Who is he? A nice guy? An inspiring teacher? A social reformer?

The Text: Luke 9:28-36

Who is he? A nice guy? An inspiring teacher? A social reformer? Many of his20180311_103505 (1) opponents thought he was demon-possessed and raving mad. Who is he?

The question isn’t whether Jesus existed or not. There is too much ancient evidence—even from non-Christian sources such as the Jewish historian Josephus and Roman historian Tacitus—to be able to dismiss the fact that Jesus lived on earth. Even a recent internet study declared Jesus to be the most famous person on earth .

Yes, Jesus’ life on earth is well documented. But who is this carpenter from Nazareth; the son of Joseph and Mary? Just before our text today, Jesus himself had asked his disciples this very question: “Who do the people say that I am?” They answered, “Some say John the Baptist; but others say, Elijah; and others, that one of the prophets has risen. “But what about you?” Jesus asked them. “Who do you say I am?”

“Who do you say I am?” That is Jesus’ question to you also. The most important question anyone will ever be faced with.

Who is Jesus? Today Luke takes us to the mountaintop with Jesus, Peter, James and John for the most dazzling show and tell presentation ever. As Jesus 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 splendour, and were talking with him.

For Luke’s original audience, familiar with the Old Testament and longing for the Messiah it pointed to, this conversation with Moses and Elijah is most significant. In Exodus 24, it was Moses who took three companions (Aaron, Nadab and Ahibu) up the mountain to meet with God where the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain. A cloud covered the mountain and Moses went up into it and there God spoke to him. Afterwards Moses’ face shone after being in God’s presence. And it was believed by the people of old that Elijah would literally return as the forerunner to the coming of the Saviour, based on what the prophet Malachi had said: “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.” (Malachi 4:5).

So Luke tells us that there on the Mount of Transfiguration, Elijah stands in the presence of the Saviour his return was supposed to herald. Moses, also, stands in the presence of one who is greater than he. For whereas Moses could only give the Ten Commandments—which cannot save us but only show us how much we need a Saviour—Jesus has brought his saving help to the world by fulfilling them perfectly for all people, and freeing us from the condemnation of the law with his sacrificial death, to win forgiveness of sins for the life of the world.
This is the ‘departure’ which Jesus was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem, which Moses and Elijah were speaking with him about—his betrayal, arrest, trial and crucifixion where he bore the sins of the world on his shoulders. This is what Jesus had already explained to his disciples himself, just before today’s text: that he must suffer many things, be rejected by 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.
But his disciples didn’t understand. Jesus’ talk of his departure seemed impossible. It all sounded like such a defeat—as today’s colloquial language would put it—“an epic fail.” Up until this point, Jesus had brought people freedom, life, hope and peace by miraculously triumphing over the forces of nature, the demonic realm, sickness and even death itself. If he had overcome even death how could he now possibly succumb to it? They didn’t understand that Jesus could only be the Saviour of the world by taking our place on the Cross, dying to save us.

So the disciples are given a fleeting revelation of Jesus’ glory to assure them about Jesus’ identity and mission. Jesus was shown plainly to be much more than merely a special person; a good moral teacher or social revolutionary—but in Christ, the glory of God has come to earth and is in the midst of his people. He is not merely Joseph and Mary’s son, but the Son of God from all eternity, confirmed by the booming voice from heaven: “This is my Son whom I have chosen, listen to him.”

This fleeting revelation of Jesus’ divine glory was to assure the disciples that even though he would be handed over to the ruling authorities to unjustly suffer and die, this was no failure—in fact the very way he would conquer sin, death and the devil. His death would not end with death, but with his resurrection, and new life with God for all those who trust in him. All that was shown on the mount of Transfiguration, preserved for us in today’s Gospel text—the presence of the key Old Testament figures Elijah and Moses, the mountain, the glory cloud, the voice of God, Jesus’ shining face and garments—all powerfully show that Jesus is the fulfilment of everything that God had promised his people from of old.

Peter said to Jesus: “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.” Peter was right. It was good to be there, in the presence of the Saviour of the world. But Peter hasn’t listened. He can’t hang on to the moment. They can’t have glory without the Cross. Jesus must continue on the pathway of God’s mission and go to Jerusalem to suffer and die for the sins of the world, and restore the world to God through his own precious blood. Just as he did with Moses and his companions from ancient days, God again speaks to those on the mountain top. “This is my Son, whom I have chosen” he says of Jesus. “Listen to him.”

