Transfiguration – Feb 1st, 2009 – Matthew 17:1-9
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
The pinnacle, the highlight of the Epiphany Season, the season where we focus on Christ Jesus revealing His glory, where we celebrate and ponder that Christ Jesus is the light of the world, is this Sunday, transfiguration Sunday, four Sundays before Ash Wednesday. It is the Sunday where in our Gospel text calling Jesus the light of the world is more than just pretty language, for He shines like the sun – indeed, John speaks of paradise this way when he says in Revelation that the New Jerusalem, that heaven “has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” For a few, brief moments on that hill top in Judea, the glory of heaven shone forth. Understand the importance and usefulness of this text for us. In looking at the transfiguration, we understand who Christ is, we understand what heaven itself is. This truth, this idea, that the transfiguration is a true revelation of our Lord’s Person and Glory will guide our meditations upon this text this morning.
And after six days Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. Six days prior, Peter had made his bold, bold confession – You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Six days prior, when Jesus had told the disciples of his death and resurrection, Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan” – when Peter had tried to dissuade Jesus from the cross. Peter understands some, but he still has some major lack of understanding. And so, our Lord decides to bring Peter with Him up this mount along with James and John, so that they can learn, so that they can bear witness to what our Lord will in a few moments show. Yes, He is the Christ, the Son of the living God – now learn what that means.
And He was transfigured before them, and His face shown like the sun, and His clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him. And so the disciples get to behold a wondrous sight. For a brief, brief moment, the unbridled glory of God, Christ Jesus’ true divinity shines forth through His Body. We see illustrated again the mystery of Christmas, that God becomes Man – but where as on Christmas we pondered and wondered at the fact that this little child was truly God, here we see things from the opposite direction – that this glorious God, who shines forth brightly, has become Man – become the Man whom Peter, James, and John have traveled with, have eaten with, have learned from – this God is truly Man. You see, this is what Jesus does when He comes down to earth. We sinful human beings could not approach God, and so God covers His glory in His Humanity, comes to us in a way that we can stand, comes to be with us. These disciples get a taste, a reminder of the true wonder of this fact.
And then, they also behold Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus. Moses and Elijah are the two great heroes of the people of Israel – they are the two greatest prophets, the ones who stand above all others in the histories of the children of Abraham. Moses, who wrote the Torah, the first five books of the bible, what is commonly called, “the Law” in English. Also Elijah, the greatest of the Prophets. There you have the highlights of the Old Testament, the highlights of the Law and the Prophets – and they are there talking to Christ. There is a point to this – for all the Old Testament, the Law and the Prophets, they all pointed forward to this same Christ Jesus. When we look at Scripture, we should understand what it is we are seeing. While God’s Word does have advice for how we should live, it’s not designed to be a self-help book. While the Holy Scriptures truly report the events of the past, it is not simply a history book. No, God’s Word, both Old and New Testaments, are designed first and foremost to point to Christ Jesus and how God Himself wins for His people salvation through Christ’s death and resurrection. Luke’s Gospel is great on this point during the transfiguration – Luke reports that Jesus, Moses, and Elijah were talking about Jesus’ Exodus – where He would redeem His people and lead them to safety by His death and resurrection. But we see here a wonderful reminder of what all Scripture is – it all points to Christ and His love for us.
And Peter said to Jesus, “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 is overawed, and yet he comes up with an idea. It was the time of the festival of booths – where the Jewish folks would sleep out in tents to remember their time of exile in the desert. Well. . . maybe Moses and Elijah want to stay for the festival. It’s a nice offer. . . but it misses the point. Which is more important – which takes trump – the celebration where we remember how God used Moses to deliver the people of Israel – or where you have God talking to Moses right in front of you? Peter forgot that the things he knew would pass away, that God would bring something more wondrous in Christ in the New Testament. Likewise, dear friends, look around you. These things will pass away – and that’s not a bad thing, for on the Last Day when they do, where will we be? In heaven, where it will be Jesus along with Moses and Elijah and Peter and Paul and all the hosts of heaven. As Christians it is important that we remember the past, that we know the ways in which God has worked for our benefit in the past. It’s important that we remember that God brings His blessings to us now – but we also need to remember that as Christians we look forward – and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
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.” And God speaks and is blunt. At all times and in all places what is our goal as Christians – remember that Christ Jesus is Lord, the Son of God, the spotless Lamb, and then that we are to listen to Him. God sums it up so nicely. Things aren’t complicated in Christianity – Behold Christ Jesus, see who He is and what He has done for you in winning you salvation – and then listen to Him.
Problem is, us sinful folk don’t always like doing that. Listening to Christ can be hard. He says that we are to love our neighbor. This past week, how did that go? Did you spend more time thinking about how to help others or more time about yourself? Jesus says that we are even to love our enemies. This past week, how did that go? Did you spend more time trying to figure out ways of helping the people that annoy you, or did you spend more time thinking poorly and possibly grousing about them? Our sinful flesh doesn’t like listening to Christ – and we even, as sinners, don’t like focusing on Him. Think about it – what Churches are more popular – the ones that constantly focus on Christ and what He has done – or the ones that focus on how you can have a better life now – or where the focus is on how you can do stuff and be a good person and tap into God’s blessings? Across the board, the more popular ones are where the focus is upon us, not on Christ. Sinful human beings don’t like keeping the focus truly on Christ and His Word.
This is why we hear, When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. They were terrified – and why? When Pastor Brown stands up here and starts talking about how we are sinful and how we don’t always do as we ought, that’s one thing – you can nod your head, shrug, and then go on. If you think about it for a few moments, that’s great. When you hear the voice of God Almighty booming out His instructions, and then you realize that you have not been following these as you ought – that’s a whole nother ballpark. The disciples are right to fall on their faces – by rights they should be toast. God’s Law hits home. But then we have something else happen, “But Jesus came and touched them saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’ And when they lifted their eyes, they saw no one, but Jesus only.” Do you see what is going on? By rights Peter, James, and John should be in a heap of trouble – by rights it should be sinners in the hands of an angry God. But something else happens. Jesus comes and He physically touches them – God has become Man to be with man – and Jesus says do not be afraid. Jesus says do not be afraid because there is no more that you need fear from your failures – for I will put your sin and failures to death upon the Cross.
That’s why we are to focus upon Christ – because Christ Jesus is the only source of forgiveness and life and salvation. And do not think that He only came to those three disciples then. You could say that our worship today is modeled on what happens in this text. How does the service begin? We hear the Word of God, we hear a sermon upon it – we behold Christ and listen to Him. And then what happens? The very same thing. Christ Jesus calls us to His Supper – and what happens there? Christ our Lord touches you, gives to You His Body as a token of proof that He suffered and died for you, His Blood as the proof that it has been shed for you. He says to you, “My Peace be with you always” – and saying, “Peace be with you” is pretty much the same thing as saying, “have no fear” – because there is peace now between God and man, and you have nothing to fear. Our service – the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the Supper – is what our Lord gives you to keep you focused upon Him, to continually forgive your sins, so that you are prepared for the day when you will spend not just a few moments on a mountain top with Him, but when with all the Saints you will be gathered at His eternal and heavenly throne for all the ages. And this is as real and wondrous for you as it was for Peter, James, and John – Christ comes to you, and He shows Himself to be your Lord who rescues you from sin and brings you into His heavenly kingdom. All thanks be to God for His great love to us. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +