By Daniel Malakowsky
With the onset of a new year there will be plenty of people looking to make plans, goals, and resolutions to focus and give direction to their lives (even joining the fad of non-resolutions). This desire and the aims of most of these plans tend to be God honoring and are generally a desire either for a better version of ourselves or the situation and circumstances we find ourselves living in. One of the most significant faults though in most of these plans and goals is that they tend to be rather superficial and temporal in their nature and orientation. This does not mean that they are bad or to be avoided, only that they in and of themselves are not enough.
As Christ came to reconcile fallen men to himself and to one another, he also gave way to what life was to be within what he called the kingdom of God, where God and his purposes reign supreme. The difficulty comes in the fact that we live in this unique place in-between the resurrection and Christ's triumphal return, a place torn between that in Christ God is making all things new and yet these things have not been fully revealed. A place between our brokenness and our healing, our death and life, where we have the fullness of God, but not its consummation.
Jesus and the Exodus
One of the most powerful passages of scripture is the story of Jesus' transfiguration. While it liturgically is reflected upon and preached at the onset of Lent in the church calendar, it is a narrative that speaks to this season in the New Year. The reason for this is that it ties together the past while calling forth and anticipating the future. It sums up all of God's work in anticipation of Christ, but also gives interpretation to the work that God is doing in and through Christ. Ultimately it roots the future in the anchors of God's established works, while simultaneously bringing those anchors into the future of God's redemptive purposes.
While this story of the transfiguration is recorded in all three of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew 1-13; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36), it is specifically Luke's Gospel that I want to highlight. Before I do though, there are some key elements within this text that are worth highlighting.
Metamorphosis - While the word for transfiguration is translated appropriately as such, focusing on the visible transformation of Jesus before the disciples, it also the same word used in Romans 12:2 to describe the inner transformation we are to experience in Christ. The glory revealed in Christ is the same glory and power at work in us to form us in his likeness.
Moses and Elijah - These two central figures in the Old Testament (Tanakh) symbolize its summation. John Crysostom (c. 349-407AD), church father and bishop of Constantinople, saw in these two men the representation of the Law and the Prophets, God speaking to men in revelation, and the symbol of the living and the dead, as Moses had a natural death and Elijah was caught up to heaven.
Overshadowing - Luke uses the same word here as he does when Mary is overshadowed by the Spirit and the immaculate conception occurs. It invokes the Spirit's presence in this moment and the power of God's miraculous work in revealing Christ. The same one revealed in the overshadowing power of the cloud is also the one works as the Paraclete (one alongside) in the church.
The Voice from Heaven - Each of the three Gospels in which this story is recorded, have slightly different emphasis as to what the Father speaks over the Son in this moment. These unique emphasis give us insight to the fact that the Father sees in Christ his good pleasure and messianic role as the chosen one, doing such as the Son of God. While these things were spoken over Jesus in his baptism, another explicitly Trinitarian moment, the voice now speaks these things not for Jesus, but for those in his company, giving them the direct command to listen to him.
The Transformation - When Moses came down the mountain his face was filled with God's glory, but it was a glory that faded as it belonged to another. In Christ the transfiguration would reveal a different glory. Christ's appearance changed, transforming his face and clothing, but did so not from the glory of another, but from a glory that radiated within him. Where Moses veiled this glory until it faded, in Christ this glory which had been previously veiled, was now being revealed.
While these things frame what is happening in this passage, there is one element within Luke's version that is worth noting. In each of the recollections of the transfiguration it reveals that Jesus and the figures of Moses and Elijah are speaking. While this shows that Moses and Elijah are in a way transferring and giving the baton to Christ in being the ultimate interpreter of scripture, it is only in Luke's Gospel that we discover what they are actually discussing.
In this discussion we find that they are speaking of Jesus' departure that he is about to accomplish in Jerusalem. This speaks to the death of Christ, but it is important to note that the word for departure in the Greek is actually the word exodus. The death of Christ and subsequent resurrection are thus the fulfillment of the exodus called forth by God through Moses, and Jesus the culminating deliverer of not just Israel, but the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
With Christ a new exodus has dawned. Where Moses delivered from the chains of Egypt and led Israel on dry ground , Christ delivers from death to life, becoming himself the bridge between. This new exodus is one that stands not just between Egypt and Canaan, but between heaven and earth, between the temporal and eternal, between the Garden and the glorious triumph in the heavens.
Goals for the New Year
This New Exodus requires new eyes that are ultimately shaped by our understanding of how God was at work in Christ to cultivate this transformation from death to life. Where the first exodus delivered Israel from the chains of Egypt, the exodus of Christ would deliver men from death to life, once more reconciling them to the divine presence and will of the God who would now make himself known as Father. Ultimately this would be an exodus of becoming, where the life in Christ would manifest in our metamorphing and transfiguring into the image of Christ.
The story continues in our lives and gives form to the goals of becoming that should not just shape us in this new year, but in our journey into the life and heart of God in Christ, a journey that shows that while we walk in the deserts of this life, we already belong to the promised land of knowing and belonging to eternity. As we walk into a new season and contemplate our own histories and future, the framework of the New Exodus calls us to form goals that go beyond the temporal ones that dominate our own floundering attempts at transformation.
