“In the Business of Transforming Lives ”
The Transfiguration of Jesus
February 19, 2023
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, ‘Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’ ***
Stories that defy rational explanation are popular in movies and books. Children love movies in which humans and beasts wander in and out of reality and become as believable as they are unexplainable. There is something engaging about stories whose characters are transformed.
Cinderella is prime example. Four mice pulling a pumpkin whisk Cinderella away from her narrow world of poverty into an exalted moment of acceptance and glory. In one transfiguring moment, the little cinder-sweeper who huddled by a fireplace became the greatly adored “Queen of the Ball.” Her face shone brightly. Not even the people who thought they knew her best recognized Cinderella’s true character until a prince expressed his love for her. That was the truly transforming event. Suddenly, unexplainably, everyone could see Cinderella’s beauty and worth.
An episode of transformation also occurs in the movie “The Lion King.” The cub named Simba makes a series of selfish choices which result in the death of his father. Simba has to flee from the wrath of his family and friends. After a period of exile, someone finds Simba and challenges him to return to his homeland which faces serious troubles. While wrestling with a decision about whether or not to accept that challenge, Simba is led to a pond. Poised before the water, Simba watches a reflection of his own image mysteriously transfigured by the presence of his deceased father. In that instant, Simba clearly sees his purpose in life and discovers the freedom to return to his homeland, reclaim his kingdom, and find joy in his mission.
Something like that is going on in this biblical story today as God’s endorsement of Jesus resulted in a transfiguring event. Suddenly, three disciples who had walked with Jesus recognized the full potential of his existence as never before. They also learned how their lives could be shaped by a relationship with Jesus.
Some context is helpful. Just prior to this event, Jesus tells his disciples he would be going to Jerusalem and would face suffering and death. This was unwanted news for Peter, James and John and the other disciples. They struggled to believe it, especially Peter.
Next, Jesus and the three disciples go up a mountain and the transfiguration takes place. Jesus becomes dazzling white and two Old Testament men, Moses and Elijah appear and talk with Jesus. By this point the three disciples are wide-eyed. So Peter, the Bill Murray of the disciples, blurts out, “Lord, it is good for us to be here, lets commemorate this event and erect three dwellings, one for each of you.” Peter doesn’t know what to say or what to do with mystery, so he tries to define and quantify it. Three houses will proclaim to all posterity that once upon a time, Jesus, Moses and Elijah all were here, on this very spot.
While Peter is blabbering on, taking measurements where the houses might go and figuring out a fund-raising scheme for the project, a voice comes from the cloud, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him.” That shuts Peter up.
While the story of the Transfiguration is cloaked in mystery, the clarity of direction and energy released by this experience of God’s mysterious presence is easy to see. After this dramatic scene, Jesus moves to Jerusalem and onto a hill with a cross. He brings the disciples along into a reality they could not conceive.
The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that the transfiguration of Jesus also meant the transfiguration of the disciples. Their lives were changed. The word transfiguration means “metamorphosis” — to change, to transform. Peter’s life had changed many times. From fisherman to fisher of people, from the one who cowardly denied Jesus to the one who was crucified upside down because he deemed himself unworthy of dying in the way Jesus died.
This leads me to wonder: Can what happened long ago to some disciples happen to us? Can the glory of Jesus transfigure people today? Can we be transformed so as to find the strength to face the trials of life?
A relationship with Jesus always changes people. With Jesus we see things differently. In relationship with Jesus, we live life from a new perspective, for Jesus has the power to set us free from all that robs us of life. Jesus heals the brokenness, treats the wounds and fills the emptiness. Jesus gives us gifts of joy, hope, peace and forgiveness that change us.
In the time I’ve lived with stage IV cancer, I’ve met amazing people who have received the same diagnosis. At the outset, the news is devastating. Fears spike and questions multiply. But the people who have amazed me are those who regained equilibrium, not giving into self-pity. They redefine their lives in light of a transforming terminal disease and set new goals and pursuits. One of these amazing people said to me, “I never knew I had such strength.” Where does a person gain such poise and passion? There are many factors, but none greater than deep and abiding, unshakable faith in Jesus Christ. Even in the midst of terminal cancer, one can be transformed.
I have seen many tragic and devastating things happen to people and, in the aftermath, I have seen the transforming power of Christ:
· to bring peace to the fearful;
· hope to the despondent;
· courage to the weak;
· direction to the aimless.
Transformations do come in this life, despite the trials and losses, because Jesus Christ is in the business of transforming lives.
Image credits: (1) Fine Art America; (2) Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship;