Sermon on Luke 9:28-36
Text: Luke 9:28-36
I’m about to ask you to do the one thing a preaching pastor never wants the congregation to do. When they teach us homiletics (preaching class), they tell us this would certainly be a sign that your sermon is not going well. But I’m willing to take the risk today. Are you ready? I’m going to ask you to close your eyes—But wait! NOT YET! There are a couple of rules for closing your eyes. 1) You must open your eyes at some point and continue to pay attention and 2) I want you to envision the most awe-filling and inspiring scene you have ever witnessed. Maybe it was when you stood at the rim of the Grand Canyon. Maybe it was having Hawaiian waves crash on your feet while watching a sunset. Maybe it was watching a hurricane rip apart your yard or house. Maybe it was watching your children being born. Whatever is the most awe-filling and inspiring thing you have ever seen, close your eyes and envision it right now. Go.
(Pause for imagination)
Alright, open your eyes again. (I mean it! Open your eyes!) What did you see? Something that left you speechless? Something you had to snap a few pictures of? Something that left you dumbfounded and amazed? Something that put a lump in your throat? Certainly something inspiring. We all love to share with others the things that inspire us, because we all love those things that inspire us.
Well buckle your seatbelts, hold on tight, and focus your eyes of faith because today you are going to see something so grand, so amazing, so awe-filling that you will never forget it—and you will just have to tell everyone you know. Today you are going to see Inspiring Glory.
Jesus had just run off a string of some pretty amazing and awesome things in front of his disciples and many others. He cast out a demon, healed a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years, raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, fed over 5,000 people with a few loaves of bred and some fish, walked on water, and fed over 4,000 people. The evidence of divinity was so convincing that when Jesus asked his disciples who he was, Peter blurted out in faith, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” Peter and the disciples were on an emotional and spiritual high. Things were going well.
Then we pick up in the gospel today at Luke 9:28: “About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John, and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray.” We might wonder why only these three went with. Why not take all the disciples with him? Wouldn’t it have been good for all of them to see what was about to take place? Apparently even Jesus had his inner sanctum of very close friends. But this was not the first time these three were alone with Jesus either. Not too long before this it was those three alone who went into the room to watch Jesus raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead. Shortly after this it was these same three alone Jesus took off to the side in the Garden of Gethsemane to watch and pray with him.
What happened this particular time while they were alone with Jesus was nothing short of inspiring. Verse 29: “As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.” This is the point where we really have to do some imagining. This was one awesome scene—so awesome that the apostles had trouble even describing it. Luke tried to describe it by saying that looking at his clothes was like directly into a flash of lightning. Mark says they were whiter than any bleach could possibly make them. Matthew’s account says his face was like the sun and his clothes were bright like light. How can we fathom God’s glory? It was sort of like looking straight into the sunlight—but then again, this was the one who created that sunlight!
In addition, Moses and Elijah appeared. This would have been equally breathtaking. These were two of the greatest heroes of faith in all the Old Testament. These were two of the greatest prophets that ever lived. Now, here they were standing next to and talking with Jesus! This must have been inspiring glory for the disciples.
Peter, James, and John almost blew it though. Look at what verse 32 tells us: “Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.” They almost completely missed this amazing sight! Those disciples! Always sleeping on the job! Remember, it was those same three who later fell asleep three times in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus told them to stay awake. Now, when Jesus is clearly doing something special with them atop a mountain, they almost missed it because of sleep!
We see more weakness in the disciples in the next verse: “As the men (Moses and Elijah) were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah. (He did not know what he was saying)” Luke tells us. Typical Peter. The emotions were running high, he saw the wondrous glory of Jesus, and said, “This is great! Let’s never leave!” But he didn’t know what he was saying. If they stayed there with Moses and Elijah forever, Jesus would not have come down the mountain. And if Jesus didn’t go down that mountain, he wouldn’t have gone up another one called Calvary. And if Jesus didn’t go up Mt. Calvary, then we wouldn’t have a Savior. This comment is just the same as when Peter scolded Jesus and said, “No Lord, you can’t die. I won’t let it happen.” That’s when Jesus rebuked him by saying, “Get behind me Satan.” Peter and the disciples didn’t get it yet! Jesus wasn’t in the world just to perform miracles and show glimpses of glory. Jesus came to suffer and die.
They still didn’t get it, but God gave them one more glimpse of glory. Verse 34: “While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’ 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.” Just as when Jesus started his ministry and was baptized, the Father spoke from heaven and gave his approval. He commanded the disciples to listen to Jesus.
You see, it was because these disciples were such sinners that Jesus took them atop this mountain. He wanted to bolster them and encourage them with something they would never forget. For later, Peter would become the vocal leader of the church. James would become the first martyr, beheaded for his faith. John would become the oldest disciple and last to die. He would become the old father figure watching over the church. Thus Jesus took them atop this mountain to give inspiring glory to the disciples.
If we read through this story carefully, and really think about how this event transpired, we begin to see that this transfiguration wasn’t primarily for the disciples. This special event was actually for Jesus himself. Why didn’t Jesus take all the other disciples with, or the masses of crowds that followed him? This event was for Jesus, but he was loving enough to let Peter, James, and John see what was going on. We also never really read in any of the accounts that the disciples heard what Jesus was saying to Moses and Elijah. It says in verse 31 that, “they spoke about his departure,” but it also says they were sleepy and almost missed it. Moses and Elijah weren’t there for the disciples, they were there for Jesus.
That leads us to a very interesting question! Why? Why was this special Transfiguration atop this mountain especially for Jesus? Why would Moses and Elijah need to talk with Jesus? The key is in verses 30-31: “Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” Moses and Elijah were there talking with Jesus about what he was about to go down the mountain to do!
It could be argued that no other people in the Old Testament had relationships with God like Moses and Elijah. Moses saw part of God’s glory on Mt. Sinai and his face at one time was radiant like Jesus. Elijah was taken up to heaven alive in a chariot of fire. Both were bold prophets who proclaimed the truth. Both performed great miracles.
Now they were here talking with Jesus about his work. What do you think they said? Perhaps, “Go on, Jesus. Do it. Go back down this mountain. Go do in Jerusalem and on Calvary what you came to do. Go do what you promised. Your Father promised us you would come. We had hope and faith in the Messiah. Now you are here. Go do it. Fulfill your word. Save us. Save us from our sins and accomplish our salvation”?
Then finally God the Father gives loving approval of his Son Jesus: “This is my Son, whom I have chosen.” It’s as if he is again saying, “Yes, Jesus, you are my Son. You are the one. You are the one I promised. You are the one I sent. I have chosen you to be Savior of the world.”
If anything today we see the gravity and weight of what Jesus was about to do. As true God, Jesus knew what was about to happen. But as true man, he also knew how much it would hurt. He knew as God that fists would bash his face; that whips would scourge his back; that nails would pierce his flesh. But he knew as man the agony awaiting in this torture. Jesus knew as God the lies and the insults and mockery that was coming. But Jesus knew as man how each word would sting his heart. Jesus knew as God how many sins you have committed and I have committed and his disciples committed and all the world has committed, and he knew as God that he would have to carry them on his own back like he did the cross. But he knew as man that the burden of guilt and the weight of sin and the desperation of his Father forsaking him would be a hell only Satan knows.
It’s no wonder that Jesus sweat drops of blood and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me.” Yet it is also a wonder that he concluded, “Not my will, but yours be done.” He knew his Father’s will and he carried it out all the way to the cross—for you, for me, and for our forgiveness.
It is for this reason that Jesus went atop this mountain. Knowing what was ahead, his heavenly Father bolstered Jesus and strengthened him and encouraged him in preparation for his suffering. The Father showed his Son the glory that would await him once more on the other side of the suffering. He showed his Son the bright and shining triumph that awaited him as victorious Savior of all. This was inspiring glory—not just for the disciples, but also for Jesus.
While this transfiguration event was specifically for Jesus, the disciples weren’t the only ones to be encouraged by it. So also today our hearts leap for joy upon seeing the glory of the Lord. We certainly can relate to those disciples! Their faith lives were huge roller coaster rides! One day Peter beautifully confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the next day he wants Jesus to camp with Moses and Elijah on a mountain instead of going to save the world. At one moment Peter sees Jesus’ glory as God on a mountain, the next moment he’s denying that he even knows him.
Don’t you find your faith life to be so much the same? One day we are at church and filled with the Spirit and with joy, the next day we are back in the doldrums of work and depressed as ever about the troubles of life. At one moment we are singing praises to the Lord or praying, the next moment we are taking that name in vain or cursing or telling dirty jokes.
We even understand their confusion over Jesus’ purpose in the world. Sometimes we just want that glory of Jesus. We want to see that radiant face shining like the sun. We want to see Christ our King come and squash those heathen Muslim terrorists and destroy all our enemies. We want to see success and victories. How quickly we too can forget Jesus’ real purpose. Jesus came not to give victory and success in this world. Jesus came to give us forgiveness and life in heaven. He told us that life in this world would be difficult and filled with suffering. He told us that the troubles of life would help us focus on the riches of heaven.
How thankful we can be for Jesus on this Transfiguration Sunday. Today we see Jesus as true God who has all glory, yet true man who needs encouragement. Today we see Jesus who left that mountain of glory to go up a different mountain of shame. Today we see a glimpse of the glory of Jesus which he now has for eternity because of his victory on the cross. God has shown inspiring glory to us today.
I’m a daring kind of guy. I’ll take the risk again. Close your eyes. Picture that mountaintop. Imagine Peter, James, and John standing by. Imagine seeing Moses and Elijah. Envision Jesus. See his clothes as white as snow. See his face shining brighter than the sun. See him on that mountain glaring with the glory of the Lord. Keep your eyes closed. See Jesus on a different mountain. See his clothes stripped and ripped off. See his face bashed and beaten. See the blood ooze from his hands and feet. See him groan in agony and cry out under the weight of sin. See him on Mt. Calvary as your substitute. Keep your eyes closed. See a different mountain—Mt. Zion, Jerusalem the Golden. See Peter, James, and John. Look and see Moses and Elijah. See Jesus. See his clothes as white as snow. See his face shining brighter than the sun. See him seated on his throne, triumphant over sin, death, and Satan. See the wounds healed. See his arms welcoming you into the presence of the glory of the Lord for all eternity. That is inspiring glory!
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