Transfiguration – January 20th and 21st, 2018 – Matthew 17:1-9
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
And so today we reach the pinnacle, the peak of Epiphany, there on the mount of Transfiguration. We talk about Jesus revealing His Glory – it shines forth today. We speak of Christ being the Light of the World; He glows today. We are at a hinge in the Church Year – after this we will begin our travels towards Lent and then to Calvary, and so the Transfiguration works as a time to focus us, to set us, to fix our eyes upon Jesus so we know what it is that we will be seeing in the weeks to come. Let’s consider the text.
“And after six days Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.” First of all, we have the note that this is happening “after six days” – well, what happened six days earlier? In chapter 16 you have Peter’s bold confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. And after that Jesus that He is, and that He has come to be killed but raised on the third day. And of course, Peter rebukes Jesus, Jesus says, “Get behind Me, Satan!” And then Christ tells His disciples that whoever would follow Him must deny himself and take up his cross. So what we had just seen in the Gospel was an episode where it was shown that Christ has come to suffer and die for sinful man, sinful man who continually thinks he knows better than God. Peter says “Oh, you are God” and then turns around and starts telling Jesus not to do things. That is what happened six days before. We are going to be talking about God and His efforts, His struggles against sin.
However, there is more going on in this simple sentence – but to get it, we need to think in terms of the Old Testament. If I say “sixth day” to you, and you are thinking about the Old Testament, that’s the creation of man. The idea of the sixth day always focuses on man’s creation, man’s fall, and the promise of restoration. Moreover, we see them go up on a Mountain. For a moment, just think about how many Mountains from the Scriptures you know – Mount Sinai, Mount Zion, Mount Ararat. Even the word “Armageddon” is just a way of saying “Har Meggido” – or Mount Meddigo in Aramaic. God does things on mountains. God gives Moses the 10 commandments on Mount Sinai. When God talks to a despondent Elijah, it is on a mountain. And because of this, the next verses really shouldn’t be any surprise.
“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.” And there, Christ Jesus is transfigured – there you could say that He drops His guard a bit, and His innate, divine glory shines forth and through Him – He glows – the grime and dust from His clothes are overpowered with the radiance of His glory – it is an awesome thing. And not only that - Moses and Elijah are there – the two top preachers, the two top prophets of the Old Testament are there. It is hard to explain just how fine, how sharp a point this event is – everything in the Old Testament is funneling right to here and this moment, all coalescing and coming together. It is as if every bit of the Scriptures is there just ready to burst forth in fulfillment, and what happens? 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.” There, at the culmination of everything - Peter starts talking. Peter offers to start working. Now, what he offers is very kind – it was probably around the festival of booths, the holiday when the Children of Israel would basically camp out for a few days to remember the sojourn in the wilderness. And there’s Peter saying, “I’ll go set up the tents for everyone, if they want to stay.” It’s a fine, nice thing – but think about the timing. There is Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah – and He’s brought you along, He’s invited you to listen in, and what do you do? You interrupt and offer to go off and do something else. The text had said, “Behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah” – and then there’s Peter, offering to do anything but beholding. It would be like one of you standing up right now and saying, “Um, Pastor, you like coffee, let me go make you a fresh pot of coffee” right in the middle of the sermon. Nice sentiment, but terrible timing.
This sort of provides an example of a problem that we ourselves face – the pressure to always be busy, be about doing something. What we forget is that God knows that we are busy, that we have plenty on our plates – and so in His wisdom He has called us to time of rest, times to hear His Word. Human beings have always been ready to run themselves back into the dust from whence God made us. He had to tell the children of Israel, “Take a day off and rest and hear My Word, it’s good for you.” Peter here shows the same thing – instead of being ready to hear and listen, he’s ready to be working. Same thing with Mary and Martha. And thus so often with us Christians. This is not to say that we aren’t to be about striving after good works and loving our neighbor – but what defines you, what makes you a Christian? Not your works, but receiving Christ Jesus and His forgiveness, hearing His Word. It’s Christ Jesus coming to you that gives and grows faith, that makes you who you are in Him. And lest you think I’m just pontificating, “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.” Even before Peter is done presenting his plan, the Father’s voice cuts him off and says, “Look at Jesus, listen to Him!” Peter, you were brought up on the mountain not to do, but to behold, to listen, to hear and to learn.
