This Is My Beloved Son!
By Rev. S. D. Spencer – Pastor Messiah Lutheran Church
Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah"--not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!" And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.
Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, Amen.
When I was growing up I lived between the ocean and the mountains. I could be at the beach within 25 minutes. But it took nearly an hour to be in the mountains. Even so I spent more time in the mountains. I loved being in the mountains, sitting on a snow covered, ice clad summit or in walking on a carpet of needles in a dense green forest. When I was in the mountains I felt close to God. I guess there’s a reason they call it a mountain-top experience. You don’t hear people talking about having a beach-front experience. If so it probably would be connected to a catastrophe like a tsunami.
Today our text is about a mountain-top experience. It takes place on the Mount of Transfiguration. Please listen carefully to the opening words of our text: “Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with Him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray.” Something was said; something so important that the Gospel writer wants us to connect the picture of what was said 8 days before with our today's text. So what was it? What was said? What are these unresolved words? What were these sayings? What was so important that they hadn't been handled yet?
The Transfiguration is part of a chronological sequence of events, a snap shot but hardly the whole story. If we only look at the Transfiguration we miss the larger picture of what going on, it’s like being in a sanctuary and only looking at one stain glass window. We need to back up to 8 days before. So what happened 8 days before?
Just verses before our text we see we see the beginning of this chain of events in Luke 9:18. "When Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, "Who do the crowds say I am?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life." "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "The Christ of God." "But He warned them, and instructed them not to tell this to anyone."
All the dreams, all the hopes of Israel were being fulfilled in those words. Jesus is the Christ of God. Jesus is the Messiah, the chosen one. Everything made sense now. The place of God's dwelling the Temple was rebuilt. John the Baptizer, "the voice one crying in the wilderness, make straight the path of the Lord" is pointing to Jesus. All those miracles could have never been done with human hands. Here in their midst was the long awaited Chosen One.
The disciples believed the Messiah would come as the conquering king. Jesus would rally up the armies of heaven and earth. He would throw down the oppressors of God's people. For the disciples it must have looked like everything was happening at just the right time! The oppression of the Roman Government was unbearable, new taxes, more soldiers and always a threat of war. The oppression was unbearable. But all that would now change. Jesus would restore Israel to its rightful place in the world order. They would be the power in control.
Imagine the immeasurable joy that must have filled the disciples upon hearing those words. No more secretly hoping Jesus was the one. He is the One. Freedom from oppression, the joy of never having to work again, sitting in a garden with just the right amount of moisture and a perfect temperature. No more aches and pains, perfect health no death. Ah, paradise restored! Can you feel it, what it must have been like for them! Heaven on earth!
But just following those words in verse 22 Jesus said, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life."
For 8 days the disciples were filled with unshakable despair over Jesus’ words. Everything seemed to be going the direction they wanted. For a fleeting moment they could embrace the hope of getting what they wanted. But now it was dashed to pieces by those words. All their plans and dreams destroyed. For 8 days, 8 unbearable days those words soaked into very souls. For 8 days the disciples lived in a valley of despair lost to utter depression. What were they going to do without Jesus? "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed”.
But 8 days later Jesus took Peter, James and John, up the mountain. From the valley of despair Jesus takes this select few to have a mountain-top experience. Jesus, as usual is in prayer. And as Jesus prays, His face begins to glow with this divine fire, and suddenly Moses, who gave God’s law, and Elijah, perhaps God’s mighty prophet, are there with Jesus, talking about Jesus’ departure, in the Greek actually the word is Exodus.
As Moses had delivered the people from bondage in Egypt and brought them to the Promised Land, as Elijah had delivered the people from false gods, so now Jesus will have complete His special mission, to deliver us from the bondage of sin and death. You get the sense that Peter and the others don’t quite understand this. Luke says they’re overcome with sleep and yet not completely. They’re sort of nodding off, like maybe some do during a sermon. I think they’re overcome with anxiety. When people are depressed or overcome by anxiety one of the means of coping is sleep.
