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3rd June 2001
"THE MOUNTAIN, THE MASTER, THE MYSTERY."
The legal battle for Aboriginal land rights has been fought for more than thirty years. The Methodist Church supported the Aboriginal people of Yirrkala (Qld) in their fight against a mining company to determine the future of their land. The case was lost in the High Court. At the formation of the Uniting Church we again supported Aboriginal land rights at Aurukun against a mining company. We lost the appeal in the Privy Council in London. Although legally defeated, the churches maintained indigenous people have a moral right to claim this land.
To say that before white occupation the land was not occupied, that terra nullius existed, is to claim Aboriginal people were so primitive that they could not comprehend the significance of land. That does not understand Aboriginal beliefs and life-style. That is why the Mabo decision on this week in 1992 was so important. Eddie Mabo and two other Torres Straight Islanders claimed in court that they and their predecessors had continuous and sole ownership of their islands as communal native title. After ten years the High Court ruled indigenous people had rights over and against the whole world to claim their land as their own. There was no terra nullius. To deny them that right was a great injustice. There have been very few land claims under the Mabo precedent for few areas have been continuously and exclusively occupied by indigenous people. But the decision did mark the fact there was such a thing as native title. Since then we have been involved in reconciliation, of saying "sorry" and of considering a treaty between white and indigenous people. This year of Federation was hoped to have been a year of significant steps towards reconciliation.
The tie between the people and the land is a very close one people of other cultures have difficulty in understanding. There is a tie between the land, the people, their identity and their future. Dispossessed of land, they become lost, dispirited and live without meaning. There was an event in the life of Jesus, when a mountain, a vision and an affinity with history resulted in a major claim that gave meaning and purpose to His life. That event was witnessed by three disciples. It cannot be understood by historical research. It can only be understood by faith. It grows from faith. It confirms faith.
Sitting in our kitchen one morning many years ago, having breakfast with our children before they left for primary school and I left for the office, we were startled by a small explosion that came from the top of the kitchen cupboards. One explosion after another occurred and I jumped upon a chair to investigate. On the top of the cupboard was a large glass jar. Inside we had placed some months before, some cocoons of Emperor Gum moths. Now the time for the cocoons to burst open had arrived. In the warm kitchen air, they were popping open and wet creatures emerged. Before our children's eyes, the wet wings unfolded and stretched, and a trembling but extraordinarily beautiful butterfly emerged. We were watching the emergence of new life from dry old cocoons. We were watching the transformation of what seemed dead to what was alive. We were the witnesses to metamorphoses, the transforming change from the ordinary to the extraordinary, from death to life, from dullness to glory. That experience occurred in the life of Jesus just before He went into Jerusalem for those events that would lead to His death.
That experience occurred in the grave that lead to His resurrection. And that experience of metamorphoses can occur in our lives also when we are changed into His likeness. It all depends upon us really knowing Him. The very word, metamorphoses, is used to explain the remarkable transformation in the life of Jesus, known as The Transfiguration. Consider the event: Matthew 17:1?9 "After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 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. Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters - one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. "Get up," he said. "Don't be afraid." When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, "Don't tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."
1. THE PLACE OF THE TRANSFIGURATION.
"After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves." It was near Caesarea Philippi on Mt Hermon, 9,400' above sea level. Mt Hermon, the scene of bitter fighting in the past few decades between Jews, Lebanese and Syrians, was the site.
2. THE EVENTS OF THE TRANSFIGURATION.
What we call the Transfiguration of Jesus occurred in the presence of "Peter, James and John the brother of James". Jesus then shone with radiating light, His face dazzling like the sun. His clothing and face were brilliant, as Luke says: "bright as a flash of lightning!" Matt 17:2 "There He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light." He appeared in a glorious form before their eyes and with Him, two of the greatest heroes of the faith, long since dead, Moses and Elijah. v3 "Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters??one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." They talked with Jesus about His approaching death in Jerusalem. A voice spoke out of the clouds saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him." The light ceased. They had fallen on their knees, exhausted and fearful. Yet the whole experience was uplifting. They wanted it to continue, but Jesus told them that they now had work to do. They were to say nothing about what they had experienced until after His resurrection.