We’ve heard the profound connections that the Old Testament has with our text today, showing God’s glory in Jesus, and Jesus being the fulfilment of all that was promised. Yet there is a noticeable difference too. In Exodus, when Moses went up on the mountain, and the glory of the LORD dwelt on Mount Sinai, the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day God called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud (Exodus 24:15-16).

Seven days. That reminds us of the six days of creation and God’s resting on the seventh day—the pattern of our 7 day week. Yet in today’s text Luke speaks of 8 days. It was about 8 days after Jesus had spoken of his death and resurrection that he went up the mountain with Peter, John and James.

In the theological journal First Things, Dale Coulter explains: “…the eighth day signals a day that is beyond the seven-day cycle of weeks and thus stands outside of the normal movement of time. It is the dawn of a new age in which time comes to be fulfilled in a kind of eternal stable movement around God. This kind of talk about the eighth day underscores the in-breaking of the divine into the movement of history to bring it to a final consummation.” In simple terms, the 8th day represents Gods eternal ‘out of this world’ realm that is beyond our worldly time of 24 hours 7 days a week.

Who is Jesus? The dazzling manifestation of his glory and the mention of 8 days shows he is the Son of God from all eternity; the Christ in whom God’s 8th day of eternal reign of glory and grace has come into our world that is trapped in bondage to sin, death and decay. Although we don’t have the sound and light show that the disciples did on the Mount of Transfiguration in our Gospel reading, we don’t have to ascend the mountain to find God.

He comes down to us. While we gather in this simple church building, we don’t see Jesus in radiant glory with clothes as bright as a flash of lightning. Nonetheless, God who is present everywhere is personally present here working in a special way unlike anywhere else. He brings his grace and divine help and salvation through his word, through baptism and Holy Communion, bringing divine forgiveness, favour, help and blessing for us.

And so it is good for us to be here…in the presence of Christ who faithfully followed his Father’s will all the way to the Cross, suffering and dying for the sins of the world, and triumphing over death with his mighty resurrection. Here, and now, in the Person of the risen, crucified Christ, the 8th day that is God’s reign of grace and his realm of eternity comes into our world and our time, and the Christ continues to bless his people.

Even though he is invisible to human eyes Jesus stands before us, in the fullness of his glory, at the font. It is not the pastor that baptises a person, but really it is Jesus. That is why from the earliest times, baptism fonts were Octagonal in shape—with 8 sides, symbolising the reality that by baptism into Christ, God brings about a new creation; ransoming sinners from the prison of sin, death and hell and bringing them into his kingdom of light and life, giving them ears to hear God’s word and mouths to proclaim it, recreating hearts to love and serve him, and incorporating them into the eighth day of Jesus’ resurrection, and eternal life.

That is what he did for all of us in our baptism. But baptism is not a magic act that saves apart from faith. Baptism and faith go together. Baptism is the means by which God promises to send his Spirit to begin the work of faith that justifies us in God’s presence; faith that must be nurtured throughout life. Faith that comes from gladly hearing and learning God’s word.

And so it is vital that we all keep coming to continue to listen to Jesus, for if we keep firm in our faith by continuing to listen to him, we share in everything that he promises, and what Peter James and John saw in today’s Gospel reading is a preview of what we will see. Through faith in Christ, we will be in the company of Moses and Elijah and Peter and James and John, and all the saints throughout time. Through faith in Christ, we will see his shining face and clothes as white as lightning. We will see our Saviour in all his glory, not just for a fleeting glimpse, but for all eternity. Amen.

Transfiguration of Jesus.

Exodus 34: 29-35; 2 Corinthians 3:12 -4:2 Luke 9:28-36gordon5

Today is the last Sunday in Epiphany – the season of the Christian year which celebrates, as the name implies, the revelation of Christ’s glory, the shining forth of God’s glory in Him. The lection from the holy gospel of St. Luke directs our attention to the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain top where the apostles behold his glory and hear the confirming voice of God.

The gospel lesson is associated with the reading from the book of Exodus (chp.34) which relates God’s confirming of the covenant made on Sinai with Moses which the people broke, and how, descending from his second mountain top meeting with God, Moses’ face shone with the reflected glory of God; who is revealed to Moses on the mountain: God preserves Moses as the representative of rebellious Israel in the presence of God’s holiness by hiding him in the cleft of the rock. God’s glory shining in Moses’ face is the glory of a God who remains faithful to a faithless people, preserves them as God’s own in the midst of their sin. This reflected glory of God was such that every time he addressed the people Moses had to put a veil over his face in order that God’s reflected glory may not overwhelm them because of their rebellion in the presence of God represented by the reflected glory of Moses’ face.

