Hidden Things, Secret Things

Heritage Presbyterian Church https://heritagepresbyterian.org

February 14, 2021
Transfiguration of the Lord
Scripture readings – 2nd Corinthians 4: 3-12 and Mark 9: 2-9

In 1949, in an area near the fabled Dead Sea, Bedouin shepherds were searching for missing goats from their herds.  One of the young shepherd remembered a cave nearby that he had previously noticed; he thought the missing goats might be hiding themselves in there.  To run them out without entering the dark cave itself, he threw a stone inside.  He didn’t hear the bleat of a goat…but he did hear the breaking of something made of pottery.  When he and his fellow shepherds cautiously entered and investigated, they found dozens of large clay jars sealed near the walls.  The broken jar contained an ancient crumbling scroll that the Bedouins took back to their camp.  From there, the first of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls took a strange and months-long journey through various hands until they were ultimately noticed by someone who knew what he was looking at.  The site was professionally investigated, dug through, and the scrolls were later to change hands again when Israel conquered the area.  Today, those hidden caves have revealed ancient copies of various books from the Old Testament, other books that didn’t make it into the Old Testament, and a 12-foot long Copper Scroll detailing the location of a missing horde of pure gold.

So when we hear the Apostle Paul tell his Corinthian friends that the power of God within him is housed in a plain clay jar, I have to smile; the Dead Sea Scrolls were also housed in plain clay jars, but they reveal one more aspect of the wonder of God’s plan and how it is revealed to us – even thousands of years after things are written down, stored away, preached to an ancient church in Corinth, or send in a letter that we still have available to us today.

I wonder if we do a similar thing with every day Bibles.  If you go into any bookstore – Christian or otherwise – and you look at the various Bibles that are for sale, most of them are in plain, dark covers.  Indeed, the Bible that I use for my weekly devotionals, 2-minute Bible lessons, children’s sermons, and of course, my sermons, is the familiar plain black version that you have seen me carry every Sunday.  It might contain pictures, graphs, tables, notes, a glossary, an index, or even the names and dates of family histories, but all of that pales in comparison when one begins to read and study the message of love that permeates all the pages of the book.  I have often thought that any good Bible doesn’t need much in order to be an effective study tool for anyone seeking to know more about God’s word.  The hidden things that are there are mostly revealed through study; the sacred things are easily demonstrated because they show the relationship of worship between humans and our Lord.  To cover these things up and keep them from all except the advanced experts serves no better purpose than those plain clay jars served containing all those ancient bits of information.

But today we consider an amazing revelation – the transfiguration of Jesus of Nazareth into the Messiah, the Son of the Most High God.  If you stop and think about it, this information had been hidden from all the Apostles and from all of Jesus’ own family until that wonderful day.

Notice that Jesus had begun his ministry slowly and deliberately with healings, teachings, casting out demons, and bringing his message to the everyday people of Judea, Samaria, and Galilee.  

He didn’t start out with the Transfiguration for all to see.  In fact, this particular event was only shared with part of his most inner circle of followers, namely Peter, James, and John.  And even though all the Apostles, and many others too, had seen amazing things done by Jesus on behalf of others, I’ll bet the house that Jesus was a fairly ordinary looking guy.  He probably blended in with the crowd of people in Galilee, where he was from.  His hair was not known to be a special color; his hands were those of a common laborer, like his earthly father, Joseph; his clothing was that of a poor man, who probably didn’t have much to change into when those clothes got dirty.  His feet were probably covered in simple sandals that kept his feet protected from the rough stones of the common roads.

But if you think about what Jesus of Nazareth looked like, it was probably not that special…sort of like a common clay jar that Paul used to describe himself.

Yet, let’s not forget the point of today’s reading: the Transfiguration of Jesus on that high mountain revealed something hidden in that common, plain exterior.  Peter, James, and John were chosen to see for themselves that Jesus, their teacher, their Master, could literally stand beside the two most important prophets from the Law, namely Moses and Elijah, the two figures representing the Law and the Prophets.

The hidden things about Jesus were suddenly revealed in brilliant, living color right before their eyes.  Jesus’ garments were at once dazzling white; I can imagine his hands were perfect, as was his hair, his beard, and his sandals.  There couldn’t have been a speck of dirt on him anywhere.  In a word, Jesus was perfect – which we all know, but those Apostles might not have. 

Then, just as it had happened when John the Baptist had dunked Jesus in the waters of the Jordan River, God’s voice came from above repeating the same message again: “This is my Son, my beloved, listen to him.”  I don’t think those words were meant for Moses or Elijah…nobody else was there but those three Apostles.  

So, for just that moment, the hidden things were revealed to those three.  And then, just as quickly as it had all begun, it was over with.  They looked around and Scripture tells us, “…they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.” But Jesus had one more thing to tell them that very special day.  Despite all they had seen, heard, and witnessed, what did Jesus say on the way down the mountain?  Something that would have been extremely difficult for most of us to accomplish; “Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”

Now we have two problems:

  1. The Apostles had to keep what they knew hidden.
  2. The Apostles did not yet understand what Jesus meant when he said the phrase, “…risen from the dead.”  That was still hidden from their understanding.

Yet, people of faith, none of this is hidden from our understanding, is it?

We know what those Apostles saw for the first time; we know that Jesus stands above the greatest prophets and the greatest figures in the Bible.  That is not hidden from us.

We know that however common Jesus of Nazareth appeared in his times, it was only an early human shell.  His true glory was briefly revealed to the three Apostles on that mountain; a slightly different version was revealed after Jesus had risen from the dead; yet another was seen when he left them on yet another mountain and ascended into Heaven; and each and every one of us will see him face-to-face on the Day of Judgment.  That is not hidden from us either.

What is often hidden from us today is exactly how Jesus is going to manifest his work through the lives that each of us live.  We often give ourselves a reason not to go up that mountain and see Jesus in all his glory:

  • We may say things such as, “Jesus will only save the good people; I’m not one of those.
  • We hear the call of the Lord to help other people, to lend a hand in something that gets our attention, that bothers us; then we tell ourselves that someone else can do a better job.
  • We wait and wait and wait and wait and WAIT for the Lord to act in our lives without sometimes realizing the Lord might be waiting for us to follow him first.
  • We pray and wait for hidden things to be revealed that will truly make our lives special and good; yet, we also fail to understand that nothing is guaranteed in this life – but eternal life with the Lord is guaranteed for those who have faith until the end.  That is not hidden either…but it is often hard to accept.

Finally, in seeking the hidden things about the Lord, those things we don’t fully understand, those things that are virtually secret from everyone, we can often encounter that which is sacred; namely, the patience and understanding and steadfastness throughout generations and the promises and the relationship and especially the love that our Lord has for each and every single one of us…even if we think of ourselves as nothing more than plain, common clay jars…

The Lord loves us exactly the way we are.  

He waits for us to seek him out, to join him and work with him.

He may be hidden from our eyes, all his ways may be secret, but he is not hidden from ourselves.

Go and be…transfigured…