Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

Up On The Mountain


Transfiguration Sunday is always the Sunday before the beginning of Lent. The occasion we call the transfiguration - just another word for ‘transformation’ - is one of the events which help us answer the question - “Who really is Jesus?” Now, that may seem to be a silly question to you, but for the disciples who were struggling with who Jesus was, it is a very important question. And maybe for us it is a good question to ponder as well. Just because you know the stories of Jesus, you may not really have thought about his identity - and the significance of his identity. We know the Christmas story, we know the Easter story, we could all probably tell some of the other stories in the life of Jesus - but how does that define for us who he is in relationship to us and in relationship to God. “Who Jesus Is” is a much more important question than “What did Jesus do” and the story of the Transfiguration helps us to understand what that means.
The transfiguration leads into the season of Lent because what happens here can help us begin the Lenten season reflecting on Jesus. Lent is a time of reflection, a time of self-examination, a time of learning and relearning, so having a fixed image of Jesus helps to guide us in thinking about our personal relationship with him and how that affects our daily life.
Before the Transfiguration took place, Jesus had been instructing his disciples. Now, the disciples were pretty wishy-washy when it comes to understanding who Jesus is and what his purpose is. They are dedicated to Jesus; they are committed to his ministry, they feel compelled to follow him - but most days they don’t have any clarity about why. Once in a while we see a flash of recognition of Jesus as the son of God - but most of the time the disciples are really unaware of just who they are following. But we can’t be too hard on those disciples because we are often the same way. Some days we are right there with him; we feel inspired and excited about Jesus’ work in our lives - and then there are days when we couldn’t be farther from even thinking about him.
But on this day, Jesus is praying with and teaching the disciples and then he just looks at them and says, “Who do people say I am?” The disciples were honest with him and tell Jesus that people are saying different things. Most people think that Jesus is the resurrected John the Baptist who had recently been put to death. Others thought Jesus was the prophet Elijah from the Old Testament who the Hebrew people believed would return before the Messiah came. Jesus thought for a moment and then said, “Well, then, who do you say I am?” Peter, always the first one to answer any question says, “Why, you are the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God!” Jesus says, “Good, Peter. But don’t tell anyone else that, yet. For I have to suffer and be rejected by the Jewish leaders and then be killed.” Then Jesus continues, “And for anyone who wishes to follow me, they must take up their own cross, give up their own desires, and keep close to me.” In other words, when you decide to follow Jesus with all your heart and being, the way is not always going to be easy. He continues by saying what is recorded in Luke 9:24-25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” Jesus is asking the disciples - and asking us - to consider our priorities if we are really going to follow him. Either the ‘things of the world’ are going to be important or the ‘things of God’ are important. And we have to decide that for ourselves which we are going to choose. And everyone has to make that choice. We can’t dance around it or put it off or try to play both sides of the fence. Thinking about this and making a commitment one way or the other is a lot of what Lent is for. To think and consider and struggle with this question. Do we prioritize the things in our life thinking of God and Jesus and the church first or do we make the other parts of our life more important and kind of fit God and Jesus and the church in around everything else?
Jesus is reminding us - giving us some fodder for thought - that if we do choose the ‘things of the world’ first, what good is it really going to do us. We can’t take it with us when we die - but if we choose Christ, God and the church , then we have gained eternal life. Even though it may be difficult now to put Jesus first, the longterm benefits far out way any inconvenience we have now!
Eight days after Jesus has this teaching session with the disciples, Jesus goes up on the mountain to pray and with him went Peter, James and John. Peter, James and John are the disciples that were closest to Jesus. All the disciples were important, but these three had a special relationship with Jesus and were often the only ones present when Jesus did especially miraculous things. These three are actually referred to as ‘the inner circle’ - the ones Jesus held in the closest confidence.
so up on the mountain they go to pray with Jesus. Jesus often goes up on a mountain to pray. Someone once called mountain tops a ‘thinness between man and God’. Mountain tops just seem to give you a closer feeling to God. Many Old Testament figures did the same thing - they went up on a mountain to meet God or to feel closer to God or even to have a conversation with God.
Anyway, the four of them get to the top of the mountain and Jesus begins to pray and Peter, James and John fall asleep. Remember this is the same thing that happens the night of Jesus’ arrest; the four of them go into the garden and Jesus begins to pray and there are Peter, James and John sound asleep. That night he wakes them up, he begins to pray again and back asleep Peter, James and John fall. Same thing on the mountain top this time. Jesus starts praying, they fall asleep but this time something spectacular happens. All of a sudden Jesus begins to glow and his clothes become dazzling white. Then two men appear to talk to him - Moses and Elijah - both of which also had miraculous mountain top experiences of their own.
Moses had gone up on the mountain at Sinai to meet with God and receive the 10 commandments and the Law from God. He was up there 40 days and when he came back down the mountain his face glowed - and it glowed so bright the people couldn’t look at him so he had to put a veil over his face. The interesting thing about this glow is that as time passed, the glow would start to face so Moses would go into the tabernacle where God lived and the glow would ‘recharge’ and become bright again! Elijah also had a mountaintop experience. Queen Jezebel sent an army to kill Elijah and he ran away and ended up on top of a mountain. There God came to him in a ‘still small voice’ and talked with him, renewing Elijah’s resolve to do God’s work in spite of Jezebel’s death threats.
So here they are again, Mose and Elijah who had come down from heaven and were now speaking with Jesus. The disciples woke up and saw what was going on and were really confused, yet they said they had this wonderful feeling as they watched. It must have been a very good feeling because Peter wanted them all to build shelters to live in and they would all just stay up there! But about as soon as Peter made all these plans, a cloud formed right above the mountain and came down and covered them and God’s voice was heard saying: “”Look! This is my son. My chosen one. Listen to him!” Then the voice was gone, the cloud lifted, Moses and Elijah were gone and Jesus no longer glowed. All that was left of this great experience were Jesus, Peter, James and John.
The last verse of this account is pretty interesting - it says “And they didn’t tell anyone about this until long after...” No doubt - who would have believed them. But it changed them and their commitment to Jesus was renewed and refreshed and stronger because they witnessed first hand the revelation of who Jesus was.
Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah, the Promised One. They were reminded of his authority as God said, “Listen to him!”
And what are we suppose to listen to? Right before jesus says the thing about following him he says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me”. So as we move into Lent, as we consider our struggle with who Jesus is and what he means to us, as we think about what it means to take up our crosses and deny ourselves - we remember this transfiguration - this transformation that happened on that mountain.
As we go into Lent - go with these questions - Who is Jesus to me? What does it mean for me to take up my cross? And after I think about those questions - think about “What difference is it going to make in my life?