Luke 9:28-36 [Audio Link at Bottom]
How to Move [from] Mountains
The point of the transfiguration is not what happens on the mountain, but what happens after.
- The Mountain-Top Experience Was to Prepare Jesus for His Mission
The first thing to understand about the transfiguration is that it wasn’t for us. It wasn’t primarily for the disciples, it was for Jesus. The mountain-top experience was to prepare Jesus for his mission. As I noted last week, Luke 9 is all about Jesus preparing for Phase II of his Mission. Phase I was to reveal the character of God and announce that He, the Messiah, had entered history. Phase 1 was accomplished through Jesus’ ministry of teaching and healing, which left people in awe of the works of God and marveling over the identity of this Man of Marvels. But now Phase II is looming. Jesus had revealed to His disciples in verse 22 that “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Phase II of the Messiah’s mission included suffering, rejection and death. Last week I suggested that Jesus’ walk to Golgotha - the hill upon which He would be crucified - starts here. In a very real sense, we are seeing Jesus in this chapter, take up His cross, and start the journey to His death. Before he begins His journey, Jesus takes time to pray.
Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray.
This is not unexpected. We’ve seen in the book of Luke on multiple occasions in which Jesus withdrew to a solitary place to pray, especially before making major decisions or beginning new ministry. We’ve also seen that Jesus occasionally prayed late into the night or began early in the morning, so it does not surprise us that the companions he chose to accompany him - Peter, James and John, became “heavy with sleep” and drifted off. What might Jesus have prayed for? Well, were not told specifically, but it must be that He was praying about His upcoming journey, and it would not be unimaginable that He was praying for strength, encouragement, direction. What we do know is how God answered his prayer. First, something changed in Him. For the only time that we know of in His lifetime among us, Jesus’ glory as the Son of God was manifest.
And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.
This is a mountain-top experience like no other. While in prayer Jesus experiences the glory that He had with the Father before the world began. Later in John 17, Jesus would pray that all who would follow Him would be with Him to see His glory, given Him by the Father before the creation of the world. On that night however, the glory of the Son would have only a few witnesses. Peter said later of this unveiling, “we were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16) John puts it this way, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) Well talk about the effect on the disciples in a second, but imagine the effect that this mountain-top experience must have had on Jesus Himself. He is praying to the Father to prepare himself for Phase II of the mission, and as He prays God gives Him a reminder of the Glory He once had at the Father’s side and a foretaste of the Glory to come in His ascension. That’s why we pray - to get a glimpse of the Glory of God to sustain us through our trials. Jesus got more than a glimpse - He got transformed. The Mountain-Top Experience Was to Prepare Jesus for His Mission
The second way God answers Jesus’ prayer is by sending Moses and Elijah to speak with Him. Moses, the writer of the first five books of the Bible, the man God used to bring the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt - and, oh yes, who died 1400 years before Jesus. And Elijah, the prophet to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, who confronted Idolatry, and who was taken into heaven 800 years before Jesus. These two men, long since gone, God sends to Jesus to encourage him before beginning his mission. What an answer to prayer! Like, I’ve prayed before and God sends someone to encourage me - once or twice - the phone rang as soon as I said Amen, but I’ve never had God send anyone to me who no one’s seen for hundreds of years. You think Jesus was encouraged for His mission? Here’s Moses and Elijah! And what do they talk to him about? They “spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” There is a lot here.
- The Old Testament saints, long since departed from this world, were still alive in some form somewhere and keenly interested in Jesus fulfilling His mission. While they were alive, the prophets foretold of the ministry and mission of the Messiah, but they saw through the glass very dimly. Peter puts it this way in 1 Peter 1:10 “the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.” Even after the prophets departed, they still were keenly interested in when and how and in what matter Christ should suffer and attain glory. Because Christ is their salvation as well as ours. Salvation is the same in the Old and the New - they were saved by looking forward to the sufferings and glory of the Messiah, we are saved by historical fact of the Messiah having suffered and having attained glory, and we - like they - look forward to His return at the end of history, when He comes in glory to bring all things to fulfillment.