1. Seeing - The Eyes of Eternity
The glimpse the inner three were given was into who Christ really was. Just prior to the story of the transfiguration we find Peter confessing Jesus as the Messiah. This was not revealed to him by flesh and blood, but by the Father in heaven. In Christ and the radiating glory of his transfiguration, he shines the light of eternity on the temporal world and circumstances giving ultimate meaning to them.
Paul in Ephesians 1:18 tells us that God is at work to enlighten the eyes of our hearts. This has two specific manifestations that are to transform our way of life in this world. First, this enlightening allows us to see things as they really are in Christ. To, as Paul states once more in 2 Corinthians, no longer view things according to the flesh, but in terms of Christ's work in new creation. Second, we are enlightened to see not just the unseen world of the Triune God revealed in Christ, we are also to see with the eyes of Christ.
Where most of our resolutions are commitments of the will, this ultimately is one of surrender. It is God who is the one actively revealing and opening our eyes. Our role is to yield and to receive that active love at work within and among us to see who we are, those we belong to, our families, friends, neighbors, and the work, circumstances, and seasons of our life in light of the work of Christ in the cross, but also the promise of his return.
Significant within this story of the transfiguration is the voice of the Father. Again, in this narrative, the voice is speaking not for the benefit of the Son, but the for edification of those present with him. In this new year there will be many voices that speak into us to define us and shape our own understanding of ourselves. Most of these voices are negative, whether it be the voices of those around us, in the media and culture that we can't escape, or the the one's that come from the prison of our own minds and how we see ourselves, shaped by our experiences of pain, brokenness, and rejection.
Resounding throughout eternity though is the voice of the Father over the Son. A voice which calls him his beloved child and speaks the pleasures of his heart over him. It is a voice that gives him a name and purpose, Chosen One, the only begotten of God. This voice of the Father is the voice that speaks over us who are in Christ and now belong to that love, identity and purpose that is revealed in its proclamation. We are no longer slaves and servants in the house of God, but those who belong as children.
Ultimately this is a goal of believing and belonging. It is believing in the voice of the Father that speaks over and into us, and giving ourselves to our belonging in Christ. The presence of Elijah reminds us in this story that the voice of the Father also comes through his silent whispers, and invites us into the stillness of his love that we too might be able to hear it over the thundering onslaught of all that attempts to speak into us. This then is a goal of identity and that requires we take the time and actions necessary to sit with the One who defines us. Only in his love can we rest secure in times of trouble and discouragement, and the New Exodus of Christ invites us walk out of our own Egypts in this new year, and into the promises of God's love for us in Christ.
Central to this story is the metamorphosis of Christ before his disciples. This outward transformation revealed the inner realities of who he was. As we stand in Christ through our faith in him, we too are being inwardly transformed as he conforms us to the fullness of his image. The radiant power and glory of God that the disciples could only describe as a light so pure that it appeared as the sun with the majesty of bursts of lightning, and so undefiled that even the purest bleaches couldn't approach the hallowed manifestation of Christ's holiness, is now at work in us.
As Christ gives us eyes to see and a new identity in him, he is also shaping us and forming us to walk in the fullness of life. The New Exodus then is a journey of becoming, where those who were once dead in their transgressions walk in light of the fact that they have been made alive together with Jesus. This frames the new year in that we are to make goals of becoming and inward growth. This then is a commitment of the will to cultivate the practices of becoming, the tangible acts of following Christ that form us to his ways and life.
This means that our goals are to be framed by who we are. On our list of what we want to accomplish should be the fruit of the spirit, where those hidden parts of who we are that reveal themselves in our relationships are maturing into the fullness and abundance of life found in Christ. We lay aside our pursuit for temporal riches to pursue a wealth of soul that no thief can ever take away.
Obedience is an act of love because it is a surrendering of the will in trust to another. The Father commands obedience as it is in obedience that our life in Christ will be found. In him and him alone are the words of life. His command is to surrender our darkness and death and walk in the light and life of the resurrection. It is an obedience that shakes off the isolated existence of our arrogance that leaves us disconnected from our Father in heaven and hiding behind our self-made fig leaves, and into the light of our belonging to light of Christ, where the nakedness of our souls can be exposed once more without shame.
The Father commanded obedience to his Chosen One, because in him was also his chosen way. Through the suffering obedience of the Christ would men be atoned for, and with the simple command of 'follow me' would the path to life be found. The obedience of Israel led them out of their bondage and into the freedom God desired for them and allowed them to know the fullness of his love towards them. In the same way our obedience to the words and commands of Jesus lead us into the tangible love of God towards us.
The New Exodus that manifest in Christ shows us that God is still at work in this new year. In it we find another opportunity to conform ourselves to the ways of life in Christ. That way of conformity is one of trust and love, of life and abundance, one that calls us to look beyond the temporal trials of this world and into the eternal treasure of now belonging to God in Christ.