Transfiguration (Luke 9.28-45) [Sermon 2-26-2017]


February 24, 2017 by jmar198013

Manuscript of my sermon for Sunday, February 26, 2017. From the ongoing series: “Luke and Acts: the Good News of God’s Salvation.”

Text is Luke 9.28-45.

Resources I used for this sermon include:

Brendan Byrne. The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel. rev. ed. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2015), 102-05.

Justo L. Gonzalez. Luke. Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010), 125-28.

Joel B. Green. The Gospel of Luke. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 376-390.

Beth Kreitzer, ed. New Testament III: Luke. Reformation Commentary on Scripture, ed. Timothy George and Scott M. Manetsch (Downers Grove: IVP, 2015), 200-09.

A rough audio is embedded below for those who’d like to listen.

The glory of God’s kingdom

The apostle Peter blurted out that Jesus was: The Christ sent from God (Luke 9.20). Israel’s Messiah. The one the people were waiting on to come and rescue them. The embodiment of the Good News of God’s salvation.

Luke says Jesus ordered his disciples not to share this news with anyone. Not because it wasn’t true. But because it was dangerous knowledge. The people were expecting some prophet-warrior-king. A David 2.0. Who would break the teeth of their enemies, and establish the kingdom of God.

Oh, Jesus had come to do those things. But not in the way anyone expected. God had called David a man who’d spilled so much blood on the ground (1 Chron. 22.8). That was other people’s blood he spilled. But Jesus—the only blood he came to spill was his own.

He explained to his followers: The Human One must suffer many things and be rejected—by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts—and be killed and be raised on the third day (Luke 9.22). That wasn’t on anybody’s radar, in terms of what they expected the Messiah to do.

But it’s true that the more Jesus healed people, forgave people, went to dinner at the wrong people’s houses—the more opposition he was facing. We’ve already seen this from some of the Pharisees and legal experts. Now Jesus adds the elders and chief priests to his growing list of opponents.

This is a real turning point in Luke’s story. From here on out, Jesus’ path will be more and more one of suffering and rejection. And he wants his followers to know that’s what they can expect, too—if they keep following him. They will not be able to sit on the fence. There is no way to play it safe and retain their integrity. All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me, he tells them (Luke 9.23).

Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, he tells them, the Human One will be ashamed of that person when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels (Luke 9.26). In other words, the cross comes before the crown. The way to glory goes through suffering. Jesus brings the Good News of God’s salvation by being rejected by humans, and suffering at human hands; but being accepted and glorified by God through resurrection. Following Jesus means traveling that same path.

But Jesus also gives his disciples a word of hope to sustain them on this path of suffering and rejection. He has come to establish God’s kingdom. I assure you that some standing here won’t die before they see God’s kingdom (Luke 9.27). The glory of God’s kingdom—where God makes right what has gone wrong—will really begin to be seen only after Jesus is raised from the dead.

But in our lesson today, Jesus took some of his disciples up to a mountain to catch a sneak peek.

Jesus’ Exodus

Our story today takes place, according to Luke, about eight days after Jesus said these things. So just over a week after Jesus had told his disciples about his upcoming rejection and death. But that God wouldn’t let his death have the final word. And how his resurrection would unleash God’s kingdom. And how following him meant also going the way of rejection and suffering. A daily death to self. But that those who followed Jesus by laying down their lives would also be given back their lives by God. Just as we see happening with Jesus.

So about eight days after Jesus said all that, he took Peter, John, and James, and went up on a mountain to pray. You might remember that those three were Jesus’ very first disciples, according to Luke. They’ve become Jesus’ inner circle. This is also foreshadowing. The night he was arrested, his disciples also followed him to a mountain—the Mount of Olives—where he had gone to pray. That night, Luke tells us, Jesus found them asleep, overcome by grief (Luke 22.45). But this night, Luke says they were almost overcome by sleep, but they managed to stay awake.

They managed to stay awake this night because, while Jesus prayed: the appearance of his face changed and his clothes flashed white like lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, were talking with him. They were clothed with heavenly splendor, or glory. How could anyone sleep through that?

I always wondered how the disciples knew these radiant visitors were Moses and Elijah. Did Jesus introduce them? Hey guys—meet my friends Moses and Elijah. Yes, that Moses and Elijah. Did they wear name tags? Or did they come with unmistakable accessories—did Moses show up holding the stone tablets, and Elijah wearing his prophetic mantle?

Luke doesn’t tell us how they recognized Moses and Elijah. Just that they did. But what Luke does tell us is what they were talking to Jesus about. Luke says they spoke about Jesus’ departure, which he would achieve in Jerusalem. That whole death and resurrection talk he’d given them about eight days ago.

