The Transfiguration of our Lord, 2016
“Listen to Him”
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today we celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord. Transfiguration…does anybody know what that means? It simply means a change in figure or appearance. Jesus' appearance changes on the mountain. Luke records that "the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white." (Luke 9:29-28) Matthew records that “His face shone like the sun.” (Matthew 17:2) Today marks a turning point in the Church Year…and a turning point in the life of Jesus.
This is a big day for Peter, James and John. Jesus shines like the sun and his clothes turn white. Suddenly Moses and Elijah, great heroes of the Old Testament, appear and speak with Jesus. It was a marvelous occasion. It was a shocking sight to behold. For a short time, these disciples would see Jesus in all His glory! But what does this have to do with us? What is so important about Jesus appearance changing? Maybe the events leading up to our Lord’s Transfiguration will help us.
Less than a week before He was transfigured, Jesus would pointedly reveal to his disciples that he was the Christ! And he immediately started to tell them what that meant: “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Mark 8:31-33) With these words hanging in the air for just 6 days, the very next thing the Gospel writers detail is the Transfiguration.
In that short week, we can only wonder what ran through those disciples' minds. Was the truth about Jesus starting to sink in? The truth that he was a suffering Messiah, not a triumphant conqueror? Were they perhaps becoming doubtful about him? What's this crazy talk about death and resurrection, anyway? What was Jesus talking about?
Have you ever been put off by the word of God? Have you ever struggled to understand, or to believe what the holy scriptures teach? Has a sermon ever not sat that well with you, bothered you – made you churn and squirm or make you angry? Does the law have its way with you? And are you sometimes not only confused about God, but also yourself – how you fit in with his plan?
Sometimes we get it right, like Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” (Matthew 16:16) Sometimes we get it wrong like Peter, thinking we know better than our Lord or His Word. And sometimes, we just don't understand any of it.
When we look at ourselves truthfully we see filth instead of the glory that shines in Christ. We are bumbling fools in our sins, filthy and slimy. Dark and dull. Twisted and evil. We are the opposite of the mountaintop, we are the depths and chasms, wallowing in the muck of our misery. To be in the presence of such glory – we can see why Peter wanted to build some tents and stay awhile. But that wasn't God's plan.
Transfiguration. There's A high mountain with Peter, James and John. Our Lord's appearance changes – dazzling white glory – they get a peek behind the veil of his humility. Jesus truly is God of God and Light of Light. Moses and Elijah, representing the law and the prophets, all the Old Testament scriptures testifying to Jesus as Lord. And best of all, the Father's voice from heaven. “And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35)
That is the same voice and the same remarks from Jesus' Baptism, only now the Father adds, “Listen to Him.” Peter, James, John: the Transfiguration might seem like a spectacle. You may be awe struck by your Old Testament heroes. You may have the image seared on you forever – but listen! Regardless the shock you have by the surroundings…Listen to him! Listen to Jesus!
And so what does he say to the Disciples? It is the same message our Lord has for you. “And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” (Matthew 20:18-19) He proclaims His love for you. He proclaims what He will do for you. He proclaims the Gospel!
This great event, this mountaintop experience, this bright shining moment is great and all, but it's nothing compared to the glory yet to come. It's nothing compared to the day, the Friday that Jesus has in mind, and the Sunday morning to follow. There, on that mountain called Calvary, Jesus would come into his kingdom. And John, who had a front row seat to the transfiguration, will also stand at the foot of the cross.
There Jesus will be stripped of all earthly dignity, rather than clothed in glory. There Jesus will be flanked by common thieves, not patriarchs of the faith. There darkness will blot out the sun, rather than radiance shining forth. There no one would say, “it is good to be here, let's build some tents and stay a while.” Instead at this mountain God would forsake him who took our sins upon himself.
But listen to him. Listen to what Jesus says! What he says there, on the cross, matters even more. He says to those crucifying Him: forgive them Father. He says to the thief on the cross who believes: You will be with me in paradise. He says to one and all…concerning sin, death, and the grave: It is finished.
The transfiguration of our Lord gives the disciples, and us, a peek of what our eyes cannot see – that this Jesus is indeed the Son of God. The voice of the Father confirms it. But this mountaintop experience isn't the goal. It simply prepares us for that other mountain, where Jesus does what he really came to do – die for sinners like us. Knowing his true identity is important to understanding that death – that Jesus, God made flesh, dies for all people – It is the center of our faith!
The transfiguration of Jesus reminds us that it's not just any old guy who dies for us – but God's beloved Son. The glory of the transfiguration points us to the darkness of the cross. There is God's kind of glory – a power made perfect in weakness – salvation through suffering – sweet life for all won by the bitter death of Jesus.
And finally, the transfiguration gives us a hint of that kingdom that is yet to come – the kingdom of glory, when we will see Christ as he truly is, when he comes to raise us up forever. Then, we too will be like him, glorified. Then, we will be transfigured – changed – made perfect – body and soul forever. The transfiguration is Christ is a glimpse of our future in him.
Until then, the glory remains hidden. The promise is heard but not seen. He comes to us humbly, still – under bread and wine, by the water, in the Gospel. His kingdom comes to you today – forgiving you, renewing you, and transfiguring you, by faith. So receive him, see him, and listen to him. For He says: "It is finished." Your sins are forgiven. The kingdom is yours. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. Amen.