The Gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent speaks of the Transfiguration of Jesus. Given that we read of this event every year, I tend to think that we have become so familiar with the story that we miss its power and significance. But this event was apparently a very powerful experience for the disciples because Matthew, Mark and Luke all describe it in detail in their Gospels. Peter refers to it in his second Epistle. John remembers it in his Gospel. And the Transfiguration is mentioned in at least four non-Biblical writings.
Matthew says that when Jesus was transfigured, “His face became as dazzling as the sun, His clothes as radiant as light.” (Mt 17:2) Luke says, “His face changed in appearance”. (Lk 9:29) Then Luke continues using the exact same wording that we heard in Matthew today, “His clothes became dazzlingly white.”
On that mountaintop, Jesus changed in appearance. He began to shine, emitting bright rays of light; His face began to shine like the sun, and his garments became white as light. It is interesting to note that in describing heaven, in the Book of Revelation, John wrote that, “There is no need of a sun or a moon, for the Glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” (Rev 21:23)
The Transfiguration, therefore, is a pivotal moment. It is the key to understanding just exactly who Jesus is. By allowing the disciples to witness the dramatic change in His appearance, Jesus clearly and unmistakably reveals His true identity. And the voice from the cloud confirms that identity. “This is My beloved Son.” The next three words spoken by the voice from the cloud are especially important to you and me. Matthew, Mark and Luke all use exactly the same words in recalling them. After saying, “This is my beloved Son”, the next three words spoken by the voice from the cloud were, “Listen to Him.”
Jesus, therefore, is not only identified as the Son of God, He is also identified as the spokesman for the Father. Jesus Himself confirmed this fact when He said, “The word you hear is not mine. It comes from the Father who sent me.” (Jn 14:24)
I would have to think that the primary purpose of the Transfiguration was that Jesus wanted to reveal His true identity to his “inner circle” of disciples, to help them gain a greater understanding and appreciation of exactly who He was, prior to His upcoming passion, death and resurrection. But no one, not even the disciples, could grasp the full significance of who Jesus was and the reason for His presence here on earth. So Jesus did not want this experience of theirs to become general knowledge just yet. Matthew, Mark and Luke all say that, as they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them not to reveal what they had seen till after, “The Son of Man had risen from the dead.” (Mk 9:9) For Jesus knew that it wouldn’t be till after His resurrection that they would fully realize His true identity and the true purpose of His mission.
There are two places in the scriptures where we hear the voice of the Father identifying Jesus as “My beloved Son”. The first time is when Jesus was baptized by John at the Jordan River. The second time is here, at the Transfiguration of Jesus. But the last three words spoken by the voice from the cloud, here at the Transfiguration, are critically important to you and me. “Listen to Him.” So obviously, it is the Father’s will that we pay close attention to what His Son, Jesus, had to say.
During His life here on earth, Jesus obviously gave many teachings and taught many lessons. But most importantly, the life of Jesus, as recorded for us in the Scriptures, is a testament to how we are to live our lives. Obviously, God had given us the Ten Commandments as a guideline, but Jesus provided us with detailed and specific instruction on how we are to interpret these commandments and how we are to live the heart of this law in our daily lives. Jesus did not abolish or remove any of the original Ten Commandments, but it is important to note that He did expand and add to the list. Jesus did add one and only one new one. Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (Jn 13:34)
I think it is common knowledge that none of us are going to get out of this life alive. I assume everyone is aware of the fact that our lives here on earth are terminal. I don’t think I am shocking anyone with that revelation, am I? But it is comforting to know that when we get to that point, and we pass through that final door, Jesus will meet us to welcome us home. Then Scripture says that, “Every one of us will have to give an account of himself before God.” (Rom 14:12) We will have an opportunity to show just what we did with the life we’ve been given. And I am certain that we will then realize just how precious the time we are allotted here on earth really is. But Jesus won’t be interested in our successes and accomplishments in life. We may feel pride for our achievements. And that is commendable. But within that feeling of pride, we are actually glorifying ourselves. Jesus will be much more interested in how we honored others in our life. How did we love, and how did we live and show that love to others? Did we place conditions on our ability to love others? In other words, did we love them because they were attractive, or friendly, or fun to be with? Or did we love them unconditionally?
In that final exam, we will finally realize that the ultimate purpose of life is, was and always has been, to learn to love unconditionally, as Jesus commanded. We will then see, feel, and understand the full consequence of all our thoughts, words and actions, and what affect these had on others in our lives. We will experience again not only our joys, but also the joys we gave to others, at every point in our life. And we will also experience, in full detail, the pain, hurt and sorrows we imparted on others by our inability to show love, or by the conditions we placed on our love. I cannot imagine anything more joyous than to experience the joy we gave to others by our love for them. And I cannot imagine anything more painful, than to experience the pain and sorrow we caused others by our inability to love.
It should become obvious, therefore, that those who have gone before us have all experienced that same judgment. They now know and have experienced the consequences of their every thought, word and deed. Consequently, if we are harboring any pain, anger or sorrow in our hearts caused by the actions or words of someone who has gone before us, the most merciful thing we can do is to forgive them. If we are to love unconditionally, then we must show our love for them and free them by forgiving them. Our God showed us how to love. He even died an excruciatingly painful death for us to show us the depth of His love. His love for us is unconditional. He simply asks, in spite of all our weaknesses and failures, that we also learn to love unconditionally. Scripture says that to pray for the dead is a noble thing to do, “That they might be freed from their sins.” (2 Maccabees 12:46) So when we pray for the souls of those who have gone before us, the best and most effective prayer we can offer is one of gratitude, love and forgiveness.
The Transfiguration of Jesus, therefore, is the pivotal moment in our journey of faith. For rather than allowing ourselves to focus on the negative events and experiences of life, the Transfiguration offers us the opportunity to remember who we really are and why we are here. When contemplating the Transfiguration, we must remember that we are all brothers and sisters of Jesus, sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father. The apostle John reminds us in his first letter that, “We are all children of God now; but what we shall later be has not yet come to light. But we do know that when it does come to light, we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as he really is.” (1 John 3:2) Remember that phrase. We shall be like Him. It is vitally important to our understanding and appreciating the significance of Jesus’ Transfiguration. For what John is telling us is that the glory of the transfigured Jesus awaits each and every one of us also. We know by faith that a glorified body awaits each and every one of us when we reach our heavenly home. Then, as sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, we will be citizens of an eternal Kingdom that has no need of a sun or moon for its lamp is the Lamb.
Let us, therefore, spend this Lenten season rededicating ourselves to the way of life commanded by our Lord and Savior Jesus, loving unconditionally as He first loved us.