Come And See His TransfigurationErwin W. Lutzer | March 7, 2001
Selected highlights from this sermon
At the Mount of Transfiguration, we get a glance at Jesus’ glory. This event served to encourage Jesus in His coming time of trial, and the disciples were probably steeled for their coming difficulties as well.
So how can we go on in a world that is seemingly spinning out of control? We keep our eyes fixed on God’s glory.
We often sing, don’t we, Jesus shall reign where’er the sun does its successive journeys run? But when you look at society now it sure doesn’t seem as if Jesus is ruling and reigning, does it? They seem to be mocking the sun. And so the question is, how do we keep on going in a world that seems to be spinning out of control, with so many problems and so many needs, and the ugliness of human nature being seen for what it is?
You know, the disciples had the same problem. They had a problem because Jesus told them that He was going to die in Jerusalem, and the Bible says that Peter took Him aside saying, “Not so, Lord. You’re not going to die.” And the reason that Peter said that is because the idea of a messiah dying was demeaning. In those days it was believed that when the Messiah comes, He’s going to establish the Kingdom, He’s going to do away with Rome, and He’s going to unite the Tribes of Israel that were so scattered and warring one another. And so the idea was that the Messiah comes triumphantly, and He comes to win. He doesn’t come to die on a cross. And Peter takes Jesus aside and says, “No you don’t!” and Jesus says, “Get you behind Me, Satan.” The very same mouth that just earlier in context had said, “You are the Son of God” is now saying words that really originated with the devil because if Jesus had not died, redemption would not be accomplished.
Well, Jesus knows that it’s time for the disciples to have some encouragement, and He needs some encouragement. And He knew that you and I living 20 centuries from these events would need some encouragement. And so He takes the disciples to a mountain and today I invite you to come and see the transfiguration.
I had originally intended to preach from Matthew 17, but upon further thought I decided to use the account in Luke. They are almost identical. The writers of the synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke particularly, and also John – wrote about the same events and their stories can be reconciled but one would emphasize one thing. And one might include some words that the others omitted, and so what we are going to do is look in the Gospel of Luke today – chapter 9.
In Luke 9 we have the story of the transfiguration given as recorded here. You’ll notice in Luke 9:27 it says, “But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” And then Jesus gives them a little glimpse of the coming kingdom. And maybe you are here today and what you need more than anything else is a glimpse of the coming kingdom, because your world last week might not have gone the way in which you intended it, nor the way in which you planned it. And part of my responsibility as your pastor is to preach in such a way that I help you worship on Sunday, and work better on Monday. So that’s the agenda. By the time you are through listening I believe you are going to be encouraged and you are going to say, “No matter what, I know how it’s going to end.”
Verse 28 says, “Now about eight days after these sayings He took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray.” On three occasions Jesus took these three men, who had been businessmen together, to special places where the other disciples didn’t get to go. In the house of Jairus, when the little girl died, Jesus shut everybody out. He went into the room and He brought with Him Peter, James and John. Those were the only three men allowed with Him in the room when He raised her from the dead.
Here you have Peter, James and John invited to the Mount of Transfiguration, and in Gethsemane, when Jesus is in His greatest agony, He took with Him Peter, James and John. Notice that all of these experiences that these three had were experiences that surrounded the topic of death, and there was a reason for that, as we shall see.
So let’s simply move through the events very quickly of the Transfiguration, and then we will ask ourselves what difference this should make, not only today, but also on Monday morning.
First of all we see here the Son’s transformation. You’ll notice it says, “And as He was praying, the appearance of His face was altered, and His clothing became dazzling white.” It’s amazing what happens when we pray. Your countenance may change. Jesus is up on the mountain and He’s praying, and suddenly He is transfigured. Luke doesn’t use the word but Matthew does. The Greek word for transfigured is our word metamorphose. And what happens in metamorphosis is the inner nature. There’s an outward change but it’s based on the inner nature. And we think of the word metamorphose when we think of how butterflies are created by God. There’s that inner nature that comes out, and that’s what happened here.
