Beyond the Safe Place
Matthew 17: 1-9
Transfiguration of the Lord
Jesus is getting closer and closer to Jerusalem and the cross. Jesus knew what was in store for him and before he made that commitment, He needed to be in the presence of God to make sure that He was being obedient to God’s will. He gathered to Him the most faithful of his disciples, Peter, James, and John. They then climbed Mount Hermon. They did not go to the top for that would have been too high for them to go, but they were very close. This probably occurred at night for Luke tells us that the disciples were weighted down with sleep and it was the following day that Jesus met the father of the epileptic boy.
To elaborate on that with which I began, we must ask ourselves why did Jesus go there? Why make this trek to the slopes of so high a mountain? A clue comes from Luke when he tells us that Jesus was praying. By this time Jesus was on the way to the cross. He had told His disciples over and over that this was his future and He had one question for them; Did anyone recognize Him for who and what He was? The answer came triumphantly from Peter who proclaimed you are the Christ. Peter finally realized that this was the Son of God.
But He had one more question that needed to be answered; Was He truly doing the will of God. Jesus went up to Mount Hermon to hear the voice of God. Jesus would take no step without consulting God. He desperately needed to know in the loneliness of the slopes, if He was following the will of God. That is why he ascended Mount Hermon.
This is one of the great differences between Jesus and us; it is what made Jesus who He was. Jesus always asked God if what He was doing was God’s will. Yet we usually ask, what do I want to do? We often say that the unique characteristic of Jesus is that He was sinless. What then do we mean by that? It means that Jesus had no will, but the will of God. When Jesus had a problem or needed to know what to do, He did not seek to solve the problem by His own abilities and thoughts; He did not take it to others for human advice; He took it to the lonely place and to God.
There on the slopes of Mount Hermon two figures appeared to Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Moses was the great giver of the Law and Elijah was the greatest of the prophets. Like Jesus, these two had their most intimate moments with God on a mountain top. It was on Mount Sinai that Moses received the tablets of the Ten Commandments. It was on Mount Horeb that Elijah found God in that still small voice. It was believed that Elijah would come as the one who would announce the coming of the Messiah and he would be accompanied by Moses.
Moses and Elijah recognized Jesus as the one whom they had foretold and it was their appearance that was the signal for Jesus to go on. The two greatest humans in Jewish history witnessed to Jesus that he was on the right road, to Jerusalem and to Calvary.
But Moses and Elijah were not the only ones giving to Jesus the assurance that his journey was right. The very voice of God came to Jesus telling Him that he was following God’s will. Scripture tells us that a luminous cloud overshadowed Jesus and Jesus heard the voice of God. And from that cloud, the voice cried out “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” Here God speaks the very word which Jesus heard on the day of His baptism, the confirmation that he was right to begin His ministry. Now those same words are telling Jesus it is right for Him to go to Jerusalem and face His destiny. God set on Jesus God’s seal of approval!
But the episode of the Transfiguration did something not only for Jesus, but it did something for the disciples as well. The disciples were still hurt and confused at the thought of Jesus having to go to Jerusalem to be humiliated, beaten and killed. It must have looked to them like the future was nothing but bleak, nothing but black shame. But the whole atmosphere of the Transfiguration is that of glory. The face of Jesus shone like the sun and His clothing became glistening white.
Here surely was something which would lift up the hearts of the disciples; it would enable them to see the glory through the shame; the triumph through the humiliation; the crown beyond the cross.
But it is quite clear that Peter wanted to prolong this experience. He said that he would make three dwelling places, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. Peter did not want to go down to the everyday and common things; he wanted to stay in the glory that he had experienced. This was his safe place and he did not want to leave it.
Each one of us should experience the moments of intimacy, of serenity, of peace, of nearness to God. These also are experiences which we would also like to prolong, but these are moments which give us strength for the daily ministry and to face each moment with courage. Susanna Wesley had a prayer; “Help me Lord, to remember that religion is not to be confined to the church or closet, nor exercised only in prayer and meditation, but that everywhere I am in Thy presence.”
The Transfiguration is the example that we are not only assured by God that we are doing His will, but it also gives us the strength and courage to accomplish it!!!
Grace and Peace,