It is no accident that the New Testament account of Jesus transfiguration on the mountain echo this experience of Moses in the foundational event of God’s covenanted faithfulness to his people, in spite of their faithlessness.

There is the scene itself, the cloud on the mountain top as the place of revelation, where God’s glory is revealed. The conversation between the transfigured Jesus and Moses and Elijah speaks of an “Exodus”, a “departure”, which Jesus will accomplish in Jerusalem. The gospel writer says the event on the mountain took place after eight days. The eighth day, the day after the Sabbath, is the Resurrection Day, this day which was understood in the early church as the fulfilment of the seven days of creation.

In the transfiguration therefore we are to understand that the God who created the world, called a people to be a light to the nations, now, in God’s only Son, brings to a conclusion the divine creative and reconciling purpose. In Christ’s face we see unveiled, the glory of God the Father.

The basis of this congruence between the Old Testament narrative concerning the story of God’s purposes for humankind in creation and covenant and the account of Jesus’ transfiguration is the ground swell of God’s faithfulness. It is that we might see that God is not put off by Israel being, as they are described in the 34th., chapter of Exodus from which we read the Old Testament lesson, “a stiff-necked people”. God remains faithful to the promise, “I shall be your God”. This promise stands, come what may, whatever the cost. Moses’ prayerful plea to God now comes to fulfilment, his prayer that God, “Go in the midst of us……pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thy inheritance”. (v.9).

In Jesus that is precisely what God does: he is the way in which God answers Moses’ prayer. The glory of the mount of transfiguration consists in this: God is not only the God who promises to be Israel’s God in utter faithfulness as God, but now in Jesus God’s Son enters into the situation of God’s rebellious people; identifying God’s flesh with their godforsaken cause, the godforsaken cause of all people, and in their place, for their sake, confesses the truth about the untruth of the human situation. He responds in perfect obedience to the Father, not for his own sake, He as the Son is ever one with the Father, He responds for the sake of all humankind. He does what is right in our place for our sakes. This is the manner in which Moses’ prayer of (v.9)., “Go in the midst of us……pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thy inheritance” is so decisively answered.

Thus, Moses and Elijah speak to Jesus at the very moment of His transfiguration of his “Exodus”, his “departure” which he is to accomplish in Jerusalem. The Exodus to which they refer is now not that journey from the bondage of slavery in Egypt to the freedom of the promised land, but the Exodus of the Son of God through death to the freedom of life in relationship to God for our sake, an Exodus from sin to righteousness from death to life: accomplished once and for all people.

In this strange way, by the journey of God’s Son into the far country of our fallen humanity, God not only remains faithful to the covenant with Israel and with creation from God’s side he also establishes the faithfulness of our humanity to God in the humanity of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

It is this miracle of grace which is the subject of Jesus transfiguration. The revelation of God’s glory, the shining forth of his light in the darkness of the world, is the glory of his grace; God’s self-abandonment to the cause of the creature in the shameful corner where God finds us all. The utter faithfulness of God, God’s determination to be our God, no matter what the cost, is the essence of the glory of Christ which the Apostles, behold on that mountain of transfiguration. What they see is the transfiguration of our humanity in the humanity of the crucified God. They see in some manner the uncreated light in which God dwells for which the writers of the gospel are lost for words to describe. In St Mark’s version of the transfiguration Chp 9:3, he says, “His garments became gleaming, exceedingly white, such that no Fuller on the earth could whiten them.”

But what the Apostles see and what they understand are two different things. At this decisive moment in Jesus’ ministry, when his glory is revealed, they are asleep, as in the moment of his passion, so here too the apostle’s sleep. How incomprehensible it is to us that here the Apostolic foundation of the church is asleep at this critical moment of divine revelation: but there it is. No one thought it expedient or in the interests of the church’s good government that the account of such an embarrassing situation should be omitted from their record of this event. But the matter is compounded. Peter suggests in his confusion that perhaps it would be a good thing to build houses there, but, as the gospel writer says, he says this because “he didn’t know what to say!”

The apostle’s incomprehensible ignorance and inappropriate response represent the truth about the church in every age. As Luther once put it, when we meet with the grace of the gospel, we are all “like cows staring at a new gate”. The depth of the mystery of God’s presence with us and for us, in the way of Jesus to the cross as the revelation of his divine glory, the uncreated light of His presence, is never a reality the church can manage or programme for its own purposes. Though the Lord only knows we, like Peter, are always attempting to build houses to contain and manage the presence of his glory in Christ. To turn the Christian faith into a religious aura which surrounds our self-chosen life styles, to make the Christian faith into a programme that can be packaged and sold as another consumer item in the great supermarket of ideas, where one pays your money and takes your pick.