But when they fully come to, they see Moses and Elijah standing there. Peter wants to build three shelters. He doesn’t want to leave. He’d rather stay in the glorious light of this mountain rather than return to the valley of his despair. It is good to be here Lord, let me build three shelters, let’s make a day of it, a week of it, a life of it. We don’t need to go to Jerusalem or into the valley let’s stay on the mountain. He doesn’t yet realize that Jesus’ power far outweighs the power of Moses and Elijah. He just doesn’t yet understand why Jesus came.
But then a cloud overshadowed them and a voice came from heaven and said, "This is my Beloved Son; listen to him!" Why did God say, "Listen to him?" Because only by listening can we hear. Did you hear that? That word listen in the Greek is akouo, like a acoustic and it means to learn. God was saying, listen so that you might hear and by hearing, you might learn. It’s the way of catechesis. It's the same for us, to listen, to hear, to learn. “Faith comes by hearing, hearing the Word of Christ” (Rom 10:17).
The transfiguration is an important epiphany for the disciples. It verifies that Jesus’ words about His coming death are true; they still will not fully understand the impact and necessity of the events of the next few months. But they will listen, they will hear and they will learn.
It will help them through the valley of despair. The path for Jesus would still end in suffering and death, but at least it would help the disciples cope with what was happening, help them deal with the trials of the past; and trials yet to come. It would give them strength to lead others through their trials too.
From this mountain of Jesus Transfiguration He heads to Jerusalem to another mount called Golgotha. On that mount would be a cross, there Jesus would die. He would die to free you from bondage of sin. In that cross we find our comfort and our hope. In that cross we find our deliverance from all that would take us captive. In that cross we find peace and forgiveness and deliverance from death and despair. On that mount we see the true Glory of God, in the cross of Christ.
On this Transfiguration Sunday we remember Jesus standing transfigured, glowing with a heavenly radiance, right before our eyes. And the voice of God speaking out of the cloud, Saying; "this is my beloved Son; Listen to Him." You too share in that transfiguration. Like Moses and Elijah have been transformed, you have been transformed by the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ in your baptism, where you died to live. As James, John and Peter stood in the presence of God with a great cloud of witnesses you do the same when you come to the Lord's Table, where Jesus Himself is truly and locally present. And we like those present that day don't stay on that mount forever but return to the valley to share the Good News of Christ Cross.
You see, Messiah is your Mount of transfiguration. Here in the valley of life this is your high place to come to be in the very presence of God. To hear the testimony of God’s Witness - His Word and prepare to return to the valley with the Good News of His (T) love. It is good Lord to be here. Yet we may not remain. But since thou biddest us to leave the mount, Come with us to the plain!
Today marks the end of the Epiphany Season, it started with the words, "This is my beloved Son" in His baptism and it end with the same, "This is my beloved Son." What an incredible testimony of the Godhood of Jesus. For we have the full council of witnesses, of Moses and Elijah, the Apostles and God Himself, all bearing witness to the fact that this man Jesus is indeed God’s beloved son, in whom He is well pleased. And great comfort this is for us. Regardless of what despair and anxiety tries to overtake us, He is for us and with us. The Father is well pleased with the one (T) who would become the sacrifice for our sins. For Jesus knew no sin, He never sinned, yet He became the sin bearer for us. Because of His (T) unselfishness we have full assurance and peace that comes from knowing that all our sins are forgiven, by His life and by His death and the cross He bore for us.
Wednesday we begin our journey to Jerusalem with Jesus. We will focus our study on the theme: We Preach Christ Crucified. Our first lesson will be The Foolish Wisdom of the Cross starting on Ash Wednesday and finishing up on Easter Morning. As we prepare our hearts for the Lenten season we Listen and Hear from God, that Jesus is His beloved Son in whom he is well pleased. May that knowledge fill us comfort and peace as we continue to walk in the valley of this life and even forevermore! In Jesus name! – Amen
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, AMEN.