The inner nature of Jesus just broke forth, and you saw the glory, the wonder and the beauty and the dazzling light of God. And so Jesus was transfigured before them, the Scripture says. And we can see here in the text that this was really an indication of His coming glory – the Kingdom.
Again I am quoting Matthew when it says that His face shone like the sun. Now you can’t stand too close to the sun, can you? Ninety-three million miles away from the sun is about right, but it gives you an idea of the dazzling brilliance and beauty and effulgence of God. Remember Jesus said, “This is the Son coming in His Kingdom.” This is Jesus as He is in glory, as you and I shall someday see Him, and there’s even more to the story as we shall learn in a moment.
So here we have Jesus. He is in this dazzling beauty and glory, and now we see the saints’ participation. We notice that two Old Testament saints show up on the Mount of Transfiguration. The first is Moses. I need to pause there. Aren’t you happy for him? Aren’t you happy for Moses? You should be. Remember in the Old Testament he wasn’t allowed in the land. He was buried on Mount Nebo. You can go to Israel today, look across the Dead Sea if you are on the Jordan side and you can see Mount Nebo where Moses was buried, and Satan and Michael had a little tussle about Moses’ body. Some people don’t think the body is important. The dead body is important.
But Moses is there, and you kind of feel bad for him because you remember he was supposed to speak to the rock and he smote the rock. And God said, “Moses, you’re a great guy, but because you hit the rock instead of speaking to it, you will not see the land that has been your vision and your dream for all of your life.” And so when Moses dies we’re kind of sad. He wrote Psalm 91 very plaintively, you know, saying, “Teach us to number our days because life is tough and it’s hard,” and he goes on and you say, “Oh, poor Moses.” But you know what? He made it across the Jordan River. He did make it into the land. Fifteen centuries later he’s on top of the Mount of Transfiguration. He got in. I’m really happy for Moses. He was remarkable because the Bible says of him that he spoke to God like a man speaks to his friend. He represents the Law. Oftentimes you hear the Law of Moses. That’s what he represented.
And then Elijah! He represents the prophets. Elijah was a remarkable man, full of strength and power. In fact, he did not die, but he was taken to heaven directly. What a remarkable man Elijah was, and so he represents the Law and the prophets, and there they are on the Mount of Transfiguration, and we are told what they were talking about. It says in verse 31, “Two men were talking with Him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His departure, which He (that is Jesus) was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”
I can imagine Moses saying, “Lord Jesus, you know I had an exodus.” That’s the Greek word. You know that the Greek word is exodus. We have exits in this building, and the second book of the Old Testament is called Exodus. Why? Exodus is a going out. They went out of Egypt and they went into the Promised Land. They moved out so that they could go in. And I can imagine Moses saying, “Well, you know, Lord Jesus, I had an exodus too, but it sure wasn’t as glorious and as important as yours.” And there they are and they are talking about His exodus that He is going to accomplish in Jerusalem.
Old Testament – what happens? They move out of the slavery of Egypt and the exodus took them into Canaan. Jesus goes into Jerusalem, crucified on a cross on the outskirts of the city, and He moves into heaven. When Moses had his exodus he took a whole group of people with him into the Promised Land, though he did not quite get there, but eventually they did. Jesus, when He dies, He takes a whole group of people with Him – Old Testament saints and New Testament saints who trust Him. His exodus takes us all the way to the pearly gates. So there they are. They are discussing His exodus that He’s going to accomplish in Jerusalem.
Well, you’ll notice it says these words. “Now Peter and those who were with Him (that is the other two disciples) were heavy with sleep.” Oh Peter! Now I’m all for sleep, but here? Possibly he’s not the only person who, when in the presence of God, has fallen asleep. In fact, in the Garden of Gethsemane the disciples are sleeping. I don’t know if Peter had a sleep deficiency and he tended to make up for it on certain occasions, but there he is.
