“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”Paul, 2 Corinthians 8:9
The word incarnation is most familiar to us as a way of describing God’s self-portrait in Jesus. God took a nosedive into raw human experience and spoke to us in a language we could all understand – the material language of a human life, the language of a person named Jesus of Nazareth. Because God chose to save the world by participating in its life, incarnation and atonement can never be separated.
– Leonard Sweet, So Beautiful
28About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30Two men, Moses and Elijah, 31appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)
34While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen.Luke 9:28-36
Jesus takes Peter, John and James with him to the mountain to pray; he likewise invited only these three of the twelve disciples with him into Jairus’ house to witness how he brought his daughter back to life. Even within the twelve, he further reduced his inner circle to three key followers. Jesus taught and healed thousands in his lifetime, but invested most deeply in three disciples, each of whom played a critical role in perpetuating Jesus’ message of the kingdom of God after his death.
Our call to “make disciples” should take a similar approach. Depth and resulting multiplication should be preferred to more superficial discipleship of many that fails to take deep root and often has little lasting transformative power.
As Jesus is praying here, his physical glory – which has so far been hidden even as Jesus performed many miracles and healings – is revealed. Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus, also shown in splendor. Moses represents the Law (as receiver of the Ten Commandments) and Elijah represents the Prophets. We will see later how Jesus’ teaching on loving God and neighbor summarize all previous law-giving and prophecy. Jesus is discussing his impending “departure,” which is about to play out in Jerusalem; that is, his death and resurrection providing the basis for God’s new covenant with man and then his ascension to be with the Father.
Under the Law and the Prophets, man was subject to a constant cycle of obedience to law, failure and sacrifice to bring himself back into relationship with God. The new covenant of grace that Jesus is about to establish in Jerusalem puts all past/present/future sin on himself and permits those who believe to experience eternal forgiveness and righteousness before God solely through his sacrifice.
Peter’s offer to build shelters for Jesus, Moses and Elijah was well-intended, but mistakenly equated Jesus with the other two men (likely prompting the author to parenthetically note that Peter “did not know what he was saying”). As is about to be affirmed, Jesus is, in fact, God’s Son – worthy of much more than the simple shelter Peter has in mind. Jesus brought Peter along so that he can bear witness to what is about to occur. Recall that Peter has just made his confession of Jesus as “The Christ of God.” He is now about to experience supernatural confirmation of his correct assessment.
The cloud envelopes the three disciples, Jesus, Moses and Elijah and the voice of God says, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen, listen to him.” This is the second instance in Luke where we see God the Father speak directly to affirm Jesus’ identity. In Luke 3:22, when Jesus is being baptized by John the Baptist, a voice from heaven says: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Note God the Father’s words here: “listen to him.” Like Peter, James and John, we must do so as well. All the teaching, healing and miracles the disciples have borne witness to thus far are now framed in the most powerful representation imaginable – the presence and voice of God the Father directly affirming Jesus’ identity as his beloved Son.
“Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro. He bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it.”Psalm 39:6
“But now, Lord, who do I look for? My hope is in you. Save me from all my transgressions.”Psalm 39:7, 8