Transfiguration and Blessing

A Sermon by Penny Tapp, 2 March 2014

The Account of the Transfiguration is in three of the Gospels: in Mark and Luke and Matthew as we have heard today. Today we focus on Matthews’s version. The historical mountain is thought to be either Mount Tabor in Southern Galilee or Mount Harmon, north of Caesarea Philippi where Jesus had been ministering.

Can you imagine what it must have been like on that mountain for the disciples? …..  This event happens at a time when Jesus is under attack from the political and religious leaders who are now seeking to destroy him.

He asks his disciples in the previous chapter ‘Who do people say that the son of man is?’ wishing to find out what public rumour was saying. They reply ‘Some say John the Baptist, or Elijah or Jeremiah. Jesus then asks them ‘And who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answers’ you are the Messiah, the son of the living God.’  Jesus responds by telling Peter he is blessed because God has revealed this truth to him and Peter would be the future rock on which he will build his church.

Jesus had also recently tried to tell his disciples about his own death and warned them that those who would follow him must be prepared to loose their lives for his sake as in loosing their life they would find it. This is a hard message for his disciples to grasp at this stage.

Jesus took James, Peter and John up the mountain away from the crowds. Whilst they rest he is suddenly transformed. His face shines and his garments are a dazzling white. Moses and Elijah appear and are seen talking with Jesus. This vision of Jesus talking with two great pillars of Jewish History affirms Jesus’ position of authority. Moses is the great Law giver; he instituted the sacrificial system of atonement. He led the people of Israel out of Egypt toward the Promised Land. Elijah, whose name meant ’My God is truly the Lord’ was remembered for re-establishing the peoples relationship with God. They had worshipped false Gods under the rule of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. He had destroyed the false prophets and re-instituted the fear of the Lord preceding God’s renewed blessing on Israel.  Elijah was reputed not to have died but was taken up into heaven in a fiery chariot.

Peter responds to this revelation by wanting to build three shelters. He links this revelation with the exodus and the feast of tabernacles that commemorates the Israelites life in tents prior to their entry into the Promised Land. He is anticipating another triumphal entry into a new kingdom.  His interpretation is correct but his timing wrong. Jesus’ final triumph is yet to come.

Not only do the three men see a vision but they hear the voice of God saying ‘This is my beloved Son, Listen to him.’  Jesus’ divinity in the eyes of these men is affirmed, their understanding secured. They fall down terrified at the sound of God’s voice. Jesus comes and touches them telling them to get up and not be afraid. They descend the mountain together.

What message has this story for us and how does it link with the theme of blessing?

Through this passage we are reminded of who Jesus really is, through the eyes of Peter, James and John we see him glorified and given great authority as the chosen one of God, come to liberate people from the bondage of sin and death. In response to this revelation we are encouraged to worship such a holy and mighty God with due reverence and fear and then, also to get up, to respond. We do not have to be afraid as Jesus is with us as we go out into the world to do his work. We are to’ Take up our cross and follow him’ as did his disciples.

Peter was regarded as blessed by Jesus because he had recognised Jesus as the Messiah. This knowledge would enable him to live a fruitful life for God’s kingdom.  The spiritual law of blessing is free flow. God blesses and we receive his blessings. As we receive we bless others and in return we are blessed. Blockages in our lives prevent this free flow of blessing- we all know about these.

A prerequisite to blessing is a thankful heart. As we remember the love of God to us we are called to be thankful for this love and to express this thanks by giving to others both verbally and practically with our gifts, our prayers, our time and attention. Each day we receive blessings. The sun or rain, a smile, a kind word or deed, provision, a meal, friendship, work and rest and as we receive we are called to freely give. I am reminded by these thoughts of the prayer of St Francis of Assisi. ‘Make me a channel of your peace.’

Through this process of being blessed by our knowledge of God and our relationship with him we are enabled to turn in blessing to others and we are transformed by the renewing of our minds, to quote Paul. We are delivered from a life of bondage to self, sin and death. We have the hope of complete metamorphoses from death to eternal life – the message of hope through the transfiguration and the resurrection of Christ, Lord and Saviour.