“But when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with Him. And as the men were parting from Him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah,’ not knowing what he said.”
Where in the world is he getting this? They are talking about Jesus Christ’s departure, and suddenly it triggers something in Peter’s mind, and he’s saying, “Let’s stay here on the mountaintop, and let us be sure that we build these three tents, these booths, these tabernacles, and let’s stay here.” To his everlasting credit he didn’t apparently think that he was worthy of one himself, but what triggered that in his mind?
They are talking about the exodus, and one of the feasts of Israel was the Feast of Booths. And scholars tell us that it was the time of year very probably when the Feast of Booths, mentioned in Leviticus 23, was now being celebrated. It is the last of Israel’s seven feasts. And during the Feast of Booths for one full week they lived as it were in a tent. It was just a makeshift tent or booth oftentimes made with branches so that you could see the stars through it. And they lived there as a reminder of what they endured in the desert. That’s what the Feast of Booths was all about.
A number of years ago I was on a high-rise building. Someone invited me (I don’t remember who.) to the top of one of the large tall buildings here in Chicago, and as we looked down we saw the Feast of Booths here in the city. The Jewish people here in the city were building booths on the top of other high-rises. If you’ve never seen this during the Feast of Booths, which is going to occur sometime after Passover, what you need to do is to go there and go to the top of the building and you’ll see that little structure there, and that little structure there as the Orthodox Jewish people are still keeping the Feast of Booths.
So it seems to me here that Peter, thinking about this, says, “Let’s celebrate the Feast of Booths here, and let’s stay up here all week and enjoy this.” Well, the Bible says he didn’t know what he was talking about. Have you ever said anything that you didn’t know what you were talking about? Have you ever had that experience? Have you ever had the experience of wishing that after you had said something that your mouth had been taped shut early in the morning?
I came across a prayer and I hadn’t planned to share this so I’m going to have to make it up a little bit, but the prayer goes something like this.
Lord, I’ve not yet been angry today. Lord, I have not yet had evil thoughts today. Lord, I have not yet slandered anyone today. Lord, I have not yet misused my tongue in any way, but Lord, you know that any moment I’m going to get out of bed. (laughter)
God is saying, “Peter, look! This is not the time to stay on the mountaintop. You’ve seen the glimpse of glory, but Jesus needs to go to Jerusalem to die.” And furthermore, Peter, when you stop to think of it Jesus isn’t exactly worthy to be in a booth with Moses and Elijah because He is in an entirely different class by Himself. And so Peter does not quite know what he is saying.
And then you’ll notice it says, “As he was saying these things (now we get to the Father’s affirmation), a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!’ And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found there alone.” And they were alone with Jesus. The voice from the cloud was the Shekinah Glory of the Old Testament. In the Old Testament whenever God accompanied His people it was with a cloud, and the cloud was representative of the fact that He was with them. And now the glorious cloud of glory comes upon the top of the mountain and out of that cloud comes a voice. “This is My Son.” And the fact that Jesus Christ was God’s Son means that He had the very nature of God.
Christians throughout the years have believed that the nature of Jesus is not similar to that of God the Father but the same as God the Father. Now you and I are sons and daughters of God, but we are sons and daughters by adoption. We’re grandfathered in. We do not have the nature of God, but Jesus has the very nature of God.
And then the Father says, “In whom I am well pleased.” That’s what Matthew includes, and in saying that, the Father says, “I agree with everything that Jesus has done, and I’m going to agree with everything that He’s going to accomplish, and my pleasure rests upon Him.” And then we notice in the text, and you ought to really underline that, “Listen to Him.” – the last part of verse 35. Listen to Him. When He tells you that He’s going to Jerusalem to die, listen to Him. When He tells you that you should take up your cross and follow Him, listen to Him. When He tells you that He is the way, the truth and the life, and that no man can come to the Father except through Him, listen to Him. People say, “Well, I want to know how to please God.” Fine! Find what the Son said as recorded in the New Testament, and listen to Him.
