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A Preview of Coming Attractions

Jesus chooses suffering so we can share in his glory.


When I was in college, I helped out with my church’s Vacation Bible School. The theme for VBS was the miracles of Jesus. So, each morning, I would teach the third graders about Jesus’ calming the wind and waves or Jesus’ feeding 5,000 people from one sack lunch.

Well, I flipped ahead in the teacher’s guide, and saw that on Thursday I would have to teach on the Transfiguration, that time when Jesus shines like sunlight. I told the leader, “Um, that’s great, but I don’t understand the Transfiguration—at all—so how am I going to teach this to third graders?” So, he let me switch and teach about Jesus’ raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead.

Well, not much has changed over the years. True confession time: This is my seventh Transfiguration Sunday here at Savior, and I have never preached on it. My awesome powers of delegation have been in full force.

Part of the reason is, Transfiguration always comes four days before Ash Wednesday, and I need time to prep that sermon. But part of it is, “I still don’t understand the Transfiguration. So better you, than me.”

One reason I struggle is that nothing in the Transfiguration translates directly to my experience. I have never seen a human body suddenly light up like 2,000 LEDs. I have never seen the shekinah, the holy cloud of God’s presence, cover me with its light.

I’ve never heard God speak in an audible voice.

So how does this apply to us? Anyone else here wonder that? Well, after studying the Transfiguration I’ve decided that the way I was asking, “How does this apply?” is not the right question.

Manual or Window

Skye Jethani says we can approach the Bible either as a manual or as a window. In the manual approach, we come to the Bible looking for principles to follow. Proverbs is great for this. For example, Proverbs says, “Don’t agree to guarantee another person’s debt or put up security for someone else. If you can’t pay it, even your bed will be snatched from under you.” Well, that’s wisdom for me to apply. If someone asks me for money, I will try to help. But I will not co-sign on their loan.

But in most places, the Bible does not work like a manual. Instead, it works like a window: It lets us see something we couldn’t see, if the window wasn’t there.

Imagine standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon. The wind is whistling and you see layers of purples, tans, and oranges. Each layer changing colors as the sunlight plays on them. Look all the way down—almost a mile down—and marvel that God and the Colorado River have been carving this masterpiece.

We don’t visit the Grand Canyon to learn some principle to apply. We go there to be captured by beauty. We walk away a different person—not because of a principle we learned—but because of what we saw.

I invite you to come see the Grand Transfiguration, and let it fill your vision.

(Read Matthew 16:27-17:9)

Light from His Face

Traditionally, this is Mt. Tabor, about 1,800 feet up, but it’s more likely to have been Mt. Hermon, which is much higher—9,200 feet high. These four friends have been climbing all day, and now, thousands of feet up, they can see the valley below. They’re exhausted. Luke tells us that Peter, James, and John fell asleep, and when they wake up they see, “[Jesus’] appearance changed, from the inside out, right before their eyes. Sunlight poured from his face. His clothes were filled with light (MSG).”

Imagine someone you know and suddenly, their face starts glowing and shining from the inside, as bright as the sun. You can’t fully look at it. This shocked Peter, James, and John. They’d never seen their friend Jesus like this.

One time, Karen went to a healing-prayer conference, and after the conference, when she walked in the door, I took one look at her and her face was—radiant. It might have been physically glowing, but if it wasn’t, it was something like that. My mouth dropped, and I didn’t say, “Hey, how was the conference?” I blurted out, “What happened to you?” She told me what I could already see: She had met God, and she was not going to be the same person.

But the light on Karen’s face that day was reflected light—like the light bouncing off the moon. With Jesus, it’s the light of the sun. It’s beaming from his face. Until this moment, Jesus has always looked like any other poor peasant. Rough hands. He comes straight outta Nazareth. He hangs out with people who don’t just have a past, they have a present.

But now, all the glory in him that’s been hidden is revealed. As Dale Bruner says, “What Jesus is within is … made visible without.” Now we can see what Jesus meant when he prayed, “Now, Father, bring me into the glory we shared before the world began.”

It’s the same divine glory Jesus reveals to John in Revelation, who describes it like this: “His eyes were like flames of fire … And his face was like the sun in all its brilliance.”

What these three disciples were seeing is how Jesus actually looks right now—in glory, for us. When you and I lift our eyes in prayer, and call upon the Lord Jesus Christ, we are praying to a Person of blinding glory. Whose face shines upon us.

For almost 4,000 years, God's people have been blessed by these words: "May his face shine upon you." That day, it did for the first disciples. And today, it does for us.

Is there a prayer on your heart? Can you picture Jesus with sunlight pouring from his face, and his clothes filled with light? Now with that picture before you, how would you like to pray? Offer him that prayer.

