Matthew 17:1-9; Exodus 24:12-18; 2 Peter 1:16-21
Pierre Aguste Renoir is one of the most well-known French impressionist painters. And due to his health, doctors forced him into confinement for the final decade of his life. Henri Matisse, another great painter, was his friend, and he visited him daily. Renoir, almost paralyzed with arthritis, continued to paint despite of his pain. One afternoon, Matisse watched his friend paint, and saw Renoir fighting the pain with each movement and stroke of the brush. He finally exclaimed, “August, why do you continue painting when you are in such agony?” Renoir never looked up, with his eyes on the canvas and in complete concentration, he spoke softly, “The beauty remains, the pain passes.”
“The beauty remains, the pain passes.” Those are profound words. And I believe they are appropriate for our celebration today. Because with His transfiguration Jesus assures His disciples that there is much more beyond the cross; much more beyond the suffering that is waiting.
In today’s gospel, Peter, James, and John were all given a vision, a new way of seeing Jesus. Jesus’ transfiguration before his disciples was intended to change their perspective and give them a new understanding. The three synoptic gospels place the transfiguration right after Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah, which was followed by Jesus’ prediction of His death. One week after, to be exact.
Here we have twelve Jewish men who believe they have found the Messiah. The long-expected Messiah, the One who will give them back David’s great Kingdom; the One who will push the Romans out of Jerusalem, the Holy City. However, after Peter confessed Jesus as the One they were waiting for, Jesus started talking about His death, and when Peter tried to rebuke him, Jesus got upset and asked Peter and the rest of His disciples to take the cross and follow Him. Jesus asked them to take the instrument of death., -the one Romans used to get rid of their enemies,- and follow Him. I am sure that this invitation brought doubts into the group, and they started questioning if Jesus was the One. Because what Jesus was asking did not match with what they were expecting from the Messiah. Therefore, Jesus had to do something because if his disciples were having doubts now when they see Him do great miracles, and speaking about His death, imagine when they see Him hanging on the cross. The solution Jesus came to, was to show them His glory, so they could be able to see beyond the cross; beyond the suffering, so they could see that His glory is forever, His pain would pass.
Jesus took Peter, John, and James to the top of a mountain to be witnesses of a conference among Jesus, Moses, Elijah, and the Father. These three disciples heard the conversation Jesus had with Moses and Elijah; they also heard God the Father’s voice, and they also saw Jesus’ glory. Even after seeing Jesus’ glory, after Jesus died on the cross, all His disciples, including these three, were afraid. Some of them tried to go away and return to their previous lives. The enemy tried to convince them that Jesus was a fake Messiah. But, I am sure that during the three days Jesus was in the tomb, the transfiguration experience, the memory of this moment kept them going and was the balance between the reality they faced, and the faith they had in Jesus as the Messiah.
The experience they had in the mountain was like extra fuel they could use when things get tough. I can almost see Peter, James, and John after Jesus’ crucifixion, arguing with those who believed Jesus failed them, arguing with those who thought Jesus was a fake Messiah. I can imagine these three disciples saying, “yes, we know the Messiah was not supposed to die like that. However, He is the Messiah; we know that because we saw His glory, we saw and heard Moses and Elijah talking with Him about His departure; we heard a voice from heaven.” During all this struggle, trying to explain Jesus’ death, the event, the experience of the mountain helped them keep going.
On the mountain top, Jesus revealed His disciples who He was; they heard the Father once again confirming Jesus as His son, the same way He did after His baptism. That vision was essential for them because soon they would see Jesus hanging and dying on the cross. The cross which he earlier invited them to carry if they wanted to follow Him. On the cross, Jesus also revealed who He was, a loving Savior, a loving Redeemer. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 5:21, says: “God made him, who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him, we might become the righteousness of God.”
We, as Peter, John, and James, have also experienced those mountain-top moments. Moments when God’s presence is so real that we can almost touch Him, moments when the Holy Spirit is so real in us, that we can see and feel God’s glory, moments when we can see beyond our reality. Those moments for us are like extra fuel we can use when we need help because our walk with Jesus does not only involve glorious moments but tough moments as well. Mountain top moments and Calvary moments.
One essential thing we must practice as Christians is to remember those moments. Remember what God has done in our lives; remember how He has shown His glory in our glorious moments and in our tough moments . One of God’s suggestions to Israel was to remember. He says to them “Remember Israel when you were in Egypt, and I took you out; remember when you were slaves, and I freed you. Remember when you were foreigner, and I gave you land full of milk and honey.” To remember is a vital part of our walk with Jesus. Now, as I believe the disciples did when they saw Jesus on the cross, let us not forget those moments of glory we have had as an individual, in our families, and our church family and let us use those moments of glory as fuel to continue our journey. It is time to un-dust those memories; it is time to remember that we have seen the glory of God shinning in our lives; it is time to remember that Jesus was on the cross a few hours, but His glory, His promises, and commitment with us are forever. “The beauty remains, the pain passes.”