Likewise, dear friends, even as we go about doing many things, here in our congregation, in our homes, in our communities, at school, at our jobs – even as we go about all these things, we are summoned by God to His house, so that we might hear Christ Jesus. And in actuality, as the weeks roll by into Lent and towards Easter, what we will be going on here is nothing but what the Father has instructed – listening to Jesus. We will behold His actions, we will hear His teaching, we will see Him do what He came down from heaven to do – to take on Satan and sin and death and defeat them for us.
We need Jesus. We need His righteousness, His holiness, His perfection, His sacrifice. That truth is demonstrated in our Gospel as well – “When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.” When the Father speaks, the disciples hit the dirt. Again, this is something we can skip by, we can forget. We cannot stand on our own before God – we cannot saunter up to God and say, “Here I am, look at all the wonderful things I have done, I have served you so well – now give me stuff.” It doesn’t work that way – we are sinful, and sinners who stand by themselves on their own merits before God, sinners who try to invent their own brand of holiness, sinners who try to do religious stuff on their own terms – they die. And as for Peter – Peter at that moment probably thinks that he is going to die. He had just interrupted a Divine Service, and if you did that – you died. We, of ourselves are not holy and righteous, all our works amount to nothing, and if left to our own there would be nothing for us but to be terrified of God.
“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.” The only way to stand before the Father is to be bound, is to be tied to His Son, Christ Jesus our Lord. See what happens in the text – James doesn’t poke up his head to see if the coast is clear, John doesn’t just pop and say, “Well, thank goodness that’s over with.” They are terrified, they know the impact, the consequence of their sin, and they are scared out of their mind. Before they do anything – Christ comes to them, He touches them, He lifts them up, and they see only Him. Those verses right there are a depiction of your life as a Christian. You were lost in sin, condemned to nothing but eternal damnation – and then Christ Jesus came to you and He touched you. And I don’t mean this in just some figurative “oh, how touching” sort of sense. Jesus walked up to those disciples, and True God become True Man physically touched them – a real incarnate Lord comes to the disciples. Likewise, that same Incarnate Lord has come to you and He has touched you. He has touched you by water and the Word – He touched you as the waters of Holy Baptism were poured upon your head, He said to you, “You are baptized, your sin is forgiven, and indeed, you are now bound to Me, now part of My Body, part of My Church.” He comes to you physically in the Supper – He places His own Body, His own Blood upon your tongue – and why? So that He can say to you, “Rise, and have no fear.” That’s a word of forgiveness – that’s “go now, depart in peace.” That’s let us go forth in the peace of the Lord. His Word continues to be spoken to you, heard by you, even now, even this day.
Everything in our lives, our existence as Christians, is centered in and flows from Christ – for He Himself comes to us, gives us His Holiness, His righteousness, His forgiveness, His life – and when we are in Him, when we receive Him, we are strengthened, we are renewed, we are prepared to endure all the trials and temptations of this world, for He has already fought them down, He has already crushed Satan under foot, and in Him, we have the victory. And it is important for us to always behold this, to always see Christ, to always hear what He has done for us – because Satan does desire our fall, the old serpent desires us to fall away. Let us fix our eyes upon Christ – let us give heed to what He has done for us, let our focus be upon Him, let us rest securely in Him – because that is when we are able to rise and go through those doors in peace, in trust, in confidence in Christ, knowing that He is the Righteous One, the Lamb of God come down to earth to win us salvation and redemption. We will hear His victory proclaimed anew in these months to come, and we will be strengthened by Him. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +