On this Sunday, we remember the story of the transfiguration. To me it’s one of the most powerful stories in the New Testament. It’s also one of the strangest. What we have in Matthew 17 is the story of Jesus leading Peter, James and John up a high mountain. Let me say a couple of things about this. First, Peter, James and John were like Jesus inner circle of apostles. If you recall, they were three of the first four apostles whom Jesus’ called – the fourth one being Andrew, Peter’s brother. Jesus had called twelve apostles in all but it seems that there was something special about Peter, James and John. They were the ones whom he always had with him. They were his three amigos so to speak.
The second thing I want to touch on is that it says that Jesus led them up a mountain. In fact, Matthew says that it was a high mountain. But height is a relative things. if you’re looking for a mountain in Judah, you’re going to look a long time. There are some higher mountains in the Holy Land, like Mount Sinai and Mount Ararat, but none of them was near where Jesus was in this story. I imagine that most of you have been to Hamilton, the place where I was born. Hamilton is a interesting city because it’s built on two levels. There’s lower Hamilton and then there’s the mountain. But Hamilton Mountain isn’t a mountain at all. It’s really an escarpment. But in Hamilton, it’s called the mountain because it’s so much higher than the lower city.
That’s the sense of what Matthew was getting at when he said that Jesus led Peter, James and John up a high mountain. What Jesus did was take them up the highest hill he could find. It was away from people, away from the hustle and bustle. It was a bit of hike to get there which means that they weren’t likely to be disturbed by someone going out for an afternoon stroll. They were out of the way and away from prying eyes because Jesus wanted to show his inner circle something amazing.
Matthew tells us that, all of a sudden, Jesus’ face shone like the sun and his clothes became a white as light. This, of course, took Peter, James and John by surprise. In fact, it quite startled them. But then to top it all off, all of a sudden Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking to Jesus. And then, to top in all off, a voice from God came down from heaven and said, “This is my Son; whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” That was it. Peter, James and John had held it together until then but then they lost it. It says that fell down with their faces to the ground and were terrified.
If you were here last week, you might remember that we learned that one of the most pervasive themes in the Bible is the call to overcome fear with faith. This is another example of that. In Matthew 17:7 (NIV) it says, “But Jesus came and touched them. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘Don’t be afraid.’” And then Matthew 17:8 (NIV) says, “When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.”
It was pretty clear to Peter that something amazing had happened at the top of that hill. That’s why he wrote about it in his second letter that I read a few minutes. 2 Peter 1:17-18 (NIV) says this: “For [Jesus] received honour and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’” What Peter is talking about here is the story of the transfiguration that I just reference from Matthew when he and James and John saw Jesus glorified.
This is one of the things that I love about the Bible. There are quite a few places where you get the story told from a two or three different perspective. In fact, the story of the transfiguration also appears in Mark and Luke and in both of those gospels, the story gets a slightly different spin and offers some different details. In Matthew, the disciples are terrified. In Mark, they were still frightened but also a bit goofy. In Luke, they were sleepy. But they’re all the same story just from three different perspectives. They are also all second hand stories because Matthew, Mark and Luke weren’t there.
That’s why it so cool that we have Peter’s first hand personal story in 2 Peter. He doesn’t give a lot of details about the transfiguration but he’s clear that something happened. He saw Jesus transformed before his eyes and he heard the voice from heaven. In relaying this, Peter affirms that he was an eyewitness. In fact, that’s what he says in 2 Peter 1:16 (NIV) which says, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” Peter says that he was an eyewitness. He saw Jesus transformed into his glory. He heard the voice. He experienced it and he remembered it. Clearly it was a powerful event in his life.
At the heart of Peter’s comments what we find is the reason why he could be sure of what he believed. He believed because of his experience of Jesus. But what does it mean to say that we have experienced Jesus? What it means is that you know him. You have met him and are building a relationship with him. That’s what Peter did. He met Jesus in Galilee. He decided follow him when Jesus called him on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. He walked with him during the three years that he carried out his earthly ministry. But it wasn’t all rosy. After Jesus was arrested, Peter denied him three times. Then Peter watched in horror as he died on the cross. And then he leapt with joy when he went to the empty tomb and realized that Jesus had risen. And finally, Peter was one of the disciples that watched Jesus ascend to heaven. Peter was an eyewitness to all of this. He experienced it and, as a result, he came to faith and knew what he believed.
We sometimes get that mixed up. The reason why we are Christians, in fact, the only reason we are Christians, is because of our experience of Jesus Christ. There is absolutely no other reason to be a Christian. In fact, I would ask, if people have not had an experience of Jesus Christ, then why would they even want to bother calling themselves Christians? But some people do. And they do because they don’t understand the necessity of experiencing Jesus and building a relationship with him.
