READINGS: 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36
There are some songs that seem to have travelled around the world quite easily, even if no one knows why they every came to be.
For example, this one:
She’ll be coming ’round the mountain when she comes, (when she comes).
She’ll be coming ’round the mountain when she comes, (when she comes).
She’ll be coming ’round the mountain, she’ll be coming ’round the mountain,
She’ll be coming ’round the mountain when she comes, “toot toot.
She’ll be driving six white horses when she comes, etc.
She’ll be wearing red pyjamas when she comes, etc.
Oh we’ll all come out to meet her when she comes, etc.
She’ll be carrying three white puppies when she comes etc.
We will kill the old red rooster when she comes, etc.
We will all have chicken and dumplings when she comes, etc.
We’ll all be shouting’ “Hallelujah” when she comes, etc.
Bizarre really. There’s a worse version that goes like this:
Oh ye cannae shove yer granny off a bus
No ye cannae shove yer granny off a bus
No ye cannae shove yer granny, ’cause she’s yer mammy’s mammy,
Ye cannae shove yer granny off a bus!
And then the second verse:
Ye can shove yer other granny off a bus
Oh ye can shove yer other granny off a bus
Oh ye can shove yer other granny, ’cause she’s yer daddy’s mammy,
Ye can shove yer other granny off a bus!
Thanks to the Scots we have these great songs for children. The grand old Duke of York is also known for going up and down – in his case a hill with 10 000 men. (We don’t know which Duke of York this refers to but quite a few of them had some bad military campaigns!)
This business of mountains – going up, down or around, is a good picture.
We talk of mountain top experiences.
Clearly this was one for Jesus.
But it is plumb in between two important events:
Eight days before there was Peter’s confession of Christ – his mountain top experience – after which Jesus tells them that he will die. Peter opposes him and get called “Satan”. He comes down with a bump.
And when they come down the mountain, there is this pitiful scene of a man’s only child convulsing as an evil spirit seizes him. The disciples had a go and couldn’t cast the thing out.
And Jesus tells them all:
8:41 ‘You faithless and depraved generation!’ said Jesus in reply. ‘How long shall I be with you and have to put up with you? Bring your son here.’
We don’t stay on mountain tops. They are meant to be times where we are strengthened in order to go back down the hill into the mess of things.
Yes we can have memories.
Peter wants to capture the moment building shelters (like the fest of Tabernacles or Booths). But even the feasts were temporary things.
These days Peter would have taken a selfie with Jesus, Moses and Elijah. 🙂
Tom Wright says this: All the gospel-writers follow the story of the transfiguration with the story of a boy who is desperately ill, so sick that the disciples hadn’t been able to cure him. They seem to be telling us that the two go together: the mountain-top experience and the shrieking, stubborn demon.
Many people prefer to live their lives without either, to be people of the plateau, undramatic and unexciting. God seems to call some to that kind of life. But, for many, dramatic visions and spiritual experiences are balanced by huge demands. The more open we are to God, and to the different dimensions of God’s glory, the more we seem to be open to the pain of the world. We are right to be wary when we return from some great worship service, when we rise from a time of prayer in which God has seemed close and his love real and powerful. These things are never given for their own sake, but so that, as we are equipped by them, God can use us within his needy world.
(N. T. Wright (2004-01-01). Luke for Everyone (The New Testament for Everyone) (p. 114). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.)
A COUPLE OF THOUGHTS THEN
Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets. There are those who use this text to talk about the possibility of different ways of dying (seeing that Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind).
I don’t think that’s the real concern or point of this.
Jesus fulfils the roll of both – the lawgiver and the prophet. Of course Moses is also really a prophet.
The keys to unlock this are these two verses:
Luk 9:30 Two men, Moses and Elijah,
Luk 9:31 appeared in glorious splendour, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem.
His “departure” is at one level simply his death. We sometimes say to our children, “when I am no longer here” meaning when I am dead. And elsewhere we see Jesus using similar language:
Joh 14:2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.
Joh 14:3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
It sounds like a journey here too, but it is about his death.
At a more profound level the word used in the NT is ἔξοδος – exodus.
It’s Moses language isn’t it – the exodus from Egypt, the rescue from slavery and sin – is all about what Jesus is going to do.
It makes the discussion on the mountain top between the three of them a kind of team talk pending a major victory.
Like a cricket team gathering together to strategize. Or the senior management getting together to go over the plans for a takeover.
