Christ’s Transfiguration| Rev. Rolf Preus| Matthew 17:1-9|)January 16, 2005
When Jesus took Peter, James, and John with Him and led them up on a high mountain to be transfigured before them, He taught His Church some wonderful things. He taught us that there is a unity between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Moses and Elijah represent the Old Testament. Peter, James, and John represent the New Testament. At the center of the Holy Scriptures stands Jesus. He is the reason that the Bible is a light shining in a dark place. He is the reason the Bible was written. St. Peter reminds us in today’s Epistle Lesson that the Bible is God’s Word. He writes: “No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit directed the human authors of the Bible to write what they wrote. Since the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, every word of the Holy Scriptures is true. It is not possible for the Bible to contain errors or contradictions. Not only is the Bible God’s Word, all Scripture is centered in Jesus, the Word made flesh, who is the way, the truth, and the life.
Moses preached about Christ. Jesus said, “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me.” (John 5:46) Elijah preached about Christ. The prophets of Baal taught a religion of sexual immorality similar to what is promoted in the popular culture of our own day. Elijah opposed that false gospel and preached the gospel of a good Creator who loves His fallen creation and offers them greater blessing than mere sensual pleasure. Elijah preached Christ. Peter, James, and John preached Christ. There on the Mount of Transfiguration we see that Jesus Christ is the central theme of all of God’s word.
Jesus was glorified on the Mount of Transfiguration. His face shone like the sun. His clothes became as white as light. It was a wonderful sight. The three disciples saw Jesus in His true glory that He had hidden under His humiliation. They saw Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus. In St. Luke’s Gospel (Luke 9:31) we learn that the three of them were talking about Christ’s upcoming death. Seeing Jesus with Moses and Elijah, Peter made bold to suggest that they make tabernacles or tents for Jesus and the two prophets so that they could stay there for a while. But that was not to be. The Transfiguration of Jesus was not to be an ongoing event.
Jesus commanded Peter, James, and John, “Tell the vision to no one util the Son of Man is risen from the dead.” We know how He died. He would leave the glory of the one mountain in order to bear the shame of another. From the Mount of Transfiguration to Mount Calvary He went. The native and eternal glory He shared with the Father would be hidden under His suffering. But it would be a holy and blessed suffering because by it all our sin would be borne and by being borne it would be taken away. David writes in the psalm (Psalm 103:12), “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” How does God do this? By laying them on Jesus. There is no other way. By staying on the Mount of Transfiguration, as Peter wanted Him to do, Jesus would be avoiding the cross. But to avoid the cross would be to avoid our salvation. To avoid the cross would be to leave our sin on our souls for us to bear them by ourselves. While Jesus wanted His closest disciples to be able to see His glory and to be encouraged and strengthened by what they saw, He did not want them or anyone else to think that He would enter into His final glory without first going through suffering.
As it is with Jesus, so it is with His Christians. We would all rather live in glory than under the cross. To live under the cross means that we must live with pain, disappointment, and sin. Since a life that is entirely free from sin’s curse is a far better life to live people naturally set out to deny the curse. This is why religions of human invention all deny the reality of sin. Only the Christian faith confronts sin in its full seriousness. We know what keeps us from glory. It lies within us. It is our constant inclination toward evil.
Law and gospel, sin and grace, confession and absolution, dying and rising: we are not in heaven yet! We confess our love for Jesus and go home to snap at family members and criticize people for no good reason except to make ourselves feel better. We promise our devotion to God’s word, and then set it aside when it contradicts our own pet notions. We say we will pick up our cross and follow after Jesus. Then, as soon as God lays a cross upon us we look for ways to get rid of it or we whine and complain to God as if He is bad for permitting us to suffer here in this world. No, we’re not in heaven yet. We haven’t escaped the temptations of this world.
But Christ’s transfiguration holds out for us a wonderful promise. It is a picture of heaven. Jesus is the head of the Church, His body. Where the head is, there is the body also. The transfiguration of Jesus is a promise to all believers in Christ. It says to us: This is your future. This is your inheritance. This is what you are living for. This is the goal of your faith and confession. Christ’s transfiguration reveals to us three things about our future in heaven.
First, it reveals to us that our bodies will be glorified. We are joined to Jesus by Holy Baptism through faith. This mystical union cannot be broken. It is not merely a spiritual fellowship. We are more than spiritual beings. The angels are merely spirits. They have no bodies. We have bodies. Ever since God the Son became incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man, God Himself has had a body. His glorified body guarantees our own.
Think of it! Do you see poorly? Is your hearing bad? Do you suffer from high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, or any other physical malady? Do you become depressed and are powerless to come out of it? Do you suffer from a cancer that you thought was gone only to learn that it never went away? Whatever your physical weakness or illness, God has something radically different in store for His children in heaven.
Heaven is not a place where we fly around as spirits without any bodies. Heaven is where we live forever and ever in risen and glorified bodies. We will not get sick. We will not suffer pain. We will not face or fear death. There will be no tragedies that suddenly and without warning wipe out thousands of people. There will be perfect health and perfect peace forever and ever. Our bodies will be glorified in purity and perfection forever.
Second, Christ’s transfiguration reveals to us that in heaven we will enjoy the company of the saints. In the Creed we call the Holy Christian Church the Communion of Saints. This communion is a fellowship of Christians who are living here on earth with Christians that have already gone to heaven. At the resurrection, when all Christians will be reunited with their bodies and be glorified, all Christians will also be reunited with their brothers and sisters in Christ from all ages.
Peter, James, and John saw Moses and Elijah. So will we. We will see Abraham, and his son, Isaac. We will see Mary, the mother of our Lord. We will meet the sinful woman on whom Jesus had mercy and she will be pure and holy. We will see our Christian fathers and mothers who have died confessing the faith into which they were baptized. The fellowship or communion of God’s saints is an article of faith. We believe it even though we cannot see it. In heaven we will see it. I’ll see my father again. I’ll meet my little sister, Kristine, who died when she was born. If there is a Christian loved one that you sorely miss, there can be no closer fellowship for you to enjoy here on earth than where God reveals to you your Savior. For that Christian sees the face of Jesus, the same Jesus in whom you trust. This is why, in the Preface before the singing of the Sanctus, the pastor says, “Therefore with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name, evermore praising You and saying.” Then the congregation here on earth joins with the congregation in heaven to sing with the angels to our Triune God, “Holy, holy, holy, God of Sabaoth, heaven and earth are full of Your glory. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”
Heaven will be a place in which we are in fellowship with one another without anything marring it or breaking it. None of our sin will enter into heaven and so the Communion of Saints will be the most pure and intimate and holy fellowship we could possibly experience. No one will hate anyone ever, because hatred will never enter in.
Third, Christ’s transfiguration reveals to us that our souls will be eternally blessed. Listen to God the Father’s voice from heaven: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” When we hear His voice in faith we are joined to Him. All He has is ours. This includes the favor of God. The Father is well pleased with His Son. This favor is given to those who are joined to His Son. Today we experience this divine favor through faith. But we also daily sin and our consciences remind us of this bitter fact. The gospel tells us one thing – “Son, daughter, be off good cheer, your sins are forgiven!” – while we still feel in our souls the burden of sin. We are forgiven, yes. But our souls aren’t yet completely at rest.
In heaven we will find perfect rest, perfect peace, and perfect blessing for our souls. The voice from heaven, identifying Jesus as His beloved Son in whom He was well pleased, will speak to us. God will tell us that He delights in us. He sees nothing wrong in us. He finds joy in His creation. Not a moment will pass without our knowing that God is well pleased with us. We will enjoy the glorification of our bodies, fellowship with all the saints, and the pure blessing of God’s favor forever and ever. We will experience the fullness of God’s love, as we love God and one another with pure hearts.
All this, because Jesus left the glory of the Mount of Transfiguration to face the shame of Mount Calvary. From Calvary we find our true glory, hidden under the suffering of Jesus. For under His deepest sorrow and pain is the full forgiveness of all our sins. Our hope for glory lies hidden in Christ’s blood. There our faith is grounded. And should God deny us a vision of glory in this life on this earth, we won’t complain. Instead we will be content to say with St. Paul, “But God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14)