Once, when Jesus was alone with his disciples, he asked them this question: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” The disciples replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” “But what about you?” asked Jesus. “Who do you say that I am?”
That’s a big question, isn’t it - Who do you say that Jesus is? Actually, its the biggest question any of us will ever face. A question far more important than which singer we prefer in the X-Factor, which team we want to win the Premier League, or what our opinion is of Donald Trump. Its actually even more important than where we want to work, or which school we want to send our children to, or where we want to invest our income. Because when Jesus asks us “Who do you say that I am?”, he’s actually asking us a question that will determine our eternal destiny. Give the right answer to that question and you are on the road to glory. Get it wrong, and your prospects have just gone ‘south’. Because if sinners choose the wrong saviour, then all hope is lost.
The first person to ever answer Jesus’ question was a disciple called Peter. And we can read his answer in verse 20 of Luke chapter 9 – just a few lines before our reading today. “You are God’s Messiah” (the Christ), said Peter. Having followed Jesus for some time, Peter had come to the conclusion that Jesus was God’s long-promised Messiah - a Heaven-sent Saviour for a sinful human race.
But had Peter come to the right conclusion? Was he right about Jesus’ identity and mission? Well our passage today shows us that Peter’s faith was extremely well-placed. Because a short time later he went with Jesus up a mountain. And while he was there, Peter saw and heard things that should reassure him (and us) that Jesus really had come from God. That he had truly come on a rescue mission for mankind. But before we go further, let me pray: Father, as we come to this passage today, help us to see Jesus in all his glory, and help us to embrace the salvation he brings. In his name, Amen.
- Jesus…reveals the glory of God (v.28-29)
We all wear a mask, don’t we? Not a literal mask, ofcourse, but a metaphorical one. Because if we are honest, we all hide things about ourselves from other people, don’t we? All of us have certain things in our head and heart - or certain things in our personal history - that we would prefer other people didn’t catch sight of. We are all reluctant to fully expose who we really are, because not all of it will be appealing or attractive. So we carefully choose what we say about ourselves to cover up anything that we want to stay private.
In our passage today, Jesus reveals his true nature to his closest friends. On a lonely mountain-top he shows them who he truly is. He literally ‘bares his soul’ to them. But far from being shameful or embarrassing, this revelation is wonderful and glorious to behold. Verses 28 and 29 today tell us what happened - Jesus “took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As Jesus was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.”
Peter and his companions were given the privilege of seeing the essence of Jesus. They were given the great privilege of seeing Jesus with the power and glory that he had as God’s Son before he was born on earth. They were given a foretaste of the majesty that the risen and ascended Jesus has again today in heaven. This vision of Jesus was so glorious that Luke and other New Testament authors struggle to describe what Peter, James and John saw. They say Jesus’s face shone like a flash of lightning, he was brighter than the sun, he looked whiter than snow. Today we simply call it his ‘transfiguration’.
If you are a Christian here this morning, I wonder what you are most looking forward to about Heaven? There’s certainly a lot to look forward to. New bodies in a new world. Emotional reunions with Christian friends and family. Eternal life without sin and suffering. It’s a tantalising prospect!
But the Bible is clear that the best thing about Heaven is that God will be there. The Lord will dwell with his people. We will get to see him face-to-face, and be lost in wonder, love and praise. And that’s what Peter and his companions caught early sight of on that mountain-top. They received a sneak preview of the awesome sight that every Christian will enjoy for eternity. They were left in no mistake that Jesus is Lord. They were given an authentic vision of his glory that they could keep in their minds for the rest of their earthly lives.
And we should keep the same image in our mind’s eye too. When we think of Jesus today, we shouldn’t envisage him as baby in a manger or carpenter wearing sandals. He is a glorious, all-powerful, risen king! Today, in 2017, Jesus possesses a glory, power and splendour that no other religious leader or political ruler can possess. Every other prophet, priest and king is put in the shade. Every other would-be saviour of humanity should step aside. Jesus alone reveals the glory of God.
- Jesus…rescues the people of God (v.30-33)
Companies love a celebrity endorsement of their product, don’t they? That’s why we see adverts with Gary Lineker eating Walkers Crisps, George Clooney drinking Nescafe coffee, and Nicole Kidman using Chanel No.5 perfume. Companies think a celebrity endorsement will make more likely us buy their product, and trust its quality.
Well in verses 30 and 31 of our passage today, Jesus receives his own celebrity endorsement. Because as he stands on that mountain-top, he is joined by a couple of famous figures from the past. Moses and Elijah “appeared in glorious splendour, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem.”
If you know your Old Testament, you’ll remember that Moses was the man chosen by God to lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. Moses was also the man to whom God gave the 10 Commandments. Elijah, meanwhile, was one of the great Old Testament prophets. A man who powerfully spoke God’s Words to the nation of Israel after they had settled in the Promised Land. Taken together, Moses and Elijah represented and personified the whole Old Testament era - like the Mitchell brothers personify EastEnders perhaps, or like Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn represent whole the House of Commons.