Jesus is the new Moses. He gives a new teaching too, and a lot of it in that period before his death, his departure.
- “This is my Son”. Listen to Him
Luk 9:35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”
This is the prophet. And more – he is the Son. There is this combination of the OT verses that speak of Him.
Firstly the Messianic Psalm 2. Psa 2:7 I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.
Secondly, the chosen servant who will suffer and who will save us all: Isa 42:1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.
Thirdly, as an example, the reference to Moses here: Deu 18:15 The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.
There is a reminder of the voice of affirmation at Jesus’ baptism too.
WHAT TO DO
At the end of it all, whether up the mountain or in the cut and thrust of life, with shrieking demons and the unbelief of the generations ours is no better than the one Jesus had a go at), there are the three words that settle everything.
Listen to Him.
When you’re living with the most appalling and consistent pain imaginable. Listen to Him.
When you have no idea what God is doing because everything you hoped for seems to have turned to custard. Listen to Him.
In times of greatest joy when a selfie is appropriate, and times of great sadness when you would rather not remember even what you look like. Listen to Him.
When you are facing the real prospect of disability or even death (and don’t we all face death considering the reality that life is a terminal condition). Listen to Him.
You can add on your issues, pains, failed hopes and unfulfilled dreams. But if you do, Listen to Him.
And if you have any issues with anyone – family, friends, church, neighbours, or me.
Make sure that you Listen to Him.
They did go up to the mountain to pray either way.
And church people always say “I’ll pray about it” but actually it’s often a ruse they use when they have made up their minds to be angry or unforgiving.
William Brosend tells this story to illustrate our hypocrisy and especially our prayerlessness; Many years ago a pastor attempted to form a prayer group in the congregation, and a parishioner responded that she agreed with Jesus that she should go into her closet and pray privately before the Lord. The pastor asked how often she did so. She responded, “That is not the point! The point is that if I did pray, I should do it all by myself.”
(Jarvis, Cynthia A. (2013-10-28). Feasting on the Gospels–Matthew, Volume 1 (Kindle Locations 3963-3965). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.)
I encourage you to take up the challenge of prayer and bible reading this Lent – and beyond.
- We don’t want to live in the valleys, or get stuck in the generation of the faithless.
- We don’t want to be overwhelmed by the shrieking demons.
- We don’t want to just survive either – lurching from one mountain top experience to another.
We need to find the balance – like Jesus – so that we can withdraw regularly – hear God’s affirming voice to us – and then come down or around the mountain and be useful people of God ushering in His Kingdom through our witness and example – so people will see Jesus in us. Every day.
We don’t have to go up that other grubby little hill called Golgotha. He has done that for us.
We do have to pay the price of the cost of discipleship. Following Him means the risks for us are great too. People tried to throw Jesus off a cliff after his first sermon.
No one ever said it would be easy.
Reading: Matthew 16:24 – 7:8
There are three accounts of this Transfiguration in the gospels. Like eye-witness accounts of any event, they differ from each other.
In all three, Moses and Elijah are seen. We’re not always sure what to do with that. Elijah was transported straight to heaven. Moses was buried by God, according to Deuteronomy 34. In Moab – at an unknown site. Of course there is an interesting reference to his death in Jude 1:9. Have a read through the week.
What do we learn from this?
In the context of Matthew, Peter is in the background before we even read this account. He’s the first to recognise Jesus as Messiah. He doesn’t fancy the news that Jesus will die – so becomes Satan in the plot. Then he (with the twins with issues – James and John) are given the encouragement of this amazing vision on a mountain.
And Peter again gets a bit confused – wanting to camp out on the mountain in booths or tabernacles. I don’t think Elijah and Moses were planning a vacation up there. Mark says in his observation – “He did not know what to say, they were so frightened”. Luke is more blunt, noting that Peter “did not know what he was saying” which sounds like a euphemism for losing the plot.
We too like Peter have our ups and downs. The mountain top experiences don’t last. And we too would have been afraid.
Visions can be scary. When I was teaching I used to tell my students about the time I saw dead people. Being boys they loved those stories. And the one about the man who was dead for four days and then raised from his coffin. He came to speak at our local pastor’s association – that was interesting! And the boys loved the story of the funeral I did for a gangster. I digress.
