“28 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. 30 And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9)
A man once said to me and I apologize for paraphrasing because my memory is fallible and this is my best recollection of what he said, “I believe (my spine has started hurting whenever someone starts a sentence with those two words) that God sends many men. To the Jews, he sent Moses. To the Christians, Jesus. To the Muslims Mohammed and so on. And he will continue to send the man he needs at the time he needs. That’s his way.”
My Nana Frannie used to beat her television with a flip-flop when the Phillies were stinking it up. Something in me thinks this would have been the only appropriate response to the aforementioned man’s comments too. If I had heard this philosophy touted on teevee…
But I didn’t. I heard it in a church. During a “Bible Study.”
The Jews might have agreed with the man I met however. You see, the first century Jews had the Old Testament: the Law and the Prophets. They could read and study how God chose a people, cleansed them, gave them the Law and then set them in a land. They could then through Judges, the Kings and the Prophets watch a wheel form and a cycle begin. It goes something like this…
· Top of the wheel, people cleansed, righteous and following God’s law and maintaining the Temple worship.
· Decline, sin and temptation creep in, usually in the form of mingling with other nations who had strange customs and gods.
· Bottom, people are completely given over to other gods, sexual sin and usually human sacrifice. Temple is completely forgotten or profaned. God sends foreign power to conquer and/or slaughter Israel.
· Slight upswing, people cry out… finally. God sends messiah: a judge, king or prophet to lead and cleanse the people and lead them against their military enemies.
· Military and moral victory, idols smashed, sinners repent or are “cut-off” from the land (a euphemism for being nastily disposed of) and Israel is usually safe in its own land again.
· Return to top of the wheel for a very brief time to do it all over again.
So here the Jews were, Judas Maccabeus’ revolt fresh in their collective memories; occupied by Rome, a foreign power; Herod’s temple, the most palatial temple ever, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. They must have thought a new prophet was due any day. A new messiah was going to come and save them.
Well, yes and no. John came. He did start cleansing the people but he said some strange things. 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matt 3) “9 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3) “23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” (John 1) And the wheel hit a bump. Not the prophet? Not the messiah?
Hot on his heels comes Jesus. Performing signs and wonders, displaying power and authority like no one else in their storied history. Well, almost no one. ““Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5) Strangely, it is the Pharisees and scribes who come so close to figuring it out. Who can forgive sins but GOD ALONE? They just draw the wrong conclusion. The power and authority Jesus displays has been seen before in Israel… every time God displayed His power and authority!
Peter is the first to admit this out loud. Days before the Transfiguration, he says to Jesus in front of witnesses; which remember, if he blasphemes, they should condemn and stone him for and calling any man, “God,” definitely classifies as blasphemy; “16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matt 16) The Christ, the anointed one. Not A messiah but THE Messiah! The one all the prophets and prophecies point to. Not another turn on the wheel but the point the wheel was trying to make and the destination to which all history arrived!
Here at the Transfiguration we see this laid out. Jesus is revealed! His true glory blinds the disciples but not before they recognize (How? By overhearing their talk?) Moses and Elijah with him. The two greatest prophets in their history. The two greatest messiahs. And here, Peter, like the man in the Bible Study, places them on a plain. “Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.” Three messiahs, three tents, right? Wrong! Maybe Moses and Elijah are the two olive trees before the lampstand spoken of by Zechariah…
But Jesus! Is the lamp! Jesus is the light! God has made us sons but Jesus is the one the voice in the glory cloud calls, “my Son, my Chosen One”! Many have died but Jesus’ blood is the only innocent blood! There have been many messiahs but Jesus only can be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Only Jesus’ death will defeat Death! Many will ascend to heaven but Jesus only sits on the right hand of the Father Almighty where He is waiting for the last martyr to die in HIS name before He comes in power and judges the Earth. There have been, are and will be many kings and rulers but Jesus only will rule afterward for all eternity. There have been many who wished to be worshiped but Jesus only is worthy! All who came before pointed to Him and all we who come afterward point back to Him. We do not pray facing East, we pray facing Christ! We do not decide for ourselves What we believe, we decide Who we are to believe. I choose God! I choose Christ!
I might have beaten the blasphemer in “Bible Study” with my flip-flop but Jesus restrained me. The only one the voice in the cloud said to listen to said, “proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal(…) 5 And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” So I guess my flip-flops got in the last word after all. I just hope the man heeds them.