In the 1990’s there was a lot of Japanese influence on video games and cartoons. One of the effects of this influence was the concept of “the final form”. The cartoon Dragonball Z is most infamous for this as it seemed the heroes and villains could always increase their power level and assume a new form. Pokémon also has this concept as the various Pokémon can evolve from one form to another. This concept is in a ton of video games. It is really common for the end boss of a video game to assume a new form after being defeated, so that it has to be defeated again. Often when a final form is assumed, there is always a lot of very dramatic and flashy animation to accompany the act. There is a story of Jesus that conjures up images of one of these final form transformations. It can be found in the gospel of Matthew (Matthew 17:1-9), and is generally referred to as the transfiguration. It is at the transfiguration that a few of the disciples are given a glimpse at Jesus’ final form.
Jesus takes his three closest disciples Peter, James, and John up Mount Hermon. This is the highest mountain in the region of Galilee, and the top is often capped with snow. It is in this isolated place away from everyone else, that Jesus gives a glimpse of his final form. He transforms before the eyes of his disciples, into something they can only perceive as bright, light, and beautiful. The glory of Jesus is revealed. It is on the mountain while transfigured that Jesus confirms and reveals he is the Son of the Living God. God the Father even declares, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
Throughout Church history, Christians have struggled with understanding who Jesus is. He is a historical person who we can read about, but Jesus is also the Word of God through which all things have been made. That is a lot for us to grasp, wrap our heads around, and come to terms with. As a result, it is possible to deal with Jesus in a form we are comfortable with. Instead of seeking to know Jesus for who Jesus is, we craft a savior who fits our needs. This means that there are forms of Jesus that can be encountered today that are not the final form.
One such form of Jesus that is often encountered in non-religious circles or academic thought is the form of the historical Jesus. The historical Jesus is a vain scholarly quest to isolate Jesus as a first century Jewish man. The notion of the historical Jesus is one that seeks to define Jesus only by his historical and cultural context. In essence the historical Jesus uses all of the tools that scholars have to completely define the humanity of Jesus. For those seeking the historical Jesus he is a man who greatly changed the course of human history but little else. It does have to be acknowledged that Jesus was a man who lived in first century Israel under Roman rule. The context of the land, the political climate, and the cultural mores are significant aspects to study in order to more fully understanding the gospels. The fatal flaw with the quest for the historical Jesus is that it emphasizes the humanity of Jesus but completely loses the divinity of Jesus. It is Jesus without the Christ. Jesus was a man who occupied a certain place in history, but Jesus is also much more than that. The historical Jesus is a form of Jesus, but it is incomplete. It is not the final form.
There is another common form of Jesus present in our culture that is also not the final form. This form of Jesus is humorously brought to light by Will Farrell when he plays his character Ricky Bobby in the movie Talladega Nights. Towards the beginning of this movie there is a scene where Ricky Bobby leads a prayer with his family, and he stars it by saying, “Dear Tiny infant Jesus.” Throughout his prayer he elaborates on this, “Dear Tiny Jesus, with your golden fleece diapers” and he ask for a blessing of “baby Jesus powers”. In the scene his wife interrupts his prayer to point out Jesus did not stay a baby, but grew up. To this Ricky Bobby responds, “I like Christmas Jesus the best.”
While very few people address prayers to “tiny infant Jesus”, there are a lot of people based on how they express their faith like Christmas Jesus the best. A Christmas Jesus is an inoffensive Jesus, it is one that does not convict us, challenge us, or call us to repent for the kingdom of heaven is near. This is why a baby Jesus characterizes the concept so well. A Christmas Jesus is a form of Jesus that is one that is all about giving us stuff to make us happy. It is a savior that exist solely for our personal pleasure. A faith that follows this kind of Jesus is one that emphasizes blessings of serving others, it emphasizes financial wealth over sacrificial love, and it emphasizes success over forgiveness. Christmas Jesus is a heretical view of the Christ that keeps the supernatural power of Jesus but removes everything else.
The story of the transfiguration gives only a small glimpse of Jesus’ final form. However, if we look throughout the scriptures there are glimpses of Jesus’ final form everywhere. When we consider the whole of scripture we get an image of Jesus that is much greater and more awesome than a historical man. We get a picture that is more worthy of our worship, our devotion, and our lives than a sugary but hollow deity that only wants to make us happy. When we look at the whole of scripture we get a good image of Jesus’ final form. He is the prince of peace. He is the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings. He is the once and future king, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. He is the light of the world. He is the Christ, the messiah, and the son of the one true God. He is the author and perfecter of our faith. He is the head of the one true church. He is the Lamb of God, the canceler of sins, and the one who paid our debt. He is the savior who was and is and is yet to come. He sits at the right hand of the Father in all honor, glory, and power forever and ever.
That is the form of Jesus that was revealed on the mountain at the transfiguration. That is the form of Jesus that scripture points us to. In the scripture when Jesus is transfigured it drives the disciples face down to the ground in awe and terror. Jesus in full glory revealed mode was too much for Peter, James, and John to handle. Perhaps this is why lesser forms of Jesus like the historical Jesus and the Christmas Jesus have so many adherents. A smaller, less magnificent Jesus is easier for us to handle. It is easier for us to keep Jesus in a nicely contained box in our lives, instead of being overwhelmed by his goodness, his glory, and his grace. When we make Jesus a lesser form, then we can still be in control of our lives. This morning’s scripture confronts us with the fact that Jesus is bigger than we can handle. Jesus in his final form is more glorious, righteous, and good than we can begin to fathom.