In Nomine Iesu
Pastor Thomas L. Rank
Text: Matthew 17:1-9
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.”
DEAR FATHER, YOU ARE OUR HIDING PLACE AND OUR SHIELD; WE HOPE IN YOUR WORD. AMEN. (Ps 119:114)
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,
In chapter 16 of St. Matthew and in the later part of chapter 17 our Lord Jesus Christ tells His disciples that He will suffer many things, be crucified, and rise again the third day. The first time Peter hears Jesus describe what must happen he actually tries to talk Jesus out of it. To which Jesus says, “get behind Me, Satan.” When Jesus says the same thing after our text today, the disciples do not try to dissuade Jesus, but they are sorrowful. In between these two descriptions of Jesus’ upcoming suffering, death, and resurrection we have the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus.
The Transfiguration is a great moment for Peter, James, and John, the disciples who were with Jesus on that mountain that day. They are allowed to see the face of Jesus shining like the sun. The clothes of Jesus shine white as pure light. The disciples catch a glimpse of the hidden divine nature of Jesus Christ. They see Him, for a moment, as He truly is when He allows His glory to shine forth. They see Him as the very One of whom the Father says: “This is My beloved Son.” And with words which no doubt troubled Peter, the God the Father said: “Hear Him.” In other words, “Listen to Jesus. “Do not try to turn Him away from the work of salvation to which He willingly goes. “Do not become obstacles to My plan for the redemption of all people.” The work of Jesus, the One who is full of glory and power, is to suffer and die.
The fact that Jesus is both true God and true man is taught in our text. To the eyes of the disciples Jesus, before and after His transfiguration, appears as a normal looking man. But the transfiguration, the change of the appearance of Jesus to the glorious shining figure, plus the voice of the Father identifying Jesus as His beloved Son, show that Jesus is more than a normal man. He is also God.
What is the reason for Jesus being both God and man? Our catechism summarizes the biblical teaching on the need for Jesus to be both God and man in this way:
It was necessary for our Savior to be true man in order to fulfill the law for us and suffer and die in our place….It was necessary for our Savior to be true God in order that His fulfilling the law for us and His suffering and dying in our place might be sufficient.
In other words, the very reason for the two natures in Christ, the Incarnation, the fact that Jesus is both true God from eternity and also true man born of the Virgin Mary, is in order to accomplish salvation, to pay for our sins, to justify us, forgive us.
However, there is the idea today that the main reason for Jesus to become true man was in order to show how welcoming and hospitable God is towards us. It is a shift away from the atonement, a shift away from the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and a shift to a more therapeutic, feel-good Jesus. It is as if our real need was not for the forgiveness of our sins, but to become aware of how God wants to welcome us into His family. And while there is bit of truth to this, it comes at the price of moving the real work of Jesus off to the side, and putting in the center only one of the results of Jesus’ work. It also puts off to the side the need you and I have for the death of Jesus, His sacrifice for the death we deserved because of our sins. And this fits in with much of the thinking today which wants little to do with “Christ crucified,” and wants more only Christ the Enabler, the One who will help us be all we can be.
The Christ of the transfiguration is not that person. He knows what His work is. He laid it all out for His disciples: suffering, death, resurrection. We dare not get this wrong about Jesus. To do so is to risk losing that which we truly need: forgiveness.
Now, besides the transfiguration of Jesus, the disciples also see with Jesus two of great men of God from the Old Testament. First we have Moses. Moses is the greatest of all the heroes of faith in the Old Testament. But listen to what God said to Moses in Deuteronomy:
“I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. 19 And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.”
So, what do you think Peter, James, and John are thinking when God the Father tells them to listen to Jesus? It is not only the glory that surrounds them that causes them to fall on their faces and be afraid, it is also the fact that they now know this Jesus is exactly the “Prophet” foretold by Moses in Deuteronomy. The words of Jesus are the what the Father commands, Jesus speaks in the name of the Father.
And then we have Elijah. The prophet Malachi, whose writings certainly were known to the disciples, had foretold that Elijah would come before the great and awesome day of the Lord. And right after the transfiguration, just a few verses after our text, when the disciples are wondering about the meaning of Elijah, Jesus tells them that John the Baptist was the very “Elijah” foretold, the one who came right before the Messiah, the Christ, the promised One. So with Moses and Elijah both present at the transfiguration of Jesus there is the clear proclamation that Jesus is the One to whom all the Old Testament pointed. This is the One the disciples are to hear.
For us, too, the words of the Father are to be heard. God the Father sent His Son in order for us to hear Him, to trust Him, to rely on His words. The words of Jesus are life, for He is Himself Resurrection and Life. To ignore the word of Jesus is to ignore the message we need. We need forgiveness for we are a people of sin, of rebellion, of selfishness. We need the suffering and death and resurrection of Jesus because without Jesus taking our place we have only eternal death awaiting us, the “just desserts” of our sin against God and neighbor.
But thanks be to God that He has given His only-begotten Son to suffer and die and rise again for us. And like the disciples, our hope and joy is found by looking to Jesus only. For after all the events of the transfiguration, the glory, the fear, we are told: “When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.” That’s what the Father wants. He wants us to see Jesus only. Jesus only is our salvation. He only is our Life. He only is our Resurrection, our joy and hope for all eternity.
God keep you safe in Jesus only as you trust in Him and the precious work of salvation which He has accomplished for your sake. In Jesus’ name. Amen.