And then they are left alone just with Jesus. What an experience! Peter talks about this in 2 Peter later on. He talks about the glorious experience on the mountaintop – a wonderful, gracious experience – and to be alone with Jesus. Moses is gone. The Law is gone. The prophets have spoken and they still speak to us today. But then there is Jesus alone. Just give me Jesus! Is not that a song that we heard recently? Just give me Jesus!
What difference should this story make to us? First of all, what did it mean? You know, when the Bible uses the word glory, it’s speaking of the sum of God’s attributes. When the Bible speaks of glory it is speaking of God in His brilliance, God in His holiness, God in His might and God in His dazzling light and brightness. In fact, the Hebrew word for glory means heavy. You know we use the word today when we say, “Well, you know, he told me that, and that’s pretty heavy.” What we mean is weighty. The glory of God is the weightiest thing in the universe. It is the purpose to which all things have their source, their support and their end. And they all contribute to it. I was at a conference this past week and came back yesterday. And in one of the messages I was emphasizing the little phrase in the book of Ephesians that we should live to the praise of His glory.
Now at this point we have to think very carefully. What this meant to Jesus was a great encouragement because Jesus is anticipating not the horror that you see in the passion movie, terrible though that is. What Jesus is anticipating is that in a space of three hours all the horrors of hell that someone would experience for all eternity are going to be comprised into those three hours. That’s something that can never be portrayed in a movie. And so Jesus is anticipating that and He begins to realize that yes, first comes the cross, but on the other side is the crown. First of all comes the agony, and then comes the glory. First of all, there’s Jerusalem and then there is heaven.
Now isn’t it interesting that when Jesus prayed in John 17, this is what He says? “And now, Father, glorify Me in Your own presence with the glory that I had with You before the world existed.” I was thinking about this, this past week because I have to preach a couple of messages on the glory of God sometime. Listen, it is so important to realize that when Jesus came from heaven to earth He left glory behind, but He brought some with Him. And that’s what was seen on the Mount of Transfiguration, but that’s only a sliver of the glory that He actually has. So this, for Jesus, was a great, great encouragement. It’s going to be okay. It’s going to end alright.
What did it mean to the disciples – Peter, James and John? Well, to them it prepared them for death. You know, the Bible says in Acts 12 that James had his head cut off by Herod; he beheaded him. It’s this James. He’s the first of the inner circle of the Apostles to die. Now we know that Stephen died before that time but Stephen was not part of the inner circle of 12. Judas, of course, had died, most assuredly. He will have died later on before James. But of the 11 who were true to the faith, James is the first to die. And I can imagine that when that time came for beheading, he probably said to himself, “It’s not that bad. I have seen glory. I’ve seen what it’s like on the other side. I saw Jesus. I met Moses and Elijah.”
By the way, can I throw this in at no extra cost? I don’t think in heaven we’re going to need nametags. I don’t get any hint here that Jesus had to say, “Now Peter, James and John, this is Moses and this is Elijah. And Moses and Elijah, I want you to meet these three fishermen of mine over here.” No, no, no, we’re going to have intuitive knowledge in heaven.
They would have said, “We’ve seen the glory.” That’s how James died. Peter died by being crucified upside down tradition says, because when he was martyred he said, “I am not worthy to die like Jesus did. Crucify me but let me hang upside down.” That’s the way he died.
John lived a normal life but with an awful lot of persecution, and eventually was exiled on the Island of Patmos. But can you imagine the difference that it made? Can you imagine that they said to themselves, “We will never view death the same again. We have seen the glory.” That’s what it meant to them. What should it mean to us?
Now we come to indescribable blessing. If this were not in the Scriptures, I wouldn’t believe it – but Jesus said it, I believe it and I’m listening to Him so I accept it. In John 17 as he begins to pray for us, near the end of His wonderful prayer (verse 22) He says, “Oh Father, the glory that You have given Me I have given to them.” Wow!