Or we have had our senses so dulled by what we take to be our pious fantasies, our assumed familiarity with the Jesus who accompanies us on life’s way, as if He were a well-known part of our everyday domestic routine so that, like Peter, we become insensitive to His glory and are found in fact to be asleep in His transfigured presence.

But Jesus glory is revealed; not in spite of but precisely because the church is present and represented in the Apostolic incomprehension and unbelief. For Jesus is there present with them in their incomprehension and unbelief:  in His own strange way Christ constitutes, rules and renews His church. As Luther put it in his own inimitable way “the church lives and grows when I am drinking beer with my friend Philip of Armsdorf!”

So, despite themselves, the apostles and therefore the church, are given to share Christ’s transfigured glory. For it is precisely for such as these, the uncomprehending and unbelieving, that Jesus is there. His transfiguration is the shining forth of the light of the glory of God who justifies the ungodly. The church is truly Apostolic when the glory of this mystery of God’s grace is found at the centre of its life and witness; when the church acknowledges that it has no other obligation or purpose than that this should be shown to be the case in every sphere of its life. It is this reality that is celebrated and realised in the mystery of the proclaimed word of the scriptures and the holy eucharist in which we receive nothing more or less than Christ’s own body and blood, broken and shed for us. 

Dr. Gordon Watson.

Transfiguration Sunday

The Text: Mark 9:2-9

Today’s sermon is brought to you by the numbers 6 and 3, and the wordallanb ‘listen’.

Six days.

God made the world in six days…and on the seventh He rested.

We’re to work for six days…and then on the seventh we’re to rest in what God does for us.

The glory of the Lord surrounded Mt Sinai in the wilderness for six days before Moses could enter into His presence on the seventh day.

Six times Joshua and the people of Israel walked around the city of Jericho, and on the seventh the walls came down in a shout.

And the transfiguration of our Lord happened after six days.

When St Mark has a habit of saying everything happened immediately, it should surprise us when there’s a break in this pattern – in fact we hear there’s a six-day break in the immediacy of Jesus’ work! But as we’ve just heard, the number six is significant in God’s story of salvation because it sets us up for what happens on the seventh day. We should stop and witness what God is doing on this seventh day.

So, while we’re surprised there’s a break in Mark’s narrative, it shouldn’t come as a surprise there were six days between what happened just beforehand and this seventh day where He was transformed in front of the disciples; where God revealed Jesus to be His beloved Son whom we should listen to.

But what happened beforehand?

Well, it was six days ago when Peter had confessed Jesus to be the Christ. No sooner had he made this Spirit-led confession that Jesus announced He would suffer many things; be rejected by the elders, priests and scribes; be killed; and then rise again after three days.

But this troubled Peter. After all, Peter had witnessed all the miracles of Jesus – all the healings (including the healing of his own mother-in-law), raising people from the dead, and how Jesus cast out demons – which no doubt had led him to the conclusion Jesus is none other than the promised Messiah spoken about in the Scriptures.

So, what Jesus was talking about shouldn’t happen. Peter figured this is now the time when the Scriptures would be fulfilled and when everything was set right. This is the time of Israel’s freedom and glory! This is the time when the glory of God is revealed so the nation of Israel could rule and bless all the nations!

So, this is why Peter tells Jesus off!

But in response, Jesus tells Peter off! He said Peter’s got in mind the things of man and not the things of God. The work of God isn’t all about health and wealth and glory and power, but it also includes suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection.

So, it seems Peter pondered Jesus’ words for six days, and on the seventh he saw the glory of God reflected in the person of Jesus Christ. But he still didn’t get it.

And neither do we. We often struggle to understand what it all means, which is why the number three enters our meditation.

You see, there were three.

There were three disciples: Peter, James and John.

There were three people in front of them: Jesus, Moses and Elijah.

The number three is a number of community – just like there were three visitors who visited Abraham before God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah, and it’s also the number of persons who form our Triune God.

But it’s also a number of completeness – for example, a complete journey of three days between one place and another (which is mentioned many times in Scripture), a three-day meditation for Jonah in the belly of a fish, and it’s also the number of days before Jesus would rise from death.

Peter, not quite getting the significance of what it meant for Jesus to be the promised Messiah, offers to build three shelters – one each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. After all, this is a great place and great time for God’s people! Here we have a gathering of the greatest prophets of all time: Moses the Law-giver, Elijah the mighty prophet who was taken up into heaven, and now Jesus the powerful teacher and miracle-worker!

