The Feast of Transfiguration
Sitting in my office is a painting called The Two Crowns. In this painting, a king rides through the streets in full regalia, seated on an elegant, white horse. The crowd goes wild for him. The women swoon. The king, however, is distracted. He stares at the upper corner of the painting, at a dark, almost imperceptible crucifix, at the true King, his sovereign Lord, crowned with thorns. There are two crowns in the painting. One represents glory, one suffering.
The Transfiguration texts are a lot like that picture (Matt. 17:1–8; Mark 9:2–8; Luke 9:28–36). On the feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord, we have the opportunity to celebrate our Lord’s glory. Our joy is bittersweet, however. The season of Epiphany ends this coming Wednesday. Our attention turns from our Savior’s glory to His suffering. We begin our Lenten journey with the day of ashes, a symbol of our sorrow over sin.
Unlike the unbelieving world, however, we Christians can bear our suffering with hope. Our Lord has suffered too. He has suffered for us in every way. And by His suffering, He has won us glory. We get a glimpse of that glory this Sunday, Transfiguration Sunday. The veil is removed, and we see Christ as He was before Christmas and Christ as He is after Easter—we see Christ in His resplendent, divine glory. What was once veiled in the Old Testament promises, God now reveals for all to see in Christ. Here is the long-promised Savior: clothed in radiant flesh, who will soon be stripped, beaten, mocked, and crucified. Cherish this glimpse of Christ’s glory. It reveals who Christ is. It reveals why Christ was chosen.
Peter, James, and John were three men in desperate need of a coffee addiction. These same three men also went with Jesus to Gethsemane. They were with Jesus at His most glorious moment and in His darkest hour. Both times they fell asleep. On this occasion, however, God woke them up in a major way.
Imagine opening your eyes to this scene. There is Jesus, normally an average man in average clothes among average people, now radiant with all His divine glory, shining like the Sun. There He is, talking to two of the most important men in the history of God’s plan of salvation: Moses (whose burial site only God knew, the giver of the Law fulfilled in Christ) and Elijah (who was taken to heaven in a chariot of fire, the man to whom many compared John the Baptist, Christ’s forerunner). In excitement, Peter yelled out before he even knew what he was saying, “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” (Luke 9:33). Peter was quickly interrupted, however, and I am sure he wasn’t offended.
“This is My Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him,” the Father thundered from heaven (Luke 9:35). A few weeks ago, we heard the Father say a similar thing at Christ’s Baptism. It is interesting that both these events fall in the Epiphany season of the church year, the season we leave behind this Sunday. As we prepare to embark on the Lenten path, the Father uses this last festival of Epiphany, the Transfiguration, to announce one more time to us just who Jesus is: His beloved Son, the Chosen One.
Why was His beloved Son here? Why was the Chosen One standing on a remote mountain in an insignificant country in an unsophisticated time in the world’s history? Why wasn’t He in heaven, where He always shone with transfigured glory and knew no suffering? Elijah and Moses give us the answer.
Christ arrived here on Christmas in order to depart 33 years later on Good Friday. This departure is what Moses and Elijah discussed with Jesus. This departure is what Jesus had predicted to His disciples just before our lesson in the Gospels. This departure is what Christ would predict to them again immediately after this lesson. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it is all arranged the same. Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ. Christ predicts His death and resurrection. Christ is transfigured. Christ heals a demon-possessed boy whom the disciples could not heal because of their weak faith. The disciples argue over who is the greatest.
Jesus did not want His disciples to lose sight of what was coming. Yes, He brought three of them with Him to get a glimpse of His glory, but before and after this event, He reminded them He came to suffer and die. He didn’t want them to get so distracted by the crown of glory that they forgot the crown of suffering. In the same way, in suffering, Christ did not want them to lose sight of the crown of glory.
Peter, James, and John came to the Mount of Transfiguration tired. They left filled with excitement, but also with questions. They soon became distracted by the cares of the world and argued over who was the greatest. Christ had to keep explaining, keep correcting, keep calling them back to the big picture, keep reminding them why it was He had come to this world.
The Father says, though, “This is My Son. Listen to Him.” Listen to Him now. See His glory. It is your glory because all that is His is yours through faith. As you look at His glory, however, keep an eye on the other crown—the one made of thorns. Remember His passion, because His suffering is also yours. It is yours because He suffered in your place. “Who killed Jesus?” The answer is simple. You and I did. Not the nails, but our sins and His love held Him to the cross. The Father’s “Listen to Him” does not end with our trip down the Mount of the Transfiguration. That “Listen to Him” applies equally at His cross.
As you descend the Mount of Transfiguration, remember The Two Crowns. Carry it with you in your mind as we begin our Lenten journey. Christ’s death was sandwiched between His transfiguration and resurrection for a reason. He is the Victor. Christ suffered for a reason: to win us His glory, which He shows us today. Cherish these glimpses of glory. They reveal that Christ is the beloved Son of God. They also reveal that He came to give His life for you. And so we descend this Mount of Transfiguration and make our way to Mount Calvary. And so we bear our own crosses knowing that glory awaits, precisely because of His cross. Remember who it is that suffered for you. Remember who it is for whom you suffer. And remember who and what awaits us: the One who didn’t linger on this mountain but set His face on Jerusalem to bring us to lasting glory with Him.