March 3, 2019
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel, which was read a few minutes ago.
I know my mom occasionally reads my sermons on Facebook, so I should start right away by apologizing to her for what I’m about to say. I don’t want to anyone to think I’m being mean, but here’s the truth. I hated going to my sister’s dance contests and recitals. As much as I enjoyed supporting her, the last thing a pre-teen boy wants to do is watch hours of dancing. Those events seemed like they were never going to end. Now I know many of you enjoy watching the East Sac Drill team and dance shows, but we’ve all experienced things that seemed like they would never end. Sometimes it’s something small – like the wait at the doctor’s office. Sometimes, it’s something more serious – like missing a loved one and feeling as if the loneliness will never go away. Sometimes, we ourselves are the problem, as we fall into the same sinful patterns as before and we begin to feel like our struggle against sin will never end. Today’s account of the Transfiguration may not seem applicable to these never ending waits, but it does, because Jesus has a message for us about things that will end and things that won’t.
To fully understand what’s happening in our Gospel, we need to go back in a time a bit. Saint Luke begins by writing, “Now about eight days after these sayings”, which might make you wonder what happened. About eight days before the transfiguration, Jesus had asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” and that’s when Peter had responded with the great confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. So far, so good.
But what Jesus said next must have not sounded good at all. Jesus said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Put yourself in the disciples’ sandals, what would you think? Scared? Disbelieving? Confused? Probably a lot of both, huh?
Now if these words were hard to hear, listen to what Jesus says next, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” That was what lay ahead for these men. Their Messiah would be killed, and they would have lives of daily cross-bearing. They would suffer regularly, if not daily, because of their faith in the one who was talking to them. Now, that was a sobering message. Were cross-bearing and dying all Jesus and they had to look forward to? But now let’s fast-forward eight days to the events of our Gospel.
Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up on a mountain to pray. And what they see there is like nothing they’ve seen before. Jesus is transfigured, this means His appearance changes. His clothes become dazzling white and Matthew tells us that Jesus’ face “shone like the sun.” And as Jesus stood two great heroes of the faith, Moses and Elijah, He gave His disciples a much-needed lesson in things that will last and things that won’t.
This revelation of Jesus in His divine glory is proof for the disciples that, just as Peter had confessed eight days earlier, Jesus truly is the Christ, the Savior who had been promised long before. And just to make sure there wasn’t any doubt, the God the Father said, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!” The disciples desperately need this message so they can know that the suffering and death of Jesus, that they will soon witness, will not be the end for Jesus. This one who will suffer and die is the Son of the living God, and death cannot hold him. The disciples are seeing with their own eyes, that Jesus is the light of the world – the light that the darkness cannot overcome. Yes, He will suffer and die. But suffering and death cannot and will not be the end for the One who now stands before them in His divine majesty.
Nor will cross-bearing and death be the end for Jesus’ disciples. The living presence of Moses and Elijah on the mountain testifies to the glorious future that awaits all who abide in the faith. Moses had gone through a great deal in his life. And few prophets had experienced more opposition than Elijah. But that hardship had not lasted. What had lasted was their fellowship with the living Lord. Moses and Elijah had passed through the temporary trials of this life into eternal joys at God’s right hand. And this is true for you as well. It’s true for all who believe. Our daily suffering and cross-bearing aren’t the end, instead a crown of life awaits.
One of the flawed beliefs that Martin Luther addressed during the Reformation was called the Theology of Glory. Unfortunately, that theology still exists. The Theology of Glory is the belief that Christians shouldn’t have to suffer. The Theology of Glory says we can skip cross-bearing and just enjoy the good that comes to Christians. It’s not a new theology at all. Just as we sometimes wish we could follow Jesus without taking up our crosses, Peter also hoped for that. He offered to build tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah so they could all stay on the mountain and avoid the suffering that waited for them in Jerusalem. Peter’s wish is understandable, isn’t it? It was good for them to be up there on the mountain, but Jesus had something even better in mind. He was set on gaining for Peter, James, John, and us not a moment or day of glory, but joys that would never end.
Luke tells us that, on the mountain, Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus “of His departure, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” Christ’s departure was His suffering and death and that’s why they didn’t build tents on that mountain. Instead Jesus came down from the Mount of Transfiguration with His disciples so that He could be lifted up for us on Mount Calvary. There, He suffered for us so that our suffering will not last. He died on the cross for our sins, so that sin and death will not be the end for us. And He rose from the dead to proclaim the Good News that He crushed death and that He has opened Heaven up to us.
As glorious as the transfiguration was, that day’s temporary glory was a sign pointing ahead to greater glory, as in the Transfiguration we see a preview of the unending glory Jesus secured for us on the cross. I know that, at times, it might seem as if the hardships of your life will never end. The endless stays in the hospital and the nursing home. The endless grief over the loss of a loved one. The disappointments that have seemed to hound you your entire life. The constant struggle against the sins and the demons which won’t let go. But be strong, trust in the Lord, take heart because our Lord Jesus Christ, who has suffered with us and for us, knows exactly what you’re going through. The Lord who accompanied His disciples back down the Mount of Transfiguration into the sin-filled, terribleness of this world is also with you in whatever hardships you face. And the Lord who was lifted up on Mount Calvary for you has, by His death and resurrection, ensured that your struggles and hardships won’t last. They may seem like they’ll never end, they may seem like permanent parts of your life, but they’re not! They’ll come to an end and be replaced by everlasting peace and joy in Christ’s kingdom that is the only thing that is never-ending.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen