Transfiguration – A LSB #’s 414, 707, 394
Text – Matthew 17:1-2b (NIV)
After six days Jesus took with Him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There He was transfigured before them.
CHANGE AND TRANSITION
There Jesus was transfigured before them. How’s that for some theological language? For those brought up in the church, if you’ve been paying attention over the years, you might have an understanding of what that sentence means. However, to most people, outside and inside of the church, the Transfiguration is a concept much like Epiphany.
They are two very obscure and seldom noticed celebrations. The average church member couldn’t explain the significance of either one, to save their life. After all, there’s no secular counterpart to draw attention to them, like with Christmas and Easter. Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny we can relate to. They bring gifts. But what do we get out of the Transfiguration?
From the title of this sermon, if you’re alert, you might guess that it has something to do with change and transition, but that isn’t enough to help you explain it to someone if they should ask. Then again, you might not care at all what the Transfiguration means, and that wouldn’t surprise me. Even as a pastor I’m aware of how the sinful nature in each one of us operates.
It cares nothing for God. It rejects & despises Him, and that hatred is played out in each of us. If we think better of ourselves, then how do we explain our apathy towards things Godly, an apathy made obvious by our lack of interest in the Transfiguration of Christ?
“What, no presents? No Easter candy? Then why should I care? There’s nothing that I want. Pastor, why don’t you preach on something relevant? The Transfiguration doesn’t get it.” Those are just a few examples of how our sinful nature cares nothing for God!
Our English word “transfigured” comes from Latin. If we remember anything about the
Transfiguration it’s likely that we’ve concentrated upon the report that His face shone like the sun and His clothes became as white as the light. But the Greek word used in the NT means to be changed in essence. In other words, it is not just the appearance of Jesus that was changed.
Most of the time Christ spent here on earth was in what we call His state of humiliation. Basically, that means that Jesus voluntarily set aside His Godly powers. He chose not to use them. He appeared as any other man. At His Transfiguration, however, the three disciples see Jesus in His glory. But that’s not because God was shining some heavenly spotlight upon Him.
Jesus’ face shone like the sun because for those moments He had picked up at least some of His Godly powers. His clothes became white as light because the glory of God was shining through them. No, it wasn’t just that the appearance of Jesus had changed. He was revealing much more of His Godly essence than the disciples normally saw.
If you remember, the season of Epiphany is about the revelation, to people, that the man Jesus Christ is also true God. Transfiguration Sunday is the culmination of the Epiphany. It’s the glorious revelation of Jesus Christ as something more than can be seen with the naked eye. The Transfiguration is a glimpse of how Jesus will appear when we’re with Him in heaven.
As Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus, they were carrying on a conversation, and that discussion was not about the perfect life to come. The Gospel of Luke tells us they were talking about Jesus’ death, His resurrection, and His ascension. Jesus was on His final trip to Jerusalem. It is a time of dreadful change and transition for His disciples.
You see, Transfiguration Sunday also marks the transition from Epiphany to Lent. Ash Wednesday is only three days off, and the season of Lent is here to help us prepare for the death of our Savior. It’s a death that we are guilty of, a death that you and I should have died. It’s also a death that we don’t feel particularly sorry for. Do you remember the last time you meditated upon the crucifixion of Christ? That kind of sorrow doesn’t come from our sinful nature, but only from the new man created in us at our Baptism.
Yes, true sorrow over the death of God’s Son comes only from the work of God’s Spirit as He lives and breathes within us. Yet we certainly do feel sorrow as our lives undergo change and transition, because that sorrow is about me, myself and I. It’s our nature to be self-centered. Repentance over Christ’s death for our sins does not come naturally.
Repentance is something the coming season of Lent focuses upon, but we cannot do it without the power of the Holy Spirit. Our sinful nature is far too strong to be overcome by our own willpower. That is where Baptism ties in with the Transfiguration.
The Baptismal liturgy we use is a reminder of the change and the transition that our Lord works in us through the power of His Word. Anyone who is baptized has been transfigured in that they’ve been changed from being purely sinner, to that of being sinner and saint. That change and transition has occurred because God has declared it.
Through the Word of God, and the water empowered by that Word, a child is transfigured from the kingdom of death to the Kingdom of Life. Though his outward appearance has not changed, his status in the sight of God has. On the final day of this world, then even the appearance of all of God’s children will be forever magnificent.
Therefore, when our Lord is behind the changes and transitions in our lives we should not fear them. None of us wants to remain entirely a sinner for the rest of eternity, and yet becoming something different requires change and that transition will always be painful, because our sinful nature does not want to let go. It fights the transition tooth and nail.
Over the years, this congregation has gone through major change and transition. In our personal lives, probably all of us have been through major changes and transitions. It’s natural for us to be afraid, but we should remember that it’s our sinful nature which is at the root of that fear. As we’re sitting around in heaven a million years from now all of this will appear so minor as to be laughable. In the verses prior to today’s Gospel reading, Jesus had been speaking to His disciples of His suffering and death. They were afraid. So He takes the three leaders with Him and shows them that His suffering is followed by glory. Through having Moses and Elijah there, He reveals that mankind will also share in this heavenly transfiguration and glory.
In the end, all the mistakes we make in this life will be erased. On the last day of time, each of us will be raised from the dead with a body transfigured by the Creative and Almighty Word of God. He will speak, and our bodies will be changed in the twinkling of an eye. But our Lord doesn’t leave us hanging until that day. We return to the Gospel lesson from Matthew:
“[Peter] was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.’ When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’” (Matthew 17:5-7 ESV)
In the Sacraments that Jesus instituted, in Baptism and in Holy Communion, He is still coming to us. And there He touches us also, through the bread, the wine, the water and through the power of His Word: “Do not be afraid.” He says. “Never will I forsake you. Never will I leave you, for I am with you always.”
Though our old man, that sinner still living within, hates this change, fears it, and fights it at all costs, the new man, which God’s Spirit created at your Baptism, welcomes this change and this touch of Jesus. It’s through the means of grace that God’s never failing promises are kept. Through them He gives you strength to meet each new day of life that He blesses you with. Nevertheless, we constantly forget where it is from that our help comes. Today’s sermon hymn reminds us:
“Oh, that the Lord would guide my ways to keep His statutes still! Oh that my God would grant me grace to know and do His will! Order my footsteps by Thy Word and make my heart sincere; let no sin have dominion Lord, but keep my conscience clear. Assist my soul, too apt to stray, a stricter watch to keep; and should I e’re forget Thy way, restore Thy wandering sheep.” LSB 707:1-3.
We need, daily, to look to the Lord for guidance, especially when the way we travel seems uncertain, like in times of change and transition. Satan easily tempts us with thoughts of, “But Lord, we have it so good here!! It’s safe and comfortable. Let us stay!!!” Like Peter, we’d rather pitch our tents and stay put, because it’s our selfish nature to do so.
Too often we use only our physical sight and we see the mere appearance of ourselves, the fearful and corrupted sinful nature. We don’t use faith to see the transfigured self that God created on the day of our spiritual birth, the day of our Baptism. That self can move mountains, because faith in Christ has the power of the Almighty God behind it.
Fortunately, Jesus doesn’t allow us to remain where we would in our selfish ignorance. We’d preserve our faith in the museum of selfishness where it only becomes sterile and useless. But Christ reaches out and touches you personally. He gives you blessings far greater than anything you could ever comprehend when you look only at the physical world around you.
What we get out of the Transfiguration is a picture of things to come, of things already now, and of things as they have been ever since the man named Jesus walked the face of this earth. Christ has given us a picture in which we are shown to be forgiven, holy and everlastingly alive. Without the Transfiguration, all that we learn from life in the school of hard knocks is that we cannot stay on the mountaintop forever. Certainly the disappointments and the suffering of our lives teach us that lesson well. We’d be foolish to deny it. However, Satan would have us focus entirely upon our suffering. God gave us the Transfiguration to teach us that there’s another view, or another dimension, to our lives.
In that dimension our heavenly Father sees you as innocent and holy because of the perfect life that His Son lived in your place. We too are blessed to see that view by faith, and God’s Spirit creates not only that view, but also the faith we see it by in the waters of Baptism. The Transfiguration was given for our encouragement.
We live many of our days in the valleys of struggle or the flat plains of dull routine. In another sense though, we stay on the Mount of Transfiguration every moment on into eternity. In Jesus, the sacred has come down to us, from the mountain of Calvary, to dwell in our hearts. Christ has come & has touched our lives with His love.
He walks with us even in the valley of the shadow of death. He comes to us, He touches us and He calms our fears. We have a sacred mountain within; where Christ is still lying in the manger of our heart, however crude and bear that heart may be. And indeed, it is most holy ground, because of whom it is that rests there. Amen.
Order my footsteps by Thy Word & make my heart sincere; let no sin have dominion Lord, but keep my conscience clear. Assist my soul, too apt to stray, a stricter watch to keep; and should I e’re forget Thy way, restore Thy wandering sheep.” Amen. LSB 707:2-3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet