5 February 2017
Text: Matthew 17:1-9
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Peter, James, and John (and the rest of the disciples) were in for the greatest challenge of their lives. They were going to be shocked and appalled to see their Lord and Rabbi – whom they confessed to be the Messiah prophesied in the Holy Scriptures – arrested, mocked, abused, convicted on fake charges, condemned, flogged, tortured, and crucified. Their faith was going to be tested to the very core.
Our Lord Jesus Christ gave them just what they needed to bolster their faith and preserve them as leaders of the apostles as the Lord Jesus was to die and then rise again.
On this day, He lifted the veil and allowed them a peek into His true divine nature in a way that they had never seen before.
For in His earthly ministry, our Lord is a bit like a spy who blends in behind enemy lines to carry out his assignment. Jesus is, of course, fully human. He is not a hybrid half-god-half-man like the pagans had in their religion. He is completely human, and yet His humanity is the True Humanity – perfect, glorious, in the very image of God – a glory that has departed from us poor, miserable sinners.
Jesus veiled this glory in His earthly ministry even as Moses wore a veil to prevent the reflected glory of God from frightening the people. Jesus’ veil is His setting aside His glory. His veil is in His ordinary face.
But on this day, this transfiguration day, up on a high mountain, our Lord showed Peter, James, and John something that they would never forget: the glory of the perfect Man who is also God in His magnificence.
His appearance was changed in accordance with what was normally hidden from them. The most interesting thing to happen was that the Lord’s face beamed with a blazing light, “like the sun.” This calls to mind the blessing that the Lord gave to the priests of the Old Testament to pronounce over the people: “The Lord make His face shine upon you…”
Jesus is that Lord. His face is that face. The light observed by Peter, James, and John is that light.
Moreover, the three blessed apostles saw something else: our Lord Jesus Christ in conversation with Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets, of whom our Lord is the embodiment and fulfillment.
And if that were not enough to confirm in their minds the reality that this Jesus, this Messiah, is truly God in the flesh – no matter what shocking scenes of death they were yet to see – there was more to this divine revelation. For a “bright cloud overshadowed them.” And out of this mysterious cloud came a voice: the voice of God the Father repeating the pronouncement made as Jesus began His ministry, at His Baptism: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.”
Jesus is not only God, He is the Son of God. He is the Father’s beloved – and no matter what they are going to witness on another mount – a craggy hill of punitive death called “Golgotha” – God the Father is indeed “well pleased” with the Lord Jesus, His Son, pleased at His obedience in saving the world from sin, death, and the devil by His very blood, by the sacrifice of the Lamb, a gift of salvation offered to all who would believe and receive the good news. The Son is not abandoned by the Father, even though the Father’s wrath is to be channeled to the Son as He bore the curse of sin, the weight of guilt, the consequence of death – our sin, our guilt, our death – which were all placed squarely upon Him whose form would be transfigured upon the cross, transfigured into the bloody form of a condemned criminal.
And so, dear friends, on the mountain of Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John saw the Lord as He truly was, and is, in His glory. And because of this glory, they were afraid. And they were right to be. They stood in the very presence of God – and they would live to tell about it – but not until “the Son of Man [was] raised from the dead.” They “fell on their faces” in terror.
“But 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.”
Dear brothers and sisters, it is right that we fear God. This is the beginning of wisdom. Indeed, we should “fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” We cannot stand in the glory of the Son of Man, in the mighty power of the Father, in the righteous energy of the Spirit – because of our sins. But let us not forget what Jesus – Jesus only – has done for us. He has forgiven our sins, removed our guilt, and taken away the punishment of death that we deserve. Jesus likewise touches us – giving us His fleshly body and blood – and He speaks to us in His Word of the Gospel and of Absolution, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” He comes to us in this Divine Service, and while His glory is veiled under the spoken Word and in the forms of bread and wine, we know of His glory. For Peter, James, and John did indeed “tell… the vision,” testifying to what they saw and heard and experienced on the mountaintop. “We have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
And as we receive Christ in Word and Sacrament, and when we lift up our eyes heavenward, we do not see the angry cloud of God’s wrath. We do not hear the frightening voice of God coming to condemn us. We are not blinded by a light of righteousness that threatens to burn us up like grass in the fire. No indeed! We cast our eyes to the heavens and we see “no one but Jesus only,” the merciful Lord who has taken our place at the cross.
Jesus only! For there is no other name in heaven or on earth by which we are saved. Jesus only! There is no other Messiah who fulfills the Law and the Prophets. Jesus only! There is no other begotten Son of the Father who has pleased Him by fulfilling all righteousness. Jesus only!
Jesus only. Amen.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.