Shine, Jesus, Shine
"Shine, Jesus, Shine" is a popular 1987 contemporary worship song. Around its 20th anniversary the editor of the Catholic Herald called it "the most loathed of all happy-clappy hymns" (). I first heard it at the 2003 Texas District Convention. Everyone knew this song but me. The disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration could have sung "Shine, Jesus, Shine" at the beginning but not at the end.
You're familiar with the phrase "catch lightening in a bottle"? It means to succeed way beyond expectation or possibility. In the Transfiguration the disciples actually see lightening in a bottle. They witnessed "the appearance of His face changed." Matthew says that "His face shinned like the sun". "Shine, Jesus, Shine" indeed. The brilliance of all the fullness of the Godhead shining in the flesh and blood of Mary's Son shone through His clothes too. Matthew says, "His garments became white as light." Mark says, "His garments became glistening, intensely white as no laundry on earth could bleach them." And Luke gives us lightning in a bottle. He says, "His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightening." You know how dazzling a lightning strike is; you know that as soon as you see it, it's gone. Imagine seeing the Man Jesus continuously radiating a lightening flash? But that's not what gets the "behold."
The next sentence in KJV, ESV, and NASB begins, "And behold, two men." The glory of the Lord Jesus doesn't get the "behold" but 2 men, 2 famous men, 2 heroic men do. In the mid-90's Bassmaster's held a tournament in the bayous west of New Orleans. I had members who bass fished every weekend. They had tickets. They wanted my sons and I go to go to the weigh-in which they were helping with. I was in my mid-30s these men in their mid-40's. You should've seen their faces. They were awestruck, dumbstruck, with admiration and adoration over the fishermen. They had my sons get autographs. This was the disciples at the Transfiguration. Though Moses and Elijah "appeared in glory" they weren't transfigured with glory, though they didn't shine on with lightening, they were the shining stars deserving laser-like focus.
Laser is a word like Mopac. Newcomers to Austin don't know that Mopac comes from the Missouri Pacific Railroad whose right of way it follows. Over time even people who know the origins of the term think only of the road and not of the railroad. Laser is an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. A laser is highly focused light and it gives us the expression "laser-like focus." And that's what God calls the disciples and us to at the Transfiguration. The Lord draws our attention to what the 2 men were speaking about. Not Elijah being carried alive to heaven, not the Exodus of Moses, but literally "the exodus of Jesus which He was about to fulfill in Jerusalem."
"Jerusalem" is emphatic in this last sentence. When was the last time these disciples heard the word "Jerusalem"? Matthew tells us it was weeks before after Peter had confessed Jesus to be the Messiah promised by God. "From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, be killed, and be raised up on the third day" (Mt. 16:21). Jerusalem was the place of suffering; Jerusalem was the place of rejection by the Old Testament church; Jerusalem was the place where Jesus would be put to death by the State. It's also the place of resurrection but that drop of joy was lost in a sea of sorrow.
Jews since the 16th century have concluded their Passover meal with the phrase "next year in Jerusalem", a wish that they would all return to their homeland. Peter doesn't want to go to Jerusalem. After the word "Jerusalem" sinks in, Peter is again focused laser-like on the glory of Jesus and the 2 men standing with Him. And Pete is fine with things staying as they are. No need to go to Jerusalem; nothing there needs fulfilling. He's content with "Shine, Jesus, Shine." And so am I. This mountain is quite literally heaven on earth. This is as good as it gets in a wicked, decaying, world. I want the Jesus of "Onward Christian Soldiers." I want the Jesus who reigns wherever the sun; I want the Jesus who overwhelms everyone in heaven, on earth, and even under the earth with His glory. I want the Jesus who shines so brilliantly that every tongue must confess He is Lord. I want the Jesus of the lightbulb.
Yes, in my manger scene I want a glow coming from His crib. I want to see Baptismal water shimmering with light; I want light to shoot out of the pastor's mouth when he absolves my sins. And from Holy Communion? Shine, Jesus, shine; don't hide Yourself in Bread and Wine; show me the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven; show me my mom, my dad, my unborn children, gathered around Thy presence lauding and magnifying Thy most glorious name.
In 1996 there was a song titled "Living in a Moment." It's a love song that asks, "Tell me something who could ask for more than to be living in a moment you would die for?" Well, this moment of shine, Jesus, shine on the Mount of Transfiguration as well as any of the mountain-top experiences you've known are not moments Jesus suffered and died for. Jesus didn't take on flesh and blood, the obligation to do all God's laws, and the penalties for our not doing them to shine for a moment. He didn't shed His holy precious blood and offer His innocent suffering and death for one shining moment. He didn't redeem you a lost and condemned person; He didn't become the atoning sacrifice for a world of sinners for the best day, moment, or time of your life. But for a new you, a new heaven, a new earth, a new reality.
That's where Jesus would have our laser-like focus not on Him shining like lightening in a bottle but on infrared light. "Infra" means "below" and infrared refers to light that is not visible beyond the red end of the spectrum. When William Herschel was studying light. He referred to infrared light as "unfit for vision." And that's what we really have in this shining moment of Jesus, but the 3 apostles on the mount or us disciples on the ground don't get this. Ezekiel sees the glory of God and falls on his face (1:28). Daniel sees it, is frightened and falls on his face (8:17). John, the disciple whom Jesus especially loved, sees the shining Jesus and he falls at His feet as a dead man (Rev. 1:17). The disciples don't do this. They aren't overwhelmed with fear but with sleep. Jesus you know was praying - again! On and on through the night He prays, and they got very sleepy like men in church do. When is this going to get over?
Rather than being bowled over in awe they are unconcerned. They are more like Semele than Ezekiel, Daniel, or John. Semele was a lover of Zeus. Jealous wife Juno makes her doubt it's really Zeus who's her lover. Semele begs Zeus to do whatever she asks without telling him that she wants him "to come arrayed in all his splendors such as he was in heaven." He doesn't put on all his glory but what is known as "his lesser panoply." He enters Semele's room. Her mortal body couldn't endure the splendors of the immortal radiance. She is consumed to ashes (Bulfinch's, 160).
The disciples see the fullness of God's glory in the face of Christ and can bear it. We think we can bear it, and we think we're cheated now because He clothes Himself in Water, Words, Bread and Wine. We don't believe He does this for our sake but think He is holding out on us. The Gospel writers record 3 points of fear and not one of them is about Jesus being lightening in a bottle or the heavenly visitors having laser-like focus on Jesus and His mission. Luke tells you that after Peter says his piece about staying in this shining moment, the cloudy presence of God appeared and the disciples were afraid as the heavenly visitors and Jesus entered the cloud. Mark tells you they were afraid as Peter spoke up. And Matthew tells you that like Ezekiel and Daniel before them and like John after, they finally fell on their faces and were bowled over with fear when the Father speaks to them out of the cloud.
What the Father says is emphatic in our text. All 3 Gospels have "hear Him," but Luke puts the "hear" last. "Of Him you must hear." They want to go on living by sight, who doesn't? But the Father says you must live by sound, by words, by the Words of Jesus. The fireman in a burning building tells the person trapped in a smoke-filled room too scared to move: "Listen to my voice; follow my voice." Confessional Lutherans don't say we see the Holy Christian Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the dead, or the life everlasting. We say that we believe these things. Why? Because Jesus has promised us these things exist, and because He promises we believe.
It's the opposite of Marvin Gaye's "Heard it Through the Grapevine." He sings, "People say believe half of what you see son, and none of what you hear.'" What you are going to see foremost in your life is Lent, is ashes, you won't see many alleluias and even less Jesus shining. The theme music of Christ Jesus, His body the Church, and the members of that body, you, in this fallen world is "Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted" not "Shine, Jesus, Shine." So, Him you must hear. Don't go by what you see sickness, sorrowing, suffering, and dying. Go by what He tells you: this is not a sickness unto death; weeping may endure for a night but joy cometh in the morning; the sufferings of this present age are light and momentary; He that believes in Me will never die.
The glory, shining, and life, He briefly shows us today and won for you on the cross is for you where He promises you. You go into His font an Old Man you come out a New Creation. You come here covered in sins and His Absolution removes them from your body and soul. You come to the altar with nothing but sin, death, and damnation, and He sends you home shining with the forgiveness, life, and salvation of His Body and Blood.
So, contra Marvin, believe none of what your eyes see when you're off the mountain, but all of what you hear of Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Transfiguration of Our Lord (20190303); Luke 9: 28-36