Seeing Jesus as He Is
The Transfiguration of our Lord| Rev. Rolf Preus| January 25, 2015| St. Matthew 17:1-9
Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 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!” And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.” St. Matthew 17:1-9
When Jesus told his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day, Peter took him aside and rebuked him, saying that that would never happen. Then Jesus, who had just told Peter that he would build his church on Peter’s confession of the true faith, now called him Satan and told him that he was an offense. Jesus went on to say that anyone who wanted to be his disciple had to deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow him. You cannot be a Christian if you deny the necessity of the cross. If you cover it up, deny it, evade it, or change it into something more palatable to the religious tastes of sinners who don’t think they need the suffering and death of the God-man, then you deny Christ. Better to deny yourself than to deny Christ. To confess Christ is to embrace the cross of his suffering where he died for your sins.
But Jesus understands our weakness and he sympathizes with us. He knows that we want to see the glory he promises. We want to see it and feel it and experience it here on earth. He says that we are blessed when we believe without seeing. Still, we want to see. So here is what he does. He shows us a glimpse of glory. We see it for a short time – vividly and clearly and unmistakably – and then we don’t get to see it any more. True faith trusts in the glory we cannot see while the eyes of faith remain focused on the suffering and death of Jesus.
The transfiguration of Jesus took place six days after Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, and then promptly denied him by objecting to his crucifixion. Jesus corrected Peter when Peter advocated glory without the cross. There can be no glory without the cross. But he also wanted to give to Peter, James, John, and all of his Christians a glimpse of his glory. His transfiguration foreshadows our glorification on the last day.
I have been reading a book about the Mormon religion called, Saints of another God. The central tenet of Mormonism is the doctrine of eternal progression: “As man is, so God once was; as God is, so man may become.” They progress on their religious path until they become gods and rule over their own worlds. God has glory and they want to share in it. They are looking to become gods.
We might simply dismiss Mormonism as a collection of absurd notions bubbling up out of the strange religious climate of upstate New York during the first half of the nineteenth century. There were some rather bizarre ideas floating around there in those days. But in fact, despite all of its strange and even pagan elements, Mormonism fits well into America’s can do spirit of optimism. Mormonism promises mortal human beings the opportunity to become God. The true Christian religion preaches the God who became a man.
God did not become God. Nobody can become God. God is eternal. He was always God. From eternity to eternity God lives in that unapproachable light – the light that no sinner can see and live to talk about it. God did not become God. God did not say to Moses, “I have become what I am.” He said, “I am who I am.” He is eternal, unchanging, and glorious.
This unchanging and unchangeable God became a man. Man did not become God. Man cannot become God. God became man. God became a man so that by his humiliation we might be glorified. God assumed our nature. God became man. God did not change. God cannot change. He assumed our human nature without losing his divinity. He hid his glory under humility. But he never ceased to be what he was from eternity.
Jesus showed his true deity on the Mount of Transfiguration. He displayed his holiness and purity. His face shone like the sun. His clothes became as white as the light. Peter, James, and John experienced a sight that filled them with wonder. St. Peter wrote that they were eyewitnesses of Christ’s majesty. The Father honored his beloved Son. He told us to listen to him. Jesus is the image of God. He is the Word of God. He is the revelation of God. God becomes one of us so that we can know God as he is.
We don’t become gods. God joins the human race in order to redeem us. Had God not assumed our own flesh and blood and become one of us, body and soul, we could not have known him. And if he had not gone to the cross to suffer for our sins, we could not have trusted in him. God became one of us to redeem us by his blood.
When Jesus revealed his glory on the mountain, Peter, James, and John were thrilled by the sight. The brightness of Jesus face and clothes identified him as the Son of God. The presence of Moses and Elijah identified him as the fulfillment of the prophetic word. Peter wanted to remain with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.
Then God the Father spoke from heaven. He told the disciples to hear Jesus. The voice frightened them so that they fell down on their faces. They were terrified. Then Jesus came and touched them, told them to stand up, and not to be afraid. He took away their fear. We must pay careful attention to these events, because they are very instructive. The voice from heaven frightened them. The voice of Jesus brought them peace.
But wait a minute. The Father’s voice and the Son’s voice are one and the same. Didn’t the Father say of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”? Yet they were terrified to hear God speak from heaven and they were comforted when God spoke to them on earth. When we hear Jesus speak we hear God speak to us as the One who suffers and dies for us. When Jesus speaks we hear the voice of peace because the One who is speaking has borne our sins on the cross, blotted them out by his blood, and by his holy offering has made peace for us with God.
We cannot bear to hear God except through the voice of Jesus Christ. To seek God apart from Christ is to seek your own destruction. Where Jesus displays his true deity in his humanity the Father commands us to hear his voice. The prophets prophesied of him. The apostles testified to him. The God-man who suffers for us is the God we know and trust. His voice is the voice that we hear.
The reason Jesus told his disciples not to tell anyone of what they saw on that mountain until after he had risen from the dead is because he didn’t want them promoting a gospel without the cross. There is no good news, no peace from God, no forgiveness of sins except on account of the suffering and death of Jesus. This is what Jesus reveals in his resurrection from the dead. If his resurrection only meant that he is alive and glorious, well, he was alive and glorious on the Mount of Transfiguration! His resurrection means that he died. He died before he rose. That is what had to happen for us all. Jesus died for everyone because God loves everyone.
On January 22, America observed a sad anniversary, the forty-second anniversary of the Roe versus Wade decision of the Supreme Court of the United States that struck down laws across our country protecting the unborn. Millions and millions of babies have been killed. The civil law is a teacher. In the country we love, the civil law teaches that life is cheap. It teaches that our convenience and comfort are more valuable than the life of an unborn child. That’s false teaching. Men and women claim the right to terminate – that’s the word they use; it means to kill – unwanted children. We live within a culture of death. We must be countercultural.
God becomes a baby, a boy, a man! See him reveal his glory. See him change water into wine, heal the sick, raise the dead, and welcome into the fellowship of his Church sinners who suffered every kind of ill of body and soul. See divine love incarnate and see that divinity displayed in glory on the Mount of Transfiguration – see all this and see how much God values human life! Christ wasn’t just putting on a show! He was demonstrating his love for all of humanity. For he left the Mount of Transfiguration to go to Mount Calvary where he suffered and died for all people, young and old, black and white, male and female, rich and poor. He assumed our humanity to redeem all of humanity and he left no one out.
Lent is less than a month away. We do well to ponder the passion of our Lord. As you do so, remember whose suffering it is. It is the One whose face shone like the sun and whose clothes became as white as the light. He is the God who speaks to us with a voice we can hear without being afraid. He speaks pardon of all our sins, fills us with his Holy Spirit, establishes our faith, and enriches us with the treasures of heaven. We now live under the cross a life of repentance and faith knowing that where he is now, there we shall be. Amen.