“Jesus Up Close and Personal” Luke 9:28-36
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, February 10, 2012 Transfiguration Sunday
I have become hooked on yet another TV show. This one, however, is not like my typical diet of reality shows, recent episodes of the Hoarders, or anything with Larry David. The show I’m stuck on currently is Elementary, a modern day twist on Sherlock Holmes. This new rendition of Holmes places him in our current time, living and working in New York, not in London. Instead of a magnifying glass, he has an iPhone. Instead of an English male Watson, he has a female, Asian doctor (Lucy Lieu) who lives with him to make sure he doesn’t get back on heroin. What has not changed about Holmes, though, is his powerful ability to look beyond what is on the surface to see what others seem to miss. The reason Sherlock Holmes has continued to be successful and sought after is because of his power of observation; what happens when he really looks beyond what is on the surface.
What we are presented with in today’s gospel text–Luke 9:28-36–is what occurs when Peter, James, and John have the opportunity to observe things beyond what they had previously seen in Jesus. The Jesus they knew was changing before their eyes. What was on the surface of Jesus–his humanity–was transformed into a life-changing epiphany for them. They were suddenly led onto a new track of fact-finding, even a mystery they would continue to observe for the rest of their lives. What we find today is that we pick up where they left off; continuing in observation of this great mystery of God as we see Jesus up close and personal.
There are at least two things we can know about this Jesus from this account. First, we see that Jesus is like us. He is like you. He is like me. The Jesus Luke described here in his gospel is human. He is living with real people, real problems, and real needs. Luke doesn’t have an agenda of making him less human. Here, as in other descriptions, he shows us a Jesus who needs time to pray. And he needs a place to pray. Jesus is limited to his humanity here atop the mountain. He is drained from life and needy like the rest of humankind. He knows the power of prayer and he sets out to tap into it as much as he can, even if it also involves taking along his top three disciples for some mentoring.
I read an article in the Business section of the New York Times recently about a CEO of a large company who cherished his office. Now that doesn’t sound atypical for a CEO, who has worked hard for a corner office with a view. This CEO, however, had chosen to locate his office in a cubicle, right in the midst of his employees’ cubicles. He wanted them to see that he was like them.
What we have considered since Christmas and Epiphany Sunday is how God entered our world to be with us; of how Jesus is like us in so many ways. He shunned the corner office rightfully his, located a common cubicle next to us, and engaged us at the water cooler of his time. What we can see today is that Jesus is like us. Have you considered that? Has that reality been an epiphany from God for you? As you go through your life–the successes, failures, the ups and the downs–you can know that there is someone who has walked down a road like yours. Just think of how your humanity will be blessed and cherished as a result of you observing this about Jesus. Consider with me today how your prayer life will be empowered and expanded after seeing that even the Son of God had to work at finding a place and a time to pray, struggling with the distractions of the needs and issues all around him.
Not to contradict everything I just said, but a second observation we can make as we look at Jesus up close and personal is that he is unlike us. That is what Peter, James, and John learned after truly feeling the enduring warmth of knowing how Jesus was like them. Just as they were getting comfortable with his humanity, they become terrified at his deity. It happened as they looked up out a slumber to see Jesus’ face glowing with heavenly light and his clothes turning white. At first, it was a delightful spiritual moment, seeing their beloved teacher shining so brightly. But when Moses and Elijah showed up, the wonder of it all turned to fear and they buried their heads as the cloud of God’s presence covered them on the mountain. What they knew about Jesus was now rapidly increasing as he grew closer to God and to them.
Phillips Brooks, a 19th Century preacher, summed it up this way:
If we had been told that God was coming into a man’s life… that must be something very terrible and awful. That certainly must rend and tear the life to which God comes. At least, it will separate it and make it unnatural and strange. God fills a bush with his glory, and it burns. God enters into the great mountain, and it rocks with an earthquake. When he comes to occupy a man, he must distort the humanity he occupies into some inhuman shape.
Instead of that, this new life into which God comes seems to be the most quietly, naturally human life that was ever seen upon the earth. It glides into its place like sunlight. It seems to make it evident that God and man are essentially so near together that the meeting of their natures in the life of a God-man is not strange. So always does Christ deal with his own nature, accepting his divinity as you and I accept our humanity, and letting it shine out through the envelope with which it has most subtly and mysteriously mingled, as the soul is mingled with and shines out through the body.[i]
What a great sentence: It seems to make it evident that God and man are essentially so near together that the meeting of their natures in the life of a God-man is not strange. Or is it? It shouldn’t be, but is it for you? We can so easily think it strange that God comes near to us, revealing to us powerful clarifications about Himself through the life of Jesus. But this is what we can observe before us. We, too, can hear God’s affirmation of Jesus as His son.
Seeing just how unlike Jesus is from us leads us to be like the three followers with Jesus that day in that we don’t want our experience with him to end. It is good for us to be here . . . we blurt out with Peter, wanting the new proximity we have with God to never end. Let’s pitch a tent and stay, not realizing that God has never been bound by a tent of meeting. He much prefers to pitch a tent of his own within his people. The nearness with God felt on the mountaintop doesn’t have to end, unless we choose to be a no camping site.
Seeing how Jesus is unlike us also leads us to confess him as Lord. Peter makes such a confession earlier in chapter 9, just before Jesus led he and the others up the mountain. This experience would deepen Peter’s confession and would provide James and John with opportunity to see and respond to his lordship as well, especially with the confirmation of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law (Moses) and prophecy (Elijah) and the affirming words of God for Jesus. God’s revelation of the identity of Jesus to us can create the same response. We find that Jesus is everything we have been looking for in life. He is the missing piece of grace to the Law. He is the fulfillment of God’s promises of long ago. He is the voice we are to hear, the teacher to whom we are to listen.
Max Lucado writes that Jesus translates God for us. In his book, Just Like Jesus he writes,
There were a few occasions in Brazil when I served as a translator for an English speaker. He stood before the audience, complete with the message. I stood at his side, equipped with the language. My job was to convey his story to the listeners. I did my best to allow his words to come through me. I was not at liberty to embellish or subtract. When the speaker gestured, I gestured. As his volume increased, so did mine. When he got quiet, I did, too.
When he walked this earth, Jesus was “translating” God all the time. When God got louder, Jesus got louder. When God gestured, Jesus gestured. He was so in sync with the Father that he could declare “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:11, NRSV).[ii]
Jesus is “God translated.” We don’t need keen powers of observation or deduction to know that. As we move into the season of Lent this week, we have an invitation to see Jesus up close and personal, to learn what God has to say, to draw near to Him, see that we can become more like Jesus.