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.