Luke 9:28-36 - The Jesus I Never Knew
Baggy trousers, ginger curly
hair, a beaming smile, the sunny Southern Californian accent and a baseball cap
on backwards (notice I didn’t say ‘the wrong way’). They were my first impressions
of Mark and Megan when we met at Heathrow the first time. After the interview I
discovered that my reaction to the baggy trousers and baseball cap had been a
pretty important factor to Mark in deciding whether God was leading them here.
He wanted to know if we accepted them as they were. Actually I was more
interested in their walk with Jesus, their passion for young people, their
desire to help them grow to know and love and serve Jesus. And that has been
increasingly obvious in the time the Lord has allowed us to borrow them, hasn’t
it? Can I get an Amen? What will your lasting memory be of Mark and Megan? Then
tell them today over lunch.
It may be your last chance to thank them personally for their impact in your life, and that of our young people. These past few years have been the most challenging but also most fulfilling in my life – and that is largely due to you and the people the Lord has sent to serve with us – like Mark & Megan, like James and Kirsty. Like John and Colin, Suzanne, Tim, Lesley, Paul, Bruce, Peter, Scott, and many others.
We will have a chance to thank them also next week over lunch and at our ACM – but today its Mark and Megan’s turn. First impressions are important aren’t they? You never get a second chance at a first impression. But first impressions can also be incredibly shallow and deceptive, especially if we write people off because they are different from us. Isn’t that a primary cause of the tensions in our world? Because people are a different colour or have a different language or different accent. Or maybe because they are a different age or different shape. We find security in being around people just like us. And that is true of the way we think of Jesus too.
This is how William Blake described the dilemma we face:
“The vision of Christ that thou doest see
Is my vision’s greatest enemy;
Thine has a great hooked nose like thine,
Mine has a snub nose like to mine…
Both read the Bible day and nioght,
But thou read’st black where I read white.”
What were your first impressions of Jesus? My first memory of Jesus was the age of six or seven in Sunday School. I remember two things. Singing “Jesus loves me this I know…” and looking at a painting of Jesus with a lamb in his arms surrounded by little children like me – except they were all different colours. There was an African child, a Chinese child, an Indian child and many others that were different to me. But I do remember, reassuringly that Jesus had long golden hair and a European complexion. My first impressions were of a white Jesus. Then in my teenager years, I was introduced to the Jesus of Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar. Jesus had become golden. Then at university I was introduced to the radical Jesus of left wing politics. Do you remember the picture of Jesus portrayed like Che Guvara? This was the red Jesus. At theological college I discovered the Black Jesus of liberation theology and the green Jesus of the ecology movement. Then there have been the irreverent depictions of Jesus like Daniel Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ –what we might call the Blue Jesus - most recently portrayed in Dan Brown’s, Da Vinci Code. Maybe you don’t identify with any of these representations of Christ. “Well, I’ll stick with the Bible” you may say. That’s fine, but if you are relying on the image of Jesus presented in the gospels, do you think you would recognise him if he came back today?
Did the disciples recognise Jesus after his resurrection? Think about it. They had spent three years – day and night with Jesus. And yet after his death what happened? What about Mary in the garden? “At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.” (John 20:14).
What about the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus? “Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.” (Luke 24:15-16). They were walking beside Jesus, yet they did not recognise him? And what about the other disciples in the Upper Room? “While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.” (Luke 24:36-37). Why?
Why did the disciples not recognize Jesus? Here’s a clue from Philippians 2.
“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8)
Jesus laid aside his majesty in becoming a human being. After his death and resurrection, while Jesus still bore the scars of his crucifixion, he resumed his rightful place, as Paul continues in his letter to the Philippians,
“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,” (Philippians 2:9-10)
It was the same person, the same Jesus before and after his death and resurrection, but his appearance was different in some way. The Jesus we will meet one day will be revealed in all his glory and majesty, power and authority. In our reading from Revelation, we find John describing Jesus in these words.
”I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw … someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.” (Revelation 1:12-15)
This is the image of Jesus we had better have in our minds, when we prepare to meet him, because this is the real Jesus, this is the Jesus who is coming soon. This is the Jesus we will meet one day. We will see him as he really is. And if you find that image unsettling – remember how John reacted,
“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. (Revelation 1:17-18)
So how do we fit together the Jesus of the gospels with the Jesus of Revelation? The historical Jesus and the cosmic Jesus? The earthly Jesus and the heavenly Jesus? In our reading from Luke 9, we will find some answers. Please turn to it with me.
Remember what we discovered last week? “Who do you say I am?” asked Jesus. “You are God’s Messiah.” (Luke 9:20)… “The Son of the Living God.” (Matthew 16:16). In response Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:27).
