In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Last week, we heard that the reason Jesus came was to preach; and that His miracles were signs of what He came to do; and that if people came seeking Him only for the sake of His miracles, they were missing the reason why He came; and if we focus on healings, and other temporary blessings of this creation—apart from the Words of Jesus—we are missing the point. If we didn’t have enough evidence of that last week, God hammers home the point today.
Today we go up on the mountain with Jesus and Peter, James, and John, and we see the most spectacular thing that happens in the Gospels, outside of the resurrection itself. We call it the Transfiguration, and Peter, James, and John are there to see it. Jesus is transfigured before them, transformed—not into something else, but He shows to the disciples the glory of the eternal Son of God, now hidden in flesh. He shines, He radiates light; He is, literally, the light of the world on that mountain. And His clothing is whiter than any person on earth could make cloth, because He doesn’t come from the earth, but from heaven. And if that’s not impressive enough, the three disciples see Moses and Elijah. Moses and Elijah, who hadn’t been seen on the earth for hundreds of years, are there, talking to Jesus. And Peter is so impressed that he tells Jesus that they should make three tents, so they can just be there all the time. Mark tells us that he doesn’t know what he’s saying, because all three of them are terrified. And if they aren’t terrified enough, suddenly a cloud surrounds them on the mountain, and the voice of God the Father speaks, “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him.” And then it’s all back to the way it was before: no Voice, no cloud, no Moses and Elijah, no shining white clothing. Just Jesus, as He was. Listen to Him!
Peter isn’t listening; he’s looking. He sees the incredible sight of Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus, and he wants to hang on to the glory. Just as when, a week before this, Jesus began to teach His disciples that it is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many things, to be rejected by the leaders of Israel, to be killed, and to rise again on the third day. Peter could only think of the suffering and the rejection and the death, and so instead of listening to Jesus, he rebuked Him. So Jesus had to rebuke Peter: Get behind Me, satan. You are not thinking the things of God, but the things of men. And then Jesus told His disciples that they must also take up their crosses and follow Jesus. He says, Whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father and with the holy angels.
Peter is ashamed of Jesus’ words speaking of crucifixion and death. And then they go up on the mountain and Peter sees the glory of Christ, and he wants to stay there. None of us is any different. We all would rather stay away from the suffering and the cross, and hang on to the glory. Our sinful flesh hates the cross and loves the glory; we all naturally think the things of men instead of the things of God. Why else would we try so hard to make the word of God palatable to modern people? Why else would we be embarrassed by the very Word of Christ going into people’s ears, hearts, and minds? Why else would churches be empty on Good Friday and full on Easter Sunday? We claim to be worried about people’s salvation, but we want to dull the edges of the very Gospel that saves them. Anything to get them in the doors, we say. But when they get in the doors, will they hear in every single word, every single hymn, every single moment, that the Son of Man must suffer, die, and rise again? Can we echo the voice of God: listen to Jesus? This Man, both God and man, is the only one worth hearing from our pulpits, altars, and mouths. When the spectacle is gone, will it be Jesus only standing in front of us, or something else?
Jesus was rejected; He did suffer; He did die; He did rise. Which is how we heard about this transfiguration on that mountain. Peter, James, and John saw the risen Jesus, and then they told how He had been transfigured before them. Peter Himself, who didn’t know what he was saying on the mountain; Peter, who stood in for the devil in trying to get Jesus to reject the path of the cross; Peter, who was ashamed of Jesus’ words so that he denied even knowing the Lord; in his second letter, this Peter said that even though they were eyewitnesses of the majesty on the mountain, they had a prophetic word made more sure, to which his hearers would do well to pay attention, the Word of the prophets and apostles who didn’t make up what they said, but who spoke as the Holy Spirit willed (2 Peter 1:16-21). This is a word that doesn’t require being on the mountain, or seeing the glory of Jesus there. After all, besides Moses and Elijah, there were only three people there who saw that. Neither they nor we can separate the darkness of the road to the cross from the glory of the transfiguration. They are tied together by the single body of Jesus. In His body, Jesus would die and rise again; in His body, Jesus would be glorified. Listen to this Jesus, and no other. Every experience, every emotion, every thought of people will come to an end. Only the Word of our God stands forever, because He is risen from the dead. Listen to Him; His words are life itself, and the elect of God will come to His Word like a beacon on a mountain. His sheep know His voice, and they listen to it, and follow. They bear their crosses as members of the Body of Christ, because they believe His words. To faith, though not yet to sight, Jesus shines in glory from the cross, and His own are drawn to Him where He has promised to be. There are many who would gather around the spectacle of a transfigured Jesus, many who would flock to see Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah, many who are called; but few are those who will hear Him when He speaks, few are chosen. Dig ears for us, O Lord! Cause us to hear and believe, no matter what we see! Bring Your true disciples to the light of Your Word! Grab hold of us and bring us, Your suffering and rejected Body, into the light of the eternal resurrection. There we will see the glory of the Son made flesh. Grant that final vision to us, even as You feed us now with that same Body and Blood hidden under plain bread and wine. “O Christ, whom now beneath a veil we see, may what we thirst for soon our portion be: to gaze on Thee unveiled and see Thy face, the vision of Thy glory, and Thy grace” (Lutheran Service Book, 640:5).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 2/14/15