Our Psalm this morning (Ps 121) invites us to look to the mountains. To lift up our eyes upward towards the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth. To look to God above the trials and temptations of this world, and trust in him and his power to save.
In Gospel reading today, Jesus takes his own closest friends to a mountain top, and reveals himself to them as the Lord. With their own eyes these three disciples are given a glimpse of Christ’s divine glory and power. On that high peak Jesus shows himself to be same Lord described in our Psalm.
You see, Peter and his companions were given the privilege of viewing the essence of Jesus. They were given the great privilege of seeing Jesus with the power and glory that he had as God’s Son before he was born on earth. They were given a foretaste of the majesty that the risen and ascended Jesus has again today in heaven.
This vision of Jesus was so glorious that Matthew and other Gospel authors struggle to describe what Peter, James and John saw. They say Jesus’s face shone like a flash of lightning, he was brighter than the sun, he looked whiter than snow. Today we simply call it his ‘transfiguration’.
As they lifted their eyes on that mountaintop, Peter, James and John received a sneak preview of the awesome sight that every Christian will enjoy for eternity. They were granted a beautiful vision of the glory of God. They were given a taste of heaven, a glimpse of the divine nature that would have stuck in their minds for the rest of their earthly lives.
We should try keep the same image in our mind’s eye too. When we think of Jesus today, we shouldn’t envisage him as baby in a manger or a Galiliean carpenter. He is a glorious, all-powerful, risen king!
Today, in 2020, Jesus possesses a glory, power and splendour that no other religious leader or political ruler can possess. Every other prophet, priest and king is put in the shade. Jesus alone deserves our unqualified loyalty and love.
Jesus…rescues the people of God
If you have been following the American presidential election campaign, you will know that Joe Biden this week received the endorsement of several of his erstwhile Democratic Party rivals.
Two fellow Democrats, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg, stood alongside Joe Biden last Sunday to say that he is now their preferred choice for President. We shall see whether their endorsement helps him get to the White House!
In our passage today, Jesus receives his own high profile public endorsement. Because as he stands on that mountain-top, he is joined by a couple of famous figures from the past. Moses and Elijah appeared, talking with Jesus.
Moses, of course, had been the man chosen by God to lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. Elijah, meanwhile, was one of the great Old Testament prophets. Taken together, these two men personified the whole Old Testament canon – the Law and the Prophets.
Both Moses and Elijah’s earthly lives had ended hundreds of years earlier. But now they appeared from Heaven to stand at Jesus’ side. And their purpose was to endorse him as the fulfilment of everything that they had preached and promised all those years ago. They were commending him as the true ‘Christ’, as the long-promised Messiah from God.
Matthew’s Gospel doesn’t tell us what Jesus, Moses and Elijah were talking about. But Luke’s Gospel does. Luke tells us that Moses and Elijah were talking about Jesus’ “departure, which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem.”
Jesus’ imminent “departure” – his death and resurrection – was going to be the climax of his life, the hour for which he had come. It was going to achieve something so important that Moses and Elijah had appeared from Heaven to discuss it with him. It was going to achieve a rescue of God’s people – it was literally going to achieve a new exodus. We know this because the word for “departure” in Greek is “exodus”.
Like the Passover lamb at the Exodus, Jesus would sacrifice his life to set God’s people free. He would take God’s judgement in their place and freeing them from slavery to sin. The first Exodus from Egypt was merely meant to be a prototype of the great ‘exodus’, the true rescue, that Jesus would achieve at the first Easter.
Jesus…really is the Son of God!
I wonder what you would have thought if you had seen this mountain top scene for yourself? Jaw dropping amazement and awe I expect! For Peter, it seems the sight of Jesus, Moses and Elijah was too much to take in – and who can blame him? Lost for words, Peter suggested building three shelters for the three men – but he didn’t really know what he was saying.
Thankfully for Peter and for us, some words of clarification came to him. Because “a bright cloud appeared” and a voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; listen to him.”
You may know that throughout the Bible a cloud is associated with the presence of God. A pillar of cloud led the Israelites out of Egypt. A cloud enveloped Mount Sinai when the Ten Commandments were given.
So the appearance of a cloud should have told Peter that the voice he heard belonged to God the Father. A voice that confirmed Jesus’ identity as God’s Son and affirmed his mission as the Messiah.
Conclusion: Recognise, receive and remember Jesus!
Before I finish today, where does this all leave us? How should we respond to this passage we’ve read? Here’s three things:
• Firstly, we must recognise Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, as Son of the living God – as our rightful Lord and King. We need to obey his words – just as the voice from the cloud told Peter to do. We should trust him, just a Psalm 121 tells us to do.
• Secondly, we must receive the rescue that Jesus achieved for us. We all need to embrace the great exodus from sin and death that Jesus made possible when he died and rose again. An exodus we can experience by faith.
• Thirdly and finally, if we are already Christians, we need to remember the rescue Christ achieved for us. In a few moments time we will share the Lord’s Supper together – we will eat bread and wine to remember the great ‘exodus’ – when Christ, our ‘Passover Lamb’, sacrificed his life for us.
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