Transfiguration Sunday| Rev. Rolf Preus| January 20, 2002| Isaiah 61:10-11| 2 Peter 1:16-21| St. Matthew 17:1-9
The lessons appointed for the Transfiguration of our Lord combine to present to us a well balanced diet of good spiritual food. From the Epistle Lesson we learn to put our confidence in the written word of God that is preserved for us in the Bible. From the Gospel Lesson we learn to listen to Jesus, the Word become flesh. The Old Testament Lesson invites us to trust in the gospel truth that God has covered us with the robe of Christ’s righteousness so that we can stand with joy before the God whose face we see in Jesus. The Bible is the word of God. Christ is the Word of God. The gospel is the word of God. This morning, as we celebrate the transfiguration of our Lord Jesus, we look to this threefold revelation of God’s word: the written word, the incarnate Word, and the gospel word of God that covers all our sins and makes us saints.
The Bible is the written word of God. No other book is the written word of God. Only the Bible is the written word of God.
The Muslims believe that the Koran is the word of God. The Mormons believe that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. How can we know that the Bible is the word of God and the Koran and Book of Mormon are not? St. Peter answers this question in the Epistle Lesson for this morning. Peter, James, and John were was eyewitnesses of Christ’s glory. They saw his face shine like the sun. They heard the voice of God the Father come from out of the cloud. They saw Moses and Elijah standing there with Jesus. It was through Moses that God gave us the first five books of the Bible, and God proved that Moses was a true prophet by doing one miraculous sign after another through him. From the ten plagues, to the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, to the water from rock, the miraculous daily descent of manna from heaven and the guiding of Christ in the cloud and the fire – God revealed his glory to Moses. Moses had the credentials of a prophet. Elijah stood up against the false prophets of Baal. They promoted a nature religion in which their god was supposed to bring them fertile harvests if they won his heart. So they cut themselves, cried out mournfully, whined, and wailed and got nothing from their false god. They thought that by inflicting pain on themselves they would win the heart of their god and he would send rain. Elijah preached the gospel of the true God who sent his Son to bear our suffering. He prayed a prayer and God sent fire from heaven. God confirmed his prophetic office by miraculous signs. God did this from Moses through Malachi.
The Koran has no such evidence to authenticity. Who was Muhammad but an adulterer and a thief? He did no miracle. He was a false prophet. The Koran is filled with easily discovered errors of fact. And what was Joseph Smith but a religious con man from a family of counterfeiters and cheats? Smith made up a tall tale about magic eyeglasses that he used to translate the Book of Mormon, which was supposedly written on golden tablets in a language called Reformed Egyptian Hieroglyphics. However, this language never existed anywhere but on those golden tablets, and the golden tablets have conveniently been taken back to heaven by an angel called Moroni.
For centuries skeptics and unbelievers have tried to shoot holes in the Bible, but they have never succeeded. In recent generations the most outspoken critics of the Bible have come from within the church herself. University and seminary professors devoted to preparing future pastors and teachers for the church call into question the truthfulness of biblical assertions. They argue that there are myths in the Bible, just like there are in every other ancient religion. Many have even gone so far as to call the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead a myth.
But it was witnessed by hundreds of people. Peter, James, and John, saw Jesus transfigured before their eyes. They saw his face shine like the sun. They saw his clothes become whiter than light. This they saw before Jesus died. After Jesus died, many people saw him alive. He ate food, drank drink, walked into rooms that were locked from the inside, and promised miraculous signs to validate the teaching of his apostles.
And Jesus delivered. He told the eleven that they would cast out demons, survive poisonous snake bites, speak in languages they had never learned, heal the sick and do other signs to prove they were his spokesmen. And this is what they did. St. Paul raised Eutychus from the dead. He was bitten by a poisonous viper and suffered no ill effect. The apostles all spoke in foreign languages on Pentecost and even had the power to give this gift to others, though it was often misused. They did the signs that authenticated the apostolic word, just as the prophets had done signs to authenticate the prophetic word.
On the mountain where Jesus shined forth his glory as God in the flesh, prophets of the Old Testament surrounded him while his apostles of the New Testament witnessed the wonderful event. The Bible didn’t drop down from heaven. God did not dictate his word through Gabriel to a man named Muhammad. God didn’t send an angel named Moroni to bury his written word somewhere in upstate New York. No, the Bible is from heaven, but it was written here on earth. It was written by men who lived here on earth. Every one of those men was shown to be a spokesman for God.
And this is why the Bible, the whole Bible, from cover to cover, is God’s word about Jesus, his only begotten Son. God’s spokesmen didn’t write down principles for successful living, or rules on how to gain God’s approval. God’s spokesmen wrote the words that direct us to Jesus. Today’s Gospel lesson makes this crystal clear. The Holy Scriptures is the book about Jesus Christ. God the Father said to the writers of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, “Hear Him!” Listen to Jesus. Do you want to know what God says? Hear the words of Jesus. Do you want to know why the Bible is like a light shining in a dark place? It’s all about Jesus, who is the Light of the world. Do you want to know why the Bible was written? The Bible was written that we may know Jesus.