What’s interesting is the word Luke uses for departure. It’s exodus. As in God rescuing Israel from Egyptian slavery. As in God entering into the suffering of his people to lead them into freedom. It’s cool that Luke uses exodus for departure while Moses and Elijah are talking to Jesus. Moses would obviously know a thing or two about an exodus—since he led one and all. And Elijah would know all about a dazzling departure. After all, he rode right out of this world in a chariot of fire.

Jesus’ exodus is what the rest of Luke’s Gospel is all about. Jesus going to Jerusalem to suffer injustice and death; be raised from the dead; and ascend to glory with his heavenly Father. Luke speaks of the exodus Jesus would achieve in Jerusalem. The word translated achieved here is related to a word we see in the very first verse of Luke’s Gospel, where it speaks of the events that have been fulfilled among us. In other words, Jesus’ exodus fulfills God’s plans. When God rescues Jesus from the bonds of death, and brings him to heavenly glory, he makes a way for all humans to escape bondage to death.

Just as Moses led God’s people Israel out of slavery to Egypt; Jesus will lead all God’s people to freedom from sin, suffering, shame, and death.

That’s the Good News of God’s salvation.

Listen to him!

Luke says the drowsy disciples—Peter, James, and John—managed to stay awake and saw [Jesus’] glory as well as the two men with him. The disciples caught a glimpse of the glory of the Father and of the holy angels that Jesus had mentioned about eight days earlier (Luke 9.26). But that glimpse was fleeting. As Moses and Elijah got ready to go back to wherever they came from, Peter blurted out: Master, it’s good that we’re here. We should construct three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.

You could always count on Peter to just blurt out stuff. But, like most folks who just go around thoughtlessly saying whatever comes into their mind, Luke says Peter didn’t know what he was saying. He didn’t know what he was talking about.

What Peter wanted was to try to hang onto this moment. To stay on this mountain with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah; and, I suppose, wait on God to come down and fix everything down there. After all, Jesus had already told them, down there was dangerous. Down there was a journey that would lead Jesus—and his followers—into suffering and rejection. That’s what was down there. Why couldn’t they just stay up here, communing with the saints until kingdom come?

Because the kingdom of God couldn’t come while they stayed up there. It will only come through Jesus’ cross, resurrection, and ascension. Jesus had told them that, but they weren’t ready to accept it yet.

Luke says: Peter was still speaking when God interrupted him. A cloud overshadowed them. As they entered the cloud, they were overcome with awe.

Entering a cloud on a mountain takes us back to Moses at Sinai. Exod. 24.15-18 says when Moses went up to Mount Sinai, the cloud covered the mountain; and this cloud was the Lord’s glorious presence. Then, like Peter, James, and John in our lesson today, Moses entered the cloud.

The cloud the disciples entered was also the glory cloud that had traveled with Israel throughout the Exodus; and filled the tabernacle and Solomon’s temple with God’s presence. Of course they were overcome with awe!

And then God spoke from the cloud: This is my Son, my chosen one. Listen to him! This is the second time in Luke’s Gospel we’ve heard the voice of God declare Jesus is his Son. The first time was at his baptism. But this time, God said it where the disciples could hear and understand. And Luke wrote it down so all future generations of believers could hear it. Listen to him!

Moses and Elijah represented the Torah and the prophets—thus, all the scriptures, and Israel’s past. When God told the disciples to listen to Jesus, that didn’t mean, Don’t pay attention to the law or prophets. The church must learn to listen to them differently, though—in light of Christ. For he is their fulfillment and true meaning. But in our lesson today, what God is saying is: Listen to him when he tells you he must be killed and raised. Don’t stay on this mountain, clinging to the past. Embrace what I’m doing through Jesus now!

And then they are left alone with Jesus. Luke says: They were speechless and at the time told no one what they had seen. They would not fully grasp what the experience meant until after Jesus had gone down to Jerusalem to be rejected and suffer death; had been raised by God; and glorified by ascending back to heaven.

Back down the mountain

When Jesus, Peter, James, and John came back down the mountain the next day, Luke says a large crowd confronted them. They were met by trouble. A father from the crowd begs Jesus:

Take a look at my son, my only child. Look, a spirit seizes him and, without any warning, he screams. It shakes him and causes him to foam at the mouth. It tortures him and rarely leaves him alone. I begged your disciples to throw it out, but they couldn’t.

Jesus, Peter, James, and John had left the other disciples down in the valley of a suffering world. And they’d failed to heal the boy.

At the beginning of the chapter, Luke says Jesus gave them—the Twelve Apostles—power and authority over all demons and to heal sicknesses; and had sent them out to proclaim God’s kingdom and to heal the sick (Luke 9.1-2). They had the power and authority to cast out any demon. So why didn’t they? For the same reason they refused to listen to Jesus when he told them he’d be killed in Jerusalem, but raised on the third day: they are, as Jesus says,a faithless and crooked generation. And he knows his time with them is limited: how long will I be with you and put up with you?, he sighs. Jesus lifts his complaint directly from Moses’ words in Deut. 32.5, when he called the Israelites a twisted and perverse generation. Moses had spoken those words when he was about to make his own exodus out of the world, and the people were about to enter the Promised Land. Moses feared they weren’t ready. Jesus feared the same for his disciples, after his departure. They weren’t ready yet.

So Jesus had the man bring his son to him. And he cast the demon out of the boy, and gave him back to his father—healed and whole. And while everyone was overwhelmed by God’s greatness, Jesus told his disciples: Take these words to heart: the Human One is about to be delivered into human hands. Again, he reminds them that they’re going to Jerusalem for Jesus to be rejected; to suffer a shameful death; but to be raised again by God. Following him means following him into rejection, shame, suffering, and even death.

But they don’t understand this. Not yet. What Jesus told them, Luke says: Its meaning was hidden from them so they couldn’t grasp it. And they were afraid to ask him about it. Who hid its meaning from them? Was it God? I don’t think so. In the previous chapter, Jesus told them: To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God (Luke 8.10). God wasn’t trying to hide anything from them. Jesus certainly wasn’t. They couldn’t see, couldn’t hear, couldn’t understand what Jesus was telling them because they were still looking, listening, and expecting the wrong things. They were looking for success and victory and glory. Jesus was pointing them toward Jerusalem and his cross. They weren’t ready to understand this yet. And it was totally on them.

All heaven breaks loose

Now is the time to tie this all together, and hear what all this has to do with us.

Like Peter and the other disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration, we may experience profoundly holy moments. The temptation we face is the same one they faced. They wanted to cling to that holy moment, and never leave it. They wanted to build shrines to it. They’d found a safe space on the mountain, and like Peter said: it’s good that we’re here. I suspect that we—and we includes me—we often do the same kind of thing. We find ourselves on holy ground. We experience some fantastic grace. Some breakthrough. And. We. Just. Want. To. Stay. Planted. Right. Here. It’s a good place to be. It’s holy and nurturing and secure. But if we do that, we can’t move forward. We’ll be left on that mountain. Cut off. Irrelevant. Surrounded by the empty shrines of past glories. That’s not where God wants us to stay. God’s voice still thunders from the pages of scripture: This is my Son. Listen to him! Jesus didn’t come to give us safe spaces. Instead, he calls us to follow him down from the mountain, into the valley of suffering and rejection. Jesus calls us to follow him to Jerusalem and the cross. The way to glory must pass through suffering.

As it was for Jesus, so it is with us. Jesus said: All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me. The German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it plainly: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” [1] For those early disciples, actually ending up nailed to a cross was a very real possibility. But we are all called to die. To ourselves. Our fears. Our hangups. Our prejudices. Our hatred. But this is the way to life and glory. Because Jesus also said: all who lose their lives because of me will save them (Luke 9.24). We are given new life, but only when we lay down our lives at Jesus’ feet, and follow him into the valley of betrayal, rejection, danger, and suffering. If we won’t do this, it shows that we don’t really believe in the resurrection. We don’t really trust that Father God gives life. That we’re more interested in survival than resurrection. But the story God tells through Jesus is a story about resurrection, not mere survival.

It’s the same with the demon the other disciples couldn’t drive out after Jesus, Peter, James, and John came down from the mountain. They couldn’t drive it out because they hadn’t understood or embraced Jesus’ way of suffering. They wanted to triumph over evil with strength or power. But Jesus began the healing of the world by entering into its pain, its danger, its ugliest places. And by bringing healing and freedom and salvation from within. And Father God tells us: Listen to him! And Jesus calls us to follow him. Just as he enters the sin, the shame, the sickness, and the sorrows of our lives, and heals us from within; so are we called to enter the sickness, the sorrows, and the sufferings of this world and begin the healing.

When we become willing to walk bravely into the hells of this world, all heaven will break loose. That’s the Good News of God’s salvation.

[1] Dietrich Bonoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship. rev. ed. R. H. Fuller, trans. (New York: Macmillan, 1963), 99.


4 thoughts on “Transfiguration (Luke 9.28-45) [Sermon 2-26-2017]

  1. […] do you want us to call fire down from heaven to consume them?” They’d just come off the Mount of Transfiguration, where Jesus had been speaking with Moses and Elijah. Back in the day, King Ahaziah of Samaria had […]

  2. […] couple weeks back, we went with Jesus to the Mount of Transfiguration, where Moses and Elijah spoke with him about […]

  3. […] the Sanhedrin for this, it’s good to remember it hadn’t been that long since the events on the Mount of Transfiguration. Luke told us about that, too. Jesus’ own disciples had seen his face and clothing flash with […]

  4. […] the Sanhedrin for this, it’s good to remember it hadn’t been that long since the events on the Mount of Transfiguration. Luke told us about that, too. Jesus’ own disciples had seen his face and clothing flash with […]

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