Based on the readings set for February 14 (Year B) according to the Revised Common Lectionary:
OT: 2 Kings 2:1-12 — Elijah is swept up to heaven
NT gospel: Mark 9:2-9 — Heaven opens on the mountaintop revealing the glory of heaven transfiguring Jesus
NT letter: 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 — The glory of Christ, hidden from people by spiritual darkness, is like a light coming on in the heart of the person who trusts Jesus.
IN THE BIBLE when God draws particularly close there’s often a spiritual manifestation of brightness — uncomfortable, dazzling brightness.
The glory of the Lord on Mount Sinai
At the time of the giving of the law to Moses, the presence of the Lord the glory of the Lord — looked like a cloud covering the mountain and a consuming fire on top of it.
When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. Exodus 24:15-17
Later, when Moses had all the elements of the tabernacle ready exactly as the Lord had shown him, the Lord had him set it up with its curtain across the entrance.
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out — until the day it lifted. Exodus 40:34-37 NIV
The glory of the Lord fills the temple
And at the great meeting of the tribal heads and the elders with the priests and musicians that Solomon had summoned to mark the completion of the temple, the ark of the covenant was brought up and carefully installed, still with its carrying poles, in the inner sanctuary. As the priest withdrew the musicians and singers:
…raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang: “He is good; his love endures forever.” Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God.2 Chronicles 5:13-14 NIV
The glory of the Lord appears around Elijah
Our story for this week begins after this, at the end of Elijah’s amazing ministry at a turbulent time. Taking his assistant Elisha, who refused to be left behind, he travels round for one last time to all his schools of prophets, who already knew that his passing was close. Then, reaching the Jordan river he looked across to the region where Moses had died at a great age, and in an act like the crossing of the Red Sea all those years before, he rolled up his cloak and wielded it like Moses’ staff — and God parted the water for them to cross over on dry ground. Elisha asks to inherit Elijah’s spiritual anointing, and as they walked along conversing:
…Suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 2 Kings 2:11
Heaven had opened for an instant, God’s glory had appeared and a flaming manifestation caught up Elijah and took him up to heaven.
The glory of God transfigures Jesus
Elijah makes another appearance in the next part of this story of God’s presence and glory when Jesus is on the top of a peak, part of Mount Hermon range in the very north of Israel. Jesus has climbed the mountain accompanied by Peter, James and John, just the four them. And then it happened:
… He was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Mark 2:2-4.
Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is My Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!” Mark 2:7
So it seems that the glory of heaven, like a ray of brightness, came on Jesus, changing His appearance, dazzling the others. In that extreme brightness they could recognise Elijah, representative of the wisdom of the all the prophets, and Moses, standing for the wisdom of God’s word as they come to confer with the Son of God.
And as if that wasn’t enough, a cloud appeared — a cloud of luminosity, adding to the brightness, but so bright that it blocked everything out. Then, the audible voice of God is heard, affirming who Jesus is.
This was just a few days after Peter, who had witnessed a series of astounding miracles including walking on water and provision of food for a huge gathering on two different occasions, had come to the point of speaking out what he had worked out: “You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One of God.”
The Messiah — but in what role?
But what kind of Messiah? Peter and the others had to somehow process together three different perspectives.
- There was the traditional view that the Messiah would be like King David, a deliverer of Israel.
- There was their experience of signs and wonders, like in the days of Elijah, but Jesus was not Elijah and they had seen Elijah defer to Jesus.
- And then there was the Suffering Servant, Jesus teaching them that he would have to go to Jerusalem, to suffer and to die. A difficult lesson that He had to take them through again.
This extraordinary experience of heaven breaking in on earth was something these three disciples needed to experience. They needed to share this with the others. They all needed this to hold on to God’s purposes in all that followed, even though they would not be abl;e to understand it, until later.
And that is a picture of how we come to know God personally through believing who Jesus is, the One who has given His life for us, and trusting Him with our lives. Do we understand it at the time? No, but as we reach out in faith, spiritual light breaks in for us and what was hidden before, becomes plain.
Paul writes to the church in Corinth about this, putting some teaching around what they had already experienced, and giving them a framework to explain what happened.
If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.2 Cor. 4:3
We all start there. That’s how it is for everyone who has not yet believed the Good News, churchgoer or not.
The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.2 Cor. 4:4
But the moment we make that choice so we can say “Jesus is my Lord!” the power of the the confusion and deception the devil tries to maintain is broken.
We preach (proclaim)… not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord…2 Cor. 4:5
God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.2 Cor. 4:6
And spiritual realities that were unclear or unseen before, can be seen for what they are.
How we see the light of God’s glory today
Christian faith is not a religion, although plenty of competing religions have been constructed out of it. It is a revelation which causes a release and leads into a relationship. It’s a change of heart and a spirituaL renewal.
And where before we had a vague idea of God, remote and impoersonal in a far-off place we call heaven — now we see the light of His glory, and we see that same light in the face of Jesus, our Saviour and our Lord.
And other will, increasingly, perceive that light in us. “Dazzling” might not be the right word but “illuminating” and “attracting” might be fair descriptions of the new work of the Holy Spirit in us as a new person. Which gives glory to God.