Transfiguration: “Divine Interruption”
February 23rd, 2020 – Matthew 17:5
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
The Transfiguration of Our Lord as found in the Gospel of Matthew. What’s going on in this two-thousand-year-old text? What are the details that help us to better understand this highly significant event?
First, we see Jesus leading three of His disciples up on a high mountain by themselves. A high mountain? There is significance all throughout the Scriptures regarding a high mountain or high hill. On these high places is where God dwells.
In the poetic books of the bible, the mountain is contrasted with chaotic waters or low valleys. The high places, like mountains, are safe places from the chaos of the oceans or the vulnerability of a low valley. A standard military concept is that the high place is preferred because it offers clear visibility of its surroundings and can more easily be defended. It is a place of safety and security. It is also closer to the sky than lower ground and the sky is always thought of as the place where God, (or as the pagans thought, the gods) lived. Many times in the OT God tells the Israelites to tear down the “high places” where they would worship other gods.
In our OT reading from Exodus we read about Moses taking three significant people, plus 70 elders, up and they see and eat and drink with God. In God’s mercy, these people are not destroyed by His presence but kept safe by God’s forgiveness.
The high mountain Jesus went up to symbolized going up closer to God. Just like the OT reading, we see this happening and are expecting God to come along.
What we see first is not God coming in a cloud (as He normally does in these situations) or even a voice from heaven. What we see first in this mountain top experience is the man, Jesus, bursting with light and the radiating God’s glory. We see Jesus showing Himself to BE God! WE see Jesus showing Himself to be the same God we read about in Exodus. He is transfigured and this Epiphany of who God is revealed to the disciples and to us the readers. This man Jesus is God.
Moses + Elijah Alive
Not only do we see Jesus shining like the sun and His clothes even reflecting His glory by beaming with light, we see something else absolutely miraculous. What else do we see? We see Moses and Elijah. Why is this so miraculous? Why are Moses and Elijah showing up and talking with Jesus significant? They are just a few guys standing on a mountain talking to each other, right? Nothing too miraculous about that. Except for the fact that Moses had lived and died about 1500 years earlier. OR that Elijah had lived about 800 years earlier and had been taken up into heaven by God. These are men who had lived and died and are living again! Wow! How does this make sense? What kind of logic can you think of to make this make sense? How is this possible? How is Jesus being God, and showing Himself to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, transfiguring Himself into blazing white light, possible? How are two dead men, or at least one dead man and one man who had been living up in heaven for 800 years, suddenly alive again having a chat with Jesus? How does this make sense and what do we make of this?
What would you say or do if you were there watching this? What do you think or say about it now?
Peter Divinely Interrupted
Peter was there. Peter was the oldest disciple. He saw many miraculous things and heard a lot of Jesus’ teaching. He had studied all the OT since he was a young child. Surely, He should know what this is all about. What does He think? What conclusion does He come to? Well, he starts saying what he thinks is the right thing. He concludes they are about to hang out on this mountain with Moses, and Elijah, and starts offering to build tents for them all when… “EXCUSE ME!” He is divinely interrupted.
Divinely interrupted? Divinely interrupted. Interrupted by the Divine. Peter thinks what he is saying is the right thing. He thinks he has interpreted what is going on correctly. Jesus has just told him immediately before in chapter 16 that He must suffer and die and rise again and Peter rebuked Jesus Jesus for saying it.
Now we see Peter again focusing on keeping Jesus on the mountain top and avoiding what was coming next. We see Peter focusing on the things of men and not the things of God.
So, Peter is divinely interrupted. The text says “as He was still speaking” a “bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.”
It is almost like God the Father had to come and back up what God the Son, Jesus, had been saying earlier. Peter! Listen to Him! He is my Christ! He is going to suffer, die, and rise again! Stop trying to keep Him here!
What does God Divinely Interrupt you in?
This Divine Interruption was so obvious and so direct it is hard to ignore. God clearly pointed out that Jesus is God and that He was going to suffer and die for the sins of the world. Even when Peter thought he grasped what was going on, God had to interrupt. Thankfully, God worked through Peter and He got it. Peter’s letter we read a portion of this morning shows he understood the most important part.
In your life, where does God Divinely Interrupt you? Do you start thinking that because that person broadcasts your weaknesses you ought to be able to broadcast theirs to your friends? When you start thinking that, God Himself in His word aught to Divinely Interrupt your conclusion by saying, “No! Stop hurting them by your words. Forgive as I have forgiven you!”
Do you start thinking that you’re not “technically” stealing because the company won’t even notice the little bit that you take, so it is probably okay? “EXCUSE ME!” God Divinely interrupts. “That is stealing! You’re hurting my creation made in my image. That’ll cost you your life.” “My child, because of my son Jesus’ death, I forgive you, go and sin no more.”
When the devil starts working at you and you start thinking to yourself, “how can I possibly be forgiven?” “I’m not worth it.” “God does not care about me.” “I hate my life.” God divinely interrupts and says to you, “I forgive you. You are priceless to me. I love you. I have saved you with the blood of my only Son. I want YOU to live with Me forever.”
When our conclusions are wrong. When God says something to us and we misunderstand, He sends messengers, Pastors, Elders, other Christians, police officers, friends, to correct our conclusions and point us to the truth.
What is the truth?
Jesus came to the earth to die for your sins.
He didn’t come to linger healing a few people or preaching for a little while. He came to unjustly suffer, die, and rise again so that He can justly forgive all our sins. He came to create in us clean hearts through His forgiveness given by Jesus’ death through Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Communion.
Terrified / “Rise, have no fear”
When we hear God’s Divine Interruption, and like the disciples, fall on our faces and are terrified because of our mistakes – Jesus does the same thing for us as He did to His disciples. He comes to us in our fear, touches us and says, “Rise, and have no fear.”
How can we rise and have no fear? Because Jesus has forgiven our mistakes and went to the cross to win our salvation. Our sins do not damn us because they are forgiven in Christ. We do not need to go to a mountain top, find God, and build tents to be with God. God is coming to us. God came to us in Jesus and lived among us, God lives in us as the Holy Spirit, and Jesus is coming again to dwell among us in the new heavens and new earth where we will live with Him forever and no sin will separate us.
Jesus’ Divine Interruption makes all the difference. God’s correcting voice tells us the good news of forgiveness and never-ending life in Jesus. May God always interrupt us and comfort us with that truth.