Luke 9:28-36 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. 31 They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.) 34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.
The chapter in the book was called Transfiguration Day, but it was all about death. I read about how a secretary ran up the stairs, “It’s Frans, a heart attack, they think. You’ll have to hurry, Pastor.” The pastor did, but when he got there it was already too late. Frans was paralyzed and entirely unconscious. So the young pastor sat down on the side of the bed. He had wanted to hear a confession of faith from the dying man, but it was too late. The man’s daughter had been on the same wave length. She explained to the pastor, “When I got here I asked, ‘You are thinking of Jesus, aren’t you, Father?” But the dying man couldn’t. Death had fogged his mind. He had said, “I’m not able to, Lena.” The chapter was called Transfiguration Day, but it was all about death.
Luke’s Transfiguration Day is too. There’s no doubt about that. Everything Luke does in this account connects death to glory. Everything. I mean it’s really stunning stuff. In fact, you can’t even get past the opening words of the account before you realize this. “About eight days after Jesus said this…” (v. 28) That’s Luke’s whole thing. For eight whole days the disciples had thought about Jesus’ very first death announcement. “I’m going to suffer. I’m going to be killed,” he had said. In fact, he had even pointed out to them that death was the whole nature of discipleship. That you die to yourself. That you just follow Jesus. And for eight whole days they had pondered that and chewed on that. For eight whole days Jesus had let them wonder and pray and question this vision of discipleship. And for a second, I wonder if they thought that maybe he would let them move on from it. That maybe Jesus had sort of exaggerated or misspoke or that maybe Jesus’ vision for himself and for his followers wasn’t nearly so morbid as he had just made it out to be.
Because they saw Jesus glowing. In fact, it was something more than that. Something spectacular. Something other. And, yes, that’s exactly the word Luke used to describe the sight of Jesus’ face in Greek. He said Jesus’ face was, “other.” (v. 29) Other worldly bright. Other worldly pure. Other worldly holy. Other worldly beautiful. It was other. Luke says even his clothes were impacted. The glory wasn’t coming from underneath the clothes or through the clothes. Jesus had impacted the clothes themselves so that they “became as bright as a flash of lightning.” (v. 29) And it’s not just the glory of light and beauty that bathed Jesus in that moment, but also the glory of history. Elijah and Moses were there. Moses – history’s great deliverer. Elijah – history’s great prophet. They were there to add weight and depth and substance to the moment. It was like all the weight of history and all the light of heaven had arrived to this moment to show that Jesus, that only Jesus, was the center of it all. There he was the one surrounded by God’s greatest people and heaven’s brightest glories. There he was the answer to their most ardent prayers and their most profound needs. There he was bathed in light and legacy in a moment so beautiful that trying to describe it in a way different than Luke just did would only impoverish it for you.
And there in that glorious, perfect moment the three of them spoke. They continued heaven’s conversation. They continued that ancient conversation that had first started as one only had inside the Godhead – only between the Trinity. They talked of The Plan that had been laid out in eternity. They talked of how now here it was happening in the moment. They talked of how now here it was going to be carried out. And the center of it? Heaven’s conversation centered entirely on Jesus’ departure. Exodus is the word Luke used in Greek. A leaving of the ultimate variety called death. Think about that. There in that glory and in that beauty they spoke of death. They didn’t revel in the smile of God or enjoy small talk of the latest heavenly golf tournament or toast the perfect joy of the Presence. “They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to completion at Jerusalem.” (v. 31) Which, by the way, is Luke’s very unique contribution to what we know of the Transfiguration. He’s the only one who tells us the contents of this conversation. The only one. He’s the one who connects that transfiguration glory to suffering. He’s the one who connects that transfiguration beauty to death.
You know how far he’s willing to go to make that connection? He’s even willing to throw Peter under the bus. Make no mistake. That’s what he did. After his grogginess wore off Peter started running his mouth about how great and how good this whole moment was. And when he realized the party was breaking up he offered to put up some tents. He wanted to bottle up the moment and make it stay forever. It’s just totally classic Peter running his mouth kind of stuff. And Luke could’ve just reported it and left Peter’s actions for us to interpret ourselves. Or he could’ve left the Peter stuff out of the account altogether. But he couldn’t bring himself to do that. In a very rare and very telling little parenthetical Luke totally throws Peter under the bus saying, “He did not know what he was saying.” (v. 33) Luke had to let us know just how wide Peter was of the mark. He had to have us get just how bad Peter’s idea was. He had to point out just how clueless Peter was in his approach. That, in fact, Peter was being naively hostile to everything heaven wanted. Peter wanted Jesus to stay. Heaven wanted Jesus to go. Peter was glorying in that moment. Heaven was glorying in the suffering moment to come. Peter was making conversation about what it would be like to stay on the mountain top. Heaven was bubbling about what would happen once Jesus went down to suffer and to die.
Do you see what Luke’s done? He’s gone out of his way to confirm Jesus’ eight-day old teaching. He wants us to joy and thank God for the hard parts of our lives. Even to see them as his special gift to us. And we should, shouldn’t we? We should see that life’s toughest parts point toward glory. We should understand that through being convicted of the weight of our personal sin we come to understand Jesus’ forgiveness better. We should trust firmly that through emergencies in our life we become sincere and full of prayer. We should believe God that he loves us enough to send us hassles and problems and heartaches to develop in us a more perfect dependency on his Son, shouldn’t we? Because that sin that still bugs you? It shows you how much Jesus did for you in his exodus. That stroke you suffered? It made you trust him like you’ve never trusted him before. That infertility, those cruddy friends, and those not-so-nice co-workers may just finally help you see that it’s Jesus, Jesus, and only Jesus who will always there for you. But if you’re like me, trusting that plan and loving that work? Well – stress and complaining, sadness and distrust.
