2 Peter 1:16-end Matthew 17:1-9 Mark 9:2-9

Scene Setter

Puzzle Pictures - what do you see? Once you've seen it you can't see it any other way. Once it's been revealed, it can't be hidden.



The story of the Transfiguration is one of those stories that we know well: and no wonder, really - it's included in all three of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) in a very similar form. As not even Jesus' birth is recorded in this fashion, you can therefore surmise that the Gospel writers attached a fair degree of importance to the event.

"Transfiguration" is an odd word, so I consulted my dictionary. It said that it means "a marked change in form or appearance; a metamorphosis; a change that glorifies or exults". It also told me that the feast of the Transfiguration is on August the 6th (19th in the Eastern Orthodox Church), but then it was an Internet dictionary I was consulting and just goes to prove that not everything you read there is useful: of use though, is that definition: "a marked change in form or appearance", which we'll come back to.

This sermon will first look at the context, then Peter, then Jesus, then our faith and finally arrive at what I see as the challenge of this passage for us today.


Matthew tells us that the transfiguration took place "After six days" (v.1) - six days after what? Six days after Peter's confession of Jesus as Messiah at Caesarea Philippi - itself a pretty momentous event as Peter for the first time declares his faith in Jesus. It's also six days after Jesus starts teaching the disciples that He's going to be crucified and then raised from the dead - again, the first time Jesus starts to be clear about the way in which our salvation is to be bought. (Although He has hinted a few times prior to this).


Peter gets it wrong so many times - or at least that's the popular image of him. The story of him walking on water (and then failing to do so) shows this clearly. And yet it shows something else: Peter got out of the boat, unlike the other eleven disciples. Peter responded to Jesus in the way he knew how, by doing something. This, I'm sure you'll agree, is a very male reaction: confused? Do something. Afraid? Do something? Tired? Upset? Bored? Excited? Do something. Why do you think we like DIY? It's something we can always DO.

In the walking on the water story, Peter takes an even more common male approach: he offers to do something. However, Jesus takes him up on it and he has to step out of the boat.

So, back on the mountain, Peter didn't sit there and think "now then - how ought I to respond to this strange and somewhat unsettling event that is taking place before me?", meditating upon possible approaches and coming to a considered opinion of the most appropriate response to the Transfiguration (pausing briefly to look the word up on the Internet) but instead responded by offering to do something - he responded as a man of action and activity, he responded as himself.


Peter had seen miracles, yet his confession of faith at Caesarea Philippi led on to bigger things. He believed and declared that Jesus was God - then, at the Transfiguration, he was shown how right he was.

I see a pattern in this that seems to hold true: we believe and then see miracles, not the other way round. We ask in prayer, believing we will be answered, and see the answers - not the other way round (something to bear in mind as we begin the 40 days course). Faith comes first, then the evidence, thereby increasing the faith we started out with. Those who say they are waiting for "proof" won't see it - it's given to those that don't really need it. Proof, if you like, is a reward for faith, not a reason for it.


At the top of this mountain, Jesus is transfigured. When Moses went up a mountain (Sinai in this case) (Ex.24v29), he also started shining, due to the presence of God. However, Moses shone with reflected glory, whereas Matthew makes it clear that Jesus shone "like the sun" (v 2) - the source of the glory is Jesus Himself - the glory is not reflected, but is His own.

So we see Jesus, suddenly transfigured in all his godly splendour and, just in case we don't yet understand what's going on, there's the voice from heaven to make it clear.

The voice though, not only confirms that Jesus is God's Son, but issues a command: "Listen to Him" (v.5). This is interesting because that was precisely what the disciples hadn't been doing recently - after Peter's confession of Jesus as the messiah at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus had begun to teach them about His path to glory - the necessity for His death on the cross and, through it, our redemption and salvation. Yet Peter even took Jesus to one side and told Him off. The voice's command to "Listen to Him" gains an additional significance in this context - what Jesus was telling the disciples about His mission wasn't just an idea - it was an essential part of God's plan to redeem His people.

Equally important is that Jesus was transfigured, not transformed. He was not transformed into God's Son, but already was God's Son: the transfiguration is a revelation, not a transformation. Jesus didn't attain divinity on the mountain: He already had it. Again, without this, God's plan for our redemption and salvation wouldn't work.

During the Transfiguration Jesus meets with Moses and Elijah. Why them? Why not other Old Testament heroes like David or Abraham, Solomon or Ruth? The reason, most commentators agree, is symbolic: Moses represents the Law and Elijah the Prophets. Both were fulfilled by Jesus. Luke even tells us what they talked about: the fulfilment of Jesus' mission to redeem mankind through Jesus' death on the cross (Lk 9 v 31). That alone is interesting when you consider that Moses lived to a very old age and Elijah was spared death and passed straight into Heaven. Both are fates that you would think befitted anyone good or important - let alone God's only Son. Yet such is the love of God for us, that Jesus wasn't allowed either of them: He died in a horrible fashion - because God loves us.

Finally, as Matthew tells us, when Moses & Elijah have gone, the disciples are terrified: yet Jesus comes and touches them, saying "Don't be afraid". When they are afraid of his divinity, His humanity reaches them. God's physical presence on Earth touches them and breaks through their fear: God incarnate come to be with them. Emmanuel - God is with us, as we sing so often at Christmas.

The transfiguration, then, is a point at which Jesus' nature and God's plan for our salvation are clearly revealed: Jesus is divine. Jesus fulfils the Law and the Prophets. Jesus will die in our place, to bring us back to God.

Conclusion: the challenge: How do we respond to Jesus?

  1. How do we respond to Jesus? Are we waiting for evidence before we're prepared to believe?
  2. How do we respond to Jesus? Is it as God, or as Man? Whichever, as Jesus is both, the challenge is to ask Jesus to reveal more of His "other side" to us, so that we may worship His divinity and be touched by His humanity.
  3. How do we respond to Jesus? As ourselves, or as we think we ought to be? The challenge is to be ourselves in God's presence.

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