in Sermons

Transfiguration 2011 – Matthew 17:1-9

13. February 2011
Matthew 17:1-9

Jesus Christ is God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten not made. He was, and is, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Jesus Christ is born of the virgin Mary. He thirsted when he fasted. He ate fish and bread when he hungered.  He drank wine whether at wedding feast or at his last supper. He walked, talked, and breathed like any man.

Jesus Christ is God and Jesus Christ is man. Logic might get the better of us, demanding some sort of resolution. Perhaps, he was God then adopted a body. Wrong-o, says the Nicene Creed. God of God was born of Mary. God was made man.

Logic may enter the fray again. Well, maybe God was one, but then split into Trinity with the Son and the sending of the Spirit. Wrong-o again, says the Council at Nicea! Begotten of His Father from eternity. The Word of God from the beginning, begotten from the beginning.

Ah, you think, but this is all very confusing. There must be some way to explain this man-Jesus-is-God-thing. Well sure. We can speak of the communication of attributes, the hypostatic union, humiliation and exaltation, and the like. Theologians have never tired of exploring the depths of Christ’s incarnation.

But you may say, can’t we all just agree that Jesus is God and Jesus is man and leave it that? Can’t we just accept that God’s revelation is a mystery? Ah, that it were so! Such a bold and clear confession is fit for even the mouths of babes.

Everyone wants to be a theologian. Everybody, even the atheist and agnostic, has something to say about God. And nearly everyone, including many Christians, don’t get Jesus. He might be a miracle worker. He might be a wise teacher. But for nearly everyone, he is not God-in-the-flesh.

They are unwilling to confess the Nicene Creed. They are unwilling to call the historic man Jesus of earth equal with the eternal God of heaven. They are unwilling to give Jesus the full majesty of the Godhead in his own flesh. They cannot ascribe to Jesus all the power and authority of the eternal Creator.

Jesus is the-God-made-flesh, the hope for many millennia. Consider the testimonies of the prophets. Moses and Elijah faithfully waited for the savior to come. The seed promised to Eve was handed down, generation to generation. Each son of Adam was hoped to be the son of God. Yet, each generation died, not seeing their hope realized. But their hope was not without promise. This promise of new Jerusalem sat right below the horizon, briefly glimmering but never quite revealed.

The seed to crush the serpent’s head was born and manifested himself to the world. He is manifest to John through the double walls of his mother and Mary’s womb, causing him to leap for joy. Wise men came to greet the infant Jesus, bowing before him as the divine King. The boy Jesus revealed himself in the temple, boldly teaching the Scriptures with his own voice. His voice created wine from water at the wedding at Cana, not through slight of hand but through divine utterance. He transformed mere water into a saving water of baptism, when the Spirit descended as a dove and a voice called out from heaven, “This is my Son the beloved one, in whom I am well pleased.”

Now, after six days, a new day dawns. A seventh day, a Sabbath. On this day dedicated to God, Peter, James, and John were taken up to a high mountain by themselves. They were led by God’s own son himself. God shrouded in his humility, having taken on flesh.

For a day, for a brief moment, that humility gave way to glory. Meekness gave way to exaltation. God behind the temple curtain stood before those three now face to face. Jesus, sweaty and dirty from their mountain hike, changed. This is a metamorphosis, a transfiguration. The dusty face gave way to a flesh shining brilliant like the sun. His clothes were more white than any bleach could render, white as light. The man who hiked up Mount Tabor with his friends transfigured into the Light of the whole world.

Even time metamorphosed, transfigured. Time stood still. The faithful patriarchs Moses and Elijah appeared, despite sleeping in their graves, awaiting the resurrection. The resurrection promise is not yet and already realized in Jesus.

How often do you see your friend and teacher transfigure into the sun? How often do your dead ancestry appear and converse? Not often, I hope. If it did, I’d be quaking in my boots. Even if you fully expected Jesus to do a God thing, when he finally came out of his shell, you’d be frightened. I would be.

From Peter’s perspective, this blinding white Jesus and Moses and Elijah merit his bold question, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Why so bold? Ego-exaggerated Peter doesn’t quake because Jesus isn’t quite God yet to him. Moses and Elijah, cool as they may be, are still just prophets.

We’d be frightened to death because we know who Jesus is. Even beneath a dirty robe and tired face, we know Jesus is God of God, very God of very God. We know how God feels about us sinners. We rightly fear his wrath and would plead, face to the ground, for mercy. We’d at least take our shoes off, like Moses.

While Peter was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” Bright faces and dead relatives are one thing. A bright cloud and voice cannot be mistaken. This is Moses action. This is burning bush, thunder, and lightening. This is presence of the almighty, terrifying God.

Now, they fell on their faces and were terrified. As well they should be. Peter is no saint, despite his own estimation. James spoke highly of works but only because of the justification of the cross. No one is worthy to dwell with God. No one can see the face of God and live. We duck and cover, shuddering beneath our exposed weakness.

Many don’t fear God. They think of themselves too highly. They’re too good for church, too good for forgiveness, too good for a savior. Still, what do they think of their daily sin, that pricks even their own hardened heart? They might ignore it or make light of it but they know, within the deep recesses of their soul that God is not pleased. They ignore their righteous fear and instead live like God and his just decrees don’t matter.

Others fear God to the point of utter despair. They’re so scared of God that they won’t walk through these church doors. They’re so scared that God is going to tell them off one last time and they’ll be condemned. They don’t want anything to do with you or I because they’ve been hurt too many times. They’ve been declared guilty over and over… but never heard forgiveness. They never were released from their sin, shown how God loves them, and how he sends his Spirit to give call them into the way of the truth.

For the first, they need a bright cloud and the voice from heaven to smash their self-righteousness. They need the terrifying hammer of God’s holy Law to destroy the fortress they’ve built around their heart. They need a surgeon’s scalpel to cut away the rotten flesh and even the rotten heart. They need God to completely destroy them.

For the second, the Law has done its work. They are rightly fear God and his judgment. What they need is not the hammer but the builder’s hand. They don’t need the scalpel but the soothing salve of the Gospel. They don’t need more lessons on how to be a better person, they need the gift of forgiveness that makes them a better person.

Listen to him. Listen to Jesus. He is here. Rise and have no fear. And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

Hear Jesus, the one whom seers of old foreknew. In Jesus dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Col 2:9). Jesus is God of God, Light of Light. Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:6-7). For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh (Romans 8:3).

Jesus isn’t like Moses. Moses delivered to the people the Holy Law, etched on tablets of stone. This holy Law condemned and terrified. In Jesus is the Holy Gospel. It is forgiveness, adoption, and mercy. Jesus isn’t like Elijah, calling down fire from heaven to consume the idolaters and their sacrifice. Jesus calls the idolaters to repentance and waits patiently, suffering their idolatry in his own flesh until they repent.

And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” Then (according to St. Luke), Jesus turned his face to go up to Jerusalem. Jesus turned to go to the cross. His hands were nailed to the cross beam. His body stretched in anguish. His blood and water pouring upon the ground. Jesus suffered and died. Not the man only, but God himself gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him, may never die but have eternal life.

The beautiful vision of Christ in glory, surrounded by two witnesses is but a brief look at what he has in store for each of you on the last day. Now, our lives are marked by terror over our sin and our desperate and repeated cries for mercy in his holy house. God has promised to hear these prayers and forgives all those who repent in faith. This life behind the veil of tears will be transfigured, too, just like his flesh.

What Jesus has in store for us, the only hope you can bank on, is the fullness of our inheritance in heaven. This is the inheritance of Jesus, the only faithful son, now given to us, God’s own adopted children.

What was a brief vision, Peter sought to capture with tents. There was no need. What God has in store for us on the last day, we taste and see today. Behold, the Lord is good! He has given us his transfigured body to eat and drink, that we might be transfigured like him.

On this seventh day, we stand with our Lord on this his holy mountain. We sing with the angelic choir “holy, holy, holy!” No tents are necessary because Jesus tabernacles/dwells with us today. The new Jerusalem is here, despite being shrouded by our weakness and the old creation. There is no glorious cloud, no thundering voice, no brilliant appearance. There is no one but Jesus only.

And such, there is no fear and no judgment. For in Jesus, there is only grace and mercy. The judgment has been rendered. You are guilty, completely unable to choose God or love him. Your flesh is consumed by the disease of sin and destined to death for all your transgressions.  But the heavenly Father has loved you and sent his Son for you. The penitent heart is transfigured into a heart of love and trust for God. This work is done daily as you confess your sins, plead for mercy, and hear Christ’s own forgiving voice.

This body shall not remain forever. Jesus will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself (Phi 3:21). Jesus is here in his flesh and blood under weakness in bread and wine to restore you, to conform you to himself. Those who are well-prepared by God’s holy Law will today eat and drink Christ’s own body, taking him into themselves. With his body comes his Spirit. If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you (Rom 8:11).

This work of remaking you will be completed on the last day when he raises you and all the dead to everlasting life. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matthew 13:43). He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels (Rev. 3:5).

This blessed vision may seem yet far off. It is not! God’s own Word speaks and testifies the truth. Jesus Christ is truly present today, listen to him. We need not doubt Christ dwells amongst us bodily. We have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19). We look to Christ today shrouded in weak vessels of bread and wine and in faith see His glorious face and clothes shining upon us on the last day. Our darkened hearts are illumined. Our troubled consciences are lightened. Jesus transfigures before us. It is as St. John the Revelator says, The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it,[a] for the glory[b] of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light (Rev. 21:23). Jesus Christ is God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God. He was, and is, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana