When A Gorgeous Song Highlights Glorious Theology

I spoke last night at CharlotteONE, a city-wide gathering of 20s and 30s who meet every Tuesday night in the sanctuary of the First United Methodist Church.

My presentation highlighted what Good Shepherd has done through the years to rescue and restore victims of international and domestic sex trafficking (for examples, check here and here), and was part of a evening-wide focus on the subject of slavery, freedom, and justice.

Yet the closing song — and one line in particular from it — was the standout moment for me.  We together sang a new-to-me Hillsong tune called Only Jesus that is a poignant mix of passion, beauty, and truth.  Here it is:

But one line from Only Jesus stopped me in my tracks, brought me to my knees, and filled me with tears . . . because singing theology is much more powerful than merely reading it:

You stand alone; I stand amazed.

And I realized:  that’s the story of the Transfiguration!  

I’ll show you what I mean.  In the Transfiguration scene (Matthew 17:1-9), Jesus takes Peter, James, and John to a mountaintop and promptly turns himself inside out.  The three get to see his glory in all its brilliant, blinding light.  

And then Moses and Elijah appear on the scene, talking with Jesus. That’s when Peter decides he’d like to make this particular moutaintop experience a permanent one, and asks Jesus if he can put up shelters for the one Messiah and the two long-dead Israelite heroes.  Jesus never answers the question.

Instead, a voice declaring the Father’s pleasure in the Son comes from heaven, and the scene abruptly closes with Jesus giving instructions to Peter, James, and John to keep silent about the entire incident.

And much scholarly effort has gone into understanding the role of Moses and Elijah in the story. Why did they appear?  To give Hebrew endorsement to Jesus?  To give a foreshadow of the resurrection?  To fulfill prophecy about the Christ?

I believe that while all of those suggestions may contain hints of the truth, none of them are the real reason for the appearance of Moses and Elijah in the Transfiguration scene.

The real reason they appear . . . is so they could disappear.  Look how the scene closes:

“When they (Peter, James, and John) looked up, they saw no one but Jesus.

Meaning, Moses and Elijah have entered the stage so they could exit the stage so that Jesus could have center stage.  Alone.

He stands alone; we stand amazed.

Jesus’ position on that mountain — aloneserved to remind Peter, James, and John that Jesus was not simply another in a line of Hebrew prophets.  He wasn’t merely a great man.  He wasn’t godly in the same sense as Elijah and Moses.

See, Jesus isn’t godlyHe is God.

That’s why he stands alone on the mountain in Matthew 17.  That’s why he reigns above all pretenders to his throne today.  It took a new song to bring it home to me more powerfully than ever.

He stands alone.  We stand amazed.

So sing on.