Piercing the Clouds
Sermon, Transfiguration Sunday, February 26, 2017, St Petri, Pastor Adrian Kitson
Piercing the Clouds
Matthew 17:1-9 (2 Peter 1:16-21, ) After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.4 Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’6 When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. ‘Get up,’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid.’ 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, ‘Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’http://stpetri.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/20170226_message.mp3
I was recently in Sydney. It was a cloudy day; a grey day with crazy traffic and the constant time pressure to get here and there for meetings. It was a busy and stressy kind of day. To get through the day, I had to have a pretty focussed and small view of the world.
But the plane finally took off for home. And within those first few minutes, the whole sense of the day changed. It changed when we pierced the grey clouds into that bright clear summer sun that had been there all day – we just could not see it. The day got bigger and brighter through the clouds closer to the sun.
The necessary and narrow concerns seemed to melt away as I marvelled at God’s creation of clouds, sun, blue space – the things hidden to me all day. I was happy to spend the next 2 hours in this sunny bright cloudy place. Maybe I would have pitched a tent with Peter if left to it……
Somehow I needed this hidden grander space to make sense of the visible smaller space of the day just lived. I wonder if you need this kind of experience from time-to-time? Something revealed that enlightens what you have experienced?
Why do we love those times when the usual routine stops and something else or someone else lights up the day with a grander view? I think of the family gathering at Christmas, or the long planned holiday that finally arrives. I think of a special anniversary when big effort is made to create a special, even if short-lived moment in time. I think of the money spent on weddings – to make it ‘the perfect day’. I think of what people do on Australia Day, Year 12 Formal, Graduation Day or Grand Final day. The day gets bigger than a normal day. These big days help us then re-enter the everyday. They put the everyday in a bigger more meaningful perspective. Is that why we love these big days?
That day high up on a hill somewhere in Israel was such a big day. The day was transformed into a very big day for Peter, James and John. They saw things normally hidden – like the sun above the grey cloudy day. They got above their normal daily concerns which demands small focus to a grand focus, above the everyday.
They also got above the gloom and doom of what Jesus has recently been talking about – death, suffering – his death and suffering. They were worried about him. But now they were allowed to see him differently – not a tragic noble man trying hard, but the divinely connected Saviour inviting us into his timeless life. All their earthly concerns melted away as they were simply with Jesus, and with Moses and Elijah high up there in that bright cloud that wrapped around them.
This day was a gift of grace. The bright cloud simply came to them. They did not pierce the clouds like you do in an aeroplane. The cloud came down to them. This was planned by God of the Old Testament glory cloud, the Shekinah.
Why did Jesus invite them in? What happened up there that was so needed by them and us; so special, so memorable that three out of four gospel witnesses tell of it and Peter reflects on it later in life as he writes his 2nd letter?
The grey clouds got pierced and we saw the full extent of God’s light in Jesus. This moment and this grand vision of Jesus was a gift out of the ordinary to sustain us in the ordinary.
They got to see God’s light in their darkness, hear God’s voice in their human smallness and self-focus. They and we catch a glimpse of what is really going on in the world above the clouds, above our individual concerns and the many tasks we need to complete. In this mountain moment we get to see our lives according to God, not the media, my neighbour, parents, myself, kids or Twitter.
Do you long for a glimpse of God’s grand acceptance, God’s light and truth, God’s joy and wisdom for the decisions you are making, the love you are attempting, the time you are taking, the suffering you are enduring, the pride you are claiming?
If you wouldn’t mind being lifted out of the gloom you sense, the tough suffering you know, the pain of regret you feel, the old battle with the old Adam with whom you constantly clash; if you would love to be shown what is really going on in this world and this church from God’s point of view; if you could get a big dose of confidence by hearing that God is at work in your clouds, God is connected more then you feel, God is interested, aware of you, engaged in making his kingdom of light and love real for his world in your world after all, then this glory you seek, this light you need, this joy for which you long will only come by one way, says God on the mountain.
“This is my Son, whom I love and with whom I am well pleased – Listen to him”
All the tea in China, all the thousands spent on a wedding or a trip or a new hip; all the dieting, exercising, planning, giving, serving, suffering and loving are no match for what is given to these three and you and me on this transforming mountain.
“This is my Son, whom I love and with whom I am well pleased – Listen to him”
Our light, our vision for living, our meaning, our glory is only real in the Son’s words.
Our glory comes more through the ears – not mainly by what we see. The son speaks. We hear the Son. We hear his words. We are transfigured from our small and sometimes petty ways to his grandeur and beauty, if we listen and allow this.
Heaven calls to you today. “Listen to the Son. Be pleased with God’s Son. Love the Son. Love his words. Be loved by the Son”. That is the gift of Transfiguration.
Fears, worries, struggles, sins, weaknesses, mistakes, small-mindedness, self-interest, our will to always win or get our own way, our regrets and all other things that belong to our broken and darker life, are transformed like Jesus face, like Moses’ face, like Elijah’s chariot today.
3 We have everything we need to live a life that pleases God. It was all given to us by God’s own power, when we learned that he had invited us to share in his wonderful goodness. 4 God made great and marvellous promises, so that his nature would become part of us. Then we could escape our evil desires and the corrupt influences of this world.
We don’t need special words or clever stories to live in light and peace. We only need his inspired Spirit-given word of Jesus the Son who is our sun.
16 When we told you about the power and the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, we were not telling clever stories that someone had made up. But with our own eyes we saw his true greatness. 17 God, our great and wonderful Father, truly honoured him by saying, “This is my own dear Son, and I am pleased with him.” 18 We were there with Jesus on the holy mountain and heard this voice speak from heaven.
