Sunday, January 24, 2010

Today's Sermon for Transfiguration

Transfiguration Sunday – January 24th, 2010 – Matthew 17:1-9

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
We have come to the apex of the Epiphany season, the day of Transfiguration – where Jesus goes up on the mountain with Peter, James, and John, and suddenly, there appears Moses and Elijah, and Christ is transfigured; He begins to shine with His own, radiant, glorious light – His holiness, His God-hood begins to be openly and brightly revealed. It is a wondrous text, a glorious text. Peter is most right when he says, “Lord, it is good that we are here!” But I think that sometimes we miss the main points, the things that are more wondrous than simply Christ's transfiguration. Let us look at this text, pay attention to it, and see what we learn.

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, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. So now, we see Jesus with basically His three top disciples. Consider what this means. This would be a honor to them – to have your Teacher pull you aside for special teaching was an honor. You were going to gain more insight, you were going to gain more wisdom. Many of the best things which I learned at the Seminary weren't in the classroom, but outside of class when a prof was talking to just a couple of us. So the simple fact that Jesus is just there with Peter, James, and John means that we should be expecting Jesus to teach. And then, suddenly Jesus' glory begins to shine forth, and then, there is Moses, and then, there is Elijah. Now, let's consider who these two are. There really are no more important, no more powerful teachers in the Old Testament than these two. Moses is Moses, the author of the first five books of the bible, the giver of the Law from Sinai, the one who himself glowed with glory reflected from God. Elijah is the greatest prophet – the one who defeated the prophets of Ba'al, the one who doesn't die, but rather is taken up into heaven by the chariots of fire. These are the guys, these are the top of the top when it comes to teaching, to preaching. The Jews basically referred to the Scriptures as “Moses and the Prophets” and right there you have Moses and Elijah, the greatest prophet. This would be a mindboggling awesome thing to see.

And so Peter speaks up. "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." It was the time of the festival of booths, a Jewish holiday where the children of Israel would remember their sojourn in the desert. And Peter thinks this is just wonderful – let's have Moses and Elijah stay the whole holiday. The excitement here would be hard for us to imagine – it would be like the four presidents from Mount Rushmore suddenly showing up to your Fourth of July party, it would be the same giddiness that we'd have if suddenly our favorite musician knocked on our door this afternoon. Do you get how excited, how overjoyed, Peter, James, and John would be right here. It's a glimpse of heaven for them, it is the most wondrous and awesome thing that any Jew has seen probably in 1500 years – this is even better than what Joshua had with Moses or Elisha had with Elijah, because Peter, James, and John get not only Jesus, but also Moses, and also Elijah.

And then. . . all that joy stops on a dime. Comes to a crashing halt. He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. The voice of the Father thunders from heaven, and suddenly, the disciples drop like they've been shot. Down on the ground, faces in the dirt, we don't want to see anything any more. So, why? Why did the disciples suddenly become afraid? Because they remember something that we so often forget – a holy and righteous God cannot abide sin – a Just God has to punish sin. Sin has consequences. Sin has impact! Sin means that by rights they are good as smitten right then and there, because sinners don't do well in the presence of God. From the Fall in the garden, sinful man has known that his sin, his rebellion means that when the Father comes by, you probably ought to just go and hide – and that's what Peter, James, and John do – they stick their heads into the ground.

But then, the voice no longer speaks – and then, But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Rise, and have no fear." Jesus walks up to them, taps them on the shoulder, pulls them up off the ground, and tell them to have no fear. Do you see comfort and care that Jesus shows them? Jesus knows why they are freaked out. Jesus understands – and so gently and lovingly Jesus lets them know that it is safe for them to look up. And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. And looking up, they only see Jesus.

That was the lesson. For all the wonders and delights that the disciples would see with Jesus, for all the miracles, even with this transfiguration and getting to see Moses and Elijah, even though they were the best disciples – when it boiled down to it, they were still sinners. Nothing more, nothing less. And when the Father starts speaking, there would be nothing for them to do but to hit the ground. But then something happens. Jesus comes to them, and He touches them – physical contact, flesh touching flesh, and Jesus says rise and have no fear. I am here, I have become Man, so you do not need to fear the consequence of your sin any more. Because I live, you will not die. And they look up, and they see Jesus – and it clicks. Because Jesus is here, because True God, glorious and wondrous, has become True Man, they will be saved, they will live. Indeed, there is no other name under heaven by which we are to be saved than Jesus – because He is the One who becomes man, and He is the One who strides to the Cross and takes up the punishment for sin in our place. Because of His love for us, He takes upon Himself the fullness of the punishment of sin – and His perfect love for us casts out our fear. This is the lesson of the transfiguration – that because of Christ, we have no more fear.

Now, dear friends, let us ask the difficult question. Have we learned this lesson ourselves in our own lives? There are two sorts of problems that us sinful folk run into when we live our lives. The first is that we can be burdened with fear. So let me ask you – how much did you fear this past week? How much did you worry? How many times came up where you just wished you could run and hide? Guilt over what you have done – did that come popping up? Anxiety over what was to come? Daunting difficulties looming ever closer and closer? All these involve being fearful. To you I say, have no fear, for Christ has come. Do you feel guilt and sorrow over what you have done? Christ Jesus has taken your guilt away from you and carried it to the cross. The sin of your past is done away with. Do you worry about what is to come? Christ who has died has risen and is seated at the right hand of the Father. If Christ is victorious, how will you, who have been touched by Him, who are united to Him by virtue of your baptism, not be victorious? Whatever trials and struggles you face, they will pass, they will fade, they will be endured. Do you wonder if you will have the strength to go on? Christ Jesus is your strength, and He will carry you through all the days of your life. This is what Christ has done – He has won your forgiveness and salvation and life.

There is another sort of problem that we as Christians run into – and that's when we forget fear, but not because of Christ. Rather, when we are bold and confident in ourselves and become callous and unloving. Did you ignore the need of your neighbor this past week, spurning the Words of Christ commanding you to love Him? Did you loudly lament the speck in your neighbor's eye, forgetting the log in your own? Did you ignore the voice from heaven telling you to listen to Christ, and instead keep Christ and His Word out of sight, out of mind? To you, I say repent. These things are not the things of Christian living, are not the things of Christian peace, but rather they are pride, and arrogance, and hatred. Turn away from these things, and rather turn to Christ, be focused on Him alone, and trust in Him alone for your forgiveness, for He has won it and gives it gladly to those who crave it.

Whether the problem is our guilt and shame and fear, or the fact that we live indecently without guilt or shame or fear (and to be honest – it’s a bit of both for all of us) – Christ Jesus is the solution, the cure, the way in which we are made perfect. These things, these temptations we face are nothing new – the people of God have swung back and forth between crippling fear and idiotic foolishness since the fall. And the solution is the very one that Peter, James, and John learned in the Gospel today – it is only when we are focused upon Christ Jesus, the God who became Man for our sake, that we are safe. It is only when Christ comes to us, touches us, and tells us to have no fear that we can truly live now, truly live eternally. And this is what Christ Jesus did for you at your Baptism – He came and put His Name upon you and claimed you as His own, put His hand upon you. And this is what Christ Jesus does for you here in His house, week in, week out. When Satan burdens you with sin and guilt, here in His Word Christ forgives you, pulls that guilt off of you. When Satan has led you to wandering and forgetting Christ, the Word preached here draws you back to Christ, that you might remain in Him. And our Lord even physically touches you – puts His Body upon Your lips, His Blood upon your tongue in His Most Holy Supper, so that you might not only delight in forgiveness but have strength to live your life without fear, to live your life in service to God and in fervent love towards the neighbor – so that Christ might make you to grow ever more and more in this life, until He calls you to heaven.

This is the joy and wonder that has been revealed to us – that Christ has come, that Moses and the Prophets have been fulfilled, that our Lord has suffered and died that we might live both now and eternally in Him. All thanks be to Christ Jesus for this. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the light of the world. +