Sermon – Matthew 17.1-9 (Transfiguration – 2020)
O merciful and everlasting God, heavenly Father: We thank You that You have revealed to us the glory of Your Son, and let the light of Your Gospel shine upon us: We pray that You would guide us by this light that we may walk diligently as Christians in all good works, ever be strengthened by Your grace, and conduct our lives in all godliness; through the same, Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves;
2 and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.
3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.
4 Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!”
6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid.
7 But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.”
8 When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
9 Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”
These are Your words, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is truth. Amen.
Dear fellow redeemed,
It was quite a sight that Peter, James, and John had on the mountain. Jesus’ appearance changed before them, and He displayed His divine glory and brilliance. There are the two natures in Christ. It is not the character of human flesh to shine like the sun, and to emit light. We can enter into a pitch black room, and our bodies will produce no light. It will be pitch black. But the body of Christ, which is a real human body, shines like the sun, because He is also true God. The fullness of the divinity dwells in Christ. The early church fathers used to give this picture, and our Lutheran Confessions make use of it, it is like fire and iron. Iron does not have characteristics to glow. It produces no light. But it is the character of fire to glow. So that when fire is joined to the iron, it causes the iron to glow and emit light. So also, because of the union of the divine and human natures in the person of Christ, the divine attributes of His divinity, such as majesty, is communicated to His human nature, such as His body. Christ did this whensoever He willed during His humiliation, such as we see in our gospel reading. And since His ascension, His divine majesty always and fully is being revealed through His flesh.
And Peter, James, and John were in awe of Christ and His glory. They loved this sight!
It is interesting to note that they weren’t afraid of Jesus. Three years earlier, much less caused Peter to flee Jesus’ presence. Jesus gave them the great catch of fish, and Peter seeing the divine power of Jesus fell down at Jesus’ knees and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). But now they see not just the works of His divinity, but also His divine radiance, and they are not afraid. They have come to know not only of His glory, but also His grace and meekness. For John also testified of Him, being “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). And they know that He has come in mercy for the benefit of sinners.
But they see their friend, their teacher in such glory, and speaking also with Moses and Elijah, who represent the entirety of the Old Testament. They want this to last. They want to remain in the presence of His glory.
So Peter, still showing respect to His Lord, requests the will of His master “if you wish.” But it is Peter’s desire that he build three tabernacles, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.
Peter much preferred this sight over the words that Jesus spoke six days earlier, that He would “go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day” (Mt 16:21). Peter wished to remain in the glory, but tried to prevent Jesus suffering. Of course Peter didn’t learn his lesson. Peter wanted the mountaintop glory, but not Jesus’ suffering on the top of Mt. Calvary. And when Jesus was being judged under Pilate, Peter denied Jesus. And when Jesus was on the cross, Jesus and the disciples abandoned Him.
But on that mountain, the Father intervenes and turns Peter’s attention to where it should be directed: to His Word. He says, “Hear Him.” “Mark this vision you see now, remember who this is before you, this is My beloved Son, begotten from eternity. Hear His Word. He speaks of suffering, humility and death. Do not object to Him. Do not dismiss Him. Hear Him, and trust upon His Word.”
Like Peter, we want to dwell in glory. We want to see it and experience it. This desire ordered in the right way is a good desire. We want to be in heaven with Jesus. That is good. We should wish to dwell in the presence of His glory. This is was the good intention of God in creating us. But the desire for glory in sinful human hearts is easily turned bad.
There is the desire to have a connection to God’s glory, through means other than His Word and Sacraments. There’s that desire to have that mountaintop experience. Some actually go to the mountaintops, or else look for experiences in creation and seek in the beauty of creation, a connection with God. God’s creation declares the glory of God, but it gives no indication of how we stand before Him. In fact, when we think about it, being held accountable to this glorious Creator is very frightening.
Another place where the desire for experiencing God’s glory goes wrong is seen in some styles of worship. God’s Word is to be preeminent. “Hear Him” is God’s command. Music is to serve the words. But for many the music is played for the purpose of eliciting emotions, getting a person to feel God, and feel His love apart from the words. It is often the case that there is a lack of substance in the lyrics, which goes to show that they don’t matter much.
But how else does this desire go wrong? What do we wish to see in our every day lives. A happy life! We have a plan for our lives, that everything would go swimmingly. We seek to build our little kingdom here on earth. And of course, we don’t want things to go bad. We pray to God for blessings, and our daily bread. Jesus tells us to pray for this. And certainly, we are blessed with so many things by God in our lives here on earth. And we give thanks to Him for it. But it goes bad when this becomes the glory in which our hope, confidence, happiness, and comfort is grounded. For these things come and go like a mist.
Life is good, everything with God is good. Life is bad, God’s glory has departed from me. Well, this isn’t how we are to see it.
We operate our lives so much on what we see and experience, and what we want to see and experience. But when it comes to God, and our status before Him, His will for us, we ought to close our eyes and hear Him.
God’s glory on this earth wasn’t only found on that mountaintop. It was also found on another mountaintop, on Calvary. God’s glory was revealed in the crucified Christ. We can’t see it with our eyes, but God calls us to hear Him who was crucified, and there in Holy Scripture we learn, this is God’s atonement for our sins. He is defeating the devil. He is winning salvation for the world!
We need to close our eyes, and open our ears and hear Him, because we don’t see glory in our own lives, for Scripture says, “In this world you will have trouble,” and “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”
But we have the confidence
God is with us. That through faith, we are His children. His glory will not destroy us, for we are forgiven.
This word is sure. This is what Peter speaks of in our epistle reading. This is not the word of man. This is the word of God, and they have seen with their own eyes His glory. What they have heard, what they have seen, they reported. And this Word, which is God’s Word is sure! Peter was sure of it, and was willing to die for it. And we too, must be willing to bear our cross, and suffer, but we know that we have the glory of being God’s children, righteous, and forgiven, and that when our time here comes to an end, we will enter into glory, where we will live in the light and brilliance of God’s glory.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.