7 February 2016
Luke 9. 28.
Canon David Stranack
When an artist is painting a large picture or a sculptor carving a large statue, so much time is spent on working close to the picture or sculpture that they need to step back from time to time to see the more detailed work in relation to the whole.
In the same way one of the wonderful things about going on holiday is the opportunity it gives of stepping back and seeing things a little more in perspective, to see more clearly the whole picture.
In the same way we can spend so much time and effort on the more detailed daily cares and worries that we can easily lose sight of the real purpose and ultimate aims and meaning of life itself. This is certainly true for the majority of people in today’s world.
I find worship in Church (even when I am leading it) provides an opportunity to get life into proportion, to see the wider picture, to see things in a truer perspective, to see something of God’s perspective.
During his ministry Jesus would often go away into the hills to be alone and to pray, to talk with God his Father and to listen to what God was saying to him.
He recognized the need to touch base, as it were, with his heavenly Father. And sometimes he went off into the countryside with his disciples to be alone with them.
It was on one such occasion that he took them aside to Caesarea Philippi and, when alone, he asked them: “Who do the crowds say I am?” And they answered, “John the Baptist; others Elijah; and others say one of the ancient prophets come back to life.” “But you,” he said, “who do you say I am?” It was Peter who spoke up. “The Christ of God”. (Luke 9. 19-21).
The disciples had seen God’s power at work in Jesus; they had heard him speak about God’s love and goodness. The crowds had been following him everywhere – they loved him and the disciples had come to believe in him.
So Peter, on behalf of the disciples, proclaimed his faith in Jesus.
This was a turning point in the three year’s ministry of Jesus but not in the way they were expecting.
From that time on Jesus began to warn them that he was destined to suffer, to be rejected by the elders and chief priests and the scribes and would be put to death, and after three days he would rise again. This was his destiny and the means by which he would bring about mankind’s salvation.
He also warned them that they too may well be called upon to suffer, to take up their cross and follow him. They were shocked, they couldn’t understand.
And so Jesus took three of his closest disciples, Peter, James and John up a high mountain where they witnesses the glory of God shining from his whole being. Jesus was changed, transfigured before their very eyes.
This happened I believe, in order to strengthen their faith, to reassure them that whatever happened, God was in-charge and would not be defeated, whatever the authorities did to Jesus.
Then there appeared alongside Jesus the Old Testament figures of Moses represented the Old Testament Law and the Covenant and Elijah one of the greatest of the prophets of about 850 years before. He represented the prophetic hope of salvation as proclaimed in the Old Testament.
So it was that these two great men from the Old Testament days, who knew what it was like to be called to face great trials and difficulties when fulfilling the will of God, they came to support and talk with Jesus on the eve of his great time of testing.
Just as God the Father had been faithful to Moses and Elijah in their day, so the Father would be there for Jesus.
But this was also a great moment for those three disciples. It confirmed their faith in Jesus as the fulfilment of the Old Testament promises of God.
It is not surprising that the disciples were overwhelmed with amazement and wonder at seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus, and seeing Moses and Elijah talking with him. It is not surprising that Peter wanted it to last for ever.
‘Master,’ he said, ‘it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’.
I am quite sure that if I-phones had been available then, Peter would have been quick to record the event with a photo! It was truly an experience that would no doubt have given him and the others an incredible vision that would stay in their memories for ever.
Such a vision would carry the disciples a long way, but there was even more: the cloud that over¬shadowed them was hiding the presence of the Father. God was there in his fullness but, for their sake, his glory had to be hidden.
As God had appeared to Moses in the cloud, so now he was present on this mountain. And there was the voice from the cloud saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’
Again those words carry a deep significance. At his baptism also the voice of God proclaimed him ‘My Son’, underlying the relationship with God the Father, as his anointed one.
So that moment was one that the disciples treasured forever for it gave them a real glimpse of God’s glory in Jesus Christ.
The vision faded and they descended the mountain and made their way to Jerusalem but it would be an experience that would continue to strengthen their faith especially as that faith would soon be severely tested.
It is interesting to note that was only possible for the disciples to witness all this after they had expressed their faith in Jesus. In the same way we too can only see and understand the full wonder and glory of God when we can express our faith and say with Peter to Jesus, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’.
It is that step of faith that enables us to begin to see the ways and purposes of God more clearly.
Sometimes people are blessed with wonderful and powerful experiences of God at work in their lives. Sometimes people have a godly vision of what God longs for, for his people. ‘Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.’
The day before the civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King was killed by a sniper’s bullet he said words of encouragement to a large crowd:
“We’ve got difficult days ahead. But it does not matter to me now. Because I have been to the mountain top, I won’t mind. Like anyone else I would like to live a long life … but I am not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.
“And he’s allowed me to go up the mountain. And I have looked over and seen the Promised Land. So I am happy tonight, I am not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
Like Martin Luther King, if we are to survive dark and challenging days, or when we just feel that our Christian discipleship it very hard, we need to hang on to that same vision of the glory of our God in the face of Jesus Christ.
We are offered a glimpse of this glory as we turn towards this season of Lent which begins this Wednesday (Ash Wednesday) and later the events of Holy Week. We too are asked to ‘Listen to him!’ and listening also means obeying.
So as we approach this Lent let us ask God to show us in our minds his glory as revealed in Jesus Christ and as revealed now by him through the lives and devotion of his people today.
And let us, in these days ahead, look at Jesus and get a glimpse of the glory of God. The more we can set our eyes on Jesus during this season of Lent by giving a little more time to our spiritual reading and Bible reading, (to our discussion groups,) and to our own prayers, then it will mean so much more when we share in the glory of the risen Lord at Easter.
Once we have taken that step, and if we continue to reach out for him more and more we will find that his glory becomes more and more clear.
At first, people often say, one can see his wonder in the beauty of creation all around us. As spring approaches we will marvel once again as the flowers and trees come alive.
But if we go on looking we can see and experience the joy of friendship and love of those about us who are trying to follow Christ’s way. We can also see the way God changes lives of those that come new to faith and discover the love and forgiveness of God. it is a great gift and wonder to see Christ at work within his people.
Again we can also experience the glory of God when we show our love of God in the way we love and support others and when we give ourselves in prayer and worship.
So let us remember that, just as God strengthened the disciples with that vision of the glory of Jesus, so, as we keep this coming season of Lent may he strengthen us still further in his service.
Finally, after that transfiguration on the mountain the disciples had to return to the ordinary problems of their day. In the same way we shall go out from our worship today and have to get on with life but we do so, not relying on our own strength alone but strengthened by the spirit and the glory of Jesus Christ himself. ‘Behold’, said Jesus, ‘I am with you always, to the end of time’.