The Transfiguration Matthew 7:1-11

The following is the transcript from the Febuary 7, 2016 service at Little Brown Church, Nashua, Iowa. 

Can you remember a time that you may have misplaced an item; a pen, or even your keys?  I remember a time when I had misplaced my good pen and I was looking for it everywhere. I looked in drawers. I looked under things, behind things and in things. I looked on the floor, but it was nowhere. And then I found it. It was in my shirt pocket the whole time.  Often, that is the way that life is. We miss things that have been there the whole time.

That is the story of the Transfiguration. Jesus showed his disciples a part of the world that had been there all along, but it had not really been a part of their world. They were bewildered, astonished and trembling with fear when they saw and understood that heaven was already here in their world and that Jesus was the King of heaven. 

As I began to think about the story of the transfiguration, I realized that there is a connection between this event and Moses going up to receive the law on Mt. Sinai. The transfiguration was about a new covenant God was making with the human family. 

Moses went up Mt. Sinai to speak with God and receive the laws of God so Matthew is tying the transfiguration to what happened with Moses on Mt. Sinai. So the Jews would have a better understanding of who Jesus is. Jesus is the new Moses. Moses came down the mountain with a covenant written on stone. Jesus comes down the mountain with a new covenant to be written on flesh — human hearts. 

Both Moses and Jesus are surrounded by a cloud which represented the presence of God. It was the Shekina — a cloud of glory that made both of them shine like the sun. 

Again Matthew makes a connection to the Old Testament as he reports that Moses appeared to Jesus. And along with Moses, Elijah the prophet appears. Moses represents the Old Testament Law, and Elijah represents the Old Testament Prophets. And we realize, Jesus is not divorced from the Old Testament, but always linked to it. He does not discard the Old Covenant, but transforms it and builds upon it. 

Peter, James and John are overcome with fear. They did not know what to do or say, but Peter blurts out:
“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.” Matthew 17:4 But he is interrupted by the voice from the cloud of glory saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” Matthew 17:5 

But one of the interesting things is that at the transfiguration, although God affirms Jesus as his Son whom he loves, and with whom he is very pleased, and says that we are to listen to him; he says nothing to or about Moses or Elijah. 

Peter is impetuous and doesn’t realize what he is saying. Jesus is not among equals (as important as Moses and Elijah are). Three tents would not have been appropriate, because Jesus is not on par with Moses as another law-giver, and neither is he one of the prophets like Elijah. He is different — completely different. He is the Son of God. He is without equal. 

In our generation, we need to understand that Jesus is not just another religious leader; he stands alone. There is no one with whom he can be compared. 

Singer Sheryl Crow said in a New York Post interview: And I quote, 
“I believe in God. I believe in Jesus and Buddha and Mohammed and all those that were enlightened. I wouldn’t say necessarily that I’m a strict Christian. I’m not sure I believe in heaven.”
Sheryl Crow is where many people are today; they believe in everything and nothing. They are not sure they believe in the Kingdom of God. They believe in this and that. But at some point you are going to have to land on both feet and have them go in the same direction. In order to be aware of the kingdom of God around you, you have to believe in the kingdom of God, and the One who is the King of that kingdom. 

What is interesting is that Matthew says that when the disciples looked up after falling to the ground and cowering in fear, “they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.” Moses was gone, and Elijah was gone, and Jesus stood alone. No one is like him.
The transfiguration answers the question: “Who is Jesus?” The law and the prophets had served their purpose, and Jesus came to fulfill all that they had said.

Jesus understood that the kingdom of God was so important that it should be our highest priority. He said,
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” Matthew 6:33. 

The point of the transfiguration is to not only point to Jesus, but to point to the reality of the Kingdom of God. It helps us to see that the Kingdom of God is not out there somewhere, but right next to us. It is what people often miss, even though they may have been looking for it, like I was looking for my pen. But it is something that has been there all along.

Peter wanted to mark the spot and make it sacred. He wanted to set up three shelters — actually the original language says “tents” or “tabernacles” – places of worship. He wanted to mark the spot as sacred, not realizing that there are not just a few spots which are sacred. The whole world is sacred. It belongs to God. He has created it all and inhabits it all. 

We are so used to thinking about heaven being a place to go when we die. We think of it as being way out there somewhere. But Jesus was showing that heaven is all around us and within us. It is not something for when we die; it is something for when we live. The Kingdom of God is not for the future; God invites us to live in the Kingdom now — in the present. The Kingdom of God is not out there in a distant place and in the distant future, it is right here right now. The Kingdom of God is not just for church, it is for your home and your place of work. It is for you and in you wherever you go. 

`The ancients used to talk about the “thin places”. The thin places are when the Kingdom of God rubs up against the kingdom of the world and breaks into our world — or should I say breaks into our consciousness. It has been here all along — we just did not have eyes to see it.
In the Bible the thin places would be things like God talking to Adam and Eve in the garden, God speaking to Moses in the burning bush, Steven seeing the heavens open as he was being stoned, Jesus healing people and rising from the dead. These were the times when the veil separating the kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of God were so thin that they merged, and the Kingdom of God became visible.

That is what happened at the transfiguration. Peter, James and John had their eyes opened to see that the Kingdom was not a future event, but a present reality.

When you walk from this place today, you will be surrounded by the Kingdom of God. Whether you see it or feel it is irrelevant – it is there. Our part is to be aware of it. Our part is to live in that reality and actively participate in the life of God as it surrounds us and is within us. 

We don’t want to be like those who were unaware and missed the kingdom of God; we want to be those who not only see it and recognize it, but those who plug into its power — the transforming and renewing power as it lives in us and is turned on every day.