Jesus Gives Us a Preview
Don't you just love a good preview? When I go to the movies, I like the previews. I even like it when you rent a movie and they put previews on the tape. Why do they show previews? To sell the movie, right? The guys who make previews take all best parts of the movie and put them together to make you want to buy a ticket. Sometimes the previews promise more than the movie delivers. But I like a good preview, because it gets me excited about the movie. I like watching movies. Almost two thousand years before movies were invented, Jesus invented the preview. In our text for today, we have the first audio-visual, three dimensional preview in history. We call it the transfiguration. But it might be easier to just say Jesus gives us a preview.
I. A preview of divine glory.
II. A preview of pastoral care.
I would really like to have seen a film of the preview Jesus showed. But God didn't preserve it for us that way. Instead, he had Matthew, Mark and Luke all describe the preview for us. It must have been something to see. When you compare the three accounts, all three writers grasp for just the right words to describe what happened. They describe how Jesus gave a preview of his divine glory.
Jesus had often gone off by himself to pray. Peter, James and John had probably spent the entire day climbing that mountain thinking that this was going to be the same. But Jesus had a surprise in store for them at the top. Matthew says "he was transfigured before them." The Greek word that Matthew uses literally means "his shape was changed." Matthew explains that a little more. He says that Jesus' face "shone like the sun" and his clothing became "white like the light." When I was growing up, my father worked for a small town newspaper and part his of job was picture taking. He used have these big, silver lights that he would set up at times to take pictures of us. I remember looking into those lights and being blinded by them. I imagine that Jesus' face and clothing dazzled something like that. That light from his face and his clothing meant something. God didn't just throw it in so that we can ooh and ahh over his special effects. When light erupted from Jesus, his disciples saw who he really was. Jesus was God hidden in the flesh and blood of a human being. He gave us a preview of what he would be like when his work on this earth was finished. He needed to do that because while he lived on this earth, he hid his glory and his power in rags and human flesh.
Suddenly, two dead men, Moses and Elijah, appeared with Jesus. Many people have wondered why these two men appeared. Why not Isaiah or David or Abraham? Maybe it was because God had used Moses to establish the covenant and Elijah to bring his people back to it. Maybe it was because Elijah had ascended physically to heaven in a fiery chariot, and after his death, Moses' body also may have been taken to heaven, although we don't know that for sure. Maybe there was another reason. Jesus never tells us. But it doesn't matter. When the disciples saw Moses and Elijah, they saw what we all are looking forward to: eternal life.
God had one more clip to show the disciples. Suddenly, a bright cloud enveloped them and God spoke from inside it. The cloud represented God's glory. In the Old Testament, when God came down on Mt. Sinai, he came down in a cloud. When Solomon dedicated the temple, God filled it in the form of a cloud. The Old Testament calls this cloud "the glory of the LORD." That glory represents God's physical presence with his people. When that cloud covered the mountain top, God himself covered it. Then he spoke: "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him." The Father didn't point to himself. He didn't give the disciples ten new commandments to bring down from the mountain. He pointed them to Jesus. Up until this moment, when the disciples looked at Jesus, they saw a man. They may have realized he was also God, but they hadn't seen it yet because Jesus came down from heaven and hid his glory in the stable and the strips of cloth, in the poverty of a man who depended on others to supply his needs, in the need to eat and drink and sleep. Not long after our text, Jesus' would hide his glory behind the gruesome death on the cross. But after he rose from the dead, Peter proclaimed that God the Father had declared him to be both Christ and Lord by his resurrection. After all those years of humiliation, God the Father pointed to Jesus as his true Son and our Savior. On the mountain, Jesus gave us a preview of the honor that the God the Father gives him now.
Today the rags are all gone, although the flesh is still there. Today Jesus sits at God's right hand and rules over all things for our good. But we are still looking forward to the day when we will stand with Moses and Elijah, and Peter, James and John, and see Jesus as he is. We are still looking forward to the day when we will hear the Father's voice and join him in praising our Savior. We are looking forward to life in heaven, and to our own resurrection. To put it in human terms, we are still waiting for the movie to come to a theater near us. But God has given us a preview of Jesus' divine glory, to rev us up and get us excited about what is coming.
We need to be revved up because we live in a world in which Jesus' true glory is still hidden. When we look around, we don't see Jesus' rule. In fact, an honest appraisal of our planet is just the opposite. Presidents lie and get away with it, and congressmen and senators try to get whatever political advantage they can from the situation. The Christians that the world knows best are the ones with the TV shows whose teachings are a far cry from the Bible and whose repeated falls into sexual immorality and greed make a mockery of all that Christ came to do. The media and the educational establishment attack all that we believe is right, and advance in their place abortion as a virtue and homosexuality as merely an alternative life style. When we look around us we don't see the glory of Christ. We need the preview of what is coming. God gives it to us today. Jesus is God and Lord. He is ruling over all things for the good of his church. One day, we will stand with him in heaven. One day, he will return and set all things right.
Jesus knew that very soon the disciples would face the greatest trial of their faiths that they would ever know. They would have to watch him die. He knew that they wouldn't understand his death yet. So when he gave them their preview of heaven, he also gave them something else: Jesus gave a preview of pastoral care.
I mentioned before that I even like watching the previews that come on rented movies. There is one exception however. I really dislike the previews that are on the Disney movies that my kids own. It's bad enough that I have to watch Cinderella and The Little Mermaid over and over again, but I have to watch all those Disney promos, too. My reaction to their previews is not what the makers expected. And in our text for today, the disciples reaction to Jesus' preview was not what we might have expected either.
Peter's reaction to Jesus' transfiguration has always intrigued me. Just as Moses and Elijah were about to go, he makes that strange request: "Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters -- one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." What was Peter thinking? Maybe he thought the preview was so good that he didn't want it to end. Maybe he was like the kids in a cartoon I saw recently who were in a cinema running from theater to theater watching the preview of the new Star Wars movie. That's possible. But Mark sheds a little light on Peter's reaction. He says, "He did not know what to say, they were so frightened." Peter, James and John were scarred out of their minds. James and John simply stood there dumbfounded. But whenever Peter got scared, he engaged his mouth. After he spoke that cloud covered them and after God spoke, they were lying on the ground shaking with fear. Why were they so frightened? After all, we all hope to go to heaven some day and to see Jesus face to face. Wouldn't a glimpse of his glory be a real treat?
No. As a matter of fact, it wouldn't. Every time a sinner comes into contact with God's glory in the Bible the reaction is always the same: sheer terror. If you and I were to see a vision of Jesus' glory right now we would react the same way. We would be paralyzed with fear because a sinner cannot stand in the presence of the holy God. When a sinner stands before God, he can't help but feel the contrast between true holiness and himself. In fact, when a sinner stands before God, he realizes that the only just penalty for sin is death. The Bible tells us that if a sinner comes into God's presence, he dies. Not just on this earth, but he dies eternally in hell. No matter how nice we think we are, no matter how committed we are to our church, no matter how much we want to get along with other people, none of us could stand to appear before God. We would be terrified because at that moment we would realize just how close to hell we really are.
The disciples felt that terror and it crippled them. But God hadn't brought them up the mountain to terrorize them. He had brought them up to prepare them. Soon, they would go to Jerusalem with Jesus and see just the opposite of what God showed them on the mountain. In place of divine glory, they would see inhuman suffering. Instead of fellowship with the saints in heaven, they would see rejection and hatred from sinners on earth. In place of God's power, they would see human weakness, our human weakness, when Jesus was nailed to the cross. Before it all happened, God brought them up the mountain to prepare them. God reminded them that Jesus is his only begotten Son and our Savior. He urged them to listen to him. Even before they reached the bottom of the mountain Jesus was telling them that he would die in Jerusalem, but he would also rise.
The essence of all pastoral care, even the care that Jesus himself offers, is to strengthen faith by pointing to the gospel. Jesus showed Peter, James and John that he was God's Son, and he let them feel the terror of standing naked before God with no defense and no escape. But then he told them that he was about to die for the sinfulness that made it impossible for them to stand in God's presence. Jesus went up to Jerusalem and hid his glory from the Jewish council and the Roman governor who condemned him. Jesus hid is glory from the priests and the scribes who stood at his feet and mocked him while he died. Because he hid his glory, no one fell on their faces in terror before him when he was scourged and mocked. The soldiers didn't hesitate to shove a crown of thorns on his head or to drive nails through his hands or to steal his clothes while he was dying in front them. Because Jesus hid that glory and died that death, all the sin that keeps us away from God, all the sin that makes us terrified when we have to stand before him, is completely obliterated.
Already as they came down from the mountain, Jesus told his disciples that he would rise from the dead so that the fear that cripples every sinner in God's presence can be erased forever. Jesus kept his promise. Easter is God's testimony that his beloved Son, in whom he was well pleased, finished his work completely and perfectly. There is nothing left to keep us away from God. When we die and appear before God's judgment seat, we won't tremble. We will rejoice. When Christ returns with his angels and reveals his glory to everyone, the world around us will tremble like it has never trembled before. But we Christians will smile. We will lift up our heads and welcome our God and Savior.
Jesus knew how little his disciples understood. So when the cloud was gone, he gently touched them and spoke to them, just like we lay a hand on a frightened child or a grieving friend to express our love and our concern. Jesus loved those poor, frightened, confused men on that mountain. So when they looked up, they didn't see that dazzling, radiant Jesus. They saw the old, familiar Jesus. That Jesus told them that he would rise and he told them to tell no one about what had happened until after he rose, because he knew that they didn't understand it yet.
Jesus loves us, just as he loved those men. We are often every bit as frightened and confused as they were. While Jesus doesn't often lay a physical hand on our shoulders, he does reach out to us when we are afraid. Because he loves us, he lets us see that our sins do trouble him, in fact they were the reason why he had to die. But then he reminds us that he did die and he rose so that no matter when we enter heaven, we can do it with joy. Because he is preparing us to enter heaven, he cares for us, day after day, year after year, in whatever troubles or hardships we face. When Jesus picked those disciples up off the mountain and took them to Jerusalem, he gave us a preview of the love that he shows to us each and every day of our lives.
You just have to love this preview. You have to love the full length feature even more. Jesus gave us a preview of his glory, the glory that we will enjoy -- not fear -- when we join him in heaven. Jesus gave us a preview of his pastoral care, the care that he exercises every day of our lives, first of all by pointing us to our salvation, then by reminding us that he takes care of those that he loves. Today we are living the full length feature of Jesus' pastoral care, and it is all that the preview promised. One day, we will live the full length feature of Jesus' divine glory. That feature will deliver on all the promises of the preview. Amen.