Today is the last Sunday of the season of Epiphany. Wednesday begins the season of Lent with Ash Wednesday. During the season of Epiphany which runs from January up to Lent, we’ve read Scripture stories that revealed who Jesus is, some of His healing miracles and His capacity to forgive. Today, we have another revelation of who Jesus is straight from the mouth of God.
Chapter 9 of Luke is a good illustration of the ebb and flow and life. Chapter 9 begins with the story of Jesus sending out the 12 disciples on a mission to proclaim the kingdom of God and heal. They went through towns and villages bringing good news and curing diseases. After a time of ministry, they returned to Jesus when He feeds 5,000 men, plus women and children with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish.
After the meal, Jesus and the disciples retreat to pray. During that time of prayer, Simon Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah of God. Jesus then predicts His coming death to the disciples and gives them the instruction that discipleship will require them to take up their cross daily. On either side of this Scripture text, predictions of Jesus’ crucifixion serve as bookends to this mountaintop experience reminding us that Jesus’ identity is to live under the shadow of the cross.
Just in chapter 9, the disciples are sent to ministry, drawn in to witness a miracle, retreat to pray and are taught about discipleship. After all this, about 8 days after all this, Jesus further retreats for prayer taking Peter, James, and John with Him up to a mountaintop. Not all 12 disciples went up the mountain. Peter, James and John are His inner circle. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus often goes away to pray at key moments in His ministry. This is a pivotal moment as Jesus is preparing to go to Jerusalem to be crucified. That is the journey of Lent – following Jesus to the cross in Jerusalem.
While Jesus was praying, the appearance of His face changed and His clothes became dazzling white. This is known as the transfiguration when Jesus is transfigured from man to glory. Suddenly, Moses and Elijah, appear and talk to Him. They appeared in the same way as Jesus with shining faces and dazzling clothes. The 3 were speaking about Jesus’ departure, meaning His departure from the mountain to face Jerusalem and His departure from this life to conquer death.
This story invokes Jewish memories of God’s great work in the salvation history of the Jewish people. Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the prophets. Moses represents the exodus and journey to the Promised Land. Elijah represents the people and kings in the Promised Land. Elijah is believed to be one of the greatest prophets delivering God’s word to multiple kings. Many Jews believed they were waiting for the return of Elijah to summons the end of their suffering. We might remember that Jesus and John the Baptist were both believed to have been Elijah at one time in their ministry. The prophet Malachi is chapter 4 says that God will send Elijah ahead when the Lord comes. This mountaintop appearance of Moses and Elijah makes clear that Jesus is not Elijah and He comes with His own mission and ministry.
The story is full of references to the Exodus. For instance, when the men are talking about Jesus’ departure, the word of the original Greek is exodos. The Exodus was the defining journey of the Jews through the wilderness into God’s Promised Land. It was the ultimate act of God’s saving grace of the His chosen people. In Jesus’ exodos, He is making His defining journey to God’s greatest act of salvation in the cross and resurrection.
Peter, James and John don’t know how to respond to this scene so they offer to build dwellings for Jesus, Moses and Elijah, one for each. The Greek word for shelters or dwellings used by Simon Peter is the word for tabernacle which reminds us of the tabernacle built in the wilderness where the ark of the covenant and the holy things were kept by the Jews. God lived among the Jewish people in the tabernacle while the people wandered seeking the Promised Land. Peter, James and John sought to build these tabernacles or dwelling places for Jesus, Moses and Elijah as a means to house God’s glory among them.
Upon the scene of the disciples talking to Jesus, a cloud descends reminding us of the cloud atop Mt Sinai when Moses was receiving the 10 commandments. From the cloud, God’s voice is heard. God says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to Him!” God announces to the Disciples that Jesus is God’s Son, God’s chosen and the disciples are commanded to listen to Him. God confirms to the Disciples what they have experienced and witnessed with Jesus and affirms what they already know.
This is the epiphany. Jesus’ identity is revealed as God’s Son. The season of Epiphany begins with the revelation of Jesus’ identity at His baptism by John the Baptist in the wilderness and the season ends with this revelation of Jesus’ identity which affirms what we already know, but serves as a reminder as He sets His sights on Jerusalem.
The importance of this story is the meeting of the past with the present. It is a mysterious moment celebrating God’s past and present redemptive work. Moses and Elijah represent the past and how God has worked in the past to save the people. It is good to remember what God has done in the past. It helps us see God in the present. The disciples’ encounter with Elijah and Moses on the mountaintop was an opportunity to remember the glory of God in the history of the Jewish people.
We have our own mountaintop moments in our lives. We have those close encounters with God when we know without a doubt God has worked something miraculous for us. We are aware of His Presence and His blessings. The surge of faith in these moments give us renewed energy for the faith journey in the valleys. But, don’t we want to stay on the mountaintop?
Don’t we want to live where we know without a doubt what God is doing? Don’t we want to live with the sure knowledge of His Presence?
Those mountaintop moments are God sightings that give us enough hope to keep us going ‘til the next mountaintop moment. They serve to remind us of God’s continual presence and abundant blessings even when we aren’t as aware of Him. We are not, in this life, meant to live on the mountaintop. It would be too much for us to be so full of God’s glory. Those moments were cease to be mysterious and would become ordinary. Our faith is lived out in the valleys when life is ordinary. Those mountaintop moments sustain us through the valleys, because our lives are lived in the valleys.
As I was thinking about the mountaintops and valleys of our lives, I started thinking about movies. The Oscars are tonight. There were some great movies in the past year like Deadpool, Batman v. Superman, Captain America, Independence Day, Ghostbusters, Star Trek Beyond, and Star Wars Rogue One. These were great movies full of sex and violence, stories of the war between good and evil. These movies win nominations for categories like best special effects. They are not Oscar worthy movies.
The movies that win Oscars are the movies that imitate life and tell stories about real people, their ordinary lives and their great triumphs. Movies like Fences, Hacksaw Ridge and Hidden Figures receive Oscars. They are the stories that move us to tears and warm our hearts. They are reminders that life is ordinary and we are to look for moments of ordinary grace and everyday presence.