Something truly astonishing is described in Luke 9. Here’s Luke’s account:
“About eight days after Jesus said this…
Said what? Said that a few of those present would “see the kingdom of God.” Evidently that means a revelation of God’s power on the earth. And that’s what happens next.
“…after Jesus said this he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray.
The favoured three- Jesus’s inner circle. Imagine sharing a time of prayer with Jesus! For then the adventure begins:
“As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendour, talking with Jesus. 31 They spoke about his departure,which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what he was saying.)
34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’ 36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.”
There are a number of powerful points in this amazing passage. I used the word “adventure” a moment ago, for that’s what this passage describes: an adventure in intimacy. Peter, James and John hugged the memory of it to themselves and told no one about it, possibly for years. It was too precious for common conversation -like one of those ancient books which, on being brought to the light, turns to dust with the prying fingers of the investigator. You simply “Do not give what is holy to the dogs” (Matt 7:6).
And anyone who walks with the Lord experiences times of such solemn beauty that talking about it is the last thing you want to do. So “The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.”
Bill Johnson once said something which helped me a great deal. He said: “Royalty is your identity; servanthood is your assignment; intimacy with God is your source of strength.” And this passage indicates the strengthening power of intimacy with God.
But why? Because it offers revelation about the mystery of the kingdom of God; teaches us so much of who Jesus was, and describes the nature of the incarnation – the “enfleshing” of the Christ. Madeline L’Engle’s fine poem Transfiguration takes us deep into this:
Suddenly they saw him
the way he was,
the way he really was
all the time,
although they had never
seen it before,
the glory which blinds
the everyday eye
and so becomes invisible.
This is how
he was, radiant, brilliant,
like a flaming sun
in his hands.
This is the way he was—is—
from the beginning,
and we cannot bear it.
So he manned himself,
came manifest to us;
and there on the mountain
they saw him, really saw him,
saw his light.
We all know that if we really
See him we die.
But isn’t that what is
required of us?
Then, perhaps, we will see
each other, too.
Val and I once happened to sitting together on the couch facing the stairs, when a rather diffident young man (who was scheduled to speak to our young people later that morning), came down after spending a time of prayer alone. He said nothing, only smiled, and nodded acceptance of Val’s offer of tea. But his face was radiant with pleasure, shining with intelligence and grace. He had been with the Lord and we knew our young people were in good hands.
And so it was, I think, to the nth degree, that as Jesus was praying, “the appearance of his face changed, and [even] his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. ” The strengthening power of intimacy with God!
And “Two men, 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.” Spurgeon has a rather clever sermon on this verse. He describes the “glorious splendour“of the old dispensation (remember the comparison in 2 Corinthians 3?) which pales into insignificance before the glory of the new. But the Old is part of the whole story, -the necessary precursor; the root system that produces the flower- so they have to be there! So Moses symbolises the Law, and Elijah stands for the Prophets – but neither or both is adequate, and when the cloud lifts, the disciples “found that Jesus was alone.” And the imminent “fulfilment at Jerusalem” is all that remains to be done.
And all we need is “Jesus only” of whom the Prophets speak and in whom the Law is fulfilled.
Such is the sermon (to which I’ve done scant justice, no doubt).
The truth is that when we try to analyse the mystery of intimacy, then we become like Peter -who almost seems like comic relief in this particular drama, serving to lighten the unbearable tension of such a holy moment- who blurts out some nonsense about memorializing the moment. That wonderful phrase about him (“He did not know what he was saying”) offers relief to blurters everywhere! It also convinces me that it is Peter who first recounted the story!
Lord Jesus, draw me into such intimacy. Teach me of yourself, but first ready me to understand all that you would teach me! I desire that the appearance of my own face changes, as I gaze upon Light and seek your face, and realise again that I am utterly loved.