Exodus 24:12-18; II Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9
Jesus’ earthly life can be seen as a three act drama. The first act includes Jesus’ birth through the time of his baptism. During Advent we are reminded of the angels singing alleluia as they celebrated Jesus’ birth. It must have been amazing for the shepherds, magi and others to have been witnesses in the presence of the Christ child. The Christmas candlelight service reminds us that we too can find ourselves in the presence of Christ through the light, music and spoken word of the evening. I can only speak for myself, but the candlelight service helps me to fee closer to my savior.
The birth of Jesus is the first part of the first act. The gospels don’t tell us much about Jesus’ life until his twelfth birthday. Jesus has stayed behind in Jerusalem as he talks to the scholars and scribes, who sit in awe of a young man with so much wisdom. They knew they were in the presence of someone very special. Can you even imagine being in the presence of Jesus during that time? After that day Jesus returned to Nazareth as we read about how Jesus “increased in wisdom, stature and in favor with God and men.”—Luke 2:52 Can you even imagine living in Nazareth and being in the presence of this young Messiah?
Jesus spent most of his earthly life in Nazareth. It was a time of preparation for what was to come in this drama. According to mark the first act curtain comes down on a most dramatic scene. Jesus goes to his cousin, John the Baptist, where the tie for growing up has come to an end.
John the Baptist had already predicated the coming of the Me3ssiah. John preached, “There comes one after me which is mightier than me, whose sandal straps I am not worthy to untie.” –Mark 1:7 Imagine being a witness to the moment when Jesus finally came. For John the Baptist it must have been a very humbling experience.
Last January we as a congregation celebrated the “Baptism of the Lord” Sunday. John the Baptist did resist the idea of baptizing Jesus. After all, standing in John’s presence was the Messiah, the one and only truly unique Son of God. Jesus urges John to go ahead with the baptism as an act of obedience to their heavenly Father. It must have been amazing to be in the presence of the glory of the day, and to hear the Heavenly Father declare, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” –Luke 3:22 It was the end of the second act of Jesus’ life drama.
After the baptism Jesus began his teaching and healing ministry on earth. Wouldn’t you have loved to be in the presence of Christ Jesus during those incredible days? Wouldn’t you have loved to hear the voice of God? “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” –Luke 3:22
This morning we pause to celebrate Transfiguration Sunday, which celebrates the beginning of act three of this incredible drama. Three short years after Jesus began his earthly healing ad teaching Jesus took his three closest disciples upon what came to be known as Mount Transfiguration.
Three of the gospels recorded this even. The gospel of Mark was the first. Mark was a companion of peter when Peter traveled preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. Peter stood in the presence of Jesus on the day of the transfiguration. Peter also included the story in his second letter, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we make known to you the power and coming of our Lord Christ Jesus, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Gory, saying, “this is my Son, My Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” “We ourselves heart the voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.” –II Peter 1:16-18
I don’t blame Peter for wanting to build three tabernacles in honor of who they saw that day: Jesus, Moses and Elijah. It wasn’t like standing on holy ground. No, it was Holy Ground.
This morning, however, “Standing in the Presence” has a great deal more meaning than a hill and an event in Israel. Transfiguration Sunday celebrates the presence of Jesus in that great moment, but it also memorializes the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The disciples didn’t understand what that day meant for Jesus, but this Sunday reminds us of Jesus turning his face toward Jerusalem and the cross. The end of act two in this great drama.
Next week Pastor Ross will lead you into the season of Lent, a time of reflection, study and preparation for the coming of Holy Week. I encourage you to come to the Ash Wednesday observance. It is a short service to begin our walk in the presence of the Christ toward the cross.
“Standing in the Presence” is more than remembering what has happened in the past. There were many people who stood in the presence of Jesus during his earthly ministry and his walk to the cross. Most of them did not appreciate what that might mean to them. I wonder if we really understand.
Peter understood. It was about a week before the event of the transfiguration, when some of the Pharisees and Sadducees asked Jesus to prove himself by doing a “sign from heaven.” –Matthew 16:1 They had heard all of the rumors about Jesus. They told Jesus they needed evidence. They wanted to be eyewitnesses to his power.
Jesus knew nothing would help them see they were already standing the presence of the Messiah. They thought he was a false teacher. You see, there was a law against claiming to be the Messiah punishable by death. They wanted to catch Jesus in the act of committing a crime. But you can’t be lying if it’s true. Jesus was Christ, the Messiah!
Later, when Jesus was alone with his disciples Jesus asked them, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am? So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” –Matthew 16:13-16
Standing in the presence! They knew, the disciples knew they were standing in the presence of the Christ. All of his Biblical history is interesting to the Christian, but what does it mean to us today? Jesus teaches us our lives are spent in the presence of Christ when we have accepted him as our Lord and Savior.
The gospels tell us of many a story about people who were surprised to be in the presence of Christ. There was the bling man who was given sight, but the Pharisees who questioned the blind man were blind to the fact they were in the presence of Christ. –John 9 There was the woman at the well who having finally seen she was in the presence of Christ ran and told her neighbors, “Come and see a man who had told me all the things I have done. Could this be the Christ?” –John 4:0: You remember how Mary Magdalene came running to the disciples the morning of the resurrection crying, “I have seen the Lord.” –John 2:18 And how the disciples saw Jesus in the upper later that day. And then there were the men on the road to Emmaus, who finally saw Jesus in the breaking of the bread. –Luke 24:30-31
Yes, there are many historical records telling stories of Jesus’ presence, but we don’t have to go back in history or to the scriptures to talk about people standing in his presence. There are many stories of Jesus standing in the present of people recently.
There is the story of Debbie Cain, who was declared clinically dead. Her heart had stopped. Later, she was revived, but she began to tell and amazing story. “I started to feel a great deal of love from within. It was warm and I saw a bright light that began to clean everything. I saw Jesus there. He looked at me and without saying a work he spoke to me and said “Not now my child.” She know she had to return to her body.
Her neurosurgeon, Michael Minotti, who heard her story said, “Her story is like many who have experienced similar stories. These experiences are real.”
There are cases of blind people, who have been declared clinically dead, who left their bodies, and had seen light for the first time in their lives. These people have described in detail what they saw before they were brought back to life. After such experiences they have come to believe in God.
Colton Burpo reflects his story in a book titled “Heaven is Real.” He said he spoke with Jesus and met a sister who died before he was born.
Crystal McVea was still another person who experienced a clinical death. She had been clinically dead for over nine minutes. She tells the story of two angels meeting welcoming her with someone else nearby. My own wife, Sharon, remembers a dream before her surgery with what she believes might have been angels, but she believes one of them may have been Jesus, himself.
Skeptics deny these and many others. You may be among them, but I believe Christians are constantly in the presence of Christ. Jesus said at the time of the ascension, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” –Matthew 28:20 Doesn’t that make me want to sing, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus?” As Christians we are never alone!
Jesus Christ is more than some historical figure who walked and lived in ancient Israel. Christ transfigures you and me if we understand how Jesus lives in our lives. WE are not merely called to be Christian, but called to help others see we are always standing on holy ground; always standing on holy ground in the presence of the Christ.
Pastor Paul Grossman