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CCI: When we experience the glory of God, we will be changed.
Intro: Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Lent. Lent is a time for us to prepare to remember the suffering and death of Jesus and to prepare our hearts to celebrate the Resurrection. The last Sunday of Epiphany is traditionally devoted to the Transfiguration of Jesus. In the most dramatic way imaginable, the glory of God was revealed in Jesus. And that revelation was the beginning of transformation in their lives.
We have been studying the Gospel of Matthew each week. Matthew, from the very beginning of his gospel, seeks to root the Good News of Jesus in the tradition of Israel.
Matthew quotes more Hebrew prophecies than any other gospel writer. He often says, “This was done that the prophets might be fulfilled.” Matthew knew the scriptures and he searched the scriptures for signs that Jesus was the Messiah.
Unlike Luke, who wants to show that Jesus is the savior of the World and so he traces Jesus’ genealogy all the way back to Adam, Matthew roots Jesus in Hebrew tradition by beginning with Abraham and showing Jesus line through King David and his sons.
When Matthew writes about the events of the Crucifixion he roots those events in the prophets.
In fact, Matthew introduces Jesus as the second Moses. He points out many of the events in Jesus’ life which parallel Moses’ life:
Matthew is the only Gospel to tell us about Mary and Joseph taking Jesus to Egypt
As Moses crossed through the Red Sea at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus crossed the Jordan at his baptism.
As Moses and the people were tested in the wilderness for 40 years so Jesus was tested in the wilderness for 40 days.
As Moses went to the Mountain to receive the Law, Jesus took the people to the mountain to give them the way to live through the Sermon on the Mount.
And here Jesus is bathed in the glory of God.
When Moses received the Law on Mt Sinai, the scriptures tell us that he saw the glory of God. In Exodus 24, after he had received the 10 commandments and then broken them in his anger over the sin of the people, Moses once again climbs the mountain of the Lord. There on Mt Sinai, we read, “And the glory of the Lord settled down on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from inside the cloud. Then Moses disappeared into the cloud as he climbed higher up the mountain. He remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights.” For 40 days, Moses was in the presence of God. When he returned to the people, his face glowed with the glory of God. It was overwhelming, in fact, Moses had to hide his face from the people. Slowly the glory faded, but the change in the life of Moses remained.
Matthew now tells us that on the mountain with his disciples, Jesus also entered the cloud, and there he encountered his Father Face to face. Here the Law, and the prophets, through the vision of Moses and Elijah are brought together in Christ. The appearance of Moses and Elijah declared to the disciples that Jesus was the fulfillment of all that was written in the scriptures. It was an awesome event. It swept them away. It left them with their heads spinning. They were overwhelmed with wonder and awe and fear. They were overwhelmed with the Glory of God. And when we are overwhelmed, we sometimes say and do things that don’t fit.
32 years ago this coming Thursday, I stood in the operating room as Sheryl lay on the table and watched as the Dr delivered our daughter. Then as I stared in amazement at that scene, I watched the Dr unwrap the umbilical cord from Janet’s neck, and then in an overwhelming sense of relief, I heard that little girl cry out after drawing in her first breath. I watched as the nurse placed that little girl on Sheryl’s shoulder and their eyes met.
It was wonderful, but when we are overwhelmed, we at times make mistakes. Peter, in his state of awe, declared that they should build houses for Jesus and Moses and Elijah so they could all stay there. In the same way, when I took my parents to the maternity ward hours later, I pointed out our little girl through the glass, only to have the nurse behind me correct me.
Unlike the disciples and me, Jesus was not overwhelmed by the events on the Mountain. He was blessed, he was strengthened, and he was transformed but he was not overwhelmed, he did not lose his head. Why, and how can we experience transformation and not lose our heads?
First we see that Jesus went to the mountain to pray. You see, he did not take his disciples to this mountain just to climb a mountain or take a hike. Luke tells us that Jesus went to the mountain to pray. Jesus knew the importance of prayer. He knew that his mission was his Father’s mission and without prayer, there was no way he could fulfill it.
If we as a church and as followers of Jesus believe our mission is God given and it is a mission to connect people to God and to others and to ourselves, then we cannot fulfill that mission without dedicated prayer. Only as the Father leads the way can we carry out the work God has given us to do.
So we see that it was as Jesus prayed, that God revealed himself to Him in a new and exciting way. The scriptures said, “Moses and Elijah were talking to him.” As Jesus spent time in prayer God revealed to Him His plans.
So often we say we want to know God’s will, but do we spend time in prayer seeking that will with all our hearts? Or do we simply present our plans to God for his approval?
That day God also caused the glory that Jesus had with the Father to become visible to the disciples who were there. It was an awesome moment, God’s glory was seen by humans as Jesus prayed.
Trans: This incident changed the disciples. But they did not only see God’s glory, they heard God’s voice.
This passage tells us that as Jesus was talking to Moses and Elijah a cloud enveloped them.
