiveness and transfiguration - the metamorphosis of our lives as God renews our minds and thereby our lives. Let us not be like Peter and seek only the joy of the mountain top experiences. But let us listen to God's word and allow it to transform us into the likeness of Jesus Christ.