Exodus 34:29-35
Luke 9:28-36
Jesus Stands Alone
February 7 2016
Transfiguration
Today’s scripture lessons are not for the faint of heart. Some may say that they are not for our times. Ours is an era of broad minds and acceptance. Many feel that the only thing they’re certain about is that there’s nothing worth being certain about. Our scripture passages for today, particularly our Gospel passage, beg to differ. There truly are some things, one thing in particular that we can and should be certain about, and that is Jesus.
Today is Transfiguration Sunday. Transfiguration Sunday is always the Sunday before the beginning of Lent, and Christians always focus on one of the Gospel passage that deal with the Transfiguration of Christ on this Sunday. Transfiguration Sunday is one of those days in the Church year that has not been tamed by society. By contrast, think of Christmas. Several years ago a cartoonist pictured two men walking by a church bulletin board that announced a Christmas Eve service. One man comments, “It’s getting so these religious people are trying to horn in everywhere.” We smile until we realize that a lot of people celebrate their version of Christmas without thinking even momentarily of the Christmas story from which the holiday comes.
Even today as we celebrate Transfiguration Sunday some may feel we are “horning in” on a day that has other importance for them — Super Bowl day. It’s the day of the “big game”, the NFL Championship Game – Super Bowl 50 featuring “our” Carolina Panthers against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Some may feel they have a party or to attend or at least a game to watch and don’t have time for such things as Church or celebrating the Transfiguration of Christ.
Yes, days originally ment to honor Christ have become days where Christ
is crowded out of many peoples schedules. Many people want to make Christ manageable
or fit Him into their schedule on their terms.
But this conflict is really nothing new. The same basic issue was present when Jesus was here in the flesh. This is the issue in our scripture of the day, this day in which we celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord.
Let me tell you a story.
As the time drew near for Jesus’ earthly ministry to come to its full purpose, Jesus sought to prepare his three key disciples, Peter, James and John. They seem to have been the most spiritually sensitive of the Twelve. When there were special occasions of the faith, About eight days earlier, Peter had confessed that Jesus was the Christ, and Jesus had tried to explain to the disciples about His upcoming death and resurrection. In the same conversation, Jesus had said that there were people in their number who would not taste death until they had seen the kingdom of God. Jesus also sad in that same conversation that people would be judged on the basis of their loyalty to Him. It is from that background that Jesus asked Peter, James and John to go with him up the mountain to pray. It was Jesus’ habit to go to a secluded area for his private time of prayer.
As Jesus prayed, a spectacular thing happened, something quite out of this world, to use a common phrase, but in this instance a true one. Jesus’ face changed before their eyes, and His clothing became dazzling white. Then, Moses and Elijah appeared. They talked with Jesus about His “departure.” Meanwhile, the three disciples were heavy with sleep. One wonders how they could be sleepy at such a dramatic time. Perhaps it was the intensity of their experience. We weren’t there, so we are in no position to judge. They recovered enough, however, for Peter to offer an opinion. Peter gave what seemed a logical response. He suggested that they build three places of worship, one for Moses, one for Elijah and one for Jesus.
From where you and I sit, Peter had reason to be rather pleased with himself. He had seen Jesus in the company of Moses, the representative of the Law, and Elijah, the representative of the prophets. That is, they embodied the Hebrew Scriptures, “the Law and the Prophets.” In other words, Peter was putting Jesus on a par with these representatives of Israel’s history. But Peter was wrong. He was so far from the point, especially considering who Peter was. Peter was denying his own dramatic declaration of faith from only eight days earlier, when he announced that Jesus was the Son of God, and Jesus had said that flesh and blood had not revealed this to Peter but the very Spirit of God. Now Peter was placing Jesus on a par with Moses and Elijah.
But Peter was facing the problem we’ve always faced with Jesus, all through the centuries. He was trying to find a comparison for Jesus, maybe so he could understand Jesus better. You can’t blame Peter, or us, for wanting to understand Jesus, and the easiest way is by way of comparison: who is Jesus like. This is always our struggle with understanding Jesus. The first-century crowds didn’t know how to grasp the person of Jesus, and even the disciples, even Peter, had trouble doing so.
But at the very moment when Peter was trying to find a place for Jesus, a place where he could understand him by comparison, a cloud descended from heaven and a voice came from the cloud, obviously the voice of God, reminding the disciples that Jesus was God’s Son, God’s Chosen One, and that they should listen to Hm. At that moment they found themselves with Jesus only.
We might struggle to identify Jesus. We might want a basis of comparison, and there is none; Moses and Elijah disappear, and Jesus stands alone.
This is not to minimize the Law and the Prophets. Far from it! When Peter preached what might be called the first Christian sermon on the Day of Pentecost, he took his text from the prophet Joel, from the Hebrew scriptures. And it is in those Hebrew scriptures that the disciples and Paul found many of their texts for their sermons. and those who followed them found all of their sermons.
But what happened at the Transfiguration was a foretaste of the Resurrection. In Jesus, we are dealing with someone altogether different, someone beyond comparison.
We’re still struggling with this, as people have in every generation. We might want to follow Jesus, but we might want to make Him manageable. We might want Him as our teacher, our example and, if possible, one who seems to support our causes. We might want to fence Him in by our standards, or make Him a beautiful martyr or a great moral example. In other words, we might want to make Him someone we can compare with others in our lives or in the world. But there are none. Jesus stands alone.
Now here is an especially wonderful part of the story. Through the centuries, this identity crisis has arisen repeatedly, inevitably, because we want help in understanding who Jesus is. But century after century, beginning with the Resurrection and continuing through the spread of the Gospel from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria, to North Africa and India and China and on up into Europe, even to the British Isles and then to the new world of the Americas there is always there is no other like Jesus.
And the church councils, those bodies that have represented Christian theology over the centuries, have declared again and again the same basic truth: Jesus is stands alone. There is no other like Him. In every generation there are those who try to diminish Christ, to bring Him into a place of comparison. These intentions are not of themselves evil. They represent our search for truth. But then we return to this grand, solitary figure.
So in our time the question arises. We are the generation, as I said earlier, that wants to be broad and accepting. Admirably so. Also, it appears that we are entering a period where Jesus could be cin secularism. But in the midst of it all, Jesus stands alone, without comparison. The tides of time rise and fall. Still He stands. Popularity polls come and go. Still He stands.
To whom shall we compare Jesus? Let us acknowledge the fact that there is no other like Him, and let us make Him the only Lord and Savior of our lives. Let us, as God told the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration, listen to Him and follow only Him. This is the word of Transfiguration Day. All else, always, eventually recedes from the scene, and we are left with Jesus only. Jesus stands alone.