The Transfiguration of our Lord, 2017
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Day of Jesus' Transfiguration was a big day for Peter, James and John. Imagine what they saw: Jesus shone like the sun and his clothes turned white. Moses and Elijah, heroes of the Old Testament, suddenly appear and speak with Jesus. It was awesome! 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? 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 explained 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)
And then he told them, “some standing here today will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Mark 9:1) With these words hanging in the air for just 6 days, the very next thing the Gospel writers detail is the Transfiguration.
In those six days, 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? And what did he mean by they will see him coming in his kingdom?
Have you ever been put off by the word of God? Have you ever struggled to understand, or to believe what Scripture teaches? Has a sermon ever not sat that well with you, bothered you – made you churn and squirm? 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. And sometimes, we just don't get it at all.
We look at ourselves and 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 the point either.
Peter, James and John were on the mountaintop with their Lord. Jesus' appearance changes – dazzling white glory – they get a peek behind the veil of his humility. After all, he 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 voice from heaven, God's own voice overshadowed them, and said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Matthew 17:5)
Peter, James, John: 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? “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) Well that seems underwhelming!
Dear Christian: this great event, this mountaintop experience, this bright shining moment is awesome, 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 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.” There, God would not consider Jesus his beloved Son with whom he is well pleased, but instead, he would forsake him who was made to become sin for us.
But listen to him. Listen to what Jesus says! What he says there, on the cross, matters even more. He says about those crucifying Him: Father, forgive them. 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 – it shows Jesus glory. It gives the disciples, and us, just a peek of what our eyes cannot see – that 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!
What does the transfiguration mean to us? It means that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. It means that the cross matters all the more – that his suffering and death for us actually do save us – because he is God in the flesh. The transfiguration reminds us that it's God's beloved Son who dies for us. 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 Jesus' bitter death.
And finally, the transfiguration gives us a hint of paradise – the kingdom of glory, when we will see Christ as he truly is, as he comes to raise us up forever. Then, we too will be like him, glorified; 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. Awesome gifts are bestowed with water and God's Word. Jesus continues to come to us humbly, under bread and wine, with His body and blood. He is here today – forgiving you, renewing you, and transfiguring you, by faith. So receive him, see him, listen to him. 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.