“An Epiphany in An Ordinary Setting: A Mountaintop” February 10, 2013
Exodus 34:29-35 & Luke 9:28-36 Stephens City UMC
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
I. When Jan and I were in college we were part of a group that loved to hike.
A. One of the places we went several times was Old Rag Mountain and I know that a number of you have made that hike.
1. It takes some effort but it is do-able so hiking to a mountaintop is a pretty ordinary experience.
B. That may have been true even back in Jesus’ day.
1. There are mountains in the Holy Land.
2. They are good sized and very rugged but they are not the Himalayas so hiking the mountains in Palestine takes effort but it is do-able.
3. Anyway, one day Jesus took Peter and James and John on such a hike and at the top of the mountain the ordinary became extraordinary because there was an epiphany and it was revealed yet again that Jesus was the Son of God, the Anointed One, but the disciples (especially Peter) were slow to comprehend what had been revealed to them.
4. So let’s look at this event that we call the Transfiguration and see if we can comprehend it’s meaning for us.
II. I’m going to make use of some ideas from an article entitled “The Jesus I Never Knew” and I have no idea who wrote it, but whoever wrote it begins by talking about first impressions.
A. First impressions can be accurate and they can be inaccurate.
1. I’ve met people and what I thought of them the first time I met them proved to be pretty accurate.
2. I’ve met other people and what I thought of them the first time I met them proved to be pretty inaccurate.
3. I taught High School for two years before I went to seminary and the first year I taught I did not start off strict enough and I paid a price for it so the second year I taught I went to the other extreme.
4. To illustrate, the first day of class one of the students made of the mistake of not being seated when the bell rang.
5. “Sit down. Once that bell rings you belong to me and you are to be in your seats ready to go. We only have 55 minutes and this stuff is important so I’m going to teach and you are going to learn. Now here’s the list of twelve rules for this class and you best be familiar with them and abide by them.”
6. I basically conducted myself in that manner for a month before I eased up and it was a wonderful year.
7. At the end of the school year when I had announced that I would be going off to seminary some of the students were talking with me, wishing me well, when they said, “Mr. Butcher, you turned into one of the nicest teachers we’ve ever had but that first month we thought you were the meanest teacher in the world.”
8. And I thought “My plan worked!”
B. So we all have first impressions of one another – accurate and inaccurate – but what was your first impression of Jesus?
1. Was it your mother or father or a grandparent talking with you about saying your prayers to Jesus before you went to bed?
2. Was it a picture of Jesus or a lesson in Sunday school class?
3. Was it the song “Jesus loves the little children” or “Jesus loves me this I know?”
4. How much deeper is your understanding and your relationship with Jesus since that first impression?
5. Do you know Jesus well enough that if he came back in human form to worship with us and didn’t show up in a white robe and sandals to give himself away and you talked with him would you recognize him by just being with him?
C. If you’d struggle then you’d be a fairly normal disciple.
1. After all, did the disciples recognize Jesus following his resurrection?
2. I mean, they had spent basically three years with him and after he arose from the grave Mary Magdalene mistook him for a gardener and the two on the Emmaus Road walked miles with him and didn’t realize with whom they were hiking.
3. The disciples who were in the Upper Room when he suddenly appeared acted like they’d seen a ghost.
4. Might we do the same if such circumstances arose for us?
III. Given that probably be true what can we learn from the transfiguration which is a revealing event?
A. Well, there are four things as this passage basically falls out into four parts and the first is when Jesus was transfigured the disciples were to watch.
1. This first part is verses 28-31 and there we read of them going to the mountaintop and while Jesus was praying (you catch that?) suddenly Jesus began to glow and the two greatest figures in the Old Testament - Moses and Elijah – appeared and they talked with Jesus.
2. Now of the Gospel writers report everything that was discussed amongst the three but we do know that it was about Jesus’ departure – initially to Jerusalem and later beyond.
3. The word used here is “exodus.”
4. Whenever we hear the word “exodus” we think of Moses and during this conversation Moses would have been looking back to how God had used him as God’s instrument for delivering people from bondage and slavery and beginning the journey to the Promised Land.
5. Elijah would have thought about the future implications because as a prophet who was God’s instrument he had spoken of and had worked for the fulfillment of God’s future promises.
6. Good for them!
7. But they are not glowing like Jesus and since Jesus is then he was the one to watch.
8. That’s the first lesson for us as Jesus’ disciples – watch Jesus!
B. The second part is verses 32-33 and I can relate to this section because Peter and his companions became very sleepy.
1. Eventually Peter who isn’t comprehend things too well (i.e. the reference to being sleepy – not fully awake or with it) tried to get with it.
2. It appears that this event made Peter think about the Feast of Tabernacles.
3. Instead of putting out Christmas lights like we do at Christmas people for the Feast of Tabernacles would build booths on their roof tops to recall the experience of the Hebrew people in the wilderness.
4. It was a fun festival and maybe Peter wanted Elijah and Moses to stay a little longer to keep the fun going or maybe he thought this was an appropriate way to honor the three who stood before him – Moses, Elijah and Jesus?
5. The problem with that is that that would make the three equals and we Christians would have a different perspective on that matter.
6. Certainly all three were used by God in powerful ways, but we see Jesus as unique – at least, if we’ve had an epiphany we see Jesus as unique.
7. So Peter’s suggestion in essence was “Wait!”
8. OK, let’s wait but not quite the way Peter is thinking.
C. Which brings us to the third part which is verses 34-35 and in this section a cloud appeared and covered them and a voice came from the cloud “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”
1. Those with a Jewish background would have understood this to be a repeat of the shekinah (shu-kee-na’h) which was the glory of the Lord that led God’s people through the wilderness towards the Promised Land.
2. God had been present with them through the cloud by day and the fiery pillar at night so here we go again.
3. God had also been present through his voice because at Jesus’ baptism there was a voice that said “You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22)
4. Those words appear to have been an affirmation for Jesus’ benefit as in you are on the right path, you are being faithful, and you are fulfilling all righteousness.
5. This time the words seem to be for the disciples’ benefit “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” (Luke 9:35)
6. The voice from heaven is affirming that the primary one to listen to is Jesus.
7. Nothing against Moses and Elijah but be clear – listen to Jesus!
D. And the fourth and final part is verse 36 as after the voice spoke the disciples found themselves alone with Jesus.
1. That was good for a number of reasons including that they needed time to reflect on their mountaintop experience.
2. They had had earlier impressions of Jesus but those impressions were growing and evolving.
3. And as Philip Yancey says, “No one who meets Jesus ever stays the same.”
4. The fact was that for Peter and James and John, Jesus was awesome and that’s a lot to take in and understand.
5. Jesus had been transformed before their very eyes and it had the effect of transforming them.
6. That’s what our encounters with Jesus should do for us – we should be transformed, we should be transfigured.
7. In fact, as we walk off the mountain back into the valley (another very ordinary place) we should join with Jesus in transforming and transfiguring the world.
E. God knows it needs it which is why He sent His Son and He is hoping that all the epiphanies we’ve talked about these past few weeks and especially the bright light of the Transfiguration will wake up us sleepy, foggy, bleary eyed disciples to clearly see that we are to listen to and follow and serve with this Jesus who is unlike and unequaled by any other in transforming and transfiguring this messed up world into the very Kingdom of God.
1. And is that going to be some sight!