Transfiguration – A LSB #’s 913, 589, 540:1, 3, 5-6
Text – Matthew 17:5
He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, & a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.”
LISTENING TO JESUS
In the wake of the tragedy this past Monday night, at the MSU campus, a lot of people are facing a new & real sense of fear in their lives. A friend of mine, a fellow pastor, was at Ft. Hood in 2009, when an Army major killed 13 people. The last time I saw this friend, ten years after the massacre, he still had not been able to overcome the anxiety caused by that experience.
For those of us who grew up in the Midwest, cloudy weather is part of the normal routine. We may not appreciate the lack of sunshine, but it’s part of life as we know it. Another friend of mine grew up in the desert of southern Idaho. During our time at the seminary in Ft. Wayne, he just could not comprehend how people choose to live with so little sunlight.
Those may seem like two rather disconnected paragraphs, but the place they both lead to introduces us to the point of Jesus’ transfiguration. This life is difficult & the world around us is not our friend. It isn’t just weeks or months of constant cloudy weather that can drag us down. It’s not only a tragic killing & wounding of students at a university that causes fear in our lives.
Violence, sexual sins, materialism, drugs & a culture of almost complete dishonesty run rampant around us. A poll conducted by Gallup in 2022, considering 14 major American institutions, found that only 27% of us have a great deal of confidence in our own American institutions. That was a 5% drop from just the year before.
Confidence declined for all categories – which included newspapers, big business & television news – except for organized labor, which remained at 28% from 2021 to 2022. Confidence in the US Congress came in at the low of 7%. Confidence in the presidency was at 23%, having dropped 15% in just that one year. All of us know that in our efforts to follow Jesus, living by faith & not by sight, is far from easy. Confidence in our own ability to manage the challenges & sorrows of life is something that few of us boast about. Daily, you & I face multiple sources of anxiety, & Russia has not even invaded our nation.
No matter how healthy or wealthy anyone is, life in this sinful & broken world is a struggle – day in, day out. As we hear it read, Matthew’s description of Jesus’ transfiguration may seem rather pointless. His glory is revealed for a brief minute or two, then it’s gone. When His disciples “…lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.” (Matthew 17:8 ESV)
Though only a few minutes long, the display of glory was so dazzling & amazing that it scared the daylights out of Jesus’ disciples. Then, “…as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, ‘Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.’” Peter, James & John didn’t even understand what Jesus meant by ‘raised from the dead.’
In the chapter before today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus told the disciples He would, “…be killed, & on the third day be raised.” Proving they don’t believe it, or comprehend what Jesus means by it, Peter rebukes Him, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”
So, before the transfiguration, Jesus predicts His death & resurrection. The disciples do not understand. After the brief but awesome revelation of His glory as God, Jesus commands the disciples not to tell anyone until after something they do not comprehend. Then Jesus instructs them that John the Baptist & He Himself will suffer rejection & death at the hands of evil men.
Now, it’s time to ask you a question: What did God the Father say just before the transfiguration ended? It was in the sermon text, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” I would hope you don’t find that too earth shaking. If you’ve gotten this far in your Christian faith without realizing you should be listening to Jesus, you really have missed the big picture. But it is the much more detailed picture that Matthew points to as He is now telling people about the transfiguration of Jesus. What is that detailed picture? Let me say this, it is exactly what Jesus said to the three disciples while they’re on the ground cowering in fear. Do you remember those words?
“Jesus came & touched them, saying, ‘Rise, & have no fear.’” Right there & then, right here & now, God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven & earth, of all things visible & invisible, as a voice from the cloud says, “This is my beloved Son… listen to Him.” And Jesus says, “Rise, & have no fear.” A more exact translation says, “Get up & stop being afraid.”
Following Jesus means death to our sinful fears. Jesus is God of the living & if you believe in Him as your Savior from sin then the ultimate death cannot touch you. Once the heavenly Father has claimed you as His own, there is nothing in this life of which to be afraid. Is that one of the easiest lessons we have to learn? No! Yet, that is why Jesus came to earth.
God, the almighty heavenly Father says, “Listen to Him.” Jesus says, “Get up & stop being afraid.” Expanding then, on that message, the reason that none of God’s children need to be afraid is because Jesus came to die the ultimate death on our behalf & in our place. He endured hell on the cross.
As they descend from the mountain Jesus tells them that John the Baptist & He Himself must suffer & die at the hands of evil men. Without this understanding of Jesus’ person & work, there can be no true understanding of Jesus at all. Without that understanding of your life of discipleship, you can be no disciple at all. It’s not one of the easiest lessons we have to learn!
When Jesus first began to show the necessity of the cross, Peter refused to receive the truth. Jesus told him, “Get behind me, Satan.” The glory & power are coming. Now, via the transfiguration, Peter, James & John have experienced a taste of the glory & power. However, if they refuse to reckon with the cross, with the suffering & tragedy of this life, then the glory & the power of living by faith will elude them. As difficult as it is for you to hear, the same is true for us, for those you love, & for everyone here on earth. We are to listen & believe & accept the necessary sequence of suffering before glory, for Jesus, for you, for me.
The recent tragedy at MSU, the much less recent tragedy at Ft. Hood, & all the suffering that God’s people & creation endure can only be overcome as we live by faith & not by sight. The transfiguration shows us that God’s glory & power are real & they are right before our eyes. We just can’t see them by sight for now. God is hiding them for our good.
In a similar way, no matter how cloudy the days & the weeks & the months may be, the sun is always shining. It’s right there on the other side of the clouds, sending the energy for life here on planet earth. In heaven, the brightness of God’s glory & power will be so great there will be no need for the sun or the moon. (Revelation 21:23)
The transfiguration teaches us that God’s bright glory & amazing power is always around us even when we cannot see it. And because they are with us even now we can learn to stop being afraid. The Holy Spirit empowers us, as well as teaches us, how to live by faith & not by sight. His glory is to show mercy to sinners. His strength is to stoop down to help the weak.
In all our trials & in all our struggles, we can learn, by leaning upon Jesus, to stop being afraid. Yes, we need to remain in Christ. We need to tap into the power of God’s Spirit. Learning to put our confidence in God’s love for us is not the easiest thing to do. Yet, even if we fail, & we will fail often, God’s strength is in stooping down to help the weak.
God will not snuff out the smoldering wick & Jesus will not abandon those who turn to Him after suffering tragedy. Christianity is the Good News of a God who did not remain in the glories & power of heaven while we suffered & died because of sin here on earth. Jesus took on the dust of His creation & became a human being in the womb of His mother. He was born into poverty & grew up having to learn the lessons of life just as we do. And He did this not for Himself, but for you & for me & for each of the people who are murdered every hour of every day across the world. Like Jesus, they too shall one day be raised from the dead.
And since there is a resurrection to everlasting life, we have no need to be afraid of dying. That is merely the beginning of the life of power & glory on the other side. Jesus taught that, & so listening to Him you & I can stop being afraid. Amen.
Speak, O Lord, Your servant listens, let Your Word to me come near; newborn life & spirit give me, let each promise still my fear. Death’s dread power, its inward strife, wars against Your Word of life; fill me, Lord with love’s strong fervor that I cling to You forever! Oh, what blessing to be near You & to listen to Your voice; let me ever love & hear You, let Your Word be now my choice! Many hardened sinners, Lord, flee in terror at Your Word; but to all who feels sin’s burden You give words of peace & pardon. As I pray, dear Jesus, hear me; let Your words in me take root. May Your Spirit ever be near me that I bear abundant fruit. May I daily sing Your praise, from my heart glad anthems raise, till my highest praise is given in the endless joy of heaven. Amen. LSB 589:1-2, 4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet