The Transfiguration of Our Lord
“Seeing, Hearing, and Believing”
Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed
are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
St. Paul writes, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the
word of God.” We want to
see. God says no. I
won’t show you. I’ll
tell you. Take my word for
But sometimes we do get to see. Peter, James, and John got to see. Jesus took them apart from the twelve. They went up on a high mountain.
There, as Peter, James, and John looked on, Jesus was
transfigured. He had hidden
His divine glory underneath a humble covering.
Now He let it shine. His
true deity shone forth. He
had already shown His glory by His many miracles.
Now He revealed His glory in His very appearance.
His face shone like the sun.
His clothes became as white as light.
The glory that he had shared from eternity with His Father was
What a vision!
They witnessed with their own eyes the pure and holy and
beautiful glory of the God become man.
More than that, the two great Old Testament prophets were there
with him. Moses and Elijah were talking with Jesus.
St. Luke records for us that they were talking about Christ’s
impending death. While
enjoying His native glory Jesus was talking with the prophets about His
impending shame. His glory
would be hidden under deep suffering.
He would fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah who wrote: “So His
visage was marred more than any man.” (Isaiah 52:14)
He appeared to be a beautiful Savior on the Mount of
Transfiguration, but no souls would be saved there as His glory shone
forth like the sun. Salvation
would require Jesus to embrace the shame of the cross.
So stop all that foolish talk
about building tabernacles. In
fact, stop talking altogether and listen.
Hear Him. Listen to
what He has to say. You
can’t listen while you’re talking.
You can’t listen while you’re building.
You need to settle down, be quiet, and listen.
Listen to Jesus.
This is where faith is born. Faith doesn’t come from seeing glorious sights.
Not even a vision of Christ displaying the pure beauty of His
glorious majesty will do. Faith
doesn’t come from having a mountain top experience.
No, faith is born when we are rendered blind and mute and
helpless. Then we listen.
We listen to Jesus.
The Father identifies Jesus as
His beloved Son. But He
does more than identify Him. He
gives His public stamp of approval upon Him.
He says, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.
The glory revealed on the mountain displays an innocence that
brings joy to God the Father. The
Father beholds His only begotten Son and is happy with what He sees.
The Father sees more than the eternal glory He has shared with
His only begotten Son from eternity.
He sees as well an obedience that is unparalleled.
He sees the pure and flawless righteousness that marks Christ’s
life. He sees the one and
only righteous man. He sees
Him whose righteousness becomes the robe with which the Holy Christian
Church is clothed. Now
listen, Peter. Listen, James. Listen,
John. Listen, dear
Christian, whoever you are. Listen
to Him whose righteousness is your royal robe.
Listen to the One whose glory is from eternity.
Listen to the One who leaves the Mount of Transfiguration to go
to the Mount Calvary.
Today is the last Sunday of the
Epiphany season. Epiphany
is followed by three Sundays known as pre-Lent.
This is followed by Lent. The
theme of Epiphany is the manifestation of Christ’s glory.
The Transfiguration of Christ before the three disciples
epitomizes Epiphany. We
think of St. John’s words, “We beheld His glory, the glory as of the
only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
But the vision of glory could
not last. This we must
know. But it’s a bitter lesson to learn. It can be downright painful.
Living in glory is much more enjoyable than living under the
cross. But the true value
of our lives is hidden under suffering.
It is hidden under Christ’s suffering and our own.
We don’t base our faith on
what we see. We listen.
Our faith comes from hearing God’s word. This is because the road to glory must pass through Calvary.
There can be no heaven without the cross.
Listen to Jesus. That’s
what He said again and again and again.
He took His disciples aside and said to them that it was
necessary that He suffer many things, be betrayed, crucified, and on the
third day rise again. This
is why Jesus commanded Peter, James, and John not to tell anyone about
seeing Him transfigured until after He rose from the dead.
He didn’t want any misunderstanding.
He didn’t want anyone to think that the route to glory could
bypass the cross.
This is why we need to rely on
what Jesus says to us instead of relying of what we see.
What do we see, really? Compare
what we see to what Jesus says. We
see death. Jesus says, “I
am the resurrection and the life. He
who believes in Me will live even though he dies and he who lives and
believes in Me will never die.” Yet
we see the body in the casket and there is no life there at all.
The body lies perfectly still because the breath is gone and the
heart has stopped beating. We
hear that this body will rise from the dead to be glorified with Jesus
in heaven. But that’s not
what we see. So will we
believe what we see or what Jesus says?
We see sin.
Oh, there’s so much and it overwhelms us.
We promise and then we break our promise. And we promise again with true sincerity and conviction and
strength of resolution. And
then what do we see? We see
our broken promises. They
litter our lives with the refuse of sin.
But what does Jesus say? What
do we hear? “Take and
eat,” He says. “This is
my body, given for you. Take
and drink, this is the New Testament in my blood shed for you and for
many for the forgiveness of sins.”
So He says. His
saying and our hearing contradict what we see.
But our heavenly Father tells us to hear Him.
Listen to His only begotten Son.
His words are words of life.
If we insist on seeing, on
looking, on watching the Lord Jesus then we will have to divert our eyes
from the Mount of Transfiguration and look instead to Calvary.
There we don’t see the glory shining forth like the sun. There we see shame and sorrow and death.
We see Him suffering for us.
We see Him dying for us. In
that suffering our sin is borne away.
In that sorrow our joy is secured.
In that shame is the true glory of God and of all Christians.
On the cross the power of sin is broken.
He in whom the Father was well pleased was made to be sin for us. Innocence triumphed. But
the world could not see it. We
could not see it. It
remains hidden from our sight.
But we hear the words of
absolution that flow from it. We
hear the voice of our Good Shepherd who laid down His life for us only
to take it up again. We hear and our faith finds its source.
The true light of Epiphany
shines from the cross. Oh,
for a vision of heaven. But
Jesus won’t guarantee this. Peter,
James, and John saw it. Let
that suffice for us. To see
heaven is not such a blessing as to hear the gospel.
The gospel is not just talk about heaven.
It is the giving of heaven here and now where we live.
To know that there is a place where sin cannot enter is a
wonderful knowledge. We
know that there is a place where the effects of sin are entirely absent. There is no sorrow of any kind.
There is no suffering, no regret, no guilt, and no shame.
Everyone loves purely and is so loved.
The physical deterioration of the body with its attendant
diseases leading to death are in the past.
We enjoy pure and radiant glory that belongs to God.
We enjoy it without it diminishing even though it lasts forever.
All this is prefigured by Christ’s transfiguration on the
But it was not gained on that
mountain. It was gained on
the cross. It is given to
us in the gospel we hear. This
is why we treasure the message of the cross.
This is why we love what we hear and why we pray God that we will
always be hearing it until our hearing is gone.
Should God give us a vision of glory, we will thank Him for the
privilege. But our faith
will rest on what He did for us after leaving the glory of the first
mountain to embrace the shame of the second.
the preaching of the cross is wisdom everlasting
Rev. Rolf D. Preus