Seeing Jesus in a New Light

Sermon preached at First Baptist Church of Oakland, February 6, 2005 James Chuck

Text: Matthew 17:1-8

 

          Jesus took three of his closest disciples, Peter and James and his brother John to a high mountain. While they were there, something very dramatic happened. The disciples saw Jesus in a new light in a way that defied description. It was said that Jesus’ face shown like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.

Suddenly there appeared Moses and Elijah in the company of Jesus. The Hebrew word for prophet is nabi, which means “he upon whom the Spirit comes.” Jesus stands in this tradition of Spirit-filled persons like Moses and Elijah through whom God speaks to his people. When Jesus began his ministry in Nazareth, he read from a text in Isaiah which begins, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” (Luke 4:18), thus indicating that he clearly saw himself as standing within this prophetic tradition.

What is even more important for us is the voice from heaven which said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” That voice from heaven is the divine confirmation of the true identity of Jesus. This is a message earlier heard at Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:17). Jesus is no less than God’s Son, our Lord and Savior.

At this point it may be good to remind ourselves that Christian faith has never been about a man who was so good that he became divine; it is about a God who so loved the world that God sent his Son. Unlike prophets before him, Jesus was not simply a man who declares the words of God; he is the Word of God.

          The Bible is full of elusions, admittedly difficult for the modern reader, that point beyond the merely human. The virgin birth at the beginning of Jesus’ life and the resurrection at the end of conclusion of Jesus’ earthly ministry are both signs of God’s total involvement in the life of Jesus, from beginning to end. The feeding of the five thousand, ry are both conclusion of Jesus'was so good that he became divine; it is about a God who so loved the world that Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, and other “miracles” recorded in the Bible are all intended to point beyond the merely human to the divine power of the living God.

          With the transfiguration experience at least a few of Jesus’ disciples know his true identity. As Jesus continues his ministry heading toward Jerusalem, he attracts an enormous popular following. His ministry of love involved no coercion. No one is compelled to follow him. Rather, he invited people to enter the Kingdom, to receive God’s forgiveness, and to do the will of the Father. His popularity among the masses troubled the Temple authorities in Jerusalem, and opposition increased. Because Jesus walked the earth as one utterly vulnerable, he ended up being crucified.

          The Son of God crucified?

          Sometimes I wonder about people who know nothing about the Christian faith going into a Roman Catholic Church for the first time. There, displayed in the front of the altar, is a crucifix, Jesus hanging on a cross. Should young children be seeing this? Who is this man? Why did he die? Why has this become the central symbol of the faith? When those questions are answered, we would have come very close to the heart of our faith: Jesus, the Son of God, gave his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28), and by so doing opened up the possibility new life in Christ.

          The apostle Paul understood this very well. He made the cross of Christ the center of his message. “For Jesus demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).     

          Today, you and I are among 1.9 billion people on this planet who affirm the Lordship of Christ. Empires and nations rise and fall, but the power of the Son of God who dies endures.