So, let’s retain and preserve this holy moment in time and space! Let’s all come to hear the wisdom of these mighty men! Let’s all come near this holy place to have our diseases healed, our demons cast out, and our loved ones raised from death! Let’s all bask in the glory of our mighty and awesome God for the rest of time!

If only!

Isn’t this what we also want?

Wouldn’t we love to meet Moses, or Elijah, or Jesus face-to-face?

I mean, wouldn’t we love to ask them questions on what it’s like to have such strong faith? Wouldn’t we love to know more about their mighty victories over Pharaoh and the Egyptians, the prophets of Baal, or about Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the devil?

Wouldn’t we love to come near and have each of them teach us, touch us, and encourage us in a world gone crazy? Wouldn’t we love to go to one of those shelters to have our bodies restored to its youthful vigour, or to have our bodies healed from cancer or tumours or from dementia? Wouldn’t we want to bring our departed loved ones to the tent of Jesus, so He could raise them from death for our pleasure and comfort?

But Peter doesn’t know what he’s asking…and neither do we.

So often our wishes are all about us—what we want. So often, sinful human beings have in mind the things of a rebellious humanity.

But this isn’t what Jesus is about. He’s here to do the will of God; not the will of men.

God’s plan seems backward and strange to us. We see or hear a moment of glory thinking this is God’s plan for us which is supposed to last, but it doesn’t – at least, not on this earth. What often lasts are our troubles, sicknesses, fights, and  deteriorating bodies as age takes its toll .

The moment of Jesus’ transfiguration was a glimpse of God’s glory to strengthen Jesus for His journey through His own suffering and death, but it was also for frightened, confused and slow-to-learn disciples like us who look for assurance of God’s glory and power during our own sufferings and journey toward death.

When we see or experience suffering and rejection and death, we often reckon this isn’t part of God’s plan. We want the glory and health and strength and power and joy to last, but it doesn’t. God’s glory doesn’t match our own ideas of glory. Jesus told us His glory comes through suffering and rejection. His glory comes through sacrifice and death. His glory also comes in resurrection and restoration for those who trust Him.

Which brings us to the word of today: listen.

In this case, it’s not supposed to be a passive word where we just listen and not respond. It’s intended to be matched with a trust in what we listen to which also responds in obedient action.

You see, when God speaks, things happen.

When He speaks: light appears, waters divide, and worlds are created. When He speaks, people like Moses and Elijah respond in faith and pass on the Word of God.

Similarly, when His holy name is spoken over the waters of Baptism sins are forgiven, faith is stirred, people are adopted as God’s own, our bodies receive the benefits of Jesus’ resurrected body, and the promise of eternal life is given. When Jesus’ Word is spoken over bread and wine it also becomes His body and blood to bring to troubled sinners His forgiveness, life, and salvation.

In other words, the Word of God is powerful and active. The trouble is, we often don’t listen, and if we do listen, we don’t always respond in faith and trust.

We’re more likely to listen to our own fears and believe them. We’re more likely to listen to the latest feel-good motto or advert. We’re more likely to listen to what our itching ears want to hear. We’re more likely to listen to the lies and deceptive whispers of the devil who still asks: ‘Did God really say…?’

In other words, the call for us to listen to Jesus places us on a collision course with spiritual warfare which is just as volatile as the battle between Moses and Pharaoh and between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Because of our selfishness, our flesh resists God’s Word, and so does the world. In the end it’s a question of who we’re going to listen to, who we’re going to trust, who we’re going to follow, and who we’re going to obey.

So, the call to listen is a call to deny our own selfish will and let God’s will be done in our life, even if His will involves suffering for His sake, patience in times of trouble, endurance in faith when the world criticizes and condemns, willing service to the outcast and troubled, and forgiving those who don’t deserve such grace.

It’s also a call to believe something we struggle to believe. That Jesus did this for you and me. That we’re not as good as we make out we are. That our actions, words and thoughts are motivated by selfishness, greed, pride, and fear. That Jesus would choose to come into this cruel and heartless world to suffer and die at the hands of His own faithful people. That He wouldn’t defend His innocence or call for justice from the cross, but instead cried out to His Father to forgive us because we don’t know what we’re doing.

While God spoke His Word through Moses and the prophets like Elijah, He now speaks to us through Jesus. We’re made His disciples through faith and we’re to respond to His teachings of glory through suffering, love through service, and forgiveness by grace.

We listen to His words of forgiveness, and through faith we learn to forgive those around us. We listen to His sufferings and learn our own suffering serves a purpose to strengthen our trust in Him. We listen to His death and learn death no longer has a claim on you or I because we believe in the resurrection of the dead through Christ.

