And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
By the time that Jesus took Peter, James, and John up to the Mount of Transfiguration, they had probably been his disciples for about two years. For two years, they had devoted their lives to following this man who healed the sick, calmed the storm, walked on water, and called himself the Son of Man. Not long before the Transfiguration, Peter had demonstrated his remarkable faith by recognizing that Jesus was not just a prophet or a teacher, but “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matt. 16:16) Then, Jesus began to prophesy about His coming death, and Peter’s faith fell short.
“‘Oh no, Lord! This will never happen to you!’” (Matt. 16:22, CSB).
I wonder if the same indignation had come over Isaiah’s listeners when they first heard him prophesy about the Messiah as the suffering servant who would be “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities!” (Isa. 53:5). After all, this same prophet had actually seen God early on in his prophetic career and had described Him as “sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.” (Isa. 6:1). Isaiah’s prophecy had once again used the phrase “high and lifted up” to describe the Lord in Chapter 52. Only this time, the prophet used it in specific reference to the coming Messiah, whom he described as God’s servant.
“Behold, [God’s] servant . . . shall be high and lifted up and shall be exalted.” (Isa. 52:13).
But then, as unexpectedly as Jesus when he predicted his own crucifixion, Isaiah began to prophesy about the Messiah’s death:
“Just as many were appalled at you—his appearance was so disfigured that he did not look like a man, and his form did not resemble a human being” (Isa. 52:14, CSB)
Like Peter, Isaiah’s listeners must have thought, “What kind of high and lifted up God allows himself to be mutilated by His own creation?” The kind of God who was lifted up to save His own creation.
“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up . . . . I will not contend forever . . . I have seen [man’s] ways, but I will heal him.” (Isa. 57:15a, 16a, 18a).
Jesus himself explained it this way to Nicodemus,
“No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:13-15, CSB)
Moses’ bronze serpent temporarily saved the Israelites from the curse of their rebellion against God, but it could not save them eternally from their sin. Everyone who recovered from the snakebite in the wilderness still died. To save the human race once and for all, God himself would have to become the cure by becoming the curse. And, so, he “descended from heaven” (Jn. 3:13), “taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Phil. 2:7). Then, in the first greatest reversal of all time, this the Incarnate God was lifted up, not to a place of exaltation, but onto a cross.
“Christ redeemed us from that self-defeating, cursed life by absorbing it completely into himself.
Do you remember the Scripture that says, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’?
That is what happened when Jesus was nailed to the cross:
He became a curse, and at the same time dissolved the curse.” (Gal. 3:13, MSG).
Women of Mercy, we gather to remember Jesus Christ lifted up on the cross, bearing the weight of our sin.
But, women of Mercy, we also gather to celebrate Christ Jesus, high and lifted up, seated at the right hand of the throne of God!
Oh what grace to know that the cross is not the end of the story! Mere days after Jesus had sharply rebuked Peter for his resistance to the idea of the crucifixion, Jesus had taken Peter, James, and John up to the Mount of Transfiguration.
“And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” (Matt. 17:2)
For a moment, the veil was lifted. And they saw Him. The one with whom they had walked for two years. The one whom they had begun to believe was “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” The one who had predicted his own gruesome death. Only this time, they saw a glimpse of who He was about to become…who He really is…who He always was. They saw Him standing next to the prophets they had esteemed their entire lives, and they heard the Father say of Him alone, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
“And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.” (Matt. 17:8)
How their hearts must have burned within them as they walked down that mountain! They must have wanted to tell everyone, but Jesus strictly commanded them not to tell anyone until after his resurrection. (Matt. 17:9). He still had a long road to walk. He still had to go to Jerusalem. (Matt. 16:21) But, oh what grace to know that the cross is not the end of the story! For a moment, on the Mount of Transfiguration, the veil was lifted. But, on the day that Jesus died, the veil was ripped in two! (Matt. 27:51) He opened for us a “new and living way” into the presence of God, “through the veil, that is, His flesh!” (Heb. 10:20, NASB). And, “[w]hen he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven!” (Heb. 1:3b) In the second greatest reversal of all time,
God lifted him up to the highest place. God gave him the name that is above every name. When the name of Jesus is spoken, everyone will kneel down to worship him. Everyone in heaven and on earth and under the earth will kneel down to worship him.
Everyone’s mouth will say that Jesus Christ is Lord. And God the Father will receive the glory.
(Phil. 2:9-11, NIRV)
Mercy Women, as we gather, we are praying to the God who is high and lifted up: We are praying that burdens will be lifted. We are praying that eyes will be lifted. We are praying that hands will be lifted to God in praise. We are praying that when we look up we, too, will see Jesus only.