And that’s why I love Jesus so much. Because not only does he totally reengineer the way I view suffering, but he saves me through it. And if you think that’s sounds crazy, let me point something out. Have you ever thought about the fact that suffering is our whole faith? THE WHOLE THING. We believe in suffering. In fact, the most fundamental Christian belief is that God’s suffering saved us. We believe that God cradled that suffering for us in his heart all the way from eternity. We believe that that suffering wasn’t even Plan B to save us. We believe it was always Plan A. We believe that that was Jesus’ whole deal. This Jesus who tossed out demons, raised the dead, and healed people. That guy. That Jesus is the guy who took the weight of his power and his glory and his perfection and in one great act of suffering forgave me for my every whine, my every distrust, and my every complaint. And I’m here to tell you today that he’s that big for you too. You know what else he did? By that suffering he reengineered our view of suffering so that it’s not just something to avoid, but something to trust is a part of the plan. It certainly was for Jesus. That’s why his face glowed as he talked about it. And it’s why his Father boomed his affirmation for the whole deal saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” (v. 35)
I’m not saying it’s now easy to deal with the burrs and tough parts of our lives spiritually. I don’t think it’s just a passing point that after this whole transfiguration experience they shut down. It’s actually Luke’s closing thought to the whole account. He says, “The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.” (v. 36) It’s a mighty work of the Spirit to see the more hair follicles I lose the closer I get to Jesus. It naturally feels like something more sinister than that. It’s a mighty work of the Spirit to believe that infertility and marriage troubles land any kind of spiritual prize. They feel a whole lot more like a spiritual curse. It’s a mighty work of the Spirit to trust that if my church struggles or my daughter gets hurt that somehow through that Jesus will use it to further my faith and help me understand his glory. It’s much more natural to think that somehow Jesus’ sovereign oversight failed. In fact, even I as think about these things I’m realizing how naturally similar we are to those ancient disciples. These truths tend to silence us and shut us down in the worst kind of way.
And there’s only one thing. Only one thing that releases us from that. Seeing Jesus’ on this mountain. Seeing his glory. And seeing him connect that glory so powerfully to a perfect plan that happens not despite suffering, but through it. That somehow the good and the bad, the fun and the awful. It’s all aimed at him. Just him. And did you notice, that’s exactly what happened and how it all ended? After it was all said and done, “Jesus was alone.” (v. 36) It was all about him. Just him. All of history centers on him and the departure he made in Jerusalem for us. Moses, Elijah, everything. And if that does, every bit of my personal history – even the most difficult parts – centers on Jesus too. Even the worst parts. Even the part of your childhood where your dad checked out, sent you on a search to know your Christ. Even that sin from college, taught you the darkness Jesus died for. Even that job loss that was so emotionally debilitating at the time, got you back in touch with prayer. Even that emotional abuse from a past relationship, made you look for healing from him. It’s glorious to think about. Your whole life even the most difficult parts center on Jesus. More so than you can ever know. Everything’s pointed in your life so you’ll know him in eternity. Everything’s aimed so you’ll have the goodness of his glory forever.
And in that sense, Peter was right. It is good to be in Jesus’ glory. It’s just that Jesus had to go make the glory permanent. And that’s the plan that’s in motion and that Jesus, Moses, and Elijah literally gloried in together on the mount. It’s the conversation we all got let in on when heaven briefly touched earth in the transfiguration. It’s what Jesus’ face and clothes got all bright and shiny for. For glory. For you. For eternity. So important is it to God that he chose Jesus especially for that mission and boomed from the cloud his choice. So important is it to God that he arranged your entire life trajectory just so that you’d know him. Sufferings included. All of it so that we could have far more than some passing moment on some mountain, but rather a permanent place to bask in the eternity of his rays reveling in never ending streams of joy. All of it so that we would know him the way he really is. In his Majesty. In his Beauty. In his Glory. Experiencing the full weight of who he is in ever increasing waves of bliss. To just joy in light so pure and so beautiful that it runs to the farther corners of our hearts and brightens them forever.
I kept reading that chapter called Transfiguration Day in the book. I read about Frans. I read about his time in the war. I read about the loss of his wife. And I finally realized what the author meant to say with his brilliant chapter heading. Those sufferings had pushed Frans to Christ. And there he was dying. And I read that with tears in my eyes understanding God’s grand plan for Frans’ life and came to believe more deeply in one for me too. The war, the grief, all of it had brought him to this moment. There he was dying of a heart attack. And his daughter wondering about his spiritual state asked him, “You are thinking about Jesus, aren’t you, Father?” And he answered, “I’m not able to, Lena. I can’t think any longer. But I know that Jesus is thinking of me.” God had transfigured everything in his life into a platform for his faith to flourish. Frans would know Jesus’ transfiguration glory forever. So will you. I don’t know what chapter of your life you’re on – let alone my own – but I do know this: the final chapter heading for each of us is Transfiguration Day. That’s the power and love of Jesus. He transfigures everything in our lives. He turns sin to forgiveness. He turns suffering to faith. And he turns death to life. Amen.