Yes, after six days Jesus is transfigured before his three disciples, and in this momentary glimpse of His true identity we’re called to listen – to listen to what God is doing for us as Jesus journeys toward the moments He was betrayed, denied, whipped, crucified, died, and rose again.

We listen as the glory of God is revealed through blood and sacrifice and as His love pronounces everything is finished. We listen so we can rest from our own work and witness what God has done for us through Jesus, the Son of God, with whom the Father is pleased.

And, as we listen to Him, we’re called to respond in faith, because it’s through trusting the words and actions of Jesus that the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Transfiguration Sunday

The Text: Matthew 17:1-9

 

Here’s a question for you. You’re not allowed to phone a friend, but you could chat with the person next to you. The question is: what is the first commandment? The answer is: ‘You shall have no other gods before me.’ Why would God command that? Is he some sort of control freak or on a power trip? bobIsaiah 40:18-20 (NIV) really gives us the answer:

To whom, then, will you compare God?

  What image will you compare him to?

As for an idol, a craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it.
A man too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot. He looks for a skilled craftsman to set up an idol that will not topple.”

 In the religions of the pagan nations surrounding Israel, each person had their own personal idol they would have had carved or had made and each year they would take it up the mountain for an enthronement festival. God’s own people Israel got caught up in this abomination. Either they made an idol overlaid with gold, or if they are too poor for this, used a block of wood and hoped that it would not be vulnerable to rotting when exposed to the elements! Further, these blocks of wood and stone and metal couldn’t be in all places at once. They couldn’t be a saving presence wherever the people were, so they had to be carted around, and then set up and chained to the carts so that they didn’t fall over in transit! Quite comical, really. And the Israelites themselves fell for this cult of nothingness.

 The irony is astounding. Whereas the Almighty Creator created humankind in his image, mere humans created idols in their own image hoping by them to control the weather, but which were instead impacted by the weather. Those which were not everywhere present had to be carried around, and chained down so they wouldn’t fall over. And so the ironic reality for those who worshipped these idols is that they are not freed by, but chained by these idols and the worship of them and this is their downfall. For even though these idols had carved eyes they couldn’t see. Even though they had carved mouths they couldn’t speak. They were not life giving. They could not save, but only enslave.

 By contrast, today’s account of the transfiguration clearly portrays Jesus as the true living God. Unlike the little idols that had to be pulled up a mountainside on a trolley, Jesus leads Peter, James and John up a high mountain to be with him alone. And for a brief shining moment Jesus is shown in the fullness of his glory to indisputably be the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. And that’s the Father’s verification from the cloud: “This is my Son; with him I am well-pleased.”

 This Jesus is the One, who, up until this point in Matthew’s Gospel, has overcome the Devil’s temptation of him in the wilderness, he has healed lepers, the paralysed, and cast out demons from crowds of people. While he was in a boat with his disciples, he effortlessly calmed the storm that was lashing at it by simply telling it to stop. He restores a little girl to life and heals a woman who had been suffering from bleeding for 12 years. He restores sight to the blind. He feeds the multitudes with five loaves and two fish. He walks on the sea.

 There is nothing outside the scope of Jesus’ authority and power. So confesses Peter, just before our text today, in Matthew 16: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

 There on the unnamed mountain, for a few moments, the appearance of Jesus is changed so that his glorious divinity is on show. This really is the Son of God, the Saviour, God made flesh who dwelt among us, the One in whom the fullness of God dwells in bodily form. Accompanying this dazzling visual manifestation of God’s glory is the Father’s declaration: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Then adds: “Listen to him!”

 Why? Because Peter’s not listening.

 Peter just has to say something. We’ve probably all wished that at times: “If only I knew what to say”. Imagine this spectacular sight; it’s impossible to comprehend; it would be mind-blowing—what would we do or say? Peter blurts out the seemingly bizarre offer: “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.”

 Peter wants to hang on to the mountain-top experience. He wants to bask in the glory. He hasn’t listened to what Jesus had just told them (for us, the verses immediately before today’s text: that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things and be killed—to which Peter replies: “No Lord, that will never happen to you!”—and that his disciples must also lose their lives by dying to self and take up their cross and follow him.

 We shouldn’t be too hard on Peter and the others. We have the benefit of the whole story. We’ve received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost to bring to remembrance everything Jesus had said. They were about to lose their dear friend. They were confused and didn’t understand. They expected Jesus was coming to free them; to save them. How then could Jesus possibly talk of death on a Cross? That hardly sounds like the victory and rescue that people had hoped for and had come to see in Jesus.

