We've seen Jesus' compassion upon the sick and the possessed - acts that brought many followers to Him. He overcame the weaknesses of the flesh by healing countless individuals, each one important to Him and loved by Him.
We've heard His teachings that religion is not an outward act of endless ceremonies and detail to rituals, but a genuine outpouring of love from the heart for God and for fellow man.
We've gotten the gist of Jesus' message to man. I think the disciples had caught on to these ideas for the most part. They are beginning to understand that they are following the true Son of God. In chapter 16 He began telling them of His upcoming death in Jerusalem - an idea that even His most beloved disciples never understood until well after the fact.
In chapter 17 Peter, James and John have gone up on a mountain with Jesus. The disciples have been sleeping. They awaken to find that the appearance of their Master has been changed. His countenance and His raiments are dazzling white. Then they notice that there are others present. The disciples recognize them as Moses and Elijah. The great law giver and the great prophet who had their most intimate experiences with God on a mountaintop are here with God's Son now on a mountaintop. Luke tells us these heavenly visitors are discussing Jesus' upcoming departure from this world. The word Luke uses, that is translated in my Bible as "departure," is the word "Exodus." Exodus is a word well known to the Jews, and well known to the Greeks also by this point, as meaning "a departure for a new life." With these well known Jewish leaders, Jesus is discussing His death. In the last chapter, Peter had urged Jesus not to speak of His death, but Moses and Elijah came all the way from heaven to talk about nothing else - His death.
Significantly, these men had rather unusual and mysterious endings to their lives. The Jews felt these two men seemed too great to die as any other mortal. Moses had died on Mt. Nebo after the rest of the Israelites had gone on down the plains short of the Jordan River. No human being was with him. The Jews believed that either God himself took care of Moses remains or that God's angels had cared for his body. Their great leader, who led them out of bondage and safely through the rigors of the wilderness wanderings and up to the Promised Land, was not given a proper funeral service, full of pomp and circumstance due to such a great man, but was left alone in God's hands.
Similarly, Elijah was the great prophet. Elijah never knew physical death. II Kings 2:11-16 tells us he "went up by a whirlwind into heaven." Elisha was the only witness to this miraculous and mysterious ending of life. These two "mega-leaders" of the Jewish faith, who didn't experience the pain or fear with the ending to life, are discussing with God's Son the PAIN AND FEAR of His death, coming soon in Jerusalem. There is irony in the fact that God provided for His great men what He wouldn't provide for His only Son. They are preparing for history's most horrendous death. Moses and Elijah, the very men who served as signposts to the One greater than they, are here in the presence of Jesus in all His heavenly glory. Maybe they came to comfort or reassure Jesus, but they didn't come to relieve Him of such a heavy burden.
We see three sources of light -- face, raiment, cloud. Had Jesus' face alone been changed to shine like the sun, this would have been enough to impress the three disciples. They would have been reminded of the story of Moses' face shining after coming down from Mt. Sinai after he had been in the presence of God while receiving the Ten Commandments. But the disciples see two other sources of light also. The second source of light was also part of Israel's history. The cloud that overshadowed them was the SHECHINAH, the glory of almighty God, the pillar of cloud that led the Israelites through the wilderness, the cloud that covered the tent of meetings and filled the tabernacle with the glory of the Lord and was present at the dedication of Solomon's temple. The symbol that God was with His people. Third light-- His garments were of a dazzling brightness, making them much brighter than the snow. In chapter 28 we'll be reading of the angel sent from heaven, who rolled back the stone from Jesus' tomb and startled the guards and the women, whose appearance was like lightning and raiments were as white as snow.
To the three sources of light and the two great Israelite leaders was added the last miraculous aspect--the voice of God. The voice that had shook Mt. Sinai, and who had endorsed Jesus at His baptism, was now telling the three disciples that this is indeed God's Son and that His authority supercedes that of Moses and Elijah.
While the experience of the transfiguration must have given Jesus strength, it undoubtedly would do the same for Peter, James and John. They were told at that time not to tell anyone of this experience until after His death and resurrection. Later, Peter mentions it fondly and reverently in the first chapter of his second book (II Peter 1:16-19). John must have been reminded of this glory when he witnesses the great throne scene in his book of Revelation.
There is a war going on in the Middle East right now as we speak. I don't mean to burst your bubble, but that is exactly what happened to Peter, James and John after they came down from a glorious sight on the mountain to the crowd with all the confusion and the epileptic boy and the other disciples who couldn't heal the boy. This scene was such a harsh contrast to the glory on the mountain. But, they had to come down from the mountaintop, from fellowshipping with God, in order to tell others they can go to the mountain of the Lord to witness His glory. Not to see another transfiguration, but figuratively speaking, to get a spiritual "High." Barclay says "real religion is to rise from our knees before God to meet the problems of the human situation." It is to draw strength from God in order to give it to others. Glimpses of Glory from Heaven are given not to wean us from our duty on earth, but to prepare us for the trials we and others face on earth. Lectureships, Gospel meetings, and WINGS classes are spiritual highs which help us to deal with the lows that inevitably come.
The disciples were going to need the memories of these glorious moments soon -- this transfiguration, the feeding of multitudes and the healings. Just as it was hard for the Israelites to see the glory of God and the glory of being free men while hungering and thirsting in the wilderness, it was going to be hard for the disciples to see the glory of God when their Messiah was hanging on a cross in shame. It was these miraculous moments that would enable them to endure and see beyond the shame to the glory, beyond the humiliation to the triumph, and beyond the cross to the crown. Although the disciples flee and don't come to their Master's defense, and even deny knowing the man while He is on trial, these memories keep them from scattering to the ends of the earth. While the world is laughing at them and their leader, they can still catch a glimpse of the glory and the light. Because it is a LIFE-CHANGING LIGHT. A light that, although it was temporarily dimmed in shame, was going to be rekindled never to go out.
Today it is still a LIFE-CHANGING LIGHT. Romans 12:2 says when we no longer conform to the world, but let God TRANSFORM us by the renewal of our mind, we may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. The Light--God's glory--has the power to change us and others. It has changed the lives of many people in every generation since the shame and glory of the cross. 1 John 1:7 says, " If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin." Verse 9 adds, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all righteousness." A cleansing that will make our garments/soul white as snow.
This light still has a power to change lives of shame into lives of glory for the Lord. My husband and I recently attended a Medical Missions Seminar in Dallas where Kevin McFarlin of Manna International of Redwood City, CA, relayed this story of the power of the light:
Manna International is an organization of Christian teenagers from all over the country who raise money for good works. This last year they raised money to dig wells for underprivileged areas. It made a lasting impact in the country of Ghana in Africa. Ghana has regions where the villagers have to walk as many as 10 miles to get water. Manna asked permission to go to these villages to dig wells. The government said, "Impossible. Our own geologists have said there is no water to be had in those areas." Manna got permission to go try.
Many missionary groups had been into these regions in Ghana, which is Muslim country. None had had any success. In fact, some denominational missionaries had told Manna that making converts in these areas was "Impossible! They won't listen to any form of Christianity." The village of GARIKUKA had water at their village about 3 months out of the year during the rainy season. The rest of the year they walked 5 - 6 miles to a cow pond to get water. The water was infested with GUINEA WORMS. As a result of drinking this infested water 60-70% of their young children would die each year. Manna went in and drilled them a well that produces clean water for that village all year round. The villagers were so pleased that they BEGGED the men to tell them why they would give their time and money to help them. They were told that Christian teenagers had made it possible. They begged for someone to teach them what these teenagers knew. The drilling crew didn't want to baptize anyone just out of gratitude for giving them water. They wanted sincere conversions. A few months later they sent a campaign crew back into this village. They found the health of the people and babies considerably improved. Here is their report:
What made the difference between this campaign of missionaries into this Muslim area and other groups who had failed before? The people finally saw the LIFE-CHANGING LIGHT of Christianity. There have been good reports from other villages as well.
This light is the only way to lead others to Christ. It is the only way to lead any Muslim to Christ, even in the Gulf region today. War may exist there now to give those people the opportunity to see the LIGHT in some of our men. If not now, then perhaps when we start cleaning up after the war. We don't need to underestimate the power of the LIGHT and our God. It is even capable of being seen by Saddam Hussein. Are we praying for this to happen? Or are we praying for his death because we want a fast end to this war? Luke 6 tells us to pray for our enemies.
We make it easy for the Saddam Husseins of this world to convince a whole nation (and other nations) that the United States is the "Great Satan." It is easy for such men to turn this into a Holy War in their minds when they see the films that Hollywood puts out, the crime rate in this country, the drugs, the sinful lust and sex rampant in our country, and the ungodly language of our people and even our elected officials. In contrast, Muslim countries have a very low crime rate normally. Their society is not so blatantly cluttered with the appearance of evil. Our whole appearance to the Muslim world is evil. As a nation, our Christian LIGHT does not shine.
Satan is trying his best to blow our light out. If the evil were not here, it wouldn't be so easy for him to get the fundamental Muslims to follow him. Our nation's immorality is Saddam Hussein's best weapon. "America, America, God mend thine every flaw. Confirm thy soul in self control."
After the war, we may establish a false peace by the threat of our military capabilities, but for true peace to come to that region, the LIGHT of Christ is the only answer. Impossible, you say? I'm glad the teenagers didn't think it was impossible to help underprivileged people. I'm glad that missionaries who went into that village in Ghana didn't believe it was impossible to change those peoples' lives.
We start with ourselves, our neighbors, those we can influence. We can demand better morals from our leaders and thus influence our people as a nation to shine a light not only of freedom, but a Christian LIGHT also - a light that changes individuals, villages in Ghana, and can change the view of the whole world toward earthly and spiritual peace.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR