Transfiguration Sunday (C)
February 14, 2010
“The Cross then the Glory”
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.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “A mountaintop experience” or maybe you’ve even had one? I have to admit I’ve never had one. I’ve been out in the wilderness and I’ve seen the majestic work of God in creation, but I don’t know if what I’ve felt qualifies as a mountaintop experience. I certainly have never had a mountaintop experience like Peter, James, and John did as they accompanied Jesus to the top of Mount Tabor. This was a once in a lifetime event, a once in the history of the world event. And yet, it’s okay if it doesn’t happen again because the Transfiguration served its purpose. Today when we look back and watch this wondrous event we will see that Transfiguration has a purpose even for us.
To understand the Transfiguration, we have to go back in time just a little bit. We have to go back about eight days to when Jesus said to the disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” The disciples answered that the people thought He was Elijah or John the Baptist or one of the other prophets from Israel’s history. Jesus then asked the disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” and Peter responded with the great confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” What an awesome confession! Peter saw Jesus as the Messiah, the anointed one sent by God, and after two plus years of following Jesus he knew what it meant that Jesus was the Christ. Well, not quite, because almost immediately after his grand confession of Jesus, Peter scolds Jesus for saying that He was going to die at the hands of His enemies. In spite of his faithful confession that Jesus was the Christ, Peter still didn’t understand what it meant for Jesus to be the Christ. It meant that Jesus was going to have to suffer and die; He was going to have to pick up the cross laid before Him in order to do what He was sent to do; to save His people from their sins.
One of the things about Jesus that causes people to doubt His claims is that He didn’t really show off His power. The crowds wanted to see the God whom they heard about in the Old Testament. When Jesus said He was God, they wanted to see the God who shakes the foundation of the earth, who would come down and fill the Temple with His glory like He had at the time of Moses. Today, people too have things that they want to see God do. They think that if only God would show His power then they would believe. People today want to see a God who reaches down and stops wars and hurricanes and tornados, the God who would write His plans for them on the walls with a magic finger, the God who would clap His hands and end the pain and suffering of this world. But God doesn’t work this way. Jesus lived most of His life in a state of humiliation. What this means is that Jesus didn’t always or fully use His divine powers. While He occasionally gave people a peek into His divinity by feeding the hungry or healing the lepers, most of the time He didn’t because it would take the focus off of what He was teaching, and it was His teaching about salvation that was the most important part. Jesus though also realized that there needed to be a time when He would reveal His glory, and that’s what Luke writes for us today.
Luke writes, “Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as He was praying, the appearance of His face was altered, and His clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with Him, Moses and Elijah.” Jesus knows that the time for His death is drawing near, it’s what He was talking with Moses and Elijah about. Jesus’ Transfiguration though isn’t just about talking with Moses and Elijah; it also serves to give the disciples a mountaintop experience that they’ll need in the future. The Transfiguration is supposed to remind them what it meant that Jesus is the Christ. They would see Jesus arrested, tortured, killed, and buried, and their faith would be shaken. But the Transfiguration would remind them that Jesus was the Son of God and that the Father really did have a plan, and this plan had been in motion since before time began.
That Moses and Elijah joined Jesus on the mountain isn’t a coincidence. They were there to show that everything in the Old Testament pointed to Jesus. The words of Moses and the events he recorded in the first five books of the Bible showed mankind’s need for a Savior, they should how the sacrifices of the sheep and the doves would be fulfilled in Jesus, and they showed how God in His grace comes to His people. Elijah, the classic prophet, came along to show that all that the prophets had taught about Jesus was true. Jesus would be the Savior born in Bethlehem, He would be the Savior who would do great things, and He would be the Savior who would suffer and die for His people. Everything in the Old Testament was about Jesus and the salvation that He was bringing into the world.
As Peter, James, and John witness this incredible event, Peter found himself enthralled by the glory that poured out from Jesus. He was so overwhelmed that he wants to stay on the mountain so the experience never has to end. Luke writes, “As the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah’”. Peter knew what Jesus was talking to Moses and Elijah about so he wanted to stay on the mountain. He wanted to live with the glory and avoid the cross. But Jesus couldn’t have the glory before the cross, the cross must come first. Before Jesus can reveal His full glory, He must reveal His full humanity; first the mount of death and then the mount of glory.
By showing us that the cross must come before the glory, Jesus is reminding us that while we may, like Peter, want to remain on the Mount of Transfiguration in the form of a perfect life and while we may want to live only in the glory of God, that’s not possible. The Theology of Glory teaches that Christians always have it good or should expect things to always be good. The Theology of Glory says that suffering is uncharacteristic for the Christian, that suffering doesn’t happen, and if it does, it’s your fault. But that’s not the way it is, is it? Life is full of hardships, suffering, and pain. Life thrusts us into unpleasant situations, situations that aren’t glorified at all. And no matter what we may want, no matter what others may tell us that we can have, the glory of God isn’t fully revealed to us until the end of our lives as we move from this life and into the next.
Until that day, our comfort is that same as that of the disciples. During Christ’s Transfiguration the Father said, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!” The Father didn’t mean listen just once, but listen again and again and again. And as we listen and look to Him we’re comforted with the reality that Jesus is God and no matter what sufferings we’ll experience in this world, He has a plan. The Lord said in Isaiah 46, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” What a great promise! God’s plan couldn’t be changed when it came to the Savior’s death and it won’t be changed when it comes to you and how that Savior’s death shapes you. And the greatest way that the Savior’s death has shaped you is the forgiveness of sins that ensures that on the day the Savior comes to bring you home, you’ll put on the most magnificent glory. You’ll put on the glory of God, the glory that assures you that your sins are forgiven, that your suffering has come to an end, and that because you have walked the way of the cross, you will now walk in the way of glory.
In Second Corinthians Paul wrote, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” In this part of our lives, we must live with the Theology of the Cross, we must carry our heavy loads. And we labor under our burdens, Jesus comes to us and is transfigured so that His overwhelming glory assures us that He’s God and nothing can separate us from His love and care. He has a plan for each of you, a plan that includes His presence during every step of your life. Until that day, keep your eyes fixed on that which you cannot see, knowing that one day you will dwell with the Lord in an unseen glory that will be yours forever.
Now may the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen