Transfiguration Sunday – January 20th, 2013 – Matthew 17:1-9
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
They were afraid. When people get a glimpse of the unbridled Glory of God, when sinful men gets a taste of this, they become terrified. We see this both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. In the Old, Moses comes down the mountain from having talked with God while getting the 2nd copy of the 10 commandments, and what happens? When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shown because he had been talking with God. Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. Even Aaron, the high priest, Moses’ own brother is terrified of merely the reflected Glory of God. They even finally talk Moses into keeping a veil over his face because Moses’ glowing face freaked them out.
And then in the New, we have the New Testament today – the Transfiguration. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up on a mountain – and Jesus is transfigured, He begins to glow, and Moses and Elijah show up – and Peter, Peter is bold, as bold as only Peter can be. Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents, one for you and one for Moses, and one for Elijah. It was the time of the festival of booths, the festival of tents – where basically all the faithful Jews would camp out and remember the wanderings in the desert. Peter’s able to handle seeing the transfiguration – he just wants to keep busy. Maybe Moses and Elijah are just here to celebrate the feast with us – I’ll keep busy. I’ll set up some tents. 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. And then the voice of God comes from the cloud, and it’s too much, and the disciples cower in fear. A transfigured Christ – we can keep busy, we can work through this amazement – but God’s voice – duck and cover, duck and cover.
We will in modern American Christianity talk about God’s glory a lot. We like to talk about God’s majesty and strength. Glory, Glory, Hallelujah. Awesome God who does cool stuff, yeah! On and on. But here is what happens. When our focus shifts to God’s power or glory, we forget one simple thing. God’s glory is too much for sinful man to handle. We see this in the Old Testament, we see this in the New Testament. When people see God let His Glory, His Godliness shine forth – it is terrifying. Now, think for moment, imagine a situation with me. Let’s say, in the middle of this sermon this morning, my voice starts to get unnaturally loud – and my face starts to shine – and the earth starts to quake – thunders and lightnings come – angels appear behind me – what would happen? Honestly, what would your reaction be? I’d be freaked out, but too scared to stop talking. Y’all would probably dive the pews. If a touch of God’s unbridled Glory popped out here, even here in Church, we would be terrified. It happened to Isaiah in Church, and he was terrified. “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips!” That’s what would happen. The unveiled glory of God is terrifying to us here on earth.
And why? Because we are sinful people. When we are walking around in normal life here on earth, we can get cocky. We can get a little proud in how good we are. We’re decent people – show up to church, put money in the plate – we can compare ourselves to other people, the godless hordes out there, and get to feeling pretty good about ourselves. That’s because all too often we examine our lives not in terms of God’s Word, not in terms of His absolutes, not in terms of have you done all that you ought – but rather we compare ourselves to others selectively, remembering only their faults and weaknesses, and trying to make ourselves look good. Thing is – when God shows up, when God shines forth His glory, we see how shallow and poor we are in comparison to Him, we see that we fall short, and we crash, we flee in terror, we run and hide – just like Adam in the garden when God calls out to him after the fall.
So, why do I bring this up? What is the point in talking about this? Because today, in seeing Peter, James, and John – Disciples, Apostles, heroes of the faith – on their knees cowering in fear, we see the fundamental problem of our lives. Sin isn’t just doing bad stuff. Sin isn’t just being naughty. It’s not just that we happen to sin – it’s that we are sinful – that we are full of sin. We are sinners – people who on account of their wicked and corrupt natures end up sinning. And there’s nothing we can do to change that – we are sinners, that’s who we are. Period. And because we are sinners – by our nature we are shut off from God. Like we say in the meaning to the third article, we can’t by our own reason or strength go to God, we can’t come to Him – why? Because on our own we are sinners. Sinners don’t saunter up to a holy God and ask Him how His day was. When you were a kid, and you were in trouble, did you want to go chat up your parents? No! How much more so the sinner with God? Our sinfulness, which we all have from the day we were conceived separates us from God – and we can’t fix it. We can’t do anything about it – when God’s Glory comes upon sinful people we have no choice but to cower.
But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. This is why Christ Jesus comes. Epiphany is the season where we see, where we remember that Jesus is indeed God – God come to us humbly as a servant, coming to us as a Human, coming to us in a away where He can be with us without terrifying us. Jesus hides His glory most of the time so that He can come to us sinners. The way in which we know God, the way we understand Him, isn’t in His almighty power – we can’t grasp that, and what little we can terrifies us. We don’t understand God’s majesty, and when we see it we become afraid. But we do see and understand Christ. We understand God through Christ, through who Christ is. We see no one but Jesus only. He is how, He is the only way we can understand God. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Paul preaches Christ and Him Crucified. Hear how Hebrews describes this. Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the Word of His power. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Jesus is true God, in Him we get everything there is to get, all the power, all the glory – but behold how God works. He comes to us while we are still sinners, while we are still sinful, and He comes in a way which we can tolerate, in a way which doesn’t completely destroy us. And what does He do? In our Gospel, Jesus doesn’t stay up on the mountain, He doesn’t just bask in His own glory. Rather, He goes to comfort the disciples – He tells them not to fear. Why can Jesus say this? Because He knows He is going to the Cross.
We can’t handle, we can’t deal with our sin. But Jesus can and Jesus does. He takes on our flesh, becomes one of us for the express purpose of going to the Cross. This is why He comes, to go to the Cross – to make purification for sins, to justify us – to cleanse us from all unrighteousness – this is the work of the Cross. This is why He comes, to rise again, to walk forth from the tomb bringing life in His train – so that He can say, “See, I have won for you the forgiveness of sins and now give to you life Eternal.” Jesus comes to work, Jesus comes to get down to business – Jesus comes to touch us while we are by our sinful nature His enemies and give us life. But God shows His love for us in this that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. This is what Jesus does.
And this is what Jesus does for us still today. Think on this – as I’ve already pointed out, if we see God’s unveiled glory while still on earth in this sinful flesh, we would freak out. Yet God still deigns to come to us and bring us forgiveness. How? Not through earth shaking power. Not through fire and brimstone and flashing lights. God comes to us in ways that don’t destroy us – God gives Himself to us in ways that we can handle. He comes in His Word – through hearing His Word. And not echoing, booming sounds – but Words spoken and read by normal people in normal ways. He comes in Baptism – think on that – a washing which cleanses all our sin, which unites us to God, which joins us to Christ’s death and resurrection. When Christ died the earth shook, the clouds blotted out the sun, when He rose nothing could contain Him – and yet we are connected to Christ’s death and resurrection by water and the Word – in a manner so gentle even infants can bear it. He comes to us in the Lord’s Supper. Think on that – God gives us His own Body and Blood – we take and eat, we take and drink for forgiveness – and how can we receive this? Because He gives us His Body and Blood in a way that we can handle, that we can receive – through bread and wine. He comes to us sinful men to forgive us our sins in ways in which we can handle.
Yes, Jesus reveals His glory upon the mountain of transfiguration. We see God’s glory revealed, we have confirmed for us that Jesus is indeed true God. But Jesus doesn’t just stay there – His ultimate purpose isn’t to show how wonderful He is. Rather, He leads His disciples down the mountain, and He walks undaunted and boldly to the Cross, where He wins for us forgiveness. And Jesus continues His work today as He comes to us in His Word, in Baptism, in His Supper. He comes to us gently, so that we can receive Him without fear, and simply rejoice in the forgiveness of sin. The world looks at this – looks at God at work in His Word and shrugs. The world sees Baptism and mocks it – How can water do such things? The world hears that Christ gives us His own Body and Blood in His Supper and calls Jesus a liar, says it’s just a chuck of bread, a bit of wine and nothing more. The world foolishly craves glory and power. But we have been called into God’s house, brought into His family; we have received His forgiveness, and so we see and know and thirst for the forgiveness which He gladly and continually provides for us in His Church. And because we have been forgiven, we look forward to the resurrection of the dead, when we and all believers in Christ will be raised to glorious and eternal life, and once again enjoy perfection, and delight forever more without fear, in God’s Glory in His Heavenly Kingdom. Amen