I really thought I knew him. You might find yourself saying or thinking something like this after a disappointing experience with someone. They’ve let you down, disappointed you, betrayed your trust, maybe even broken your heart. I’ve heard a number of wives and husbands – brokenhearted by an unfaithful spouse – make that statement to me in my office.
Or you might think this after a surprising, wonderful discovery about someone you thought you knew everything about. WOW! I didn’t know that about him. That’s great! I once heard a longtime church member say this after he had an awakening to the wonder of Christ and His grace for the first time. He had an encounter.
These words could very well have been rolling around the mind of Peter in our text. Eight days earlier, Jesus had asked His followers who they thought He was, and Peter, speaking on behalf of the group, responded, “You are the Messiah of God.” These disciples had been witnessing Jesus’ power and authority again and again as He taught and healed, cast out demons and controlled nature. So Peter was definitely sure this was the right answer – Jesus is the Messiah. However, they didn’t expect the response they received from Jesus that day: Do not tell anyone. “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22).
These words shook Peter. None of it made sense. Messiahs don’t suffer and die; they win battles. They takeover kingdoms, overthrow Israel’s enemies, and live in power forever. It’s the way we’ve been taught. Everyone knows that! What’s this business, ‘I must go through this?’
Perhaps Peter wondered what he had gotten himself into. If Jesus is going to die, what about me? I mean, He is talking about picking up a cross. Will I die with Him? Is He worth dying for? I really thought I knew Him. Peter and the others had to have been more than a little shaken. They thought they knew Jesus, but now weren’t so certain.
If you listen closely to people’s words these days, you can still hear these kinds of thoughts. We have expectations of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ and expectations of what Jesus should be doing for us. Life should turn out okay if I trust and obey Him. He will protect me from harm and suffering. Then something bad happens and we’re totally disappointed. We, think, Gee, I really thought I knew Him. I’m not so sure now. My faith is kind of shaky.
Back to our story. Luke begins by saying, “Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.”
Have you ever noticed that great, eye-opening things always seem to happen on mountaintops in the Bible? This mountaintop experience is no different. Peter, John, and James had a real eye-opener up there. You might even say they saw the light! These three sleepy men were watching Jesus, who was praying off in the distance, when suddenly Jesus was transfigured. He became dazzling white. He showed His heavenly glory. It was beyond amazing! His face had changed. It was so filled with brightness, brilliant light, one couldn’t even look into it. His clothes became as bright as lightning.
Then they saw two men – Moses and Elijah – talking to Jesus. These guys were great figures of the Old Testament – both prophets and great men in their own eras. They were hall-of-famers of the faith.
The disciples also heard some outstanding things. First, they heard Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus about His departure, which means literally, His exodus. It is a reminder of God’s deliverance of His people from slavery in Egypt, which was led by Moses. This exodus would be accomplished by Jesus in Jerusalem. A deliverance is coming! This thrilling news must have made Peter’s heart pound with excitement!
Just as Moses and Elijah were about to leave, Peter, wanting to extend his experience, said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Luke tells us Peter made this statement “not knowing what he said.” In other words, Peter was talking stupid.
Why did he say this, do you suppose? Why was it wrong? Was it perhaps because he was putting Moses and Elijah on the same level as Jesus (three equal shelters)? No one – not even the lawgiver or the great prophet – measures up to Jesus. He is unique in His own right. Above all.
Perhaps, Jesus was telling Peter, We can’t stay on the mountaintop forever, Peter. I have a mission. The world is waiting to be saved. God’s work needs to be done.
The truth is, we can’t really know what Peter meant with these words. But we do know this: God, the Father, stepped into the scene and spoke His words to clear things up. A cloud suddenly overshadowed them. (In the Old Testament book of Exodus, God approached people with His presence in this way.) From the cloud they heard the voice of God speak: THIS IS MY SON. It was an endorsement from God Himself. Jesus is the Son of God. He has stepped down from His throne in heaven to be with sinful humanity. He is God in the flesh and God’s gift to you and me. To know Him is to know God. He is the One you can trust with your life and your eternity. “This is my Son,” God says. “My chosen.”
The title “Chosen”comes from the book of Isaiah. It is a prophecy from God of One who would come, a Messiah to save His people. He would actually suffer for them. In Isaiah 42:1, for instance, God says of the coming Messiah,
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.”
In Isaiah 53:5, God describes what will happen to His Chosen.
“But he was wounded for our transgressions,
and he was crushed for our iniquities.
Upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.”
God is endorsing, affirming Jesus for those who were doubting Him. This is My Son. He has come to suffer and die, to fulfill my rescue plan for saving a sin-sick world.
Then He makes clear what He wants from them – “Listen to Him!” It’s like God is saying, I know He said some things that don’t meet your expectations. They are difficult to consider, and you feel confused. His words don’t make sense by worldly standards and logic. But listen to Him anyway!
“Listen to Him!” This is God’s word to you and me today. This is My Son: Jesus! Listen to Him! We can do that as we open our Bibles to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and let Jesus speak His word into our lives.
Peter said one time, “Jesus, you have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). He does! There is such life in the words of Jesus as He comforts us with promises like, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden. I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). What a promise that is! We can come to Him and trust Him with our weariness, our failures, and our sinfulness. We can allow Him to minister to us and instruct us, which leads to a restful soul – all the way to our eternal rest in heaven. Comforting words.
