+ Transfiguration of Our Lord – March 2, 2014 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A: Exodus 24:8-18; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Happy Transfiguration Sunday. Probably not a common greeting you’re used to hearing. Merry Christmas. Blessed Easter. Those are familiar. We know why those days are significant.
But what about Jesus’ transfiguration? Why is this event so important?
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.
Ever tried looking at the sun? (And I highly recommend that you don’t). It was like that but the light was radiating from Jesus’s face. Think about that the next time you hear the benediction: “the Lord make his face shine upon you.”
The word is metamorphasized. Changed appearance. Transfigured. For a moment, the covering of humility is pulled back. Christ’s glory concealed is now revealed. The glory that once filled tabernacle and temple, the glory that departed from Israel is now seen in the man Jesus. This isn’t about Mighty Morphin Power Jesus or Transformer Jesus. No, the fullness of deity dwelt in him bodily, as Paul says. Even in his transfiguration, Jesus is still Immanuel, God with us. God is Man yet retains his glory. Jesus the man is there, but his divinity is showing.
Transfiguration reveals what kind of Jesus we believe and put our trust in. Remember, Epiphany is a season about revealing, making known, and manifesting who Jesus really is.
That’s exactly what Jesus is doing on the mountain.
Jesus’ Transfiguration reveals who he is and what he’s come to do.
Jesus’ transfiguration shines forth the glory of his divinity and death.
And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.
You’ve got to appreciate the irony that the two men in the OT who wanted to see YHWH’s glory (and couldn’t but were both hidden in a cave to protect them from it) now get to see it radiating from the incarnate God-Man, Jesus. Now in Jesus, it’s safe to be in the presence of God’s glory. Now in Jesus you can see the face of God and live to tell about it.
So it’s no coincidence that it’s Moses and Elijah. Mr. Torah and Mr. Prophesy, standing talking with Jesus like old friends catching up. It’s a great sneak preview of the resurrection. But there’s more. Jesus is the Law and the Prophets, every word fulfilled in Him. In many and various ways God spoke to his people of old by the prophets. But now in these Last Days He has spoken to us by His Son.
But Peter quickly disturbs the conversation: “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
Peter says what everyone else is thinking. We’ve all thought it before. “Wow! What a sight. Wish I could’ve been there.”
Be honest. We want the mountain. The experience. The glory. Think about it…Which would you rather have witnessed? Jesus’ transfiguration or Jesus’ crucifixion? Which would you want to see with your own eyes – shining Jesus or dead Jesus? I don’t think I need to take a poll. Shining Jesus wins hands down, doesn’t He?
We prefer the glory to the cross. We prefer the power and the majesty of a Jesus who shines with unearthly glory than a beaten and bloodied Jesus who hangs dead and defeated. But here’s the rub: Only dead Jesus can save you. Only crucified Jesus can bear your sin. If all that Jesus ever did was appear shining on a mountain to three of His disciples, you’d still be stewing in your Sin and Death. You’d still be condemned by the Law.
So thankfully, Before Peter could begin his shrine building, a thick cloud covered the mountain. The same cloud that covered Sinai and filled the tabernacle and temple. The pillar of cloud that guided Israel. And from the cloud there came the voice of the Father:“This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.”
Epiphany ends as it began: with a voice from the heavens resounding: the Lord’s presence in the cloud, and Jesus standing in our place. We heard these words at Jesus’ baptism. Now as Epiphany gives way to Lent, we hear these words again: “Hear Him.”
You don’t need to go to the mountain. We don’t need to go find the glory of God. The mountain comes to you. God’s glory comes to you….in Jesus. Christ draws near, comes to you personally in the water of your Baptism, in the bread and wine of the Supper, in the spoken Word of forgiveness, the gathering of even as few as two or three gathered in His name. The Scriptures, the Font, the Altar – here’s your mountain. Here’s the place where Jesus meets you.
This is why Peter hangs all hope – not on the vision - but on God’s word:
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have something more sure, the prophetic word…
Christ’s Word is that “something more sure”. In our life as stewards of God’s gifts at home and in this congregation, Christ’s word is more sure than any pony-trick or temporary program. In our life of sharing the Gospel with others, Christ’s word is the more thing than gimmicks or sales tactics. In our life of devotion and prayer, Christ’s word is the more sure thing than any passing spiritual fad. In our Christian life, Christ’s word is the more sure thing than anything we or the world tries to add to what Jesus has done and given us.
Remember, Jesus’ transfiguration reveals his glorious divinity and death for you.
And that’s the key. Without the cross we don’t understand Jesus’ person and work. Without the cross we have no idea how to live as Jesus’ disciple either. Peter sure didn’t…at least not until after the resurrection. Like us, he needed to learn the grand paradox of the NT: the cross, then the glory.
Like Peter our fear is exposed. Fear is our denial of God’s promises in the first commandment, that he will be our God and we need no other. And people do strange things when they’re afraid. The disciples fell on their faces.
But what about us? When our relationships are strained, finances are tight, futures are uncertain…do we fear, love and trust in God above all things or do we panic, turn inward on ourselves and lean on someone or something else? It’s no different at church either. When giving goes down, when we don’t see as many visitors or new members coming as we hoped, when our friends constantly reject our invitations to church, do we fear, love, and trust in Christ’s word and sacraments to do what he says they will or do we panic, turn inward, and lean on other spiritual means of hope and comfort? The same light of Jesus’ transfiguration that revealed Peter’s foolishness also exposes the foolhardiness of our sin.
But look at how Jesus answers his disciples. “Arise. Get up. Stop fearing.” That’s death and resurrection talk.
Arise. Stop fearing. And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
That’s God’s answer for your fears, the light that casts out the darkness of our sin: Jesus. Jesus came and picked the disciples up off the ground, raised them up out of their fear. And they saw no one but Jesus only. He’s all they needed. He’s all you need too.
The glory was gone. The cloud was gone. Moses and Elijah were gone. The splendor, the mountain-top moment…the divine revelation all of - gone. But not Jesus.
Moses and Elijah can’t save us. Jesus alone has the words that open heaven for you. Jesus alone has the forgiveness that takes away your sin. Jesus alone has the power to raise you from the dead.
Arise. Do not fear. Next time Jesus speaks those words are after his resurrection, to the women as they leave the empty tomb of Jesus in grief and confusion. Arise. Have no fear.
That’s why Jesus charges his disciples, “Tell no one the vision until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” Wait, what? Raised from the dead? Yes. Jesus’ transfiguration only makes sense after His death and resurrection.
Jesus’ Transfiguration reveals his divinity and his death…but also his resurrection.
You will see shining Jesus one day, soon enough. He will come again in glory to raise you from the dead and give you eternal life. You will see Moses and Elijah and all the saints. There won’t be any need to build a shrine to preserve the moment, because the moment will be an eternity, and the temple will be Christ, the Lamb. And what a sight that will be.
But for now, the mountain of glory gives way to the mountain of the cross. The Alleluias give way to ashes. Shining Jesus gives way to crucified Jesus. And the Sunday of Transfiguration gives way to Ash Wednesday and the somber season of Lent. But it’s always the same Jesus – shining, dead, risen, reigning. It’s always the same Jesus – true God and Man – who comes to save you.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.