The Transfiguration & the Soul's Gaze
Outfitter's Guide to Growing in Christ, Part 4

The story of the Transfiguration is highly relevant to those who desire to become more like Christ. Eugene Peterson views the Transfiguration as an invitation to make a habit of gazing on Jesus (Subversive Spirituality). When we set our gaze on Jesus we are amazed at what we encounter. When we make a habit of gazing, we also can experience something similar to what Peter, James and John experienced. In this article, we'll look at the elements of the Transfiguration scene and then consider its significance for our own growth.

The elements of the Transfiguration scene

  1. There on the mountain Jesus' glory was revealed. His face shone and his clothing became radiant. For a moment the veil of his humanity, which had been shrouding his divine identity, was lifted. After this glimpse of Jesus' glory, Peter, James and John were convinced beyond a doubt that Jesus was no mere human teacher, but the Son of God.

  2. Macha Chmakoff, Transfiguration aux 6 personnages
  3. Moses and Elijah appeared and talked with Jesus. We know nothing about their exchange, but the presence of these two particular historical figures speaks volumes. The Old Testament closes with Elijah's predicted return, purposed to restore relationships in preparation for the day of the Lord (Mal 4:5-6). The Law speaks of the coming of a prophet who would be like Moses (Deut 18:15-19). The appearance of these men at this crucial time in history proclaims Jesus to be the focus and the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy and hopes. Jesus is proclaimed to be the whole point of the story.

  4. The Father affirmed Jesus definitively as his Son. Jesus had just begun to teach his disciples that he must suffer and die, and this affirmation told them that Jesus had not lost his marbles. The voice from the cloud affirmed that this seemingly incomprehensible plan was of God. They were to listen to what Jesus was telling them. To really listen!

The effect of the Transfiguration on the disciples

Being eye-witnesses of this event had a huge impact on Peter, James and John. Peter later wrote: "We were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honour and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.'" (2 Peter 1:16-17) The disciples were invited into a glorious event, and their writing invites us to come alongside them to gaze on Jesus' majesty.

The effect on us

So what does this have to do with our own spiritual growth? Peterson is right that some pretty remarkable life transformation is made possible when we make it a habit to gaze on Jesus. Here are a few examples:

  1. Our capacity for adoration grows. Learning to adore Jesus consistently requires disengaging ourselves from the distractions which tug at us. It's an ongoing, lifetime endeavour to do this, but nothing surpasses it. When we spend time in his presence, we receive his love anew and are enabled to love in return. The beauty of drawing near to Christ is what inspired Paul to write, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him
    (1Cor 2:9)."
  2. We learn to respond to his voice. When we know Jesus in his beauty, majesty and glory, we want nothing more than to respond. This requires saying 'no' to self and 'yes' to obedience. Paul knew this cost of following Jesus and he wrote, "I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. (Phil 3:8) Whatever pain, difficulty and sacrifice are involved in responding affirmatively to Jesus, they are all put into perspective by the wonder of knowing him. Our 'yeses' lead us increasingly into God's grace and power.
  3. We are transformed. This word is grammatically called a 'cooperative action verb'. We cooperate with God by yielding to his ways and his work in our lives and, in doing so, we are transformed. We don't produce the result ourselves but we are involved in the result as cooperative covenant partners with God.

It's fascinating to me that the same word which is translated 'transfigured' in Mark 9:2 is rendered 'transformed' in Romans 12:2. The same Greek word is used for Christ's transfiguration and for our transformation! There is an intended connection between what happened to Jesus that day on the mountain and what God does in Jesus' followers.

Certainly there are aspects of light, glory and transformation which will forever be unique to Jesus' experience, but these same motifs transfer also into our experience as we choose to make a habit of gazing upon Jesus. Paul expresses this in 2 Corinthians 3:18: "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." What a promise that is!

Making it practical

Jesus told his friends not to speak of what they'd experienced on the mountain until after he had been raised from the dead. Thereafter they spoke of it freely so that all who believe in him could benefit from the amazing event. Their accounts of the Transfiguration help us to understand Jesus' identity and the Story of God fulfilled in him, just as it did for Peter, James and John that day. The disciples invite us also to follow their example by gazing regularly, lovingly and longingly upon Jesus.

So how does one get started? In The Pursuit of God A.W. Tozer models how pondering God's attributes can lead us there. Getting out in God's creation may assist this work if nature speaks to you. Contemplating the Word can direct our gaze toward Jesus. So can worship, prayer and art.

It's fitting that this path can't be prescribed in five easy steps, but the Lord's beauty, majesty and glory await the one who refuses to be satisfied with anything less.

Outfitter's Guide
to Growing in Christ
Each article in this series identifies useful gear and provisions to take along on the lifelong adventure of being formed into the likeness of Christ.

The sermon
The Transfiguration
Outfitter's Guide, Pt 3 Formational Reading Faith formation resource page


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