The Obvious Authority

Heritage Presbyterian Church

Transfiguration of the Lord
February 27, 2022

Scriptures – Exodus 34: 29-35 and Luke 9: 28-43a

Picture this scene in your mind: the young boy hurries through the room without looking up.  His mother or his grandmother see him and call his name.  When this young boy looks up, the woman immediately says, “What have you been up to?”  That is parent-speak for “What did you do now and how much trouble are you in?”  The young boy faces the mother or the grandmother and says that word that all children hope will sound sincere, but all parents and grandparents know is untrue: “Nothing…”  

If the child is foolish enough to try to leave the room without another word, he knows that will not work.  It doesn’t stop him from trying, but still he knows it will not work.  As the parents or grandparent begins their alien-mind-probe, the poor kid wonders how they do it.

This scene happens over and over throughout history.  Sometimes it can be done by both parents or by both grandparents.  Sometimes the child is a girl…sometimes a boy.  It doesn’t matter.  The face just gives it away.  “What have you been up to?” is a question that practically begs for a good story to give the answer, and yet the child – for some reason – does not wish to give up the information easily, and so the alien-mind-probe must be done.  It’s kind of a shame.  Everyone in this scene knows how it will end up: the adult and the child will BOTH know what the child has been up to…it’s just a matter of time.

Our faces give it away.  If we are sad, bored, tired, angry, annoyed, impatient, happy, ecstatic, energized, overcome by emotion…whatever is going on in our hearts and minds, the face will show it.  Unless you are professional poker player, a good actor, or a hardened criminal, your face will give you away.

It’s even Biblical!

In Genesis 4, just before Cain murdered his brother Abel, the Lord asked him, “Why is your face downcast?”  It’s a good bet that the Lord knew what was in Cain’s mind just by that look on his face.

In Mark 10, Jesus met the rich man who asked him what was necessary in order inherit eternal life.  When Jesus told him all the things written in Scripture, the rich man said he had done all those since his youth.  Scripture reports that Jesus looked at this rich man – and loved him.  

Can you imagine what Jesus’ face must have looked like as he spoke to that man?  But when Jesus told him to sell all he had and give the money to the poor, Scripture says, “His face fell.”  You think Jesus – and everybody else – knew what the rich man was thinking BEFORE he went away sad?

In Acts 6, Stephen was about to call out the so-called church leaders, the same type of folks who had rejected and condemned Jesus: the chief priests and the scribes.  When Stephen was dragged before them, arrested for daring to preach the Good News, Scripture reports that “all who sat in the council looked intently at him and they saw that his face was like that of an angel.”  And when these very important people saw it, I’ll bet Stephen’s face struck fear deep in their hearts.  They knew they were about to hear something they didn’t want to hear.  Hard for important people to deal with a messenger who just won’t shut up.

But the faces in Scripture that I described here are not the same as those in the two readings for today.  In these readings, the faces in question were changed – not because of words they heard or what they knew in their hearts.  They were changed by a direct encounter with God Almighty; and because of that encounter and the visible changes it brought, their authority became more obvious than it had been before.

In Exodus, and indeed in Moses’ time, it was believed that to look upon the face of God meant you would die.  Yet Moses did it on a regular basis – and lived!  However, the unusual thing was that like the others I described from Scripture, Moses DID have an encounter with God Almighty, his encounter was face-to-face involving no one else at all.  And whatever Moses saw, it so affected his face that something changed.  Everyone knew just by looking at him that he had encountered the Lord.  It scared people, and Moses had to cover his face.  I’m not sure how much that helped…folks certainly knew why he was covered, and I doubt that lessened their fear very much.  And these face-to-face encounters certainly didn’t harm Moses.  Deuteronomy tells us “Moses was 120 years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated.”  I’m 64 and Moses has me beat in both categories!

But when people saw Moses’ face, they knew what he’d been up to.

And the reading from Luke in which the Lord was transfigured in front of Peter, James, and John, Scripture tells us that “the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became dazzling white.”  Furthermore, Jesus was seen with Moses and Elijah, the two greatest figures of the Old Testament, and Jesus spoke with them as equals.  Peter, James, and John saw their teacher change somehow…

…it freaked them out, of course. 

Peter offered to build three shelters right there on the mountain so that everyone could stay right there.  Before anything else can happen, including the Lord turning to him and saying “No, Peter” the voice comes from the heavens echoing what was said when Jesus emerged from his baptism in the Jordan River: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.  Listen to him.”  

Now I ask you…was this voice talking to Moses and Elijah?  I don’t think so!  It was for Peter, James, and John – just in case they missed what they were seeing with their own eyes.

I’ll give you another layer of the story to ponder: as they came down the mountain, Jesus told them to tell no one what they had seen.  Think for yourself what they had seen and what type of people they were; do you think their faces DIDN’T show something?   They had just encountered Moses, Elijah, their own teacher transfigured AND the voice of God from above acknowledging Jesus as the Son of God.  And their faces revealed NOTHING?  Seriously?  My own grandmother or mother would have stopped any of them and asked, “What have you been up to?”  And I’ll bet the answer would have been a LOT more than just, “Nothing…”

Finally, think about this: as we go through our lives, I wonder if there is ANYONE out there who can tell just by looking at our faces that Jesus is what we’ve been up to, that He and He alone is our obvious authority.  

Can anyone tell we are Christians just by looking at us?  

Or are we “secret” Christians?  Hidden Christians?  

Quiet, dignified, and refined Christians?

If we have truly encountered Christ, if he truly lives in our hearts, if he affects us, freaks us out, bothers us, and makes us question things, I would think our own mothers and grandmothers would have a field day asking us what we’ve been up to. 

And if our mothers and grandmothers were Christians too, their joy at our answers would show on their faces too.

Let your light so shine before all that they may see your good works, and give glory to your Father in heaven!