Both Moses and Elijah’s earthly lives had ended hundreds of years earlier. But now they appeared from Heaven to stand at Jesus’ side. And their purpose was to endorse him as the fulfilment of everything that they had preached and promised all those years ago. They were endorsing Jesus as the perfect law-abiding Israelite, a man in whom no sin was found. They were commending him as the true ‘Christ’, as the long-promised Messiah from God. In short, they were showing Peter and his companions that they had come to the right conclusion about Jesus.
Its worth taking a moment to listen carefully to the conversation between Jesus, Moses and Elijah, because its very instructive. Luke tells us in verse 31 that they were talking about Jesus’ “departure, which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem.”
So what was this forthcoming “departure”, and why were they talking about it? Well, Jesus’ “departure” at Jerusalem was going to be his death and resurrection. We know this because just a few days earlier Jesus had said explicitly what was going to happen to him in Jerusalem. If you’ve got your Bible open, look at verse 22 (just before our passage today). Referring to himself, Jesus said “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed - and on the third day be raised to life.”
Jesus’ imminent “departure” - his death and resurrection - was going to be the climax of his life, the hour for which he had come. It was going to achieve something so important that Moses and Elijah had appeared from Heaven to discuss it with him. It was going to achieve a rescue of God’s people – it was literally going to achieve a new exodus. We know this because the word for “departure” in Greek is “exodus”.
Again, I trust your Old Testament knowledge is good enough that you know what the first exodus was? The first exodus was when God rescued his people from slavery in Egypt. A Passover lamb died, the Red Sea parted, and the Israelite people were set free! But this new Exodus that Jesus was about to achieve in Jerusalem would be an exodus from sin, rather than slavery. Like the first Passover lamb, Jesus would sacrifice his life to set God’s people free. He would be their sin-bearing substitute, taking God’s judgement in their place and freeing them from guilt. He would rescue for eternity all who put their faith in him. You see, the first Exodus from Egypt was meant to be a prototype - a visual aid - of the great ‘exodus’, the great rescue, that Jesus would achieved by his death and resurrection.
- Jesus…really is the Son of God!
I guess we’ve all seen adverts on TV that seem simply too good to be true? Perhaps a special offer that surely can’t be as good as it seems. Or a trailer for a new film or book that looks barely believeable. We instinctively look for the small print, don’t we? We want to check that an offer really is as good as it appears. We want to read review written by people who’ve already seen the film or read the book. We want to be quite sure we our eyes aren’t deceiving us.
Peter was in a similar situation when he saw Jesus transfigured on the mountain-top. It seems the sight of Jesus, Moses and Elijah was too much to take in. Too much for him to fully get his head around. Verse 33 tells that Peter suggested building three shelters for the three men, but he didn’t really “know what he was saying.”
Thankfully for Peter, and for us, some words of clarification came to him. Words of interpretation and explanation of what he had just seen – words that came from a very reliable source. Because as Peter was speaking “a cloud appeared and covered him”. And “a voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”
You may know that throughout the Bible a cloud is associated with the presence of God. A pillar of cloud led the Israelites out of Egypt. A cloud enveloped Mount Sinai when the Ten Commandments were given. And a cloud filled the Jerusalem Temple on the day of its consecration. So the appearance of a cloud should have given Peter a big clue that the voice he heard belonged to God the Father. A voice that confirmed and clarified Jesus’ identity and mission. A voice that explained the glorious sight that Peter had just seen:
- Firstly, God’s voice was confirming that Jesus was indeed his Son. He really was – and is - divine. Jesus truly is the everlasting king that Peter, and all God’s people, had been waiting for.
- And secondly, God’s voice called Jesus “the Chosen One”. This is a special phrase first found in the Old Testament book of Isaiah. A phrase used to describe a Suffering Servant. A servant who would suffer and die for the sins of God’s people. A servant who would be “pierced for our transgressions”. A Servant who would achieve a great exodus.
Conclusion: Recognise, receive and remember Jesus!
So the voice from above should have left Peter in no doubt about Jesus’ identity. In no doubt that he had correctly answered Christ’s probing question. But as I finish today, where does this all leave us? How should we respond to this passage we’ve read? Well here’s three applications, each helpfully beginning with the letter ‘R’!
Firstly, we must recognise Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, as Son of the living God. That’s the right answer to the most important question in the world. It won’t do to dismiss Jesus as just another prophet, wise man, or magician. We need to recognise him as our rightful Lord and King. We need to listen to his words - just as the voice from the cloud told Peter to do.
Secondly, we must receive the rescue that Jesus achieved for us. We all need to recieve the great salvation, the great exodus, that Jesus made possible when he died and rose again. To be a Christian is to be part of a new exodus community. If you have never done so before, please ask Jesus for the free forgiveness and new life he longs to give you.
Thirdly and finally, if we are already Christians, we need to remember the rescue Jesus achieved for us. We must never forget what Jesus went through to secure our salvation. In a few moments time we will share the Lord’s Supper together, we will eat bread and wine to remember Jesus’ great ‘departure’ - when he, our ‘Passover Lamb’, sacrificed his body and blood for our forgiveness.
But right now, let’s pray: Lord Jesus, thank you for coming from your father on a great rescue mission. Help us to receive your salvation by faith, and to remember it with thanksgiving. In your name we pray, Amen.