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Friday
December 14th, 2018

gary damronMY PERSPECTIVE, Gary Damron

 

Background for this week’s journey is Matthew chapter 17, six days after leaving Caesarea Philippi. With Peter, James and John, Jesus went to “a high mountain” where his appearance was changed as they’d never see him: “his face shone like the sun, and his garments became as white as light. And, behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with him” (Matthew 17:2-3). 

Mark says of Peter, “he did not know what to answer; for they became terrified” (Mark 9:6). Peter, who was rarely speechless, rattled off, “‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for you, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah’” (verse 4). Never in history had the great giver of the Law and the greatest prophet ever stood together. Here they were with their Master, whom the disciples were seeing, if you will, in a different light. 

If that wasn’t enough, a cloud enveloped them, and a voice said, “‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to him!’” which caused them to fall on their faces, terrified again. As soon as Jesus touched and spoke to them, the passage notes that Elijah and Moses were gone. The Law and the Prophets were no longer primary, and Jesus alone stood as our intermediary with God. (Matthew 17:5-8). 

Tradition has taught that the Transfiguration occurred on Mount Tabor, elevation 1886 feet, close to Galilee. Using the reference to a six-day journey, that would have been possible but difficult. A more likely site is Mount Hermon, close to Caesarea Philippi and with an elevation of 9232 feet. It was near the Syrian border, a more remote location, and a truly “high mountain”. What happened that day revealed God’s artistry and his majesty. Two other mountains echo those themes. 

About 1400 years before Jesus’ birth, there’s the account of God on Mount Sinai, speaking with Moses. “‘You cannot see my face, for no man can see me and live,’ so God hid him in a rock and protected Moses until the shining glory had passed by” (Exodus 33:18-23). There’s a word, shekinah, always accompanied by light, used by Jewish scholars to describe that awesome glory. 

The same glory settled over the tabernacle during the wilderness wanderings. “Throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel” (Exodus 40:38). 

Another Old Testament reference, centuries later, was to Mount Carmel where Elijah met the priests of Baal. After his powerful prayer, the scripture says, “the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, ‘The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God’” (1 Kings 18:38-39). 

In both earlier stories, fire came from above. But when the main characters - Moses and Elijah - appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration, the white-hot light came from within Christ. 

We perhaps understand and relate to Peter’s brash statement. It could be a subconscious effort to shield ourselves from the brightness of the living God. But, after encountering such a vision, it’s not our role to build a church or memorial or tabernacle. 

As they stood with Peter that day, James and John had been young men. But when John reached his 90s and was exiled on the Isle of Patmos, he wrote of an amazing vision. “When I saw him, I fell at his feet like a dead man. And he placed his right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades’” (Revelation 1:12-17). 

The Law and Moses, the Prophets and Elijah, all pointed to Christ, He would soon make one last trip to Jerusalem, as the perfect Lamb, “God with us”. Now, with the light of his countenance upon us (Psalm 4:6), we’re comforted by the power and peace, the touch of God. 

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