However, sometimes His words seem upside down and very challenging for us, just as they were for those first disciples. For instance, look at His words given to the disciples eight days earlier: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23, 24). This is a difficult statement to understand. We live in a world that teaches just the opposite – we should be looking out for #1. Me, myself, and I is what is important. Grab on and hold on to all you can get. The one with the most toys wins!
These words of Jesus sound inconvenient and uncomfortable.
But wait a minute! Stop and look at what Jesus promises:
“Those who lose their life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24)
A saved life; a new, renewed, eternal, life is promised here. Jesus is saying,
Having me, serving me, laying down your life for me, is worth more than anything you can gain in this world. If you are looking for a full life, for eternal life, it is found only in following Me. Serving Me, giving yourself away for Me and My kingdom cause is where you gain a real life.
God affirms Him. “This is My Son. Listen to Him.”
The apostle Paul listened and took Him seriously. In the book of Philippians, he said basically this: I had everything, or so I thought. But then I met Jesus Christ, and all that stuff is garbage in comparison to knowing and serving Jesus (Phil. 3:1-10).
I’m reminded of a book written a few years ago called, 100 THINGS TO DO BEFORE YOU DIE, which inspired the movie, “The Bucket List.” Coauthored by Dave Freeman, his own list included things like attending the Academy Awards; running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain; and other good things. The story drips with irony. According to his family, Freeman had actually gotten to do only about 50 of the things on his list before he died at age 47.
We are reminded that we may never accomplish all the things we hope to do. Life can be short. Freeman took a knock on the head and died at a relatively young age, reminding us that none of us knows how long we have to live.
Tragically, among the hundred of things Freeman and his coauthor suggested others do before they die, his list did not include preparing for the day of judgment by entering into a relationship with Jesus Christ – the most important thing a person can do, because Jesus is life.
In Luke chapter six, Jesus said some things in His Sermon on the Plain that can cause one to roll their eyes and say, Really Jesus? Really? Is this realistic? It doesn’t sound like a promising or smart way to live. It certainly isn’t what life in this world has taught me! For instance,
We think we know how to handle those who make our lives miserable, who hurt us with words and actions. We avoid them, despise them, keep a distance, maybe even look for ways to get even, seek revenge, hope for their demise. We rejoice when life falls apart on them.
But Jesus says this,
“. . . Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. Do good and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked” (Luke 6:27, 28, 35).
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. It sounds crazy, risky doesn’t it? Love your enemies? Do good to those who hate you, who want to harm you? I don’t want to listen to that kind of talk! It is hard talk. Should I take it seriously?
God says, “Listen to my Son.”
A guy named Ghassan Thomas took Jesus seriously concerning his enemies. He leads one of the few public churches that emerged in Baghdad after Saddam Hussein was toppled. His church erected a sign on the building that said, JESUS IS THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD. The church was raided by bandits who left behind a thread on a piece of cardboard. It read, “Jesus is not the light of the world. Allah is! You have been warned!” The note was signed, “The Islamic Shiite Party.”
In response, Pastor Ghassan loaded up a van with children’s gifts and medical supplies, which were in critically short supply following the invasion, and drove to the headquarters of the Islamic Shiite party. After presenting the gifts and supplies to the Sheik, Ghassan told the leader, “Christians have love for you because our God is a God of love.” He then asked permission to read from the Bible. Ghassan turned to Jesus’ words in John chapter 8, “I am the light of the world . . .” Then he showed the cardboard note to the Sheik.
The Muslim leaders were astounded by Pastor Thomas’ actions and actually apologized. “This will not happen again!” the Sheik said. “You are my brother. If anyone comes to kill you, it will be my neck first.” The Sheik later attended Pastor Thomas’ ordination service at his church.
Wow! “This is My Son! Listen to Him.”
My friends, for the past six weeks we have been examining Jesus. He has so many more teachings to speak into our lives. “He has the words of eternal life,” as Peter said. Listen to Him.
This is our last message in our “Jesus Revealed” sermon series. We’ve seen His revelations again and again as we studied Luke and John’s stories. This is what the season of Epiphany is all about – Jesus being revealed to us. Today’s story is the grand finale of Epiphany.
Yet, the story doesn’t end here. This Jesus, who shone brightly on the mountain before His disciples as He was endorsed by God, went to another mountain – Mount Calvary – on the outskirts of Jerusalem a short time later where He carried out God’s plan of deliverance. He suffered the wrath of God for your sins and mine. No reassuring words from God were spoken while He hung on the cross. In fact, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God! Why have You forsaken Me?” He commended His spirit to the Father’s hand and breathed His last. He was buried in a rich man’s tomb only to be raised back to life on the third day. Fifty days later, He was exalted on another mountaintop and ascended to the right hand of God, the Father, with all authority over heaven and earth. He will come again in power and glory to judge the living and the dead, to take His own to Himself. What a great day that will be! This transfiguration story is a foretaste of Jesus in His full glory.
The question remaining is this: Now that He has been revealed to you, what are you going to do with Jesus, who is coming to rescue you? God has revealed exactly what He wants you to do – LISTEN TO HIM. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer