Transfiguration – February 9th and 10th, 2019 – 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 +
What is the first commandment? Oh, come on, Pastor a quiz already? Yep, but we'll do it together – what is the first commandment? [You shall have no other gods.] And what does this mean? [We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.] Fear, love, and trust. Those are the three things that define and shape how we act towards God. And Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, God incarnate, God veiled in human flesh, takes Peter, James, and John, and He leads them up on a mountain by themselves. We don't know quite which mountain, and there's speculation, but that's not the point. The point is this: the awesome events of the Old Testament happened on mountains. You had Moses at Sinai, you had Elijah fighting the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel, Noah on Mt. Ararat, and of course, the greatest of all the mountains – Mt. Zion – where the Temple was built. And so when Jesus asks Peter and James and John to come up on the mountain with Him, they are expecting something wonderful.
And they do see something wonderful... and terrifying. 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. We can hear that and think, “Oh, how wonderful! How fantastic! Oh, I wish I would have been there.” Nope. It was terrifying. Jesus is true God and true Man, and one of the things with that is His humanity hides, shields us from the jaw-dropping awesomeness of His divinity. Sinful folks can't handle the unbridled and unshielded presence of God. Not even Moses and Elijah could. Moses was in the presence of God long enough that He glowed and terrified the children of Israel. And so think about what is happening there. Jesus... starts glowing. If any one of us started glowing – we'd be at least a bit freaked out. And then Moses and Elijah start talking to Him – the dead show up, or maybe it's just that time and space are rent asunder and the events of the Old Testament unfold before the disciples eyes. Either way, it's freaky. And Jesus has brought them up here to see this, to witness it, to listen in.
And Peter chimes 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. This is a dodge. It sounds nice and polite, but it's a dodge. You know what this is – a completely plausible dodge and excuse to get away and not be there. This is your mother-in-law showing up unexpectedly and you saying, “Oh, it's great that you're here – um, let me go run to the store and get some stuff for dinner”... and then you go on the longest and slowest shopping trip of your life. Oh, I'm doing something for you... but in reality you're making an excuse to be off doing something else. And this was a great excuse from Peter. They were around the festival of booths, when the children of Israel would camp out and remember their time in the wilderness. So, Peter would run and get tents – not looking at Jesus - and then busy himself in setting them up – still not looking at glowing Jesus – and then, of course, once the tents are set up, Jesus and Moses and Elijah can go in and talk in privacy and I won't have to look at glowing, shining Jesus.
It's an excuse, and God knows an excuse when He hears one. “He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them....” Poor Peter. We miss this – we hear “bright cloud” and we think a sunny day with a nice, white fluffy cloud. No – this is the pillar of cloud by day cloud – this is the glory cloud of the Old Testament covering the tabernacle cloud. And Peter's in the middle of it... trying to make an excuse to leave, and suddenly he's surrounded. He can't get away. And it gets worse; he can't cover his ears - “and a voice from the cloud said, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.'” The voice of God thunders forth – and it thunders forth the greatest news ever proclaimed. This Jesus is the Messiah, He is the Son of God, He is God Incarnate come to win salvation – and the Father is well pleased with Him. It is Good again, this is creation restored and being fixed, this is the fall undone.
When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. No more escape plans, no where to run. Just hit the dirt and wait to die. It's too much. Too much for sinful man to bear. It's too much for the angels to bear – the angels cover their eyes in the face of this. The glory of God that man had fallen short of is right there – and it's all Peter and James and John can do to hit the dirt, duck and cover, duck and cover.
