I can still remember being awestruck standing in St. Peter’s Basilica grazing at this reproduction of a painting by Raphael. It was one of those moments where I had to remind myself the moment was real, because for a moment I was swept away to another place, where beauty seemed more beautiful and reality seemed more real.
It’s impossible to see anything before seeing Jesus when you glance at this painting. His beauty, and the beauty around him, is spellbinding. But once your eyes begin to notice there are other objects to see, you notice Moses and Elijah beside Jesus, and Peter, James, and John at below him. And then you begin to understand that this painting is bringing to life the transfiguration of Jesus, as recorded in Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 17:1-22).
And then your eyes begin to notice something. A contrast between the glory of what’s happening at the top of the mountain, and the horror that is happening below. You notice that the top is full of light, and the bottom is filled with darkness. The top is marked with peace and serenity, while the bottom is full of demons and shadows. And this is exactly how Matthew records it in his gospel.
You see, right after Jesus reveals his glory at the top of the mountain to his inner circle; he then walks them down the mountain into the mess of ministry. And there at the foot of the mountain where they had just beheld his glory, they encounter a man with a demon possessed son, whom the disciples were unable to help for lack of faith.
And here we find the glory of Christ meeting the mess of this world, and those following Jesus experiencing both. You see, in the midst of the mess, the disciples needed to see greater glory. And after seeing his glory, the disciples needed to go back into the mess, to minister in the mess, for the sake of his glory. So as you stare at the beauty of this painting, soak up the glory at the top, because Jesus wants his eternal glory to sustain you as you minister in the temporary mess below.