2 Corinthians 3.12–4.2
If you look on the inside of my office door, you’ll see a piece of paper with something written on it. It was put there during the time of the previous minister; I’ve kept it because I love it. It’s a wonderful saying that has been handed down through the centuries to us, first uttered by St Irenaeus, who lived in the second century AD (that is, in the 100s). He was bishop of the town we know today as Lyons, in France.
So what does this piece of paper say? This:
The Glory of God is
for a human to be
The glory of God is a human being fully alive. The strange story of the Transfiguration shows us a human being who is fully alive.
Jesus takes three disciples, Peter, James and John up a mountain to pray. (Traditionally, it is usually assumed to be Mt Tabor.) They don’t know what they’re in for! Jesus is changed, his clothes dazzle them, Moses and Elijah are there(!?) and a cloud descends. From the cloud, God tells them
This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!
And then the cloud lifts and Moses and Elijah are gone. And some commentators wonder why the disciples told no one about this. I don’t!
This story is told by Matthew, Mark and Luke; a couple of other parts of the New Testament may refer to it as well. John 1.14 is a possibility:
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
It’s just possible that “we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son” is a memory of the Transfiguration.
It’s much more likely that 2 Peter 1.16–18 refers to the Transfiguration:
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honour and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.
The word that occurs in both passages is “glory”. God is “the Majestic Glory”, and Christ is clothed in glory: “we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son”.
I want to emphasise one thing today: God is generous with glory. God shares glory with us through his Son Jesus Christ.
Now, we give glory to God in worship. This morning, we sang
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty,
early in the morning to you our praise shall be;
holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty
God in three persons, blessed Trinity.
God deserves our praise and adoration. God doesn’t ‘need’ praise, but God deserves praise. We glorify God in our praise and worship. But it’s not just a one-way street. When we worship God through our Lord Jesus Christ, we share in the glory of Christ. We share in his glory as we come alive in him, as his Spirit blows the breath of life into our spirits—as his Spirit lifts the veil from our faces and helps us to see Jesus.
In the story of the Transfiguration, we see the glory of Christ in some pretty clear ways:
- in his changed appearance and dazzling clothes;
- in the way he is clearly greater even than Moses and Elijah;
- in the words of the voice from heaven: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
But it doesn’t stop with the glory of Jesus Christ. God goes one further, and shares Christ’s glory with us. That’s what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18:
And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
We see Jesus, glorified, and—bit by bit—we begin to reflect his glory. In other words, we come to resemble him—bit by bit by bit.
The work of salvation is a work of inner transformation. This inner transformation is generally a slow work, the work of a lifetime. God’s aim is for us to glorify him by becoming fully alive. Remember? The glory of God is a human being fully alive.
Sometimes, people of faith seem less than fully alive. If our faith teaches us fear and distrust, then we are missing out on a great deal. But when we think of ‘being alive’, we often think of ‘having a good time’ or being entertained or just distracted. So what is it to be ‘fully alive’?
Irenaeus (remember him?) can help here. There’s a bit more of that quotation:
The glory of God is a human being fully alive; and to be alive consists in beholding God.
That’s odd, isn’t it? To be alive isn’t to have fun or see a good show, good as those things are. To be alive is to set our eyes upon God, and live accordingly.
We can’t ‘see’ God, of course—but we do see Jesus, God’s Son. In Jesus, we see a truly human life, a ‘fully alive’ life. As we ‘behold’ him, as we ‘gaze upon’ him, we find that his Spirit begins to challenge and change the things in us that are not ‘fully alive’. And we change, usually bit by bit. Or, as Paul says, “from one degree of glory to another”.
We find that as we allow Christ to ‘dwell’ within us—to settle deeper in our hearts—that we desire to be more like him. We desire to please him and to serve him through loving others.
It’s all about “Christ in you, the hope of glory”. (Colossians 1.27) God sees the glory of Christ within us; our goal is to shine with that glory when we see him face to face.
Finally, let me say it like this. At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Christ. Yet Christ waits to be born in us, too. At Easter, we celebrate Christ’s Resurrection from the grave. Christ waits to be risen in us, too. Today, when we hear the story of the Transfiguration, we celebrate Christ’s glory. And Christ waits to be glorified in us. To be made fully alive in Christ—that’s our goal.