Image is Everything
Transfiguration of Our Lord
“Image is everything.” We are all familiar with this saying or others like it. One’s image or perception by others can affect one’s reputation whether good or bad. David Falconer Wells is a theologian and Distinguished Senior Research Professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Here is what he has been quoted of saying about image: “In our postmodern culture which is TV dominated, image sensitive, and morally vacuous, personality is everything and character is increasingly irrelevant.”
This view may be a bit jaded, but it seems pretty accurate. What we see and what is presented to our senses is not always true and is often altered in some way to represent something different.
When I was very young, one of the famous actors of the time was Lon Chaney Jr. He became well know for his portrayal of monsters in horror movies. His characters included Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man and The Mummy.
In 1957, James Cagney portrayed Lon Chaney in the biographical drama, “Man of a Thousand Faces” I recall a scene where Lon Chaney and other out of work actors were at major studio lot trying to get cast in bit roles and as extras in the many different motion pictures being filmed on the lot.
It was a difficult time to get any work around the country but the film industry was maybe harder to earn a livable wage. Lon Chaney had an idea that would keep him in work. He would take his make-up kit with him to the casting calls and read the list of extras the many different films being shot required for background actors. If he came across the call for a man with a scar on his face for a pirate movie, for example, he would delve into his kit and use makeup to give himself a scar. He was able to change his appearance so quickly that he was able to keep himself in work, and thus paying wages, all day long.
Today, a person can never really be sure of what they see in movies, television or any other media platform. Why? Because imaginative people with the help of technology can now create realist images out of thin air. Such people can even take real images or recorded video and alter the people to do and say whatever they want.
Now imagine Peter, James and John high up on a mountain north of Caesarea-Philippi when they witnessed an astonishing sight. Their teacher, Jesus, suddenly changes in appearance before their very eyes. But this was no trick by slight of hand or the change of costume; no, this was a transfiguration from a human, earthly form, to a glorified, divine form.
The witnesses describe his clothes becoming “radiant, intensely white…” Also, in the Gospel of Matthew, he writes, “His face shone like the sun...” And in Luke it is written that “the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening.”
In addition to this transformation was the existence of Moses and Elijah having a conversation with Jesus. Both of these men were great servants and prophets of God. Peter, James and John all saw the same thing. They all recognized the people they saw speaking with each other. At that moment a number of mysteries were put to rest in their midst.
Firstly, this sight showed Moses and Elijah were real people that existed. They were declared righteous in God’s sight, just as Abraham, and were now with the Lord. Secondly, if they were seeing these men, it meant that God the Father’s kingdom does exist and those who obey Him will live with him forever. And finally, this showed Jesus as one who was known by Moses and Elijah and was able to transverse between heaven and earth. At that moment in time, Jesus Christ existed in both realms; one of glory and one of humility.
“And Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified.” [Mark 9:5-6]
Just as the people around Mt. Sinai, when God spoke to Moses, Peter, James and John were terrified by being in the presence of God. And just like the people in the times of Moses, they trembled as the voice of God spoke from a great, encompassing cloud, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” [Mark 9:7] The astonishing account concludes:
“And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.
And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” [Mark 9:8-9]
What did the disciples think? They may have been unsure of exactly what they saw. Combined with the voice of God from heaven and the command from Jesus not to speak of it until he has risen from death must have truly confused them. Did they really see Elijah and Moses? They witnessed something, but what exactly did they witness?
We sometimes mistrust our senses even if we want to believe. We sometimes doubt before we accept and we are wary of things that don’t fit our view of the natural order. We have all had these types of experiences. We often disbelieve what we see or what others witness. And we distrust promises made to us. Why do we doubt even when we witness events first hand? Because we are sinners.
Let’s face it. Being born to sin has made us very unreliable. We lie, we cheat, we steal. We murder, we covet, we worship idols. We slander our neighbors and make promises we don’t keep. When the people of Israel cried out to God to free them from Egypt God said “I will do it.” He gave Moses the commandments and told him to tell the people that I am the one true God that keeps his promises. I brought you out of Egypt on the wings of eagles, you are my people, keep my commands. And the people said in unison, “We will do everything you say!”
