Get up. Don’t be afraid! Don’t tell anyone about this vision you have seen until the Son of Man has been raised from death.
These are the words that Jesus spoke at the time of the Transfiguration, one of the great mystical stories in the life of Jesus. Here’s the entire tale:
Six days later Jesus took with him Peter and the brothers James and John and led them up a high mountain where they were alone. As they looked on, a change came over Jesus: his face was shining like the sun, and his clothes were dazzling white. Then the three disciples saw Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus. So Peter spoke up and said to Jesus, “Lord, how good it is that we are here! If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
While he was talking, a shining cloud came over them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased—listen to him!” When the disciples heard the voice, they were so terrified that they threw themselves face downward on the ground. Jesus came to them and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid!” So they looked up and saw no one there but Jesus.
As they came down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Don’t tell anyone about this vision you have seen until the Son of Man has been raised from death.” (Matthew 17:1-9).
Wow! What a story! There is so much here to reflect on that it’s hard to know where to begin!
Jesus takes three of his disciples with him to the top of a mountain, and while the disciples were watching Jesus suddenly begins to glow. Notice how it says his clothes turned white. On the nit-picky side I have think about how Jesus is shown wearing white inn nearly every artistic depiction I’ve ever seen. If he started out in white then this transformation wouldn’t have been nearly as dramatic. I don’t think Jesus probably dressed in white. I’m sure he dressed very simply. In brown. And then it turned white.
OK I got that out of my system. Of course I am reminded of Moses, who also used to go to the top of a mountain to meet with God. Here is the story of what happened when Moses received the God’s commandments, the first 10 installments in the “Law of Moses.” The proper interpretation and application of the Law of Moses was the centerpiece of Jesus’ life and ministry.
Moses stayed there with the Lord [on Mt. Sinai] eating and drinking nothing. He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.
When Moses went down from Mount Sinai carrying the Ten Commandments, his face was shining because he had been speaking with the Lord; but he did not know it. Aaron and all the people looked at Moses and saw that his face was shining, and they were afraid to go near him. But Moses called them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the community went to him, and Moses spoke with them. After that, all the people of Israel gathered around him, and Moses gave them all the laws that the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he covered his face with a veil. Whenever Moses went into the Tent of the Lord’s presence to speak to the Lord, he would take the veil off. When he came out, he would tell the people of Israel everything that he had been commanded to say, and they would see that his face was shining. Then he would put the veil back on until the next time he went to speak with the Lord. (Exodus 34:28-35).
Notice the similarities between this scripture and the Transfiguration.
- Moses and Jesus both were both trying to lead their people to a better place.
- Moses was tasked with leading people to the Promised Land. Jesus was sent to invite people into the Kingdom of God.
- Both Jesus and Moses were given very difficult assignments.
- Jesus and Moses both went away to a special place to meet with God.
- Moses met with God to receive the Law. Jesus was tasked with clarifying and properly implementing the Law.
- After meeting with God they glowed. Their faces shined.
- While Moses and Jesus remained completely calm in the presence of God, those around them were very afraid.
- Jesus went to a special place to speak with God.
- Both Moses and Jesus to some extent concealed their experience. Jesus told his disciples not to tell anyone. Moses concealed his face with a veil. It was a in some ways a personal, private experience.
One unique element of the Transfiguration is that God gives Jesus the same blessing that he received at the time of his baptism way back at the beginning of his ministry:
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he came up out of the water. Then heaven was opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and lighting on him. Then a voice said from heaven, “This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased” (Matthew 4:16-17).
Compare this to the Transfiguration:
While he was talking, a shining cloud came over them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased—listen to him!”
Almost the same, but with one major differences. The second time it’s not just a blessing for Jesus. In the Transfiguration of Jesus there is also an important instruction for the disciples – “Listen to him.” Just for emphasis, let me repeat that. God says, “Listen to him.” He doesn’t say, “Worship him.” He doesn’t say, “Follow him.” He doesn’t even say, “Obey him.” No. He says, “Listen to him.”
We don’t know what Moses and Elijah, who have apparently been resurrected for this occasion, said to Jesus on that mountain. Their appearance must have been a great encouragement to Jesus, who believed in both his resurrection and the resurrection of others from the dead. He believed that life goes on after death, a fact that he proved when he himself rose from the dead.
I’m sure both Moses and Elijah encouraged Jesus to stand firm and complete his mission with courage. Moses and Elijah were both tested to their limits, and I’m sure they had a lot of good advice for him. And the very appearance of Elijah was a sign of great things to come. In Jewish tradition Elijah was the one whose return was a sign of the coming of the Messiah and the beginning of the New Age.
I am trying to be obedient to God. I want to hear what Jesus has to say, which is why I’m doing this blog. In case you weren’t with me from the beginning, my goal was to reflect on the words of Jesus in the Book of Matthew. Only his own word, the words that would have been highlighted in the old “red letter” Bibles that I grew up with. I am addressing every single word that he speaks, in order, omitting nothing. I am trying my best to listen to him, and to understand what he had to say, and assimilate it all. If I want to make what Jesus has to say the centerpiece of my faith, then everything else in the Bible or the teachings of the church must be secondary. I want to make Jesus’ concerns my concerns. I don’t want to waste my time on anything else. Jesus’ concern was love and kindness. He said that when the Law interferes with those things, then the Law is not being properly applied. He said it was all about love and kindness, not legalism. That’s what was important to Jesus, so I want that to be the most important thing to me.
Peter wants to capture the moment. He wants to build tents for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus so all of them will remain there. He wants to prepare a place for them. He is still trying to keep Jesus from going to Jerusalem and confronting the forces of evil. He wants to freeze this glorious moment in time. But like all transcendent experiences it is fleeting and ephemeral. The important thing is not the experience. The important thing is the work that awaits Jesus in Jerusalem.
The Transfiguration. Here’s the Google definition: “a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state”. A great blessing. A great sign to Jesus that God is with him all the way. A transformation into a beautiful, spiritual state. God may lead you into the fire like he led Moses, Elijah, and Jesus – but he will always equip you for the journey.
We all know people who have gone through very difficult times. I recounted my own transformational experience on Day 53 that released me from crippling fear. I have heard so many stories from others about how they received a special word from God or were visited by an angel during a time of trial. Haven’t you known someone who radiates joy and peace even though they are gravely ill? All of these people have had their own transfiguration experience. God reached out and elevated them to a more beautiful, more spiritual state.
I guess that’s why Jesus tells us not to worry. He knows that God is with us. In fact, one of the names that he has been given by the church is “Emmanuel,” or “God with us.” His very presence here on earth was a sign that God loves humanity and great plans for humanity if only we would begin to step up our game. That was the message of Jesus. This was what he preached, taught, and demonstrated through his ministry. God is with us, but like the disciples we have our part to play. God says we need to LISTEN to Jesus. We need to listen to Jesus because his voice leads us into the heart of God.
What does this scripture say to you?