February 22, 2004: How Do You Picture God?

Let us pray: Dear Savior, today we stand on the verge of Lent. Today we are about to begin, once more, to focus on Your cruel suffering and death. Yet, before that occurs, You startle us with Your almighty power and with heavenly splendor! As we walk through the next 40-plus days of Lent, keep today’s image of You fresh and alive in our hearts and in our souls. Amen

TEXT: Luke 9: 28-36

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
My sister-in-law in Nebraska has a passion for art. And in these times of economic uncertainty jobs that focus on art and celebrate art are hard to find. So, she has become an art entrepreneur. Over the past couple of years she has written, developed, and starred in various television segments entitled: “Picture This.” These little vignettes on certain aspects of art have caught the attention of Time-Warner, and other media outlets. And she’s hoping to turn this into an eventual money-paying career.

When viewing a painting, a sculpture, the architecture of a building, or even listening to music, we all bring our own pre-conceived notions and feelings along. And then we interject those views into whatever art we’re experiencing. This has given rise to the almost universal notion that all art “is in the eye or ear of the beholder.” My sister-in-law’s point is to get the average person beyond that subjective viewpoint and get them to better understand exactly what the artist was trying to say through their work. In short, she is trying to get people beyond subjective reality and into more objective truth.

As I looked at today’s lesson from Luke’s gospel, some of these same thoughts came to mind. And they have led me to ponder this question:


When you think about God, what does your mind’s eye see? When you pray, what mental image of God crosses your mind? Many view God as an old man, grandfatherly in looks and demeanor. To them God the Father almost always comes to mind. Others immediately think of Jesus. They see a kind, 30-ish man who always makes time for children and those in need. Still others perceive God as an amorphous entity which exudes peace and harmony. But, what is reality and what is just mental imagery based on our emotions?

Jesus is in the midst of His ministry. He has already healed countless people, raised some from the dead, preached many powerful sermons, sent out various disciples to spread His message, and even elicited that great confession from Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” It is at this point that our text picks up. “About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray.”

We don’t know exactly which mountain this was. Some think it to be Mt. Hermon, a very high place in Palestine. Others aren’t so sure. Anyway, Jesus takes the “big three” of the disciples with Him there and spends the night in prayer.—Shades of Gethsemane which is fast approaching. Also, like at Gethsemane, the disciples’ eyes grow heavy with sleep and they nod off. But, then, something quite amazing occurs. “As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.”


Certainly the disciples had seen flashes of Christ’s glory before this. They had seen some miracles and been dazzled and awed by them. And yet, their mental picture of Christ was that of a common human being, a friend, one who appeared very down-to-earth. However, right now that mental image was turned upside down! In an instant, Jesus shed the shell of His humanity and revealed the heavenly glory underneath. He showed that He inhabited two planes of existence—the earthly, but also the heavenly. In fact, the two greatest heroes of faith who live in heaven, Moses and Elijah, straddled the mountaintop, right there, with Him! And the point of their heavenly discussion was Christ’s coming passion, death, and resurrection. The point of their conversation was how Jesus, the eternal Son of God, was going to save the lost souls of you, me, Peter, James, John, and countless others. Luke tells us that Peter was so awed by the experience that he wanted to build three cabins so that all could remain enveloped in the glorious splendor of heavenly bliss while yet on this earth.

But now, even more amazing things are revealed! “While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’ When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen.”
How do you picture God? This lesson clearly teaches us that God isn’t a doddering old man, or merely a simple human being. No, God is beyond human words to describe. He is Light which blinds. He is the voice of thunder which makes our ears ring. He is beauty and perfection beyond telling. Now, if you view God in that fashion, like Peter and the others you’ll be filled with awe and even fear.—For the contrast between God and us is just too great. So, Christ comes back to earth, as it were, and meets us in a way we can understand and relate to—the humbleness of humanity, the humbleness of our Servant.

Today Jesus meets us and talks to us in a similar humble form. He talks to us through His Holy Word of truth. And therein He tells us how He has saved our souls—by giving Himself up for our sins.—Exactly what He discussed with Moses and Elijah. The amazing thing about the Bible is that each time you read some of it our almighty God gives you exactly what you need at that moment in order to strengthen and lift up your faith in Him. He knows that because of our sins and shortcomings we’re easily scared and frightened. So, He comforts us in a way we can relate to.

The point of the transfiguration was the same point of the entire Bible.—That is, to meet us in humility and then to lead us to glory. To show us that behind the simple lies the profound. It took Peter and the gang years to fully grasp this truth. In fact, they only grasped it fully when they died and were taken back to the pinnacle of happiness, heaven. It will be the same for us. But, meanwhile, like the disciples each time we expose ourselves to the Bible, the Word of God, Christ Who is the Word made flesh takes us a few steps further up that mountain. And as He does so, our mental picture of God becomes more and more complete! With that in mind, “Lord, it is good for us to be here!” Amen