(watch here: https://youtu.be/npdUfV2yYsw)
27Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ 28And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ 29He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’ 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’
1And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.’
2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
This morning we are celebrating one of the five key events in the Jesus narrative, the transfiguration of our Lord. It is an event, along with his baptism, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, that helps reveal Jesus as Christ, fully human and fully divine. It’s what distinguishes him from all other people that have ever been. Many have been baptized or crucified but none have also been transfigured, resurrected, and ascended. Only Jesus experienced all five events to reveal the full glory of God. And though there is a striking similarity between Jesus’ transfiguration and his baptism, what with the whole voice from heaven crying out, “This is my Son, my beloved,” the transfiguration is far more profound to those who witnessed it. It’s one thing to hear a voice and see a dove coming down from heaven. It’s much more amazing to hear that same voice and see Jesus burst into a dazzling, white radiance while standing beside two religious figures from hundreds of years ago. The two events are slightly comparable at best. No, Jesus’ transfiguration was an exponentially more powerful event in revealing God’s glory. From this event onward, Jesus was changed and changed those around him. Peter’s declaration that Jesus is the Messiah triggered something in Jesus that caused him to reveal just what that title meant. “Okay, Peter, you’ve revealed something about me that no one else has…let’s go up this mountain and I’ll reveal something you’ve never seen before!”
That whole interaction between Peter and Jesus reminds me of the one about a crisis that once was happening in heaven. Apparently there was an unusually high number of people who were waiting at the gates to be let in and the angels were completely overwhelmed. They didn’t know who to process quickly and who to process a little longer. In desperation, the angels reached out to Jesus to help them. He came to the gates and decided to use a simple question to determine who received immediate admission and who were sent to the waiting room for further processing. So the first person in line, a Catholic, came to Jesus who asked him, “Who do you say I am?” The Catholic answered, “Well, Vatican II said…” but Jesus interrupted him before he could finish. “I asked you who you think I am. Go wait in the waiting room.” The next to come was a Methodist of whom Jesus asked the same question. The man responded, “At our last conference…” Jesus again interrupted, “I asked you who you think I am. Go and wait in the waiting room, we’ll come back to you later.” The next one was a Baptist who answered Jesus’ question with, “Well, the Bible says…” but again, before the man could finish, Jesus interrupted, “I didn’t ask what the Bible says, I know what it says. Remember, my Father and the Holy Spirit wrote most of it. I asked who you say I am. Now go on, wait over there.” Naturally, the next in line was a Lutheran. The all-knowing Son of God knew this but he didn’t know what the man’s answer would be. That said, Jesus wasn’t too optimistic because he knew of Lutherans having a wishy-washy, ambivalent reputation. Still Jesus persisted and asked the man, “Well, who do you say I am?” The Lutheran responded, “You are the Messiah, the Chosen One, the Son of God, the Incarnate One.” Jesus was completely flabbergasted by the Lutheran’s response. Unbelievable as it may sound, Jesus was actually speechless over what he had heard. But as he started to recover himself and was about to say, “Come on in, the gates are open for you!” the Lutheran continued speaking…”On the other hand,…”
And you thought the Lutheran was the best of them all…shame on you! Gotta love denominational trash-talking! Peter’s bold declaration of who Jesus is was remarkable for a couple reasons. He wasn’t relying on tradition or the religious teachings of the day to answer Jesus’ question. Jesus clearly didn’t reflect what the traditions teachings taught about who the Messiah would be. No, Peter relied on nothing but himself to make his declaration. And he risked personal harm making such an assertion. Had the religious authorities heard him, there would have been suffering. Yes, Peter was awfully courageous making such a bold, unexpected statement. No one else had dared utter such words about Jesus. Many may have thought it but no one had actually spoken Peter’s words before him. Like Jesus, Peter was changed by the transfiguration and emboldened to speak challenging words about God.
Which is perhaps why we celebrate this event in Jesus’ story. Jesus performed miracles, revealed answers to mysteries about God, died and rose again, was transfigured on that mountain top all for very specific reason–to encourage transformation and change within us. His teachings and miracles revealed God’s deep love for us, a love that we are to share with the world around us. His baptism revealed how we can become beloved children of God, forever redeemed from our sinful natures. His death and resurrection revealed how God wants to free us from the suffering of this world and instill hope in our lives. So perhaps his transfiguration revealed that we, too, can have mountaintop experiences in which God’s full glory is revealed to us. We know God’s glory encourages us and strengthens us to endure all the sorrow and misery of this world. We need God’s glory to transform us and help us grow and evolve and change into the beings we were meant to be. Jesus was continually growing and transforming.
As we head into the Lenten season this week, help us welcome change and transformation in our lives. Help us to not be afraid of making bold assertions about who Jesus is in our lives. Help us to be faithful witnesses to the resurrected Christ in our sharing of his love. Jesus was never afraid of change and was always eager to do God’s will. Let us be equally fearless and eager. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.