The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
Last Sunday after Epiphany, The Transfiguration of Our Lord, 19 February 2012
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, WY
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
In Epiphany, Jesus is revealed as who He really is: “God in flesh made manifest,” to quote the hymn. Epiphany Day brings with it Three Wise Men seeking the King of the Jews. They find Him in Jesus, not yet two years old. The Following Sunday we celebrated His Baptism in the Jordan where the Holy Spirit Descended upon Him as a dove and the Father spoke: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Nathanael confessed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus Himself preached, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” He then called His first disciples. Jesus teaches as one with authority and casts out demons. He healed. He preached in their synagogues. And, “so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” —He said to the paralytic—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners!
What does this mean? Jesus is 100% man, yet He is more. Jesus is the Christ, God in the flesh, revealed for us and for our salvation. And He’s not done yet.
2And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.
Six days after what? That would be six days after predicting His death. The disciples were confused by this. They see their rabbi and Lord preaching and teaching like no one else they had ever heard, healed the sick, and expelling demons. And now He’s going to die? Not likely! Not on my watch! Jesus knows differently. The cross is before Him. His miracles accompany faith. They encourage faith. They result from faith. They draw attention to His teaching that all may believe in Him and be with Him forever, healed in body and soul.
And now Jesus is on the mountain glowing as the Son of Man mentioned in Daniel. Because He is the Son of Man. The disciples don’t know what to say. They count Jesus, Peter, James, and John. Who are those other two guys?
4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. 5And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified.
And then Peter knew. It’s Moses! And Elijah! In holy terror, Peter planned for a camping trip up there on the holy mountain. He didn’t know what he was saying. All he knew was that he didn’t want it to end. It’s not every day that your teacher in the faith reveals his glory, shining brighter than a neon sign. And to meet the two greatest prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament. Amazing!
7And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”
Remember hearing this back in January? At His Baptism in the Jordan, when the Holy Spirit Descended upon Him as a dove, the Father spoke: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The Lord now adds, “Listen to Him.” Moses remembers. He prophesied about this prophet Jesus who is more than a prophet back in Deuteronomy 18. One like Elijah would prepare the way for Jesus. Jesus would connect the dots for the disciples and us. It’s John the Baptizer, of course! As the cloud covers them, the cloud showed the Lord’s presence as to the people of Israel in their journey from Egypt and as when Solomon dedicated the Temple. The voice speaks. And…
8And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.
That’s it. We don’t get to live here? But it was so glorious! Right. Jesus allows this preview of Himself on the Last Day when all is completed. He still has work to do. The disciples are not going to like it.
Expectations of glory can be distracting. When Leonardo da Vinci—the real one, not the fiction in The Da Vinci Code—when Leonardo was working on his famous painting The Lord’s Supper, he had but one object in view—that the person of the Savior should attract and hold the attention of all who beheld the painting. But in one part of the picture there was a tiny ship that he had painted with great care for three weeks. When the painting was exhibited and the people came to see it, Leonardo noticed that they all crowded together to look especially at the one corner of the picture with the small ship that had cost him so much pain and labor. “Just see how grand that is! Truly he is a master artist!” he heard them exclaim. Chagrined at this, he took his brush when they were all gone and with one sweeping stroke blotted out the little ship, declaring, “No one shall find reason for admiring anything except Christ alone.”
Expectations of glory are distracting. They often make us dissatisfied with the everyday. What goes on at Youth Gatherings, LWML and LLL Conventions, and Synod and District Conventions should reinforce and reflect Sunday morning in our congregations, not merely be a mountaintop experience no one wants to leave behind.
Jesus wants us to hold on to Him all the days of our lives. He is there in good times and bad. His promises do not depend upon great numbers of people, expensive clothing, professional musicians, or our own excitement. His power is made perfect in weakness. He chose the humble things of this world—words, water, bread, wine—to shame the wise.
9And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
There’s a good reason why Jesus tells them not to tell the Good News about Jesus. Most of the Good News simply hasn’t happened yet by this point in history. Jesus is given to go to Jerusalem. He will enter the city on a donkey. He will preach and teach and cleanse the temple. He will teach the disciples privately. He will institute the Lord’s Supper and wash their feet. He will pray in Gethsemane, sweating drops of blood in His agony. And then He will be arrested, and be tried, flogged, condemned, and crucified. The cross awaits. And so does the empty tomb.
The kingdom of God is near. Good Friday is coming. And Jesus is not done yet.
That is the “what” of the text. Those are the facts: who, what, when , where. We have yet to discuss “why?” One could even ask the question in a different way: “So what?”
There are consequences to the Transfiguration. Good ones.
Peter, James, and John were born centuries after Elijah, as Elijah was born long after Moses. The texts present them knowing each other. Because of this, Christians teach that we will know other believers in heaven, where Moses and Elijah are, even if we never met them in this life. That is a great comfort to us, because we have many friends and family who have passed on believing in Christ. We will see them again. We will know one another. And it will only get better when Resurrection Day reunites body and soul.
In Catechism class, we learn about two states in Jesus’ life—and they’re not Nebraska and Wyoming. His state of humiliation goes from His birth to His burial. The state of exaltation begins with His descent into hell not to suffer but to proclaim victory and His Resurrection from the dead. In humiliation, Jesus did not always make full use of His divine powers. He shows that He was actively obedient to the father, fulfilling His office of prophet, teaching the kingdom. He was also passively obedient, in that He allowed Himself as our high priest, to become our substitute, a sacrifice for sin.
Because of the Transfiguration, we know that Jesus is not merely a man. He is more. Death will come, but death will be defeated. Therefore we fear not. Suffering and cross will come for Jesus. He endured. He rose from the dead. Therefore we know we have a high priest who is able to sympathize with us, because He suffered in every way, just as we do, yet without sin. He knows what it’s like down here. He lived it. And He is with us always.
The Transfiguration and the glorious transformation of Jesus gets our attention. Jesus wants us to keep our eyes focused upon Him as He goes to the cross. Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent. During these forty days, not including Sundays, we walk with Jesus all the way. Each Lent, we learn again to repent, and that repentance is not just a once-a-year or once-a-life thing. Holy Baptism teaches us about daily contrition and repentance. We deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. With His gifts, we follow Him all the way until the Lord calls us home and to Himself in heaven. And now we tell the Good News about Jesus—news of hope for the life to come, forgiveness of sins now, new life, and life eternal in glory—glory the Transfiguration of Our Lord gives us a preview of.
Keeping up appearances. We all try to do it. We’re usually pretty good at it. New this. New that—even though the average American is living off of credit cards. Smiles and laughs and entertaining—but it is all a fairy tale. Everything is actually far from right. We keep up appearances.
Not Jesus. Almost every hour of His ministry on earth, He kept down His appearance. He didn’t let people see what was really behind the humble attire, the modest means. Only for those brief moments on the Mount of Transfiguration did a chosen few see His full, radiant appearance. But when they did, when Jesus did let His glory be seen, it revealed why we don’t ever need to put on a facade, pretending to be what we aren’t. The one who looks so plain, so unimpressive, is in fact, the One who could put us to shame even at our best. And that can be rightly explained in one way: He came to humble Himself, even to death on a cross, so that you could shine in His Transfiguration glory, real glory. Jesus is not done with you yet.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.