Pic­ture the scene on the Mount of Trans­fig­u­ra­tion in Matthew 17. It was just a few days after Peter’s famous acknowl­edge­ment of Jesus’ true iden­ti­ty as not just an artic­u­late teacher or a mir­a­cle work­er but as the Mes­si­ah, the Son of the liv­ing God” (Matt. 16:16). Peter had final­ly under­stood who Jesus was — an under­stand­ing that had come, Jesus says, not by mere human insight but by rev­e­la­tion from God (v. 17). Peter had not under­stood this rev­e­la­tion ful­ly, for when Jesus went on to explain that he, as the Christ and the Son of God, would soon suf­fer and die in Jerusalem, Peter was quick to rebuke Jesus. Still, we might say that Peter’s doc­tri­nal knowl­edge was mov­ing in the right direc­tion through the guid­ance and direc­tion of the Holy Spirit.

Then comes the time for the next les­son. So Jesus invit­ed Peter, James, and John to come with him up onto a near­by moun­tain to pray. Time alone with Jesus was always a spe­cial gift, and so it’s easy to imag­ine these dis­ci­ples glad­ly accept­ing the invi­ta­tion — nev­er guess­ing what they would encounter at the moun­tain­top. The text gives a brief but aston­ish­ing descrip­tion of what occurred as Jesus prayed: 

There he was trans­fig­ured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Eli­jah, talk­ing with Jesus.… A bright cloud cov­ered them, and a voice from the cloud said, This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Lis­ten to him!’” (Matt. 17:2 – 35

Quite an expe­ri­ence! I’m not sur­prised that the dis­ci­ples hit the deck when they saw all this and heard God’s own voice from heav­en. “… they fell face­down to the ground, ter­ri­fied” (Matt. 17:6). Here was a stun­ning, over­pow­er­ing rev­e­la­tion of an unpar­al­leled glo­ry, the glo­ry [doxa],” John tells us, of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). What Peter saw on the moun­tain was much more than he had bar­gained for. Yes, Peter had already acknowl­edged pub­licly — and under­stood par­tial­ly — that Jesus was the Son of God: his doc­trine was tech­ni­cal­ly cor­rect. But on the moun­tain, Peter found him­self inside the doc­trine, not just believ­ing it was true as a propo­si­tion­al claim but encoun­ter­ing its truth and liv­ing in its majesty as well. The encounter on the moun­tain pro­duced awe and ter­ror in Peter and his com­pan­ions, for they knew that the tran­scen­dent Lord of all was active­ly present. 

The pat­tern of the Trans­fig­u­ra­tion fits the over­ar­ch­ing rev­e­la­to­ry rhythm of much of the Bible. Mys­tery is straight­for­ward­ly revealed — that is, it is dis­closed — and in that sense cer­tain doc­trines are made known.” But then the ortho­dox doc­trine moves to a new lev­el as the divine rev­e­la­tion gen­er­ates spir­i­tu­al life and pow­er. No doubt the rev­e­la­tion is accom­mo­dat­ed to our capac­i­ty and need, yet now it strikes us as so beau­ti­ful, so awe-inspir­ing, so breath­tak­ing­ly pure and per­fect, that (at our best, most atten­tive moments), we are drawn out of our­selves to the holy self-for­get­ful­ness of worship. 

To wor­ship is to wrap the mind and heart around the beau­ty of God, to dis­cern and adore the unfath­omable glo­ry that we were cre­at­ed to expe­ri­ence and whose depths we long to explore. Wor­ship encom­pass­es grat­i­tude for God’s gifts, but it then moves beyond thanks­giv­ing to fix its gaze on the mag­nif­i­cent­ly tran­scen­dent oth­er­ness of the great Giv­er. This holy Lord invites us into his own pres­ence in the pow­er of the Spir­it, for he has giv­en his Son for our sal­va­tion, that we may believe in him, lis­ten to him, feed on him, eat his body, drink his blood. In so doing, our knowl­edge of the incom­pre­hen­si­ble God blos­soms, as he him­self comes to us in the Son and in the Spirit.

This series has been adapt­ed from Steven D. Boy­er and Chris Hall’s The Mys­tery of God: The­ol­o­gy for Know­ing the Unknow­able. Hun­gry for more? Please vis­it Bak­er Aca­d­e­m­ic for more information.

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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