Now we didn’t unpack that last week because it only makes sense when read with the following verses. It is the bridging verse to today’s passage which I have entitled, “The Jesus I never knew”. Jesus promise was fulkfilled 8 days later. Three of the disciples, Peter, James and John got to see the kingdom of God. How? For a brief moment, they saw the King in all his radiant glory.
I’ve broken this paragraph into four sequential events.
1. Jesus’ Transfiguration – Watch! (9:28-31)
About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. (Luke 9:28-31)
We don’t know which mountain this was – probably Mount Tabor near Nazareth, but it doesn’t matter. Notice the similarities with John’s depiction of Jesus?
“As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.” (Luke 9:29). Matthew says “His face shone like the sun” (Matthew 17:2). Mark adds, “His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.” (Mark 9:3). The real Jesus. The Jesus they never knew before. Why do Moses and Elijah appear? What did they discuss with Jesus? “his departure which he was about to bring to fulfillment in Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:31). The word ‘departure’ means ‘Exodus’.
Moses looked back to the Exodus and God’s promise of deliverance. Elijah looked forward to the fulfillment of that promise in God’s future. The death of Jesus would be no accident but the fulfillment of the plan and purposes of God. Jesus’ Transfiguration – Watch!
2. Peter’s Suggestion – Wait! (9:32-33)
“Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)” (Luke 9:32-33)
Peter probably had in mind the Feast of Tabernacles. During this festival, people built booths on their roof tops to remember their experience in the wilderness. As he saw Elijah and Moses leaving, perhaps Peter wanted to prolong their stay. Whatever his motive, it was premature, for Christ must first suffer before he would enter into his glory. But, it was also presumptuous of Peter to offer to build three booths, as if they were equals.
1. Jesus’ Transfiguration – Watch!
2. Peter’s Suggestion – Wait!
3. Father’s Endorsement – Listen! (9:34-35)
“While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” (Luke 9:34-35)
The clouds that covered them were the shekinah glory of God that had led God’s people through the wilderness. God was present with them in the cloud, and through the voice. This is the second time God the Father has spoken audibly about His Son. At his baptism, the words of the Father were for Jesus “You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22). On this occasion, the words are for the disciple’s benefit. “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” (Luke 9:35). The point is this.
There is no equality between Jesus and Moses or Elijah. Moses had promised that the Lord would one day send a prophet they must listen to (Deuteronomy 18:15) and here
Moses is introduced to him. In a day of toleration when people want to build booths for all the great religious leaders, it is timely to remember that there is no equality between Jesus and Moses or between Jesus and Mohamed or Buddah. Later, after the resurrection, the disciples would understand that:
Jesus is Superior to Moses (Hebrews 1:1-2)
“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)
Jesus has superceded Moses (Hebrews 8:13)
“By calling this
covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and
outdated will soon disappear.” (Hebrews 8:13)
Jesus was the Saviour of Moses (John 3:14)
“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (John 3:14-15)
This is why we must listen carefully to the words of Jesus.
Jesus’ Transfiguration – Watch! (9:28-31)
Peter’s Suggestion – Wait! (9:32-33)
Father’s Endorsement – Listen! (9:34-35)
4. Disciple’s Response – Learn! (9:36)
“When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.” (Luke 9:36)
They were stunned by this mountain top experience. They needed time to reflect upon what they had seen and heard about Jesus. The Jesus they never knew had revealed something of his glory and they were in awe.
Their view of Jesus was changing, as ours must too.
Last week we considered the question Jesus posed “Who do you say I am?” We discovered that when we find him, we find ourselves. We can never answer with certainty the question “Who am I?” until we answer the prior question, “Who is Jesus?” And here too, in the transfiguration of Jesus we discover not just a unique historical event, but a process of transformation at work also in us who believe.
For when we encounter the real Jesus, we too are transformed. As Philip Yancey says, “No one who meets Jesus ever stays the same.”
The very word used to describe the transfiguration of the supernatural Son of God is the same word used to describe the transformation of the adopted child of God.
“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18 – see also Romans 12:2)
This is why we must not only root our view of Jesus in scripture, but also revise our view of one another in the same way. Paul confesses that their discovery of who Jesus really is impacted the way they viewed others too.
“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation”(2 Corinthians 5:16-18)
Transformed and transforming. The world judges on the basis of our age, our shape, beauty, deformity, size, looks, colour, accent, clothing, car, house. But this is to treat people with incredible superficially. We are created in the image of God. And while our bodies are wearing out, our inner life is being renewed daily. This is why Paul writes,
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
When we meet Mark and Megan again, will they look any different? Probably. Will you? Certainly. Would we recognize them? It depends what we are looking for.
Will we cherish them? Of course. For we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Jesus’ Transfiguration – Watch! (9:28-31)
Peter’s Suggestion – Wait! (9:32-33)
Father’s Endorsement – Listen! (9:34-35)
Disciple’s Response – Learn! (9:36)