Sunday, February 01, 2009

Sermon: Transfiguration

1 February 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 17:1-9 (Ex 34:29-35, 2 Pet 1:16-21)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Jesus is full of surprises.

As the time draws near for our Lord to go to the cross, He shares a secret with three of His apostles: Peter, James, and John. He takes them up on a “high mountain” and is “transfigured” – which means literally, a “metamorphosis”, a change in form.

For three years, everyone has seen Jesus in his human nature. Of course, they have witnessed miracles and seen Him using His divine nature – but on this day, the day the Christian Church commemorates as Transfiguration Sunday, Sts. Peter, James, and John actually see our Blessed Lord shining in the unhidden glory of His divine nature, which He typically veils from sight.

Jesus shares this little secret about Himself, not by telling them, but by showing them.

And if this weren’t enough of a surprise, Peter, James, and John get to see our Lord speaking with Moses and Elijah. The Law and the Prophets themselves testify to the divine nature of our Lord as “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.”

Peter is so shocked by the sight, he starts muttering something about building tents for everybody.

But the surprises don’t end here. For the final scene of this remarkable day, the thing that floored Peter, James, and John, knocking them to their faces in terror, wasn’t something they saw, but something they heard: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.” They actually heard the voice of the Father, the Word of God. And what they heard was a reminder of our Lord’s baptism, in which the Father made the same pronouncement about the Son. And this time, the Father had something else to say, some advice. He told the apostles to “listen to” Jesus.

And as quickly as this horrific scene came upon them, it was over. “Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’ And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no-one but Jesus only.”

No more would they hear the Father’s voice, for the Father told them to listen to Jesus. No more do they see the Law and the Prophets, for now they see “Jesus only.”

Moses, who appeared to the three apostles in this miracle, had previously had a kind of “transfiguration” himself. After speaking face to face with God, Moses’s face beamed with light, and the people “were afraid to come near him.” They begged him to cover his face with a veil. Eventually, Moses’s face stopped glowing, for the light from his face was only reflected light. It is as though Moses went forward into time and spoke face to face with God on the mountain of transfiguration, and then went back to his own time, with his face glowing from this remarkable conversation with God the Son, and it took time for his face to stop beaming with the light of Christ. For indeed, it was the Word of God that said: “Let there be light.” It was by the “Word made flesh” that “all things were made.”

And though the light that shone from the face of our Lord was not a mere reflection, but rather a manifestation of His divine glory, the Lord Jesus typically veils His glory, hiding under forms that our feeble brains can process, such as His form of a baby in a manger, or the form of a rabbi, the form of the Word of God proclaimed among the people of God, the form of words of forgiveness, of the Gospel preached, of simple bread and wine. And yet, beneath the veiled forms are the very power and radiant might of God Himself, whose words create, whose words forgive, whose words make new.

For listen again to what St. Peter, who was there, has to say about this transfiguration:

“We were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have something more sure,”

Listen to what St. Peter says next. He says that even more than the voice of God, even more than the witness of Moses and Elijah, even more than seeing the veil come off of Jesus’s divine nature, there is “something more sure”, that is, Holy Scripture. For the apostle continues: “the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.”

Remember the Word of the Father spoken to Sts. Peter, James, and John – all of whom would write books of Scripture? The Father told them to “listen” to the Word of the Son. There would be no more booming voices from heaven – but rather the Word Himself, the Word made flesh, the Son, whom in these last days, the Lord has spoken. And St. Peter tells us to “listen” to Scripture.

And notice where we are to look. No more should be be distracted by the Law and the Prophets apart from the One who fulfills the Law and the Prophets. For just as the Father bids the apostles to “listen” to the Son, the Lord Jesus lifts them off of their faces, tells them not to fear, and they see “Jesus only.”

Dear friends, St. Peter has given us a surprise as well. For he says that the Word of Scripture, given to us by “men [who] spoke from God” and were “carried along by the Holy Spirit” is “more sure” than even the extraordinary events he witnessed with James and John on the mountain of Transfiguration with his own eyes! He says we “will do well to pay attention” – for this Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is like a “lamp shining in a dark place,” and is capable of leading us from the darkness of sin and death to the light to forgiveness and life. For these Scriptures are not our personal interpretations, but rather prophetic words that speak of the Word made flesh, the One in whom the Lord is pleased.

When we hear the Scriptures, we hear the Son – just as the Father commands. And though we are unable to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, and though because of our sins we have every reason to fear and fall on our faces before God, our Lord Jesus Himself fulfills the Law and the Prophets on our behalf, touches us, absolves us of our sins, offers us Himself in the veiled forms of bread and wine as we kneel before Him, and when we have eaten His body and have drunk His blood, He bids us to “rise and have no fear.”

And like the apostles, dear friends, we need to be reminded of where we are to focus our eyes. Even as this world has many competing lights and all sorts of enticements and allurements, bidding us to “look here!” and “look there!”, let us follow the example of Sts. Peter, James, and John, and when it comes to our salvation, when it comes to hearing the Word of God, when it comes to the revelation of God Himself, let us look to no-one but “Jesus only.” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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