We Acknowledge You To Be The Lord!
22 February Anno Domini 2009
Rev. S.D. Spencer – Pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church, Salem, Oregon
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.
And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
Grace, peace and mercy from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, Amen!
Jesus in the verse just before our text said to His disciples, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” He let those words hang in the air for six days. No one dared ask Him about it. But six days later, He takes Peter, James, and John up a high mountain, apart from the others.
I would have enjoyed going up that mountain. For any of you that don’t know this, I love mountains. It’s a great place to go to talk with God. There’s just something extremely spiritual about being on a mountain top. It has always been that way for me. When I was a youth and a member of a church youth group, I never missed a retreat in the mountains. One of the things I enjoyed most was getting to know the people. These same people who wouldn’t give you the time of day at school, now let you see who they really are at church camp.
In our text today Jesus went on a little retreat, a get away. With Him were Peter, James, and John. And they are granted to see Jesus as He really is. In His divine glory, they see the kingdom of God come with power. What about the others? It just doesn’t seem fair? Shouldn’t everyone get to see Jesus this way? No, just these three! He doesn't treat them all the same. That isn't the way of love.
Jesus doesn’t want everyone to see Him this way. Not yet. Soon everyone will, when Jesus shines like the sun and flashes like lightning in the sky. But not yet! It wouldn’t be good for us yet, we’d be toast. Jesus won’t use His displays of power to persuade the world. For now He’ll just use a cross and His resurrection, the Word and the Spirit.
Jesus is transfigured before them. His clothing became intensely white, whiter than any bleach or soap could make them. And according to Matthew, Jesus face shone like the sun. So bright it would hurt our eyes to look at Him. What does this mean? Jesus’ divinity was shining in, with, and under His humanity. (I use that phrase intentionally.) Every cell is glowing with the glory of God. God and man joined together as One. “God of God, Light of light, very God of very God, and also true Man.”
There is something for us to learn from this transfigured Jesus on the mountain. He’s not a two-part Jesus - part man, part God. He’s not some sort of Prius hybrid type person. Jesus is 100% God and 100% Man. Where His humanity is, there also is His divinity, and where His divinity is, there also is His humanity. When Jesus came down from heaven, He didn’t cease to be the eternal Son of God. When He ascended to heaven, He didn’t cease to be fully human. When you encounter Jesus, it’s the God-man you encounter, fully divine, fully human, all together, whether you are speaking of Jesus in your heart, Jesus in the Sacrament or Jesus in the mouth of the preacher. Always true God and always true man together.
That’s what makes Jesus the unique mediator between God and man. He is the go-between, going between the Father and us. He touches God with His divinity; He touches you and me with His humanity. No one else can do that.
On the mountain also appeared Moses and Elijah. Who else would you want to make a cameo appearance but Mr. Torah and Mr. Prophet, “the Law and the Prophets” who testify and embody Jesus? They are there talking to Jesus. Luke tells us that they are talking about Jesus’ “exodus,” His death and resurrection. Who better to talk exodus than Moses?
How did Peter, James, and John know who Moses and Elijah were? There needed no introductions, no adhesive name tags. “Hi, my name is Moses.” This mountain is a glimpse of the resurrection on the last day, when we all will rise and see in Jesus in His glory, we will be known. Our names will be known. And we will know others, all who joined in Christ. Think about it. You’ll know people you’ve never known before in this life, and they’ll know you, that “whole company of heaven” who worships with us every Sunday. We’ll finally get to meet them. No more name tags.
This mountain is a picture of Mt. Zion, lifted up and glorious, the very city of God. The Lord is on His holy mountain. Let the nations tremble, let the earth shake. Great is the Lord in Zion.
Peter loves this mountain-top experience and doesn’t want it to end. “It’s good we’re here, Rabbi. Tell you what. Let’s put up three shelters, one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. What do you think?” Why keep it to ourselves? Let’s enshrine it, make a holy site out of it, and hang on to the moment. Can you imagine bus loads of pilgrims coming and taking pictures and standing on the very spot where Peter, James, and John stood? They could sell little sachets of dirt that say, “Jesus stood here.” The soil might even look a little charred, just for effect.
We love the sort of religious stuff - shrines, holy sites, pilgrimages. Have you ever noticed that Christianity doesn’t really have holy sites like other religions? Oh, we have historic places, because Christianity is a historic faith that actually takes place in time. We don’t have sacred tombs, like the tomb of a descendent of Mohammed. And there’s good reason for that. Christ is risen. His tomb has been empty since the Sunday He rose.
This business of shrines and holy places all runs in the way of religious works, It’s based on how you draw near to God. In Luther’s day, they had collections of relics - bones of the saints, pieces of the cross, the garment of the sacred mother. You earned points with God by being in the presence of those things. It isn’t much different today, visions of Mary or Jesus appearing in some subway, a church worker ending up with stigmata. But that’s not how God deals with us. He draws close to you by preaching His Word to you, by forgiving your sins, by giving you His very Body and the Blood. The pulpit and the altar are the holy places of Christianity, wherever the Word is preached and the Body and Blood of Jesus are being served, that is the most holy place on earth for you. For that is where Jesus is present.
Peter wanted to enshrine the place. But, God pulled the plug, and the transfiguration lights go out. A thick cloud swallows them up. No more talk about shrines or tents. The Father repeats what He said when Jesus was baptized: “This is my beloved Son.” The emphasis is on the “this.” He’s the one and only unique Son of God. Moses and his commandments can’t save you. He’ll reveal your sin and mirror your need for a savior, but he can’t save you. Elijah can’t save you; he can’t take you along in his chariot ride to heaven. He can only point to the cross and get out of the way.
“Listen to Him,” the Father’s voice says. Hearing is what goes on with your ears not your eyes. Faith comes by hearing, not by looking. The transfiguration of Jesus was a piece of evidence, as Peter said when he wrote, “We were eyewitnesses of His majesty when He received honor and glory from God and we heard the voice of the Father” (2 Peter 1:16-17). But Peter doesn’t say, “Now you go off and have your own little mountaintop vision too.” He says, “We have the prophetic word made more sure, and you will do well to pay attention to this as a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts”(2 Peter 1:19).
Hear Jesus’ words to you. He has the words that count, words that are Spirit and truth, the words of eternal life. The Word of Jesus, preached and heard, that’s your Zion, that’s your holy mountain where the Lord meets you face to face. That’s where the glory of God is revealed to you. Yes, the glory is hidden, cloud-covered, but it’s glory nonetheless. No “shine Jesus shine,” just words. Justifying words - Words that do justice to your sin - Words that justify the sinner, you see they’re Jesus’ words. Hear them and trust them.
The three disciples looked around. “They saw no one but Jesus alone.” It all comes down to Jesus alone. He alone is God in the flesh. He alone keeps the Law perfectly. He alone suffers for you, He alone bleeds for you, He alone dies for you, He alone rises for you, and He alone reigns for you, for He saves you and gives you life.
They saw no one but Jesus alone. Not shining Jesus. Just ordinary, everyday, earthy Jesus. He told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until He rose from the dead. They wondered what rising from the dead meant. And they soon would find out. And then the two mountains would come together: The Mount of Transfiguration and Mt. Calvary. The glory and the cross, the shining Jesus between Moses and Elijah and the dead Jesus hanging between two anonymous robbers. The same Jesus. The only Jesus who can save you.
You are being transfigured too. The apostle Paul said that to you in his epistle. You are being transfigured into the likeness of Jesus, “from glory to glory.” You say, “I don’t feel so glorious.” Of course you don’t. You’re a sinner. You can’t see the glory. Not yet. Your life in all its glory is hidden with God in Jesus. Only in Jesus are you glorious. In yourself, forget it. No glory there at all. Don’t even bother to look.
Look instead to the cross, see the forgiveness, see the Crucified Jesus. Look instead to the risen and reigning Jesus, in His Word and Supper. Look to the absolving Jesus who touches your humanity with His humanity, with His words, His body, His blood, His baptismal water. And when you’ve been touched by Jesus, you have been touched by God.
In Jesus name, amen!
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen!
Please rise for the offertory!