A Glimpse of Glory
Scripture - Luke 9:28-43
Jesus took three of his disciples with him up to a mountaintop to pray. While there, these disciples saw Jesus’ glory, & they heard the very voice of God. Close your eyes & imagine yourself as a fourth disciple standing upon this mountain, as you hear the word of God.
Imagine the scene after the transfiguration when the echo of God’s voice has finally faded. The disciples must have had a dozen questions for Jesus. In Mark’s account of this event, he writes: As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. Then they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” He said to them, “Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings & be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, & they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him.” (Mark 9:9-13)
As they come down off the mountain, the three disciples say nothing to anyone about the experience. Why? Because the full meaning of the episode would only be apparent after the resurrection because the transfiguration is a glimpse, a preview, of the resurrection. And of the second coming, Jesus’ return to restore the world at the end of time, prophesied in the Book of Revelation at the end of the Bible. Also, until the resurrection, who would believe it?
One thing is clear to the disciples, though. By speaking of his resurrection here, Jesus is again pointing to his death. Remember that when Jesus told them “I am the Messiah, but I am going to suffer & die,” Peter rebuked Jesus. Here again Peter & the others push back, but this time they are a little cagier, offering to make three dwellings.
The Old Testament book of Malachi prophesied that Elijah would return before the great Day of the Lord, when God will appear & make everything right. So, the disciples are saying, “Great! Elijah is here. The Day of the Lord must be near! Why all this talk about death? Elijah is here.”
The transfiguration is not just a miraculous parlor trick to convince the disciples of Jesus’ deity. It is an experience of collective worship that they are going to need for what lies ahead.
How, then, can we have access to the presence of God in that way? How can we have these glimpses? Jesus & the disciples are barely off the mountain before he gets the chance to show us how to make our way into God’s presence.
An argument is going on between the crowd of people & Jesus’ disciples – those who had not gone up the mountain. They are trying to exorcise a demon, & it is not working. Evil is present, & everybody is confused.
Luke takes the existence of demonic activity – of a continuing battle against evil, personal supernatural beings – as a self-evident aspect of reality, simply a fact of life. Not everyone is personally possessed by a demon like the boy in this story, but Paul says in Ephesians 6 & elsewhere that we are all fighting demonic principalities all the time. Remember that even J was not immune to their attacks. We read early on in the Gospel of Luke that just after his baptism Jesus was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.
The boy in this story is possessed by a demon, making him deaf & mute & causing convulsions. It is an overwhelming physical & spiritual condition that not only renders the boy helpless, but also stymies everyone around him – his father, the disciples, & others. Luke tells us: Jesus answered, “You faithless & perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you & bear with you? Bring the boy here.” While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, & gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.
The disciples are trying to exorcise a demon. But they have been trying to exorcise it, according to Mark’s account, without praying! How arrogant, how clueless they are about their inadequacy to deal with the evil & suffering of the world. The disciples tried prayerless exorcism for the same reason they could not understand why Jesus had to die – they did not see how weak & proud they were. They underestimated the power of evil in the world & in themselves.
In Mark’s version, the teachers of the law are there too, probably criticizing. Only one figure in this entire scene is acknowledging his weakness, admitting that he does not have what it takes to manage the suffering & evil that he faces – the father of the boy.
This man asks Jesus: I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. And Jesus says, in effect, I can heal him if you can believe. In Mark, the father responds: I believe; help my unbelief! That is, “I am trying but I am full of doubts.” Then Jesus heals the man’s son. This is incredibly good news. Through Jesus you & I do not need perfect righteousness, just repentant helplessness, to access the presence of God.
Jesus could have told the man, “I am the glory of God in human form. Purify your heart, confess all your sins, get rid of all your doubts & your doublemindedness. Once you have surrendered to me totally & can come before me with a pure heart, then you can ask for the healing you need.” But Jesus does not say that – not at all. The boy’s father says, “I am not faithful, I am riddled with doubts, & I cannot muster the strength necessary to meet my moral & spiritual challenges. But help me.” That is saving faith – faith in Jesus instead of in oneself. Perfect righteousness is impossible for us, & if you wait for that, you will never come into the presence of God. Instead, you must admit that you are not righteous, & that you need help. When you can say that you are approaching God in proper humility.
But we cannot leave this scene witho an acute awareness of what Jesus is about to lose. He has lived for endless ages in glory with the Father. On the mountain we see Jesus surrounded by God; on the cross he will be forsaken. On the mountain we see the life he has always led – embraced & clothed with the love & light of God – but on the cross he will be naked in the dark.
Why did Jesus put himself through that? Well, he did it for us. Paul tells us clearly that evil is unmasked & defeated on our behalf at the cross. He writes in his letter to the church at Colossae that Jesus disarmed the rulers & authorities & made a public example of them, triumphing over them [on the cross].
And on the mountain, through the Holy Spirit, God was strengthening Jesus for his mission, for the infinite suffering he would endure to defeat all evil. And God can empower us in the same way to face evil & overcome our own suffering.
You may know in your head that God loves you, but sometimes the Holy Spirit makes it especially clear to you that that is the case. Sometimes you go to the mountain. Sometimes through the Holy Spirit you can hear God make a statement of unconditional, permanent, & intimate love. Sometimes you do not just know about God’s love but in your heart, you actually hear God saying, “You are my daughter, you are my son, I love you. I would go to infinite costs & infinite depths not to lose you - & I have!”
When you have pursued God in repentant helplessness, you will have encountered God’s glory. And every time you sense his embrace, you soul will shine just a bit brighter with his reflected glory, & you will be just a bit more ready to face what life has in store for you.
Friends, all we really need to make it through this life is a glimpse, just a glimpse, of God’s glory!