Luke 9:28-36 “The Cloud”
I want to start in the middle of the Scripture today when Peter exclaims in verse 33, “Lord, it is good to be here!” Lord, it IS good to be here—that is to say after not being here for seven days since last Sunday, it is wonderful to be back in this loving community of faith once more. I want us all to feel that it is good to be here.
Sometimes we think that it is better to be “there” somewhere. You know what I mean. The grass is always greener in the neighbor’s yard. Life is cheaper on the mainland. The red dirt is even redder on Mars! I love the fact that in that moment when Peter is faced with the transfiguration of Jesus, he recognizes that it is GOOD sometimes just to be right where you are! In the presence of God!
This last week I was coming up from the pool after swimming laps on Tuesday afternoon when I was stopped right there on Tschiya Road by a young man with a skateboard who asked me a curious question: “How far is it from here to Kekeha?” Since he had his skateboard in hand, I assumed that he wanted to skate there. So, I asked him if he had a car. No, he did not. He had come to Waimea from Kapaa by bus. He had come up to the campus to look for a man who had been one of his teachers but also had been his foster father for three months after he had gotten into some trouble as a high schooler.
It turned out that this was Sgt Major Castenda of the JROTC. It was later in the day, so he had already left the campus. This young man remembered the street and house in Kekaha where he had stayed as a foster child then. He just did not recall how far away it was.
As we were talking, he told me about how much of a humbug he had been during his time as a student in Waimea. Oh, how he hated Waimea. He hated his teachers. He hated his family. He found his escape by smoking drugs. He got arrested. Never graduated. This was all about nine years ago. Now, he wanted to tell his one-time foster father “thank you” because he had never done that before. He has been on the mainland where his life only got worse. Now he was back and realized really how great his life had been here on the island. He confessed that he had been a fool in his youth. He has now found God. He just wants to make his life right again.
I am talking about a transfiguration that is happening inside of young man! Eventually we will be all transfigured as Jesus was in an instant. We must be patient. It will happen. Revelation 21:1-4, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had p[assed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’”
As Christians, we have to look at people from this standpoint of transfiguration. When I go to the Bible Clubs on campus or am at the after school program, I look out at the children and see that they are just at the beginning of their transfiguration. How exciting it will be to see those same children in the time when we will all be transfigured in the kingdom that is to come! Really, with some of those more rambunctious youth—that is all I can think about. Slowly they are being transfigured through Christ!
Do you all remember Clint Snyder? Former youth missionary with Ellie and the kids. They are now on the mainland, in Missouri. He once told me the story of how he invited a youth over to his house for dinner and to talk. The boy had never been to the house on Huakai Road, so Clint gave him directions.
Clint started to describe how to get there from the high school. He described the road to the middle school and the haunted house, that is the Rowell-Gulick house that is on the corner there. Then, the boy realized that he had been there to that house before. He told Clint that he used to go to that house to smoke drugs! Yes, our church house, the former parsonage on the Christian Church of Waimea, had been a drug house! Now that house has been transfigured. In fact it is where Jared and Mahea are now. The house is still being transfigured through Jesus Christ. Now Jared is transfiguring the Ed Center so that the glory of God will dazzle there too with YWAM being there.
In the transfiguration story of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, we see that only a few people are selected to go up to witness the transfiguration. Peter, James, and John are chosen to go up the mountain with Jesus. I have always struggled with the question as to why Jesus sometimes tells people to be quiet about a miracle he has done, and then turns around and tells others to spread the word about another instance. In this same vein, I do not understand why Jesus only takes these three men to go up to witness this miracle of the transfiguration. Why doesn’t Jesus show off his true heavenly nature while he was speaking the Sermon on the Mount, Feeding the Five Thousand, or even the Feeding of the Four Thousand?
Here comes one of life’s little truths that we have to live by: Most of the time we will never know why we are chosen for one reason or another. We will never know why that one person got the job that you had applied for. We will never know why some have become presidents while others have become paupers. In this particular instance, only three are chosen to witness this instant transfiguration of Jesus.
I recall our exchange student Nelli telling me of her being back home in Ufa, Russia and seeing so many stray cats. She just wanted to take them all home. She said that there was about thirty of them in this one street. She thought how she could open a shelter for the cats as she had seen here on Kauai. She just did not know what to do.
About a week later, she told me that she was sleeping over at a friend’s house, and outside the house was a single kitten. The two girls took it inside to keep it warm and give it something to eat. Nelli was surprised in the middle of night to discover the kitten had fallen asleep on her belly. The girls gave the cat away to another person for a good home. This raises the question, why does that one kitten get to be saved? All the other cats are still out roughing the Russian winter on their own.
You just did not show up today in church, maybe. Perhaps you were chosen to be here to accept and witness God’s grace and glory. We could be just like James, Peter, and John. It is a fine thing to think about. You have been chosen to witness.
So, Jesus and his three chosen disciples go up the mountain. When they get to the top, there are two extra people with them suddenly. According to scripture, these two extra men are Moses and Elijah. What are they doing up there? They have come apparently to see how Jesus is faring down on earth. They are having a conference of sorts.
The greatest thing that we can glean from the appearance of Moses and Elijah is that there must indeed be an afterlife and a resurrection. Yet, here is also a conundrum for all of us Christians who claim rightly that Jesus is the firstborn from the dead. If so, how is it that Moses and Elijah are now standing there with Jesus?
Just to be clear, neither Moses nor Elijah died, were buried, and rose again in physical form to walk the earth. As we know from 2 Kings 2:11-13 Elijah was taken up to heaven while still alive: “Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it, and he cried out, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!” So he saw him no more. And he took hold of his own clothes and tore them into two pieces. He also took up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood by the bank of the Jordan.”
As for Moses, he died a regular death and was buried in a secret place—according to Deuteronomy 34.
Whether Moses or Elijah, they were both in heaven with God and then came to make an appearance with Jesus. Everybody of the Jewish faith in those days believed in the second coming of Elijah. People even set an empty plate at table for Elijah with the hope that we he would come back.
When Jesus started doing miracles, many thought that he was Elijah who had returned. When he spoke about the Law of God, people thought Jesus was Moses. Not a lot of people accepted him as the very Son of God. When Jesus meets up with Moses and Elijah, it may not be perfectly clear to some who Jesus is, but we know for sure who he is not. He is not Elijah, nor Moses. He was something new and different, not a return to what was.
I often wonder what would happen if those who denied Jesus’ divinity would just look up and see him transfigured up on that mountain! And, I wish they could see how easily he steps back off that mountain. You see, the most amazing thing about the transfiguration is that we get to see what we had never seen before. WE get to see Jesus releasing himself from his true Godly form to come back down to be with us for our sake.
Jesus comes back down that mountain to die for us that we might be transfigured with him on that holy hill, that new Jerusalem, that Kingdom of Heaven that is at hand. We are all being transfigured. WE all will have our new bodies. We will all shine in God’s glory land that is waiting for us.
Do you really want to know who is who in the transfiguration? It is you and me and all those who accept that Jesus is the Savior and True Son of God. Amen.