March 6, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“And after six days Jesus took with Him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light.”
What is it like to see God? That is a question to ponder on this Transfiguration Sunday. What will be the experience? The Scriptures include several examples of people who have been granted the privilege of viewing the Lord. In all of the incidents, there is a sense of overwhelming awe. Sometimes that awe leads to thoughts of dread, as in the case with Isaiah during his vision into heaven. The sense of awe was found in Moses and the Exodus people. You heard in the Old Testament Reading this morning: “Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under His feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And He did not lay His hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.”
The appearance of God was impressive to Moses and the leaders of the Israelites. His majesty was on display. It was so, since the Lord was about to declare His Law to His people: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to Me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.’” As the Lord publishes His Law, He makes His divine presence visible: “The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day He called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel.” The Lord’s impressive display should lead the people to hear and obey His Law. The Lord’s majesty and glory could not be missed.
In a like manner, Jesus’ Transfiguration was meant to accomplish a similar objective. Six days after Jesus asks His disciples about His identity, about who He is, He takes three of them up a high mountain. The disciples’ confession was that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” That identity was about to be confirmed. As Peter, James, and John stand with Jesus on the mountain height, His form was changed: “And He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light.” The majesty and glory of Jesus is displayed before their presence. He looks like the visions of God that the Old Testament prophets Daniel and Ezekiel beheld. The different essence of Jesus is clearly seen.
But the change in Jesus’ appearance is not the only thing that reveals His identity. There is another divine appearance made: “[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.’” The Voice of God makes known that Jesus is no ordinary man. He is different, being the Son of God. It is a repeated testimony from earlier in Jesus’ life. At His Baptism, the same Voice from heaven declared Jesus’ identity to John the Baptizer, an identity that John made known to others. But this time, the Voice adds a command: “Listen to Him.” It happens in like manner as when the Lord gave His command to Moses: a cloud surrounds the mountain and the Voice is heard. Just as the Israelites were to hear the Law, so the disciples should hear Jesus’ teaching and believe it.
When the disciples heard the Voice, their reaction was terror: “When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.” They knew who had spoken. They knew that mortals are not worthy to hear the Lord. They knew the gravity behind such a statement from heaven. But this statement was not meant for the disciples’ harm. By listening to Jesus, the disciples would receive salvation. They would believe in His identity and His work for them. So Jesus comforts them: “But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’” Peter, James, and John were not going to be objects of divine wrath, but of divine favor. They are meant to see God and His salvation.
But this identity of Jesus is not meant to be seen only on that day on that mountain. Jesus’ identity as the Beloved Son of God is displayed in all that He said and did. What makes Jesus well pleasing to the Father is His obedience and fulfillment of the Divine Will. The Son of God is present in the world to accomplish salvation. Abiding by the Law spoken through Moses, fulfilling the sure prophetic word of Elijah and the other seers, and offering Himself as a ransom for many, Jesus pleases His Father.
The Transfiguration is not a theophany, an appearance of God, simply for appearance’s sake. It reveals exactly who the One acting for the salvation of the world is. Jesus’ identity is wrapped up in what He does. So He gives instructions to the witnesses of His Transfiguration: “And 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.’” In death and resurrection, Jesus reveals exactly who He is, proving Himself to be the Beloved Son, with whom the Father is well pleased.
This is how the Transfiguration Event becomes significant for you. In this event, you see the identity of the author of your salvation. The identity of your Savior has been made known to you. It is what Peter and the other apostles bore witness to: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but 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.” What Peter saw, he proclaimed. But he did so according to Jesus’ command: “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”
The Son of Man died and was raised. That is what the prophets declared would happen, what Jesus said He would fulfill. It was done so for you. Jesus accomplished what He was meant to do. His identity was shown in word and deed. He died and has been resurrected. So Peter declares to you what he saw. The actions and teachings of Jesus are told to you, so that you may “listen to Him.” Through His actions, Jesus makes the promises of the Father a certainty, as Peter states: “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention. . . .”
The words of Moses taught about the righteousness that the Christ would possess; the words of Elijah and the prophets foretold what the Christ would do. But these are not words of their own innovation: “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” The Lord has put forward these words that Jesus has fulfilled. What God spoke God has done. It is what makes the Jesus Christ, the beloved Son of God, well pleasing to God the Father. This shows you who your Savior is. His actions give validity and certainty to His promises.
So you also may listen to Him. You should hear what Jesus says and believe that it is valid and certain for you. The promises are great for you. He promises deliverance to those who are baptized: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” He promises absolution to sinners: “Whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” He promises participation in a New Covenant for His disciples: “This is My blood of the new covenant, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” He promises life to His believers: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live.” These promises are rooted in who Jesus is and what He would do. The apostolic witness to His Transfiguration reveals that identity to you.
Jesus’ words, including His prophetic word, are valid and certain because He is well pleasing to His Father. You do well to “listen to Him” and “to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” For those who do not, there is dreadful result, as the Psalmist declared: “Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath is quickly kindled.” The One who is divine and powerful shall “break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” But there is an even greater fate that awaits those who recognize Jesus’ identity and listen to His words: “Blessed are all who take refuge in Him.” The One who has the ability to destroy also has the ability to save.
The Lord desires that you have that blessed end. He wants you to be like Moses and the leaders of Israel: “He did not lay His hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.” Jesus’ desire is to call you up out of the depths of despair and the grave: “He came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’” And the Holy Spirit longs for the day when He may bring honor and glory to you in the heavenly kingdom, so that you may hear the words spoken about you: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
All of this is the fate that has been established for you by the Lord and His Anointed. It is what Jesus worked to make valid and certain for you. Listen and rely on Him who obeyed the Law, fulfilled the Prophets, and who proclaims His Gospel. For then it will your destiny to behold Jesus in His heavenly temple on Zion, the Lord’s holy mountain. There you shall view God in eternal awe, but with no hand raised against you. Then you shall see what Peter bore witness to and forever say with him and all Christ’s disciples: “Lord, it is good that we are here.”
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.