9. The Transfiguration
Updated: Mar 8
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1: 4-5, 14
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus,…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!” When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.
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.” Matthew 17: 1-9
The Holy Son of the holy family came to dwell with us in the fullness of time to give us a light in our brutal darkness. One day, Jesus walked with his three best friends up to a high mountain top. There Jesus, the Son of Man, was transfigured and became the Son of God. The Transfiguration was certainly a miracle, this revealing of the divine Lord Christ to mere men, along with the appearance of two men who were long gone from the physical presence of their earthly bodies. These three spiritual beings, Christ, Moses, and Elijah, who are all residents of the kingdom of heaven condescending to the earthly realm.
But let’s back up a bit. By this time in his ministry, Jesus had fed the 5000, and the 4000, preached the beatitudes, and healed the blind and the possessed. The disciples had just returned from their preaching and healing of twos. This discussion precedes the Transfiguration:
Jesus... asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. …
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Matthew 16: 13-23
Because Simon grasps who his dear friend is, he receives a new name, Peter, meaning “stone or rock.” Peter’s epiphany and acknowledgement that this mere son of man is in fact the Son of God, signals the birth of the church, the beginning of us, the promised bride of Christ, the beloved children of the Holy Family. Satan, sin, and darkness at this moment are very threatened. Very soon, Peter and humanity will be able to indwell with the Holy Spirit, the Comforter and Counselor. But first Peter, James, and John, along with the newly birthed infant church, will suffer a dreadful spiritual crisis as the Son of God is put to death. Simon, now Peter, the building stone of the new church must not be allowed to become a stumbling block instead.
Christ Jesus knows this and gives these three dear friends exactly what they will shortly need - the Transfiguration, there on the mountain top: the Son blazing white and the Father’s voice in the bright cloud of the Presence of the Holy Spirit. And, there are Moses, and Elijah! Two great men of the Old Testament who had each suffered such exquisitely horrible spiritual crises.
Moses… led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”
“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Exodus 3: 1-8
The burning bush containing the Trinity? The Lord, the angel of the Lord, and the fire of the Holy Spirit. Take a moment to read Exodus 1-4. The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out … What miracles did Moses witness as God in frustration convicted him to obey? Against his will, Moses was chosen by God to lead his chosen nation of Israel out of bondage. Moses had fled Egypt but God called to him in the wilderness at the foot of “the mountain of God.” This is holy ground:
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”...God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”Exodus 3: 13-14
I will be with you. This was God’s promise when he called to Moses but so much happened following that promise. Many of us know the story of the Israelites and the golden calf. Moses had left the people alone in the desert as he disappeared into the cloud that topped the holy mountain. They were afraid and unsure of their future. Even as slaves in Egypt, they had homes with roofs over their heads, plenty of water, and a variety of food to eat. I have such great sympathy for them! Remember, they had no personal access to the Holy Spirit. God’s demands for us are so very fierce; he demands nothing less than perfection. This is an absolute impossibility for us.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I will send an angel before you ... Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.” Exodus 33: 1-3
Earlier, God had promised Moses, “I will be with you.” Remember, God is perfect. He cannot go back on His word. His word is Holy and sacred. His word, is His Word. Our words are anything but holy; we are so full of contradictions. But God’s Word cannot cease to be His Word, even though we can’t uphold our end of any agreement. In response to the people’s behavior, God tells Moses, “I will send an angel with you but I, the Holy Father, will not go with you. I am disgusted and grieved and angry with these still-necked people. I might destroy you on the way.” But Moses is in a spiritual crisis, he could not be satisfied with a mere angel. He wanted and needed God Himself. He needed to be with God, in God’s presence.
Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”
The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Exodus 33: 12-14
Listen to the Lord’s lovely response: “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” In the bible, the word Presence is capitalized. This “Presence,” this cloud by day and pillar of fire by night, is the Holy Spirit. God is again promising his beloved Presence instead of a mere angel!
But this was still not enough for Moses. His burden was so huge: Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”
Exodus 33: 15-17
Listen to this carefully, God is pleased with Moses! God is fully engaged in this “face to face” conversation with this “son” of his. Then Moses pushes yet harder, not because he is faithless but because he so desperately needs to be with God. He needs to be in the presence of the Father God and his Presence. This man who hid his face because he was afraid to look at God in the burning bush now needs to see God’s holy face:
Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” Exodus 33: 18-23
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. Exodus 34:29-30
Peter will fall into sin and temptation as he denies his Christ and his dear friend, Jesus, not once but three times but he will repent and be redeemed. Just as the Lord was pleased with Moses and knew him by name, so will the resurrected Christ Jesus be pleased with his friend, Simon now Peter. The resurrected Son of Man will appear to the disciples for a third time and they will share a meal of freshly caught fish on the beach:
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” John 21:15-17
The 29:11 Story
On the upward side of the 29:11 Story, there is a bead that looks like a rock. This bead follows the silver bead of the Great Commandment which comes after the cross bead, Jesus Christ. This rock, Peter, is followed by two more brown beads, representing James and John. The next bead, luminous white, is the Transfiguration: Jesus become Christ, God in the cloud, and the Holy Spirit.
The 29:11 Story tells the story of a God who longs to be needed, to be sought after, to be dwelled with. The Holy Family longs to encourage and to embrace us in our darkest hour of need and despair. On the downward Old Testament side, there is an orange bead that represents the burning bush telling Moses, a brown bead that looks like a desert rock, to go and set His people free. The next bead following Moses, is a crystal angel bead, but it is grey or black; it is the Angel of Death. Then, there is a beautiful white luminous bead. This is God in the Cloud protecting Moses from His face, but allowing Moses to witness His glory. This is God answering Moses’ abject need for His Presence in the midst of Moses’ spiritual crisis. And the next bead? It is a silver bead for the Ten Commandments. The last bead in Moses’ story is Joshua who is chosen to lead the people out to the promised land of milk and honey. Joshua's bead looks like Peter's bead. Joshua, or in the Hebrew, Yeshua, which means salvation.
I have had a spiritual crisis. My son William was re-diagnosed with cancer when he was 15 years old. His initial cancer happened when he was 12. We believed with all our hearts and souls that he was cancer free after a year of brutal chemotherapy and numerous surgeries. The re-diagnosis was not only unexpected but devastating. For about three weeks I could not be alone with William. It was too painful for me. And William told his father, my husband, that he did not want to be alone with me either. Every morning, I would wake up and struggle to get my younger children off to school and see John off to work. Then with William sitting alone downstairs, I would curl into a fetal ball on the floor and demand that God allow me to be with him. Let me be clear on this, I did not want to live anymore, I wanted to be with God and away from what was going to happen here on this earth. As a mother, I cannot imagine the spiritual crisis that my beautiful first born son was going through by himself downstairs with his family away from him. One morning, I woke up and I knew that I had been with God all night. I opened my Bible and found myself by chance but not by chance reading Romans 8: 26:
...the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.
That morning, curled up again on the floor, I again told God, “I need to be with you I need to be leaning against your knees, I need to be with you. I need to see your face.” And God answered me. Let me be very clear on this, God audibly spoke to me, I heard his voice as if he were in the room present with me. He very clearly said, “You cannot be with me now, but I can be with you.” I responded, “I cannot do this, I am burned to a crisp.” God said to me, “How about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego?”
He then very clearly said, “What do you need?” I responded, “I need to be a good mother to William.” “His response, “Is that all?” I rephrased, “I need to be the best mother for William.” God said, “Good. What else?” I said, “I need to be the best mother to Elizabeth and Robert.” And God said, “ Good.” And I said, “And I need to be the best wife to John.” And God said,”Good.”
I then went downstairs and found William sitting alone and said, “Let’s go outside and talk.” It was an exquisitely beautiful fall day, and I told William what had happened upstairs. I asked him, “What are we afraid of.” He said, “I’m not afraid of dying, I can’t wait to get to heaven. But I do want to fight again and I’m afraid of the hospital and chemo and radiation.” And I said, I’m not afraid of you dying either but I hate everything that we’re going to have to do.” And from that day on, William and I were very strong for each other.
I desperately, fiercely needed to be in God’s presence. I feel that I was with his Presence.. “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”