He speaks still.
19 All of this makes us even more certain that what the prophets said is true. So you should pay close attention to their message, as you would to a lamp shining in some dark place.
The lamp to light up our hearts and minds is this Jesus, this Son. His words are light and life.
The Spirit calls you to resolve anew to pay close attention to the speaking, pleasing Son of God these next 40 days of Lent.
Come often to his holy mountain – his holy Words, his holy gifts, his holy people. He will speak and you will be enlightened and you will be then able to speak what you hear and re-discover that we are indeed still better together – especially under the Son’s cross; under his forgiveness which is our glory.
Listen to him. Listen to him in me and me and you. He is well pleased with both of us. Amen
Matthew 17:1-9 (2 Peter 1:16-21) After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.4 Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’6 When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. ‘Get up,’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid.’ 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, ‘Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’
HEARING THE TEXT
Read the text slowly out loud and take note of the questions it raises for you and what you find yourself imagining. Share those ….
MATTHEW 17:1-9. MOSES & JESUS
Matthew includes a number of parallels between Jesus and Moses in this passage:
Six days (v. 1) parallel the six days that the cloud covered Mount Sinai before Moses ascended it (Exodus 24:16).
The high mountain (v. 1) parallels Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:12).
The three disciples (Peter, James and John) parallel the three men (Aaron, Nadab and Abihu) who were invited to worship with Moses (Exodus 24:1) and who were later ordained as priests (Exodus 28:1).
Jesus’ shining face (v. 2) parallels Moses’ shining face after his encounter with God (Exodus 34:29). This is a particularly strong parallel. Moses’ shining face was a powerful image for Israel. However, his shining face was a reflection of God’s glory, while Jesus’ shining face reflects his inner glory.
God speaks from a cloud (v. 5), paralleling God’s call to Moses from a cloud (Exodus 24:16).
God says, “Listen to him,” (v. 5), paralleling “You shall listen to him” (Deuteronomy 18:15).
The disciples are afraid (v. 6), paralleling the fear of the Israelites when they saw Moses’ shining face.
“Faithless and perverse generation” (v. 17) parallels “perverse and crooked generation” (Deuteronomy 32:5).
The church has, at the same time, loved this story and not known what to do with it. It is mysterious—beyond our everyday experience—difficult to understand. At its core, it is simply a revealing to the disciples (and to the church at large) of Jesus’ identity. It is God’s stamp of approval on Jesus and the path upon which he has set his feet—a path that he has just revealed to the disciples (16:21-23)—a path that will lead to the cross.
Why do you think the Transfiguration was necessary?
Why do you think Moses and Elijah appear on the mountain with Jesus? What are the connections between these three figures? Exodus 34:4-9; 1 Kings 19:11-14
What were they there to communicate? Luke 9:30-31
Imagine if you were there seeing this marvelous event; how would you have felt? What would you have done and said?
At this stage of Jesus’ ministry, why do you think it is important for Jesus to hear these words from his Father?
Which is more important – Jesus’ identity or his activity?
Why is the statement, after six days, important? Matthew 16 13-19; Exodus 24:15-18
How do you think the transfiguration affected the Disciples’ faith and purpose?
Why did Peter want to build a tent? What would you have wanted to do?
Jesus’ face, “Shone like the sun.” Where have we heard that before and what causes it? Exodus 34:29
Where else has God revealed Himself in a cloud? Exodus 40:34-35
Why do the Scribes say Elijah must come first? Malachi. 3:1; 4:5-6
Read the other place in Scripture this day is referred to: 2 Peter 1:12-18
What is Peter drawing out of the experience he had? Share your thoughts…..
COMMENT FROM MARTIN LUTHER
Very much is contained in this history.
First, The resurrection of the dead and the future glory and brightness of our bodies are shown. For this was something very remarkable, that Christ was transfigured while yet in the mortal body, which was subject to suffering. What then shall it be, when mortality shall have been swallowed up, and nothing shall remain but immortality and glory?
Secondly, There is added the appearance of Moses and Elias, who prove by their appearing that they had never really died, and that there is yet another life, besides the earthly life, from which they were transferred.
Thirdly, This appearance teaches us also that we should despise death, and look upon it merely as an emigration or a sleep. In short, this appearance proves that this life is nothing at all in comparison with the future life.
Fourthly, This appearance proves that sin is overcome. For it necessarily follows as an incontrovertible conclusion, that, where death is overcome, there sin is also overcome.
But he permitted those three mentioned apostles especially to see this appearance, in order to guard them against the coming offense of his cross and crucifixion. Yet he accomplished little thereby, for they all were offended with him. Yet this appearance had its advantage after the resurrection, and served to strengthen their faith in Christ, that he was the Son of the living God, and that his kingdom must be regarded in a spiritual sense.
The whole holy Trinity appears here to strengthen the believers; namely, Christ in his transfigured form, the Father in the voice, and the Holy Ghost in the bright cloud.
Moses and Elijah appear in order to testify that Jesus Christ is truly the promised Messiah, according to the law (i.e. Moses,) and the prophets, (i.e. Elias.)
Compare Romans 3:21-22, and on the meaning of this transfiguration2 Corinthians 3:7 ff. From ‘Luther’s Explanatory Notes on the Gospels‘, pp. 101.
Jesus, help us recognise your voice and pay attention to what you say so we trust that you are with us and at work through us today. Amen
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