Jesus in Full Glory

As followers of Jesus, one of our ongoing challenges is that as we go through daily life, we build up spiritual cataracts and we no longer see Jesus in his full glory. We can’t take in that he reigns supreme. Which is exactly what happens to Peter, James, and John.

Moses, the great rescuer of God’s people, went up a mountain and received God’s holy Law. Is there anybody greater than Moses? The only other serious candidate for GOAT—Greatest of All Time—is Elijah the prophet, who went up a mountain and called down fire from heaven.

Peter can’t believe he gets to be here with LeBron James AND Michael Jordan. And now somebody he knows gets to be in their company. So he interrupts the conversation that Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are trying to have.

“Master, this is a great moment! What would you think if I built three memorials here on the mountain—one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah?” Which emotionally is like saying, “Hey, we could totally make T-shirts. Do you like the slogan, ‘We got to see, the Big 3’? Or maybe we trademark, ‘3-Peak’?”

“While he was going on like this, babbling, a light-radiant cloud enveloped them, and sounding from deep in the cloud a voice: ‘This is my Son, marked by my love, focus of my delight. Listen to him.’”

As C. S. Lewis says, “No one who hears a God’s voice takes it for a man’s.” You know it has authority over you. “When the disciples heard it, they fell flat on their faces, scared to death.”

Okay, okay, God, we’ll listen to your Son. But which one of these three amazing people is that? “When they opened their eyes and looked around, all they saw was Jesus. Only Jesus.”

This is not what they thought—a lineup of three great people, and it’s an honor for Jesus to be in it. No. Jesus stands alone. He is not just favored by God, he’s the one and only Son of God. No one else has shared the Father’s glory since before the world began.

What Does Jesus Do with All that Glory?

Wait! What does Jesus mean by that word “dead”? How could Jesus, so blindingly alive, possibly ever die? But even though he has all that glory, Jesus doesn’t go to heaven; he goes to the Cross.

Oswald Chambers says: “If—Jesus had gone to heaven directly from the Mount of Transfiguration, he would have gone alone ….” But with people like you and me in his heart, “He turned His back on the glory, and came down.”

There was only one brilliant moment in the life of Jesus, and that was on the Mount of Transfiguration; then he emptied himself the second time of his glory and came down into the demon-possessed valley. He came down into the valley, because that’s where you and I live.

Jesus won’t stop until he has fulfilled his mission, to rescue us from the sin that wraps around us like dark tentacles. He will break us out of Death Prison, and if he has to die while on that mission, he will.

Jesus Christ will even empty himself of glory in order to share his glory with us, forever. It turns out that the Transfiguration is “A Preview of Coming Attractions”—for Jesus and for us.

Jesus will suffer. We will, too. Jesus will die. We will, too. Jesus will be raised from the dead. We will, too. Jesus will ascend to the Father, in a human body shining with glory. We will, too.

Here’s what’s hard. When you and I are in the middle of suffering, our eyes filling with tears, our vision gets blurry, and we lose sight of the glory that will be ours. We forget, as Paul said, that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

To help us, God in his kindness does not give us a principle. He gives us a picture. A picture of the glory of his Son. And through him, God will bring many sons and daughters to glory.

My friend Lee Eclov says,

We are not meant to carry the weight of our cross without also seeing Christ's glory. So lest we walk with a limp from all that weight—heavy-hearted Christians, burdened and bent—we need to see the glory of Christ. It is the blessed counterbalance. … Look in your prayers to Jesus shining like the sun, to Jesus alive with light, to Jesus who reigns in glory. There is nothing in this terrible world that will not bow to Jesus. There is no crime or catastrophe that will not be brought under his scepter.

The Transfiguration shows us that as we walk with Jesus, our story will also end in glory.


At Asbury College, in Kentucky, on February 8, 2023, during a routine, required chapel service, Tom McCall reports in CT:

After the benediction, the gospel choir began to sing a final chorus—and then something began to happen that defies easy description. Students did not leave. They were struck by what seemed to be a quiet but powerful sense of transcendence, and they did not want to go. They stayed and continued to worship. They are still there.

Some were reading and reciting Scripture. Others were standing with arms raised. Several were clustered in small groups, praying together. A few were kneeling at the altar rail in the front of the auditorium. Some were lying prostrate, while others were talking to one another, their faces bright with joy.

Many people say that in the chapel they hardly even realize how much time has elapsed. It is almost as though time and eternity blur together as heaven and earth meet. …

… If what we are seeing is even the faintest shadow of the reality of seeing Christ in all his glory, then what lies before us is unspeakable joy and holy love.

Kevin Miller is pastor of Church of the Savior in Wheaton, Illinois,

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We are not meant to carry the weight of Christ’s cross or our own without also seeing Christ's glory.