There are a few common misconceptions that people make about what it means to come to Jesus. We’re going to look at the two biggies right now. The first one is that people think they can get to become Christians by going to a building, that building, of course, being the church. They come to worship every week. They sing in the choir and help out with the roast beef dinner. They may sit on a committee or even the Church Council. Perhaps they attend Bible study. But that doesn’t mean that they have ever really experienced Jesus. Now the good news is that being in church can really help someone to get to know Jesus because in a Christ centred, Bible believing church you are much more likely to have an experience of Jesus but it doesn’t guarantee it. As my son Andrew has been heard to say on any number of occasions, “You can no more become Christian by sitting in a church than you can become a car by sitting in a garage.” How true. Coming to Jesus takes more than sitting in a building.
Another common misconception is that you can become a Christian through a book, that book, of course, being the Bible. I know that sounds odd so let me explain. I’m all for reading the Bible. I encourage all of you to read the Bible every day. There are few things I like better than a ratty eared, marked up, coffee stained Bible because it means that someone is in the process of wearing it out and Bibles are meant to be worn out. But you can’t really experience Jesus through the Bible. If you want to learn about Jesus and his life and teachings, you can get all of that in the Bible. There’s no place better. But knowing what’s in the Bible is not the same thing as knowing Jesus.
Did you know that there are atheists who spend their entire adult lives studying the Bible? They read it. They research it. They compare it with other holy texts and write scholarly articles about it. But for them, studying the Bible is merely an academic exercise. It has nothing to do with faith and they never intend to become Christians or get to know Jesus because they don’t even believe that God exists. I know how weird that must sound but it’s also true.
To know Jesus by reading the Bible would be like saying that you know Queen Elizabeth II because you have read a lot about her or you have studied her accomplishments. You know so much about her that it might feel like you know her but, in fact, you really don’t. And the reason I know that you don’t know Queen Elizabeth II is because if I were to ask if she knew you, chances are she’d say, “Who?”
To know Jesus is to be in a relationship with him. It is to have an experience of Jesus. You can’t do that by sitting in church and you can’t do that by reading the Bible. Both of those things can help immensely but it has to go beyond that into something more deep and personal. You have to have an experience of Jesus.
That’s what Peter was getting at in his letter. His faith was based on his first hand experience of Jesus. He was an eyewitness to the transfiguration, to seeing Jesus transformed into his glory, his face shining like the sun and his clothes becoming as white as light. He believed it because he saw it and he heard it. As he wrote in 2 Peter 1:16 (NIV): “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” He was an eyewitness. And this was not his only experience of Jesus. He walked with him. He talked with him. He spent time with him and, in those experiences of Jesus, Peter was transformed from a simple fisherman into the rock upon which Jesus built the Church. And along the way, Peter became the first in the long line of Popes – we sometimes forget that. It is no coincidence that the massive church in Vatican City is called St. Peter’s Basilica for it was built on the place where Peter was buried after being martyred in about 64 A.D. It is said that the high altar of the basilica is directly over the place where Peter’s remains are interred.
Peter was a Christian because of experience of Jesus Christ. Two thousand years later we discover that things have changed very much. We are still Christians because of our experience of Jesus Christ. To be honest, we don’t have the same experience of Jesus as Peter did. He is not with us physically. We can’t hear his literal voice or touch the hem of his garment. But we can still experience him.
But I want to be clear about something. There are those who talk about their experience of Jesus as being some emotionally charged encounter with the Almighty that dropped them to their knees and brought tears to their eyes. They talk about those mountain top experiences. And while I’m not in any way discounting those things because I do think they are real for some people, they are not the experience of most Christians. So if you have never had one of those experiences, don’t feel left out or inferior. You’re just normal and there’s nothing wrong with normal in the eyes of God
There are, however, three ways that we typically experience Jesus. The first is by experiencing his forgiveness. Each of us must come to an understanding our sinful condition. Each of us was born into a fallen world and each of us is guilty of sin. As it says in Romans 3:23 (NIV), “… for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” All, everyone here today, is guilty of sin. All have sinned. Jesus came to remedy that. By offering himself as a sacrifice for our sins he provided that way for us to be reconciled back with God. But to make that remedy effective, we must confess our sins and turn from them. We read about that in 1 John 1:9 (NIV) which says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” What that comes down to for us is that experience Jesus when we experience his forgiveness. It is that sense of relief, of freedom, of letting go of the sin that has weighed us down for so long. It is knowing that you are loved and cherished so much that someone would die for you, that if you were the only person in the whole world, Jesus would have gladly given himself just for you. That’s what it means the experience his forgiveness.
Second, we experience Jesus by experiencing his encouragement. Romans 8:16-17 (NIV) says this: “The Spirit testifies with our spirits that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” There are times when life takes a downturn and things get tough. It is those times, knowing that we are still loved by God that his Spirit reminds us that we are not alone, that we are still God’s children and that no experience in all the world will ever change that reality. We may feel alone. We may feel helpless and afraid and at our wits ends. But within the context of struggle is that small voice that speaks to us and those gentle arms that enfold us. They belong to Jesus and I know that in my life, when the hard times hit, they were sometimes the only things that got me through the pain of the struggle. It is times like that that we experience Jesus’ encouragement.
