Aspects of Christianity can seem far-fetched to our 21st century minds. The miraculous elements make it seem like the story of Santa Claus or fairies at the bottom of the garden. But before we dismiss such events as pure fiction, it’s worth remembering GK Chesterton’s words about truth and fiction: ‘Truth must necessarily be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind and therefore congenial to it.’

Authenticity. The Bible doesn’t permit us to dismiss the difficult bits. The writers of the New Testament insisted on the authenticity of their record. In the opening lines of his account of Jesus, Dr. Luke tells us that he was self-consciously writing a history – he was setting down an orderly account of events that have been fulfilled among us. Luke’s work is not a myth or legend that has the appearance of history, such as Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings.

Rather, he tells us that his record was verified by eyewitnesses. While Luke was not an eyewitness himself of the events he writes about, he did what Thucydides did. He verified his references with those who were there.

Transfiguration. I make these comments because today we turn to an extraordinary event recorded in the writings of Mark, Matthew and Luke. In Mark chapter 9, verse 2 we read: Six days later,… Mark wants us to be in no doubt that, just as the previous conversation had occurred, when Jesus had asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” so did the event that follows.

Mark’s record is specific: Jesus took three of his close followers with him to a high mountain: Peter and James and John. There were three eyewitnesses to this significant moment in Jesus’ life.

And what an astonishing moment it was: Jesus was transfigured, literally, metamorphosed, before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. Mark couldn’t find a metaphor for the dazzling brilliance and purity of the bright light that emanated from Jesus. The best he could do was to say that Jesus was brighter and purer than the very best soap manufacturers could provide. In both Luke and Acts the reference to dazzling clothes describes a supernatural glory.

Moses and Elijah. Furthermore, two of the great prophets, Moses and Elijah were also present and spoke with Jesus (9:4). In the conversation six days earlier, the disciples had answered Jesus’ question about who people thought he was by saying, ‘John the Baptist or Elijah, or one of the prophets.’ And when Jesus had pressed them for their own view, Peter had replied, “You are the Christ.”

But here on the mountain it was obvious that Peter had not yet worked out what this meant. For as the visitors departed, he said, “Master…; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah… As Mark comments, Peter had no idea what he was saying.

The Voice. Before he could say anything else, a cloud enveloped them all and they heard a voice, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him” (9:35). God the Father’s words confirmed Jesus’ identity – He is not only the Messiah, but also God’s Son. The glory of Jesus on that mountain came from within. Peter, James and John witnessed the majestic glory of God incarnate.

God the Father’s words not only confirmed what they had begun to realise about Jesus. They also assured them of the authenticity of all that he taught and promised. These words are also for us. Furthermore, Jesus’ transfiguration was a foretaste of his appearing in all his majestic glory – a foretaste of his awesome messianic reign with its power, justice, goodness and compassion.

Much later, Peter writes of this event in his Second Letter (1:16): We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ but we had been eye-witnesses of his majesty. For the present however, Mark tells us, Jesus asked the three of them to keep what they had seen to themselves.

Meaning. As we look at Jesus’ transfiguration through the lens of his death and resurrection and ascension, we begin to see its greater significance. Imagine if Jesus had just disappeared after his resurrection and ascension: the witnesses wouldn’t know about his glorious appearance or his kingly power and authority.

The transfiguration was a preview of Jesus in his post-resurrection state, informing and inspiring the disciples in their mission, in their preaching and ultimately, in their writings.

And there are implications for all God’s people. The day will come when we will share in the glory of Christ! In his Letter to the Romans 8:18 Paul the Apostle writes: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God;…

C.S. Lewis put it this way: ‘If we let Him – for we can prevent Him, if we choose – He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less.’