3. THE TIME OF THE TRANSFIGURATION.
This transfiguration took place just after Jesus had taken His disciples to Caesarea Philippi and asked them who they believed He was. Peter replied that He "was the Christ, the Son of God." Jesus then explained to His disciples that He would be arrested in Jerusalem, crucified and raised from the dead as fulfilment of God's plan for the salvation of the world and the coming of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus now headed towards the Cross in Jerusalem. The experience on the mountain with the Master was an incredible mystery. Jesus was one with nature, with the land, with history and with the future of them all.
4. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE TRANSFIGURATION.
Peter was quite clear about it when he wrote his epistle that he was an eyewitness to the majesty of Christ. He could vouch for the fact that Jesus Christ was God's son who would return with power and authority so that all people would see Him in glory as He, Peter, had seen. 2 Peter 1:16?18 "We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received honour and glory from God the Father when the voice came to Him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased." We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with Him on the sacred mountain." Peter was absolutely sure.
The Gospel writers refer to the event as an historical happening. They saw it with their own eyes. Some theologians, like Rudolph Bultmann, and Barbara Thiering, not wanting to accept the miraculous, have suggested that it was a vision. Peter, James and John died for their faith. To them it was no illusion! This mysterious event was pointing to the foremost place of Jesus among the two greatest men of God, Moses and Elijah. The vision confirmed that Jesus alone was uniquely God's son. His forthcoming death upon the Cross, would be the fulfilment of the Law, represented by Moses, and the prophets, represented by Elijah.
Those greatest of men supported Him in His Mission. The light, the cloud and the voice were traditional methods God used when speaking to men. The great spiritual leaders of the past and God Himself were confirming and strengthening Jesus as He approached the Cross. God was preparing Jesus for death upon the Cross. The words spoken by God from heaven were designed to strengthen Jesus for the sacrifice ahead: v5 "a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" These words, similar to those spoken at His baptism, also have important Old Testament echoes about God's Son. The people must listen to Him as God had previously told them to listen to Moses. These words were God's affirmation of the Messiahship and purpose of Jesus as God's redeeming Son. He would save the world from sin through shedding His blood upon the Cross.
Then the mightiest men of the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament, faded away, leaving Jesus only. The voice left nothing uncertain: "This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!" The transfiguration confirmed the place of Jesus in relation to the Law and the Prophets. It confirmed His own understanding of God's blessing upon Him as He faced the cross. It also confirms for the Christian the uniqueness of Jesus as God's Son. He will one day be seen in glory as returning King and Messiah. The resurrection of Jesus became more understandable to the disciples when they remembered how they had seen Jesus glorified in their presence. That was why they had witnessed the transfiguration. It prepared them for the glory of the resurrected Jesus, and of His return.
Nothing is more important than coming to really know Jesus. When we come to know Him we come to share His glory. Paul saw with unique insight, that we too can be transformed to be like God's son. Paul used that very word metamorphoses when he explained that we who really know Christ are transformed to see God's glory. When Moses saw God, he did so with a veil across his face to hide his unworthiness from the glory of God. But, Paul writes: 2 Cor. 3:18 " we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with everincreasing glory, which comes from the Lord."
Nothing is more important than coming to really know Jesus. Many of us already know Jesus Christ in a personal way. God has already worked a metamorphosis in our lives. You who are also listening, God will work a metamorphoses in your life too, if you believe in Jesus. He can bring you, when you believe in Jesus, into a transforming relationship. Jesus Christ would change us all into His likeness. He wants us all to share His lasting glory! As Charles Wesley put it: "Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place, Casting down our crowns before Thee, Lost in wonder, love and praise."
That is why accepting the mountain, the Master and the mystery can have a life-changing impact upon your life. This can be the place, and this the time, when you realise that the greatest men of all time look towards Jesus, because faith in Him can take you into eternity. Will you accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour right now?
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
Send an e-mail to Gordon Moyes - email@example.com
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