The time I saw dead people walk through the walls is the point. It can be scary. In this case the hallucinations were the side effect of post-operative drugs. That was the time – you may remember – that while wrestling with a fever and hallucinations, the phone rang. I answered it and one of Sheilagh’s business associates was on the line. I told her that we were on a high mountain (the Drakensberg which is the name know to Africans) – and that the phone did not work at that altitude. “Please call her on her mobile” I said, and cut her off.
A different mountain. Tom Wright writes about the mountain in these words:
Mount Tabor is a large, round hill in central Galilee. When you go there today with a party of pilgrims, you have to get out of your bus and take a taxi to the top. They say that God is especially pleased with the Mount Tabor taxi-drivers, because more praying goes on in the few minutes hurtling up or down the narrow mountain road in those cars than in the rest of the day, or possibly the week.
He goes on to say:
Mount Tabor is the traditional site of the transfiguration, the extraordinary incident which Matthew, Mark and Luke all relate about Jesus. Actually, we don’t know for sure that it took place there. It is just as likely that Jesus would have taken Peter, James and John– his closest associates– up Mount Hermon, which is close to Caesarea Philippi, where the previous conversation took place. Mount Hermon is more remote and inaccessible, which is of course why parties of pilgrims have long favoured Mount Tabor. From both mountains you get a stunning view of Galilee, spread out in front of you. *
They weren’t up there for the view, says Wright. This is one of those key moments – like Jesus’ baptism – where he is affirmed by a voice, and his followers are stunned and also told not to tell the story to anyone. There was obviously something specific for the three key men in Jesus’ team.
Here’s the key:
- Mark 9:7 – Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
- Matthew 17:4 Peter said to Jesus, “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.” 5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
- Luke 9:34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.
35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”
36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen.
There’s a conversation happening between Moses, Elijah and Jesus.
Peter makes a plan to build shelters and starts sharing his ideas.
In two of the three gospel accounts, while Peter is speaking – God interrupts.
Does he? Or is in fact Peter interrupting God’s work. The cloud of the presence descends. Things grow strange, perhaps a little dark – all three gospels talk about them being “enveloped” by the cloud.
- Then the voice.
- And the identification of the Son – Jesus – how he is valued, loved, chosen, with whom God is well pleased.
- And then the command: listen to Him.
Peter was on the wrong page really. But he got there in the end.
When Jesus was pinned up on the cross on another mountain – Calvary, Peter did badly again. As Lent begins this week and we prepare for 40 days until Easter, we are faced with our own faith response.
Are we sometimes on the wrong page? Think about that for a while. There were voices at our Session meeting this week – as we wrestled with some issues.
It was about when we meet for worship. Since my speech issues, we have been meeting at one combined service. We will ask you for your thoughts.
There was one voice that won’t go away in my head. It was the question about how we reach the people of Browns Bay on a Sunday morning – those down at the market.
That one I think will come around again.
On Mount Tabor – or Hermon, whichever it was, there was a command to the disciples: Listen to Him.
And when all is said and done, the commands of Jesus are crucial.
I suspect that the important ones include:
- Love one another as I have loved you.
- Do this in remembrance of me (communion today)
- Go into all the world
- Make disciples of all nations
You’ve probably got some that grab your attention too.
The disciples did listen to him. They made mistakes, they got things wrong, but they did follow Jesus! And most of them gave their lives in the service of the gospel.
I want to quote Tom Wright again – I can’t say it better:
Matthew, here as elsewhere, highlights the parallel between Jesus and Moses. Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt and then, before completing his task, went up Mount Sinai to receive the law. He then went up again, after the Israelites had drastically broken the law, to pray for them and to beg for God’s mercy. (Elijah, too, met God in a special way on Mount Sinai; but Matthew’s interest, throughout the gospel, is in the way in which Jesus is like Moses, only more so.) Towards the end of Moses’ life, God promised to send the people a prophet just like him (Deuteronomy 18), and gave the command: you must listen to him. Now, as Moses once again meets God on the mountain, the voice from the cloud draws attention to Jesus, confirming what Peter had said in the previous chapter. Jesus isn’t just a prophet; he is God’s own son, the Messiah, and God is delighted with what he is doing. The word to the disciples then is just as much a word to us today. If you want to find the way– the way to God, the way to the promised land– you must listen to him. *
That’s the gospel we have to tell others about. That’s why we are here.
May we listen to Him.
* Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Matthew for Everyone Part 2: Pt. 2 (New Testament for Everyone). SPCK. Kindle Edition.