When the people did not obey God’s word and started to follow false gods and idols, God sent prophets like Elijah to the people to tell them that he will send a savior to redeem them from their sins and evil ways. The people said, “We believe you and will worship you.”
Jesus came into the world and told the people of Israel, “Your Father in heaven who is also my father sent me to fulfill the law you could not keep. Believe in me and you will be saved.” And the people crucified him.
In today’s Gospel we hear the witness of Christ’s transfiguration. Peter, James and John are witnesses to something greater than a volcano exploding or a hurricane devastating a city. What they see is like nothing they have ever heard about or seen on Earth. They see Jesus, their savior in all his heavenly glory. Christ’s face shines like the sun and his clothes become as white as lightning.
And if that was not spectacle enough, Moses and Elijah appear with him. Moses, the man who brought the law of God to his people, the man selected by God to lead them to the promised land, and the man who was personally in the presence of God on the holy mountain and in the tabernacle more than any other human being.
On the other side of Jesus is Elijah, the great prophet who spoke the words of God to the Kings of Israel. The prophet that more than once called fire down from heaven and the man that did not die but was taken up in a whirlwind of fire. Both Moses and Elijah are speaking with Jesus when God the Father comes in a cloud saying:
“This is my Son, whom I love; listen to him!”
In this awesome and fantastic sight, Peter, James and John now know without a doubt that Jesus is the promised Messiah. Before them they literally see God’s track record of keeping his promises. God said he would bring his people out of Egypt and there is Moses. God said he would not abandon his people that he will send Elijah before him and there stands Elijah. God said he would send a savior to redeem his people from all sin and in the center is his Son, Jesus Christ. And by announcing Jesus as his Son to confirm his promise of a savior God tells the disciples yes, this is he, the one I promised to you; through him I will make you my people and I will be your God.
Some people say that history repeats itself. Well we can certainly testify to that. How many times have we told God that we will do what he commands and then not do it? I know I fall down quite often in this regard.
How often do we cry out to the heavens asking “Where are you God? Why have you abandoned me?” How often have we doubted our salvation given to us by the death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ? Yes, history does repeat itself because we repeat our sinful thoughts, words and deeds.
But do not let your hearts sink, because by his grace and mercy God repeats His promise. God repeats His promise to make us His people and to be our one, true and only God. He promised to bring His people out of Egypt and He did. He promised He would not abandon us and He never has. He promised to once and for all save us from our eternal death and He did.
Now we were not with Moses when God led his people out of Egypt. We were not there when the prophets spoke of the Messiah. We were not there when Jesus died on the cross, was buried and rose again three days later. And because we were not there, we rely on witnesses like Peter, James and John when they say, ‘you should have seen what I saw.’ But my friends, we don’t have to see what they saw.
God keeps his promises! When we are baptized, we become his children; promise given – promise kept! In the day of your baptism, you were transformed into the image of God. When we are absolved of our sin and we come to the Lord’s table to partake of his body & blood we are once again imprinted and renewed in the Spirit with him; promise given – promise kept! When we say that Jesus Christ took upon himself all of our sins, was crucified, died and rose again, we don’t have to see it to believe it; it’s a promise given and a promise kept by God. When we come to him in prayer with our troubles and daily worries, we have His word that He will hear us and give us all we need; it’s a promise. God keeps His promises.
Brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus; I want you to know that you have been transformed from the sinful, broken creature of this world into the sanctified body of Christ who now declares you righteous by his redeeming sacrifice on the cross, those many years ago. This is not a false transformation that later falls away, revealing our true, ugly, sinful nature, but a real transformation in Christ here and now, with a complete transfiguration in our Lord and Savior when we see him on that last day in His kingdom which has no end.
Jesus Christ is the beloved Son of God, listen to him. Look upon your life and see how God has answered your prayers and kept his promises to you throughout your life. When you think about Christ Jesus saving us from death so that we may live with him in his father’s house forever, praise him that we are His people and He is our God.