 Jesus’ claim that he must suffer and die smacks of failure, defeat, and compromise of God’s mission. How can suffering and death possibly happen to the One who is the agent of salvation? How can Jesus succumb to the very forces that he’s just overcome? Where is victory in a ruler who is going to be brutally murdered? Such humiliation sounds preposterous!

 Jesus’ death is not defeat or failure. The transfiguration is the visual confirmation that the freedom and hope they long for in Jesus will be fulfilled. But glory can only come after the Cross, where his death is the beginning of his victorious rule, once for all. Here Jesus will liberate from sin, Satan and death itself.

 Perhaps, like the disciples, we too have experiences in our faith journey where God does not work in the way we would expect. We might struggle to understand what he is doing—or seemingly not doing—in our lives. We might not like the sound of ‘dying to self’ and ‘taking our Cross’ and following Jesus. But only when we do, do we grow in Christian faith and love and life, becoming more like Jesus himself.

 “This is My Son; with him I am well-pleased. Listen to him.” When our faith journey is not going as we might expect it to, our text today gives us hope in three ways. First, in Christ, God is a personal God. He is a God of communication. A relational God. He has something important to say to us. He wants to speak to us. Unlike carved idols, He can…and does speak.  He wants to talk with us and reveal himself and his saving will to us. “This is my Son; with him I am well-pleased. Listen to him.

 Second, when we do listen to Jesus, we grow in the life of God. When we hold firm to the Word of God and endure in faith to the end, we too will join Peter and James and John and will see Christ face to face in all his glory, not just for a fleeting glimpse but for all eternity. Despite our failings and ways we haven’t taken up our Cross and followed Jesus, but have followed our own heart, or the times we haven’t died to self but revelled in it, through trusting in Christ and his word, we are pronounced righteous, not guilty and we will see Jesus face to face for all eternity and he will say to us, as he did to the terrified disciples: “Do not be afraid.”

 Third, until that time, whenever that day will be, Jesus journeys with us. “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” the Father says. 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 came down with them.

 Jesus is on the plain with us too. He is in the wilderness. He is in those parts of our lives where there seems to be no hope of change for the better, those parts of our lives where we just don’t know what to do, who to turn to, or what to pray. Jesus journeys with us in the depths of our despair and brokenness, our illness, our struggles, our grief and pain. He journeys with us and will remain faithful to his promises even in the times we are unfaithful to him.

 How does our appearance need to be transfigured? Where do the commandments painfully show us the areas in our lives where real change needs to come? As we are called to die to self by picking up our cross and following Jesus, hear his comforting words to each of us: “Get up. … Do not be afraid.”

 For he is with us and will remain faithful to his promises to us to the very day when he will take us up the mount and we see him in the fullness of his glory, worshipping him forever in brilliant and dazzling light. There, our mortal bodies will also be transfigured to be completely without sin and frailty. Our face will shine like the sun, our clothes will be as white as the brightest light as we stand in the presence of the Lamb.

 Praise be to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, because all of this is possible only because of him alone. The mountain of transfiguration points ahead to the mountain of Calvary, where Jesus’ blood brought us victory over the devil and released us from our sins.

 His outstretched arms nailed to the wood of the cross are the keys to the gate of Heaven, for us. Nothing else could possibly be added to his sufficient work. Nothing else needs to be. You share in all of this, personally, through your baptism into Christ. By virtue of baptism, we become children of God. That is why the Father’s proclamation about Jesus in our text are his words to us: “You are my son/my daughter whom I love, with you I am well pleased.”

 Where else could you possibly find more precious words?

Amen.

Third of March Transfiguration

Galatians 3 : 26 – 29

 ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’gus1

 All people are equal.

Now there is nothing new about this, is there? But when you really understand the implications of our being equal, this becomes a radically new idea!

I am sure that if you were in a large gathering of people, in a busy shopping centre or at a major sporting event (as long as it wasn’t a footy game involving Collingwood!); and you asked people randomly if they believe everybody is of equal value and worth, you would find very few people disagreeing with this idea.

Equality is a foundational value of most western democracies.

It is foundational for our democratic system of government.

But what very few people in western nations ever consider, or ask, is: ‘where does this idea of equality come from?’ ‘Why do we believe that all people are equal?’

 However, in saying this, we must understand two realities …

  1. While we may say and believe that all people are equal, our society rarely treats people equally!

It is an idea we aim for, but mostly fail to live out; either personally or in community. But while it is true that we fail to embrace this value, this does not mean we don’t inwardly believe that it is a value we ought to hold and embrace in life.

     2.But while all people are equal, this does not mean that all ideas are equal.

Everyone has equal value, but the values and ideals we may hold are not equal. Just think of some of the evil ideas people have sought to carry out over the centuries. Like the ethnic cleansing of communities, undertaken by Hitler, Pol Pot or the more recent actions of the Myanmar military against the Rohingya minorities. Or even our own interactions with our Indigenous people. In communities where we hold people as equal, purging a society or an ethnic group due to their heritage is simply appalling. The people who push these attitudes and actions are of equal value, but we do not give their ideas equal value.

Now, if you were to ask why we think people are equal, the answer will usually be: ‘this is what everyone thinks; and this is what everyone has always thought! But neither of these responses is true!

The reality is: people have not always treated everyone as equal!

During the time of Jesus, the Greco-Roman world did not believe people were of equal value and worth. the well known Greek philosophers, Aristotle and Plato did not believe all people were equal. Aristotle believed there were subclasses within society, where the lower classes of slaves existed to serve the upper classes.

The term he used for these slaves was neither ‘male’ nor ‘female’. They were non-persons!  He believed people were born into that role. They were the property of their owners. Literally: ‘living tools’. In his mind slaves were much like working animals, for they both, with their bodies, served the needs of life.

Now, how would you like to be reduced to a ‘thing – a living tool’, for others to use?God’s own Son, Jesus, came into this world of structural inequality!

Teaching and treating all people he encountered with equal dignity and worth.

Around the world there are many communities with structural inequality.

If a nation chooses to follow the Hindu teaching, the logical outcome will be structural inequality. That is underpinned by two key ideas …

  1. Firstly, through reincarnation – where every soul returns again and again.
  2. Secondly, your behaviour in each life will impact your place in the next life. This is what is called ‘karma’. So, upper class Brahmins feel justified in their privileges, because this reflects their past life. Theirs is a culture where inequality is ‘institutionalized’ through the religious philosophy and teaching.

So why then, did Jesus and the early church treat people equally?

Where did this idea come from?

It is really an Old Testament concept from the Jewish faith which is now foundational to what we as Christians believe. The creation story in Genesis tells us that: ‘God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’ (Genesis 1:27) Every human being has God’s own signature on them!

All of Scripture repeats and echoes this idea. You are of worth because God made you. You are precious, because you reflect God’s own image. You are loved, because God promises to be with you.

It doesn’t matter whether you are brilliant, powerful and wealthy, or whether you are poor, disabled, or unable to contribute in some ways, before God you are of equal worth. So this principle of everyone being equal must be what we believe. It must be what we hold on to and promote in the world.

The beautiful words of Psalm 139 reinforce this concept of equality … (Psalm 139:13-16)

“For you (God) created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful,

I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place,

when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body;

all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

It is helpful to remember that equality became the foundation for modern democracies like the United States of America. In their Declaration of Independence, it boldly states …

‘We hold these truths to be self evident, that all people are created equal.’

Jesus taught and treated people as if they were equal.

At a time when people believed in inequality; Jesus taught equality!

He tells us the: ‘Parable of the lost sheep.’ The shepherd leaves the ninety nine sheep and goes after the one lost. In a powerful way this teaches us that everyone matters and all are precious to him because they are equally valued. Every single one is precious – eternally precious.

In John’s gospel, Jesus also outlines the two ways a shepherd cares for his sheep …

  1. One is the common pen for holding sheep in the village overnight.

A number of different shepherds would come in from the fields with their sheep for the night. They were kept in a common holding pen until the next morning. Each shepherd would call his sheep. Recognizing the shepherd’s voice, they would follow, for they knew and trusted their own shepherd.

  1. The other is where the shepherd is with his sheep, in the countryside for a number of days.

The shepherd would build a small holding pen from sticks and branches. There was no door to the pen, so the shepherd lay across the opening through which the sheep came and went. He was their protector.

The apostle Paul reminds us that we are all one in Jesus.

All the barriers of class and status are broken down and destroyed. In Jesus, we are all equal.

These structural inequalities of the Greco-Roman world remind us that now everything is changed. In Jesus!  ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave of free, male or female, for we are all one in Jesus!’

So what does equality look like in our lives?

It begins with our attitude. Considering and treating everyone as equal. ‘Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God,’ we are told. (Romans 15:7)  Accept the lonely, the poor, the sick, the unemployed and the homeless. Accept them, as in Jesus, God lovingly accepts you.

Do that in your life today?  When we treat all people equally, we bring praise to God!

Gus Schutz