We deal with some mighty amazing things in the Church. We confess that we come into the presence of God Almighty. We confess that His Spirit comes upon us and makes us to hear and believe. We confess that God Himself gives us His own Body and Blood to eat and drink. These are heady things. And yet – by in large we are comfortable here. I don't think we've ever had to hit the dirt in the middle of service – we've never had the lintels and beams shake in the middle of service because of the might of God. Yet here in this place the mystery of the ages is received – life and salvation and forgiveness that undoes death and raises the dead and endures past the end of the world is here. A Baptism is a mind-boggling miracle – a child is pulled by God away from Satan's kingdom and made a child of God, and heir of everlasting life... and we sit and smile and maybe snap a few pictures as long as there's no flash because we don't want Pastor Brown grousing at us. The Supper is profound – God gives Himself to you. And we just line on up and go about it utterly routinely, line on up, come on up, you know the drill.
Now – I'm going to say that this is not a bad thing. Oh, be aware of what's going on, marvel and delight in it – but do you know why we are able to handle these mighty things of God so regularly, in such a commonplace manner? 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. We can worship this way, this freely, this comfortably, because of Jesus. Because in Jesus everything is done, everything is good – but more than that, in Jesus all the goodness and righteousness and holiness of God and salvation and forgiveness come to us in a way that we can handle. The disciples couldn't handle what they were seeing – until it was just Jesus. Just normal, old Jesus touching them and speaking to them normally. And actually – that's what the goal was all along. Listen to Jesus. Focus upon Him. And that doesn't have to be done in a terrifying way – it is to be done simply. His Word read from the lectern and proclaimed from the pulpit – so routine. The Words of Jesus spoken and sung back and forth to each other in the liturgy – so comfortable. The Words of Jesus attached to water at Baptism – so cute and gentle enough for a babe. The Words of Jesus attached to bread and wine – so touchable and accessible. The whole point of Jesus coming, the whole point of the Church or the Sacraments is to make it easier and possible for sinful man to be forgiven and restored to God's presence, both now in time and there in eternity.
So the question to ponder now is this. When and why do you fear to come to this place? When do you not want to be here? It happens to us all – that's how Satan attacks us. He wants us to not be here. Okay, sometimes it's the weather – if there's ice stay home old people, no breaking hips – but that's not really what I'm talking about. What makes you nervous to be here? Sometimes there's shame – and maybe people will know what I've done, or maybe the readings or sermon will touch too close to it. Sometimes there's hurt, waters not quite under the bridge yet. Sometimes it's just general anxieties and life. Sometimes it's boredom – yes, you can admit that sometimes you find church boring. I get bored sometimes. Whatever else, peer pressures, health issues and embarrassments, family issues, whatever – today I want you to understand what those all are spiritually speaking. Those are all just some of the many ways in which the Devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh try to pull our eyes off of Jesus. Those are all just situations where we are tempted and pulled away from seeing Christ the Crucified, from seeing the Son of Man who was raised from the dead. Because that's Satan's goal – to separate you from Jesus, to make you stop looking at Him.
But Jesus came and touched them, saying, 'Rise, and have no fear.” Over and against that, Jesus comes and touches people. Touches us in tangible ways. You realize sound is actually touch – the air vibrates and touches your ears... and Jesus touches you by His Word and says have no fear, you will rise. We definitely get the touch of Jesus in Baptism. In the Supper, Jesus touches us – take and eat, take and drink – touch and taste and see that the Lord is good and you are forgiven and you will rise. And this week, out there through those doors, Jesus will touch people through you. Through the kindness you show as you live out your vocations, through the words that you speak that check up sin and the words that forgive sin, through the comfort that you speak. All that is Christ coming to you and coming to others through you and the Holy Spirit working and living in you. And it's not technicolor and amazing – this working of God doesn't come with thunderclaps or miracles or anything like that. That sort of stuff just terrifies sinful man. No – Jesus comes to us simply and gently in a way that we can handle.
So here He is. Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ – True God who in His unbridled glory would terrify us, but who comes and remains True Man so that He can be with us and redeem us and save us. This is the God who forgives us, the God whom we worship, the God who fights down the powers of sin and death and hell for us. He is strong against our foes, but gentle with us. God grant us that we might ever more see only Jesus. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +