Recently I was asked to preach in my church on rather short notice. It was Saturday morning and Sunday is coming real soon. I pondered on what I should preach. I settled on the Transfiguration of our Lord, partly because of the notes I had from past preaching on the text. I choose to focus on Luke’s account in chapter 9. I was still not sure about the direction of my preparation.
But when I woke up on Sunday morning, I had the key concept for the sermon. It evolved around my remembrance of the title of a book widely read during the days of the Jesus Movement in the early 70’s. The tile was “Good Old Plastic Jesus.” I had the burden for the church to deal with the concept of appearance vs. reality. If our faith practice is only having more helpful knowledge of Jesus, or doing more good for him, we can easily miss the heart connection with him. Jesus can then become an idol in our mind, appearing as “Good Old Plastic Jesus” rather then the real person, with whom we enjoy deep rationality. We need to be careful not to put Jesus into our religious box.
Eight days after telling the disciples that he would die in Jerusalem and then rise again, Jesus took his inner circle, Peter, James and John, “onto a mountain to pray.” As Jesus was praying, “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes become as bright as a flash of lightening” ( Luke 9:29). Matthew tells us, “His face shone like the sun” (Matt. 17:3). Jesus was transfigured. The glory of his divine nature shone through his human nature. Moses and Elijah appeared in “glorious splendor” taking about Jesus departure after his death. This was truly a glorious event.
Did Jesus know this would happen to him? Knowing his disciples were perplexed concerning his impending death in Jerusalem and his call for them to lose their life, in order to find it, Jesus was drawn to be with his Father. The three disciples were deeply impacted by their experience on the mountain. Later Peter wrote, “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased'” II Peter 1:18).
At the time of the Transfiguration, Peter took charge. “‘Master, this is a great moment! Let’s build three memorials, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He blurted this out without thinking” Luke 9:33 – Message). What was Peter doing? He was, in a sense, building a box for Jesus. The disciples didn’t want Jesus to die. They weren’t sure what Jesus meant when he said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
“While he was babbling on like this, a light-radiant cloud enveloped them. As they found themselves buried in the cloud, they become deeply aware of God. Then there was a voice out of the cloud: ‘This is my Son, he Chosen! Listen to him” (Luke 9:35). When the sound of the voice died away, the disciples saw Jesus there alone.
The implication for us as men is this – beware of your spiritual improvement projects when we use Jesus, rather then let him be Lord. The voice is saying to us, listen to Jesus. He is my Son. Out of love for you, God will place you in “The Cloud of Unknowing” for your own good. Stay there and listen. Don’t act on your own understanding. It could be another religious box.