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A Bright Cloud - Matthew 17:1-9

Six days after Jesus explained His kingdom plans to His disciples, the seventh day came and Jesus took His disciples up on a high mountain. The actions here already picture a familiar sequence from the Old Testament: Jesus and His disciples are ascending the Hill of the Lord to worship God. In the Bible, that’s what you do on the seventh day, and that’s what you do on a mountain.

But this is something more than weekly worship: at key points in the history of the people of God, God meets with His prophets on a mountain and delivers kingdom plans to them that will change the course of Israel’s history. We see this in Exodus, when Moses meets with God on Mount Sinai to receive the covenant charter for God’s people, and in 1 Kings 19, when God meets with Elijah to reveal plans for the establishment of new kings in Israel. It’s not a coincidence that we find Moses and Elijah along with Jesus here in Matthew 17. God’s pattern has been that the leaders of God’s people ascend the mountain to worship and to receive kingdom instructions from God.

And while many other features of the text are amazing, they aren’t surprising if you know your family history: A shining face? That’s what happened to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Glorious white clothing? That’s what the prophet Daniel saw: one like a son of man came with the clouds of heaven before the white-robed Ancient of Days to receive dominion, glory, and a kingdom. Talk about making tents? On Mt. Sinai, Moses received instructions for the tabernacle, a house for God that connected heaven and earth. The bright cloud? It’s the sign of God’s presence, connected with worship, God’s Spirit, and especially, the voice of God. When the bright glory-cloud descends, God meets with and speaks to the leaders of His people, and gives them kingdom instructions.

That’s why Peter, James, and John fall on their faces when the voice speaks out of the cloud. They are in the presence of God, and the man they have been following for the past several years is revealed in all His glory to be the Son of God! But because Jesus is with them, they don’t need to be afraid. He comes over and touches them, and tells them to rise and have no fear. A few years ago, they were fishermen. Now, they are on an extremely short list of people who have stood inside the glory-cloud as friends of God.

So how should we respond to the Transfiguration of Jesus? First of all, what does the Transfiguration mean for our worship? In this vision, Jesus is revealed to be the Son of God, not just by the Father’s Word, but by sharing in the Father’s glory. So when you think about Jesus, and when you are considering His Word, are you taking His glory into account? The glory of Jesus demands that you listen to Jesus and obey Him.

And each week in worship, we ascend the hill of the Lord, and God speaks to us through His Word. Throughout the Bible, such meetings take place in bright, shining brilliant glory, which provokes a response of reverent awe. This vision of glory should inform all sorts of decisions about our worship, from architecture and lighting to how we dress to what the tone of our worship should be. The Transfiguration reveals Jesus as a glorious Lord, whom we should listen to and worship gloriously.

Second, what does the Transfiguration account mean for our community? We aren’t supposed to put up tents and stay on the mountain. It is “good that we are here”, but it isn’t good for us to stay here. The point is to take what we learn on the mountain and then go back down and carry it out as a community. Worship is where we listen to Jesus. Community is where we live out what He told us together.

Third, what does the Transfiguration mean for mission? In Matthew 17:9, Jesus tells Peter, James, and John “tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” The disciples were asked to “veil” their experience in the cloud, just like Moses veiled his face, just like the veil hid the ark of the covenant. But when Jesus hung on the cross, the veil that hid the mercy seat was torn in two so that repentant sinners can enter into the glorious presence of God and hear Jesus say: “Rise, and have no fear.”

Since we live after the Resurrection, all restrictions on sharing Jesus’ glory with the world are lifted. Now we invite everyone to draw near to God, because atonement has been made. Beholding the glory of Jesus in worship leads to mission: we gather on the mountain to enter into the glorious presence of God by His Spirit, where we behold the unveiled glory of Jesus. We wash our clothes white in the blood of the lamb, and Jesus raises us up and tells us not to fear. Then we go down to live as God’s people, overcoming sin and evil as a holy community according to the blueprints we received on the mountain. And now that the Son of Man is raised from the dead, we tell everyone this vision of the glory of Jesus.

Posted on Wednesday, March 01, 2017 by CJ Bowen