- They spoke to Him about his departure he was about to accomplish. Many see this as simply a reference to His imminent death, and perhaps his resurrection and ascension, yet I think there is more going on here. Literally in the original language, the phrase is, they “spoke to Him about His exodus which He was about to fulfill.” Two words should jump out at you. Exodus and fulfill. Isn’t it interesting that Moses should talk with Jesus about an Exodus. Isn’t it interesting the Elijah, a prophet, should speak about “fulfillment” - a prophetic word. It’s not just that Jesus would accomplish something in His mission; Jesus’ upcoming death and exultation will be a fulfillment of generations of prophecy foretelling that the Messiah must suffer be rejected, be murdered, and be raised in order to lead God’s people in a new Exodus, from which they would be delivered from slavery to their sin by the Messiah who will assume the role of the passover Lamb, before leading people in His glory. Perhaps no two people in history were more qualified to speak with Jesus about his exodus than these two prophets who were both known for their exits - Moses from Egypt and Elijah as He ascended to heaven in a flaming chariot. Again, think of the encouragement! Jesus is conversing with two pillars of history, who are reminding him that His upcoming mission is the fulcrum of which their entire lives and all scripture points. Can’t you see Jesus getting excited for the mission to come? The Mountain-Top Experience Was to Prepare Jesus for His Mission. Yet we also see that the mountain-top experience was to prepare the disciples for their mission.
- The Mountain-Top Experience Was to Prepare Disciples for Their Mission
Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, Can you imagine that some of this was happening before the disciples droopy-eyes! How often we slumber spiritually while the Lord is doing glorious things right in from of us! but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.
As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.
So they wake up, see this amazing scene - Jesus in his glory speaking with Moses (!) and Elijah (!). And so Peter blurts out, “This is an amazing place! It is good that we are here! Let’s set up some tents here for you three.” Now to Peter’s credit, Luke remarks, he had no idea what he was talking about. Peter’s immediate response to this amazing mountain-top experience is to sustain it by settling there. It is a natural response to spiritual-experiences. We have a uniquely intimate moment with God and we want to sustain it by going back to it, the same place, again and again. It is why we build religious structures and shrines and go back to camps and retreats each year - we want to sustain the mountain top-experience. Yet Peter is rebuked by the Voice of God. A cloud envelopes them: “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” Now, most commentators will focus on the first part of the rebuke and tell you that Peter’s fault lay in not recognizing the uniqueness of Jesus over-and-against tMoses and Elijah. Peter wants to set up three tents, but the Son of God stands apart as the Chosen One - the servant who will bring salvation to all. If you remember, just before this passage there are controversies over Jesus’ identity in which the crowds actually thought Jesus might be Elijah or one of the prophets of old reincarnated. God’s voice then is declaring that Jesus is not merely one of the prophets, but He is the Christ, the Son of God, the Chosen One - something Peter is still not understanding. And so the transfiguration stands as the Highest revelation of Jesus’ identity in Scripture. It answers all the questions of “Who do you say that Jesus is?”
Yet I think there is more. The Lord says to Peter, “Listen to Him!”. Peter wants to put up tents, Peter wants to settle, Peter wants to sustain the mountain-top experience, yet what was the purpose of the mountain-top experience? Why send Elijah and Moses to talk to Jesus? To prepare Jesus for the Mission to come! To settle on the mountain is diametrically opposed to the Mission of Jesus and the purposes of God. Peter would have known this if he had been listening to Jesus, because Jesus has just told him and all the other disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” So Peter, you don’t know what you are saying, the purpose of this mountain-top experience is not so you can settle here, but so that you also will prepared to follow your Lord in His mission. You are here to see his glory, but you can’t stay here, you need to go down from the mountian, follow Him to the cross, and ultimately Peter, James and John, you will take Him to the nations.
Here is a secret for you who have had mountain-top experiences with the Lord. How do you keep mountain-top experiences? Go out in mission. Rope illustration.
- The Word of God Reveals the Glory of Jesus and Sets Us On Mission
So where do we see the glory of the Lord today that inspires missional movement? How do we ascend to the mountain-top and then descend to the world in mission? Peter having been rebuked by the Lord, wished us to not fall into the same trap as he did of settling on the mountain-top seeking fleeting experiences, and so he encourages us in his letter:
2Pet. 1:16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Peter says that even though He had the priveledge of being on the mountain-top with Jesus, seeing the glory and hearing the voice, we have something even more fully confirmed than even what he saw with his eyes and heard with his ears - we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. That is, we are to look into the word of God intently until we see the glory of Christ. The glory of Christ is revealed today in the pages of Scripture, whenever we look intently enough into it to be seek it. It is interesting that represented on the mountian of transfiguration were the writers of Scripture: Moses who wrote the Law. Elijah, representing the prophets. So you have the OT - the law and the prophets. Then you have John, one of the gospel writers, and Peter who wrote New Testament letters and who also confirmed the letters of Paul, another epistle writer. Thus, on the mountain-top with Jesus you have all Scripture represented, all scripture testifying to the glory of God in Jesus Christ. Thus today our mountain-top experiences come as we come to the Word of God and behold the glory of Christ, and it is the glory of Christ in the Word of God that compels us not to settle on the mountain-top of our own religious experience, but to travel down from the mountain, into the world to proclaim the excellencies of the glorious Christ.