Luke 9:28-29 “About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.”
There is nothing else like this in Scripture. We are told that the face of Moses glowed after he met with God, but that was a fading reflection of the glory of God. This light was emanating from Jesus himself, bright like flashes of lightning. Matthew tells us that his face shone like the sun. Mark tells us that the clothes became whiter than anyone could bleach them. What was this all about?
For a few blessed moments Jesus was enjoying the glory that belongs to him as the Son of God. This was the glory that he ordinarily kept concealed behind his human skin and hair and clothes. This is the glory that today makes the sun obsolete in heaven, “… for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp” (Rev. 21:23). This is the glory that gives us a fuller and truer picture of who Jesus is: the eternal God, Lord of heaven and earth, Master of the universe and rightful Master of our own hearts.
Traditionally this event in Jesus’ life has been celebrated on the last Sunday before Lent. Before we spend the next 40 days remembering just how human, how weak, how vulnerable, how mortal Jesus had made himself, we have this reminder that Jesus possesses all the power and glory of God in heaven. The severity of his suffering should not rob us of our confidence that he is in control. It should not weaken our faith that he is the living Son of God. In the time line of his earthly life, this is also about where this glimpse of his glory fits. No doubt it served to fortify Jesus for the painful and frightening work ahead of him. It also offered Peter, James and John something to hold on to as they watched the events leading to his execution unfold.
But we don’t need to be entering the season of Lent to find challenges to our focus on who Jesus is– God clothed in human flesh. The challenges come from without and within. I once read an article by a rabbi complaining that Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ was going to close the hearts of many Jews to Jesus. Now what did he mean by that? He wasn’t interested in Jewish people coming to faith in Jesus as their Savior and God’s Son. He wanted a depiction of Jesus that would leave him at the level of a wise sage. He wanted a depiction of Jesus that would acknowledge historical inaccuracies in the gospel accounts. He wanted Jesus sanitized of both his divine glory and the depths of his human suffering for us.
Maybe that doesn’t sound like it has much to do with us. We don’t want Jesus stripped of his divine glory, do we? Actually, we struggle with this every day. In our hearts we would like to reduce Jesus to advice columnist or radio talk show host: people we generally respect for their opinions but feel free to pick and choose from their ideas. We would like to take Jesus a la carte. Against Jesus’ warnings we freely indulge our lusts because no one can see into our hearts anyway. We rationalize and defend our angry and hateful feelings, convincing ourselves that it is okay because, “I’m the victim of an injustice.” Maybe we don’t have the gall to address him about it out loud, but in our thoughts we complain about the way he is running the world. We object to the things he lets into our lives. Does that sound like people who acknowledge his glory as God and admit that they are beneath him? It is soul destroying sin that cannot coexist with trust and love.
Now look at Jesus on the mountain. If Jesus’ glory helps to keep our focus on him and his divinity, we get so much more than an earnest correction to our broken moral compass. Many world religions call for us to follow them. Jesus’ divine glory gives us the confidence that we are following the right one. Jesus isn’t just an expert on the subject, like so many other prophets. He is the subject. You see, if you want to get to know someone you could interview his friends, research his achievements, inquire about his tastes and preferences. That would be fine if all you wanted to do was hire him for a job.
But if you really want to get to know the person, don’t you have to give the individual your attention and focus? Jesus’ transfiguration assures us that Jesus is God. Get to know this individual, Jesus, then, and you’ll get to know God. And when we get to know him, we learn such wonderful things about him, if only we’ll remember to keep our focus on who he is.