You’ve got glory. You really do. You say, “Well, just look at me.” Well, I’m looking at you right now. With the eye of faith I see glory, and what happens is when Jesus comes in glory the Bible says we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is. I assume, even though the text isn’t as clear as we might want it to be, that Moses and Elijah had a body something like Jesus’ body, even though I’m sure it was not as beautiful and shining as much. But they too had glory because it’s going to end okay.
We are headed for glory. (applause) And what I want you to do is to get started on your glory hunt. How do we do it? Did you know that that word metamorphosis – transfiguration – occurs twice somewhere else in the New Testament? For example, in Romans 12 it says this: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed (There’s the word.) – but be transfigured – by the renewing of your mind.” If you renew your mind through the Scriptures you begin to imbibe more of the glory of the transfiguration.
And then there’s 2 Corinthians 3:18 where it says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
How do we begin even in this life to experience glory? I’ll tell you how. It’s by what we think and by what we look at. We are to think the Scriptures, transformed by the renewing of the mind, and having thought the Scriptures, we then are transformed also by gazing at Jesus and becoming like Him.
A number of years ago I told you the story, and it’s coming to mind and so I’m going to tell it again. Do you remember the story of the great stone face and little Ernest? It happened that there was this village beside a mountain. And across the valley on the other side of the mountain there were stones that were thrown together in such a way that they resembled a man’s face – a kind man it appeared. And there was this legend in the village that said that someday somebody is going to come who is going to be like the great stone face that will resemble him. So everybody looked for him.
One day a poet came to the town, and they said, “This is the great stone face. This is the man,” because he had such a kind disposition. But as they looked at him and got to know him they said, “No, this isn’t him.” And then they said, “Here’s a philosopher that’s coming and he resembles the great stone face.”
Now little Ernest, brought up in this village, just loved and adored that great stone face. For hours he would sit on a rock, look across the valley at that great stone face, day in and day out. He never missed a day from looking at the great stone face.
Well you probably figured out how the story ends. When he became a man he was giving a speech in this little village, and the people could see his silhouette, and off in the distance they could see the great stone face. And they said, “Ernest is the one who resembles the great stone face.”
Don’t miss it. We become what we gaze at. You become what you gaze at. You gaze at television you become what you gaze at. You gaze at the Word beyond the sacred page (I see Thee, Lord.), and you begin to imbibe the glory as you look at Jesus.
So my word to you today is to worship. And we should worship tomorrow, but tomorrow morning remember glory is coming. This world doesn’t have a lot of glory. Today what you can do is to take the letter “l” out of glory and you get gory. That’s about what we’ve got. Just read your newspapers. Gory! But glory is coming.
A woman by the name of Frances Chadwick back on July 4, 1952, was going to swim from Catalina Island to the California coast. It was 21 miles, and it was a very foggy day as she got into the water. She had already swum the English Channel. And she got into the water and it was so foggy and the water was cold that day. But she kept on going and eventually she became so exhausted that she said to the people in the boat who were next to her, “Please take me out of the water. I can’t continue.”
Well, they took her out of the water and they discovered that they were only one half mile from the shore. And she said this later. She said, “I could have made it if only I’d been able to see the shore.” Her problem was not ultimately the cold or weariness, though that certainly played a part. The problem was the fog. The fog obscured the shore, and so she didn’t make it.
The transfiguration of Jesus reminds us so explicitly and vividly, my friend, that that’s the shore. It’s going to be okay. Keep going.
Our Father, today we are so thankful for Jesus. We thank You for this vision of Him in glory and beauty and holiness and light. We thank You, Father, that with an eye of imagination we can try to begin to think about what the Kingdom will be when the King comes. And we thank You that along with Peter, James and John, every believer who has trusted Christ as Savior will be there to enjoy the glory, to participate in the glory, for Jesus has granted us the glory that He Himself is.
Lord, I’m reminded of the words of Cowper.
How Thou canst think so well of me
and be the God Thou art,
Is darkness to my intellect,
but sunshine to my heart.
For these mercies we thank You in Jesus’ name, Amen.