(A) The glory of the son’s name in the Cross
This week, we look at the transfiguration. Luke begins his account of the transfiguration by referring to the sayings of eight days ago (v.28). Clearly, he was picking up from the words and themes in the preceding verses, where Jesus spoke about His death, and called His disciples to death to self too. Verses 28 to 45, therefore, follow from these commands to come and die.
Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and Luke takes pains to record for us the place that they go to (v.28) as well as the individuals they encounter there (v.30). Jesus and the disciples "went up on the mountain to pray" (v.28). In the OT, in places such as Exo 20:1-17, 1 Kings 19:2, God spoke to Moses and Elijah at the mountain. The mountain was a special place where God reveals himself, and here in Luke 9, the pattern continues as God will act and speak in a special way again.
As Jesus was praying, his appearance was altered (v.29) and "behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah" (v.30). Who were these people? Moses was important to the Jews because he received the Law from God (i.e. the 10 Commandments). Elijah was a great prophet in their history. On the mountain, the entire OT -- the law and the prophets -- was being represented and conversing wtih Jesus! This is also significant because this is a fulfilment of OT prophesy, in places like Deut 18:15 and Mal 4:5. Jesus, the one to whom all the Law and Prophets point to, is fulfilling all that was written! This account is amazing on so many levels. Here on the mountain, God was speaking and revealing Himself in a way similar to what He had done before, but with a more amazing and mindblowing message. For us today, God does not speak from a mountain, but do we realise that all of God's Word and also when His Word is being preached, are times when He is revealing Himself to us?
The transfiguration account is also recorded for us elsewhere, in Matt 17:3 and Mark 9:4. Unlike these passages, Luke's description gives us 2 unique pieces of information. We are told the content of their conversation in verse 31 ("spoke of his departure") and that the disciples were "heavy with sleep" (v.32). Why was the content of their conversation important enough for Luke to record it for us? Jesus in glory, was talking to two dead prophets about his impending departure from Jerusalem. Reading it in the larger context about his death, we see once more that the departure (or exodus as the word is in Greek) from Jerusalem had to take place with his death. This upcoming death was clearly quite important!
Luke records for us the sleepiness of the disciples in verse 32, and this contrasts with their reactions in verse 33. By this time, they had become "fully awake" and "saw his glory and the two men who stood with him" (v.32b), and were frantically trying to do something. Peter suggested that tents be made (v.33), indicating that he thought it was time for some celebration. It is not difficult to assume that Peter was excited about all that was going on, and seeing all the glory on that mountain would naturally dispel the doom and gloom and talk of death that had been taking place.
But this was not all. Luke, once more, carefully inserts a description of the situation. We are told that Peter spoke "not knowing what he said" (v.33) and was clearly confused by everything that was going on. In verse 34, a cloud came and a voice spoke through the cloud (v.35). Now, God the Father spoke clearly and tells them who Jesus is. Jesus is his Son, the Chosen One and they were to "listen to him" (v.35). There was no doubt about God's message, Jesus' identity, and the disciples' response. How did the disciples respond? At the end of this transfiguration account, we are told that they "kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen" (v.36). This was unlike verse 21, where Jesus had to charge and command them to stay silent. As more things were revealed, the disciples seem to be more confused. Jesus' revelation of His plans appeared to be different from what they expected.
What is the importance of the transfiguration? Sandwiched between predictions of His death, the transfiguration does not seem to fit into the flow at first glance. This account could seem just as confusing for us, as it did for the disciples. But Luke inserted it here, to help add clarity to Jesus' claims in the verses before. In revealing Himself in glory, Jesus was authenticating the message of the cross. The glory of the Son needs to be seen through the shadow of the cross.
What does this passage mean for us today? So often, we could be just as confused as the disciples, and not be sure of His divinity. This passage calls us back to the importance of paying attention to His Word if we want to understand who He is, and what His purpose and mission is. It also reminds us that if we want to see the majestic Christ in all His power and glory, we first need to go the cross. We cannot separate Jesus from the Cross. Do you want to see God's glory? We don't need to take His Word and go up some mountain or retreat to a corner of the world, or make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. His glory is displayed in Jesus at the cross, and all we need to do is to trace His words, and it will lead us there.
(B) The power of the son’s name in the Cross
Following the transfiguration, "on the next day", in Luke's own words, they descend from the mountain and meet with a great crowd (v.37). This is a stark contrast from the previous setting. They have moved from a mountain-top experience and glorious encounter with God into normal life with all its problems. Here we are told that the disciples were unable to heal a demon-possessed child. They were back in life, facing the spiritual reality before which they were utterly powerless.
The father of the demon-possessed child approached Jesus for help, and Jesus identified the problem (v.40-41). He called them a "twisted and faithless generation" and unlike the disciples, were able to heal the boy. At the end of the healing, those who witnessed it "were astonisehd at the majesty of God". Luke emphasised the people's amazement at witnessing the power and authority of Jesus, which extended to control over the spirits. The disciples too, were "all marveling at everything he was doing" (v.43b) and it is at this point that Jesus spoke to them. What did he say? He did not rebuke them for their faithlessness, and neither did He teach them how to deal with spirits in the future. He did not encourage them ot have more faith, and neither did He explain ow he healed the child. He told them to "let these words sink into your ears" (v.44a) and spoke about something completely unrelated, pointing once once more to His death on the cross. Jesus seemed to be completely concerned with one thing -- His death. In verse 44, he is drawing attention to a different dimension of His death, that the Son of Man will be betrayed by man.
The disciples, we are told, were confused and did not understand (v.45). If we are honest, we are more like the disciples than we think. Jesus' words are difficult to really understand, even for us this side of the cross. Luke 9 tells us that the glory and power of the son's name is tied to the cross. The Father and Son both point to the cross. What do we do with all that has been revealed? Do we listen?
As we continue this series on the cross during the season of Lent, let us pause for a moment and consider the significance of Jesus' work on the cross. Let us not be content with having a "miracle worker" God, and pray that we may be able to see His glory on the cross in fresh new ways, ways that get us excited not only in the mountain-top highs, but also down in the valleys of life.
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
(Galatians 6:14 ESV)