The third way in which we experience Jesus is through our own personal transformation. I am not the same person I was twenty years ago and neither are you. And none of us will be the same people twenty years from now. Life is a journey and along that journey we change and grow. That is certain. The only variable is the direction of that growth and change happens. You can choose to become either more or less like the person God created you to be. To experience Jesus is to let him change you from the inside out, to let his Holy Spirit remake you into the image of his glory. As it says in Romans 12:2 (NIV), “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good pleasing and perfect will.”
Do not conform to the pattern of this world. How many of us are guilty of not paying attention to this verse? I see it all the time, especially in social media. Because it is so anonymous, people write things that they would never say to someone’s face. But somehow it’s okay to say it because you’ll never have to face them. I see it especially when people talk about political leaders on both sides of the border. And I think, “What happened to the respect that used to come with high public office? How can otherwise reasonable people stoop to childish name calling and unending person attacks?” When we do that, aren’t we simply mimicking the ways of the world? But the Bible tells us to not be conformed to that pattern but rather to transformed into a holy way of living and being. Over time, God shows us these things and makes us aware of how far we are from his glory. But then he enables us to change and become more like him and we are transformed from worldly to holy. And the really neat thing is that when you look back at your life, you should be able to see those transformations. Some of them happened quickly but some of them happened over a very long period of time. But the point is that they happened and in those happenings you experience Jesus.
Finally, Psalm 51:10 (NIV) says this, “Create in my a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” This verse reminds us that it is God who creates a clean heart within us. It is God who renews a steadfast spirit within us. That’s good news because on our own we would be helpless to complete the transformations that each of us needs. But with God’s help everything is possible.
as Peter was an eyewitness to Jesus and on those experiences he based his
faith, so too are we eyewitnesses to the power of Jesus in our lives. We
experience his forgiveness. We experience his encouragement and we experience
his transformation. Ultimately, the key to experiencing Jesus is not in some
strange emotional experience. It is in the experience of him changing your
life. And because of that you can be sure of what you believe. And that is why
we can believe.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Heavenly Father, your light fills the morning sky in radiance and wonder. Even in the night, the lights of heaven mark off the days and give direction to those who have lost their way. Shine upon us. Fill us and renew us. Make us conscious of your presence with us and within us. We call upon your name which is, for us, a sign of wholeness and salvation. Wash us in the blood of your wounds that we may be whiter than snow.
We pray for the Church, for Christians all over the world of every nation and denomination. Thank you that, in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, we are one. May we, in unity, reach out to the world with your message of hope, reconciliation and peace. We pray, especially today, for our neighbouring United Churches in Essex, Woodslee, and Kingsville. Thank you for the mutual support that is available when needed. Thank you for their prayers.
We lift up in prayer those who suffer loss. There are those who have lost loved ones, who have lost employment or health. Others have lost important relationships and connections in their lives. There are even those who have lost their faith. Be with all those who mourn, no matter what the loss. Rock them in your arms and give them strength and courage against their sorrow. Heal their broken hearts and grant them peace.
We pray for our military personnel throughout the world as they strive for bring peace, security and freedom for all people. Bless them success and safety.
We think about those who have been sick this week either at home or in hospital, especially Paul Mayville, Don Raymont, Millicent Wormald, Jacqui Seguin and Helen Upcott. Grant to all of us your Healing Spirit that you may reign in our hearts as you touch our minds and bodies.
of all Creation, inspire us to live beyond ourselves. Enable us to be the
Christian story to the people of this world. May we be faithful to your call
and loving in our actions. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
February 26, 2017 / Transfiguration
Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 2 or Psalm 99; Matthew 17:1-9; 2 Peter 1:16-21
CALL TO WORSHIP
We are blessed by the presence of God;
who sits enthroned in the heavens.
We are blessed by the presence of God;
who dwells with us on this earth.
Come, let us worship God.
Let us worship the One who lives in our hearts.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Come to us now, Lord Jesus. Come into our hearts that we may sing your praises and give glory to your name. The earth abounds with the wonders of your hand: the brilliant sun and twinkling stars, the harsh winter wind and the gentle summer breeze, the power of the storm and the peace of night. We seek your presence in all of its wonderful forms to enliven us and fill us with a renewed sense of mission. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Holy God, we await your transformation in our lives. We look for the day when we too will shine with the brilliance of your splendour. And yet, we await with anxiety and trembling for we do not know what you will call us to do. We are creatures of habit and prefer the status quo to your dynamic commands. Forgive us, O God, when we choose to be less than you have created us to be. Enable us to be your people and to share your Good News. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
God has the power to transform even the most wayward life into a image of grace. God has the mercy to forgive each sin no matter how hurtful. God has the love to welcome us back when we repent of our sins and come clean before the God and Maker of all things.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
It is not what we give, O God, that counts. What is important is that we share, for the gift is nothing without the giver. Enable us to give ourselves to you that our lives may be dedicated to your ministry in Jesus’ name. Amen.
We have come to worship and we have worshipped
the God of the Ages. May our lives this coming week be a testimony to the love
of God which we have received in our time of fellowship together.