The Transfiguration of our Lord| Rev. Rolf Preus| February 1, 2009| St. Matthew 17, 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!’” St. Matthew 17, 5
You can’t listen while you’re talking. Peter was talking. God interrupted him. That’s because Peter didn’t know what he was talking about.
It’s usually better to listen than to talk. This is so especially when it comes to God. Before telling God what we think we need to listen to God to learn what he thinks. Most people never learn this. People just naturally assume that we learn what God has to say by talking to him. They don’t stop and consider that if we really want to learn what God has to say we must listen to him. You cannot talk and listen at the same time.
“It is good to be here.” That’s what Peter said. And there’s no argument. It was good to be there. Jesus is the only begotten Son of the Father. It was good for him to reveal his glory. It was good that it be witnessed. Two great Old Testament prophets witnessed it. Three of Jesus’ twelve apostles witnessed it. His face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as light. That was good to see.
The light did not come to Jesus from the outside. It came from Jesus. The cloud came afterward. The voice from the cloud came afterward. But before the cloud and the voice came there was Jesus with his face shining like the sun and his clothes whiter than the whitest snow. He radiated the innocence in which he was conceived and born. He showed forth the glory that was his from eternity. He showed that he was the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises and the substance of the New Testament proclamation. Moses wrote of him. Elijah preached about him. Peter, James, and John would all testify of him. As St. John would later write, “We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” As St. Peter put it in today’s Epistle Lesson:
For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.
It was good to be there. But it was not good to remain. Indeed, it was not possible. Peter’s idea of building three tabernacles: one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah was a bad one. That’s why God the Father interrupted Peter while he was suggesting it.
Jesus could not remain on the mountain revealing his glory. He had to go to the cross to bear our shame. That’s why he was born.
God became one of us. He hid his glory. He embraced shame instead. He did so that we could join him and become one with him. By hiding his glory in order to bear our shame he took away our shame and replaced it with glory.
Jesus wanted to reveal his glory to his disciples in a way that would be unmistakable. The disciples saw who Jesus was. There could be no mistaking it. But in seeing who Jesus was they didn’t yet see. Simply by knowing that Jesus is God of God, light of light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made we do not know him. We must also know him by his sufferings. We must know him in his sufferings. Jesus does not bring us to glory by revealing his glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. He brings us to glory by bearing our shame on Mt. Calvary.
It is good to be here. So we say when things go well for us. It is bad to be here. So we say when things do not go well for us. And so we judge our lives by what we see and feel. That’s natural. But what is natural? St. Paul reminds us:
But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2, 14)
This is why we must hear Christ. We must listen to him. The voice from heaven spoken to the disciples on the Mt. of Transfiguration is meant for us. “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased: Hear him.”
What does the Father say of his Son? He says: “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” But he is betrayed. He is arrested. He is abandoned by his friends. He suffers insults. They mock him. They have him whipped. They finally nail him to a cross and lift up the cross so that the world might see him suffering the greatest indignity known to man. He is shamed. His Father loves him and is well pleased with him. Jesus cries out to him who said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” and he says to him: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
St. Paul is right. The natural man does not receive such things. They appear to be foolishness. It makes no sense. If God is well pleased with him how can he permit him to suffer? What good can there be in suffering? Why should the innocent suffer? What benefit can come from it?
We know the answers to these questions. We are Christians. We are joined in union to God’s beloved Son. We are baptized into his name. As St. Paul writes:
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Gal. 3, 26-27)
We have listened to him. He has spoken to us. And so we understand why Peter’s suggestion was foolish. We understand why Jesus had to leave the glory of the one mountain in order to suffer the shame of the other mountain. Jesus suffered for us. He suffered vicariously. He suffered instead of us. He suffered so that we would not have to suffer. He suffered for our sins so that those sins would not be reckoned to us. He suffered to take away all sin and he did take away all sin by his suffering. God the Father expressed in no uncertain terms that he was well pleased with his beloved Son. Yet it was the Father’s will that his beloved Son in whom he was well pleased go to the cross to suffer and die.
The Father was well pleased with his Son before time began. The love of the Father for his only begotten Son is eternal. The holiness they shared with each other together with the Holy Spirit is from everlasting to everlasting. The Son of the Father did not have to become our brother to be well pleasing to his Father. The Father has always loved his Son. The Son has always pleased his Father. But it was specifically of Jesus our brother that our Father in heaven said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”
The Father was well pleased with his Son because of his obedience as our brother. It was this obedient Son who went to the cross. The obedience Jesus rendered to the Father is twofold: active and passive. The active obedience is his obedience to the Ten Commandments as our representative. He did everything God’s law required us to do. The Father said of him, “with whom I am well pleased.” Why? Because he lived a holy life, that’s why. And he did so for us. He actively fulfilled the demands of the law so that we would receive the benefit of that obedience. God reckons this obedience to us as righteousness. As St. Paul wrote in Romans 5, 19: “By the obedience of the one the many shall be made righteous.”
Christ’s obedience is also passive. He suffered. He endured. He not only did; he was done to. And being done to he suffered meekly, taking upon himself our sin and patiently bearing the punishment the law required of us.
Now consider Jesus’ suffering and understand how God works. No Christian can possibly doubt the benefit of Christ’s suffering for us. Look at what it achieved! We now are robed in the flawless righteousness of God’s only begotten Son. We stand before God as sons and daughters with whom he is well pleased.
God directed Jesus to go from glory to suffering and back to glory again. And so he directs us. When we are born from above in Holy Baptism we are taken up to heaven. We are joined with the Triune God. We taste eternal life.
But we live our lives under the shelter of the cross on which our Savior died. Trusting in his blood shed for us we also trust that his cross sweetens crosses God places upon us to endure. And when he sends the cross he does so, not to punish us or forsake us but to drive us ever closer to him. Consider the benefit of Christ’s suffering. That suffering sanctifies our own.
We lose at times. We lose money, health, friends, sometimes even our good name. We suffer at times. We suffer pain, anxiety, heartbreak, and, of course, the feeling of guilt over our sins. We talk to God and God is always willing to listen to us. But there are times when he must interrupt us for our own good because we don’t know what we are talking about. When things are going just as we want and we tell God that it is good to be here, he just might have a different idea. Glory is laid up for us in heaven. Christ’s suffering guarantees it and we put out confidence in that suffering. But God knows whether to give us glory to taste or a cross to bear. We don’t decide. God does. Meanwhile we listen to his Son and we continue to receive forgiveness of sins, peace with God, and everything we need for this life. Amen