When we speak of someone having their head in the clouds, we usually mean that a person is out of touch with reality, however, in the Old Testament the cloud of God’s presence was a common picture of God’s glory. The people were lead through the wilderness by a pillar of cloud, Moses went into the cloud on the Mount of God when he received the Law and when the temple was dedicated, Solomon said, “The Lord has said he will dwell in a thick cloud.” The presence of a cloud on the mountain that day with Jesus was a sign of God’s presence.
That is so different than the way we look at clouds in our lives. For us, when we are buried in the clouds, we feel as though God can no longer see us. On Friday, I received a text from my Daughter-in-law, Karin. It included a link to the bar shooting of two Indian immigrants and a third who stepped in to help. He text read, “My heart is so heavy today! The fight feels enormous and justice so far away.” Karin is a naturalized citizen from Southern India. The attack left her feeling like a cloud had descended upon her and she was hidden from God and others. It was a cloud of despair. But I would suggest that the cloud of despair that has enveloped Karin and maybe your life as well, is no different than the cloud that buried the disciples that day. As the disciples heard the words that Elijah and Moses were speaking to Jesus, as they began to think about the events to come, as they thought about the foolish things they had said, the cloud that buried them was not a cloud that seemed like God.
However, in that cloud, much like the clouds we experience, they heard God speak and “they were terrified.” When the clouds encompass us, when justice seems so far away, and the fight is so enormous it is terrifying. We are frightened because we feel alone. The cloud that enveloped them, probably isolated them from one another as well. When the clouds cover us, we are afraid.
But then, “sounding from deep in the cloud a voice: “This is my Son, marked by my love, focus of my delight. Listen to him.”” It was the voice of God coming from deep within the cloud.
When we are in the clouds, God will speak to us if we are willing to listen. God is present in the dark times of our lives. Those times when it feels like we are alone, those are the times Jesus is seeking to hold us in his arms. E.T.W., a Christian hip-hop group, a number of years ago, released a song entitled, “I Want You Back in my Life.” It is about a young man who has wandered from God, when he realizes his state, he pleads with God, “I want you back in my life.” “The prodigal son, that’s what the father called me, wherever I went he continued to find me, He opened his arms, I know its kind of absurd, but from his lips I heard these words, ‘I want you back in my life, is it too late? I want you back in my life. I love you, I want you back in my life.’”
If you know Jesus wants you back in his life, the clouds part. That was the message the disciples heard, “This is my Son, I am pleased with Him, listen to him.” Though they had heard the conversation about Jesus’ departure, they also heard the word that God was still there. And their lives were changed.
How did that change occur? I believe the change that came from their experience of the Glory of God came as a result of something we usually overlook in this passage. Matthew tells us that Jesus had a special command for them – Keep Quiet! I think the change came as the result of silent meditation.
We live in a world of words. Noise, sounds, ideas, clutter on the airwaves all surround us and make silence almost impossible. Today, many of our homes have a television on all day: not because it is being watched, but because people want the noise. We live in a world of noise. We often rush to tell people everything we know seldom thinking about the consequences. Our love of words and noise is very different than much of what the Bible has to say. In Exodus, the people were told to be still and God would fight for them. In the Psalms we are told to be still and know that God is God. Then the Psalmist said, “Be still. . . when (men) carry out their evil schemes.” And finally, Isaiah said, “In quietness and trust is your strength.” Quietness and stillness are rare characteristics today.
However, Jesus commanded many people to tell no one after he healed them. I have often wondered about that command. Why would Jesus tell a person who was blind not to tell the world he could see? Why would he tell people that they were to be silent about their child being healed? There have been a lot of suggestions.
It may be that the answer to the silence Jesus called out of his disciples is found in this passage. The miracles were tremendous examples of God’s glory, but nothing Jesus had ever done compared in glory to the transfiguration.
When the disciples were silenced by what they had seen, when they kept quiet and permitted the words of God to penetrate their hearts God changed them.
It is a common experience for people that when we tell someone else about an experience, something of the experience is gone. It now belongs to two people. However, when an experience remains our own, it intensifies.
We know that this is true with emotions and attitudes that are harmful. The longer we keep quiet about a hurt, or anger, or fear, or bitterness, the more intense that becomes. Hurt becomes bitterness. Anger becomes hatred. Fear becomes something that controls us and bitterness becomes revenge. However, when we speak about it to others in a healthful way, the harmful attitudes and emotions are diminished.
The same thing is true with positive experiences. The longer you keep a secret to yourself, the more excited you get about it. Sheryl and I have been asked to keep a great news secret. We know that at some time soon, it will no longer be a secret. But for now, every day intensifies the excitement.
And so it is with events like the transfiguration. Now listen carefully, I believe that we must share the good news of Jesus with others and that we must share God’s love at every opportunity. However, there are times when God speaks to us that we need to let that word from God do its work in our souls before we share it with others. We must learn to meditate. Learn the blessing of silence. Learn the joy of letting Jesus’ words bury themselves deeply in your heart. There they will grow and bring about the change that you then can share with others.
Meditation brings us right back to prayer. If you want to hear God speak, it comes as we learn the vital importance of spending time with God in prayer. Whether it be when the clouds have buried us, or when God is speaking clearly, or when the future seems hopeless, God offers to meet us when we pray.
Will you? Will you let God change you?