The Bible was written in time. It was written here on earth. It was written in at least three languages, on three continents, by many men, over a period of almost fifteen hundred years. It was not written in heaven, but it was written on earth. Why? The answer to this question determines what we will look for when we read the Bible. It will determine for us how we read the Bible. St. Paul wrote about how when the Jews of his day read the Bible, it was as if a veil had been placed over their eyes making them blind to the plain sense of the text. And so it is today among many nominal Christians. They read their Bibles, memorize passages, study, and attend classes, seminars, and revivals. They are constantly seeking to improve themselves by a more thorough knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. But they don’t see Christ as Christ must be seen. And so the Bible does them little good other than perhaps providing helpful principles for living a worthwhile life.
The Bible wasn’t written so that you could improve yourself by submitting to its principles. In fact, looking to the Bible for enduring principles is to turn the Bible into something it is not. Why was the Bible written? To show you Christ. The transfiguration of Jesus shows this most emphatically. Representatives of the Old Testament are there with Jesus, while God the Father tells the writers of the New Testament to listen to Jesus. St. Luke’s Gospel tells us that Moses and Elijah were talking to Jesus about his departure from this world. The word Luke uses is exodus. Jesus didn’t leave this world without first setting his people free from bondage, just as in the Exodus. If you read your Bible and you aren’t being set free by what you read, you do not understand it.
The Bible does teach the law. That’s true. It contains not only the Ten Commandments, but also a most thorough explanation of them, both in the Old and the New Testaments. In fact, Jesus himself taught the law more strictly than any of the prophets. Moses said not to kill. Jesus said that hatred was murder. Moses said not to commit adultery. Jesus said that to lust after a woman was to be guilty of adultery. Moses said that no one could be condemned except by the testimony of two or three witnesses. Jesus said that you had to go to the brother who did you wrong and try to become his friend before you accused him of wrongdoing before others. In every case of teaching God’s law, Jesus made more radical demands than did any of the prophets.
But the teaching of the law is not Christ’s proper work. That is, it isn’t his first order of business or the theme of his teaching. Jesus came to preach God’s forgiveness. He preached grace by forgiving the unforgivable. He embraced in love those whose sins made them unfit for the company of decent people. Jesus, whose face shined like the sun with the unborrowed light of his eternal deity, humbled himself to bear the sins of those he forgave. It was his humiliation and suffering and death that occupied his conversation with Moses and Elijah on the mountain. When we listen to Jesus we are listening to him talk about his passion. “This is my body, which is given for you. This is the blood of the New Testament shed for you and for many for the remission of sins.” That’s the talk Jesus talks to us. “I am the good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.” That’s Jesus talk. “Whosoever sins you forgive, they are forgiven.” That’s what Jesus came into this world to say.
And the glory of his face is always seen in his grace. The Benediction says it. The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. That is the second part of the threefold benediction given by God to Aaron so long ago. That benediction is spoken by the same divine authority here in this place every Sunday morning. The words give to you what the words say. They give you the grace that shines in the face of Jesus.
And Jesus set that face toward Jerusalem where he went to die. Nobody got saved on the mountain where Jesus’ face shone like the sun. No sins were washed away there, and no sinners were redeemed there, there was to be no great exodus taking place there. No, where sinners are redeemed, forgiven, and saved eternally in on Mt. Calvary where Jesus was shamed. Where we hid, as it were, our faces from him because he was so despised that we couldn’t bear to watch him. His face, disfigured in torment and suffering, was no pleasant sight to behold, and so we couldn’t look at it. But it was as the Word made flesh fulfilled the prophecy of the written word of God that the robes that cover us and make us beautiful were purchased.
Jesus earned no benefits for us when his face shone like the sun. The benefits were won rather when his face was filled with pain, sorrow, and the anguish of the damned. There in the most lowly and awful and shame filled time and place of all history – a time and a place where Peter repeatedly told Jesus not to go – we were made beautiful. For all the ugliness of our sins was poured out on Jesus, so that the beauty of his holiness could cover our sins. There on the cross is how Jesus brought his glory to us. So we look at the one mountain and watch him walk to the other mountain. He gives us the glory of the first by bearing the shame of the second.
And this is the gospel truth, brothers and sisters in Christ; this is what the gospel is. The word of God that we trust is the message of Christ’s righteousness covering us. The word of God in which we rejoice is the garments of Christ’s salvation making us saints. Nobody ever got to heaven by trusting in the simple fact that the Bible is God’s word. The devils surely know that! And nobody ever got to heaven by the simple assertion that Jesus is God’s eternal Son. Didn’t the devils call him the Holy One of Israel? But we do get to heaven, and we enjoy peace and joy with God here on earth as well, when we trust that the righteousness of Jesus Christ really does cover us and make us fit to inherit eternal life. We do get to heaven by believing that for Christ’s sake all our sins are forgiven and forgotten and we have God’s approval.
The glory of God in Jesus is the glory that God on the last day will reveal in his children. It is a wonderful day to anticipate. It is a day for which to prepare. This is why we, today and every day of our lives, treasure the written word of God which testifies to the incarnate Word who in his gospel word covers our sins so that we, with the children, may sing with joy the words of the hymn:
When he shall come with trumpet sound, Oh may I then in him be found
Clothed in his righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne.
On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. Amen