February 19, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves; and He was transfigured before them…. And a cloud came and overshadowed them; and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son; listen to Him!’”
For this last Sunday of the Epiphany Season, we see the final and greatest testimony about our Lord’s divinity. That is, it is the greatest testimony until the time of Christ’s death and glorious resurrection. So it is most understandable that we hear about this event in the life of Jesus before the Church begins her journey through the season of Lent.
For the last several weeks, we have heard from Mark’s Gospel about various miracles that Jesus performed. First, we heard about Christ’s own baptism, where God the Father declared that the Man standing in the Jordan River was truly His “beloved Son.” After that, we saw how Jesus used His divine powers and abilities to assist people in dire straits. He casts out demons, takes away fevers, cleanses lepers. The helpless are given aid, their problems solved in ways that only God Himself can accomplish.
Each time, the crowds are amazed. They had seen nothing like this. Never in their lives had their eyes beheld such great, miraculous things. Witnessing these displays of divine power, the people become convinced of who this Jesus of Nazareth is. And so they follow Him. They proclaim Him to be the One sent from God. But what should happen if the miracles went away, if the displays of divine power become few and far between? Would the people be so willing to follow Jesus on His path? Would they be so quick to gather around Him? Would His fame continue to travel to all towns in the region? Or would such a lack of signs and miracles be a crisis of faith, something that drives people away?
Unfortunately, it would be such a crisis. We know from the whole record of Christ in the Gospels that a lack of show, a lack of majestic power would drive many away from Him. It seems that some just wanted to be around the miracle worker, in the presence of dazzling things. But when the teaching got weird and hard, when the actions of Jesus seemed just ordinary, the crowds weren’t interested in Him.
But hard teachings and being humble were essential parts of His ministry. They were necessary for Him to bring salvation to creation. For the Christ was the One who emptied Himself of divine privilege, who took upon Himself the role of a servant, who became obedient to death, even death on a cross. Yet through such a life, a life as the Suffering Servant, our Lord Jesus brings His creation from death to life, from sinfulness to redemption.
That is the path that Christ must take, the path to the Holy City in order to die. He must go to a mountain outside of Jerusalem, to be crucified like a common criminal, killed by unrighteous men, so that His righteousness might be given to them. And that is what Christ’s disciples must understand. They must take this truth to heart, so that they can participate in His work on their behalf.
But before this part of His life takes place, Christ takes three of His disciples to a different mountain. The Inner Circle—Peter, James, and John—are selected by Jesus to witness one more great proof of His divinity. They are given a preview of what awaits the Christ after He undergoes His humiliation and death. Much like our movie trailers, the Transfiguration Event gives these three disciples something to look forward to, even in the darkest days of Christ’s ministry and life.
On this mountain in Galilee, Jesus displays what He truly is. He pulls back the veil of His humanity, removing His servant’s form for a moment. Mark tells us: “Jesus was transfigured before them.” His figure, His appearance changed. These first disciples of Jesus had known Him as the Man from Nazareth, the One who called them away from the seashore in Galilee.
But now, the Galilean carpenter looks different. He no longer appears as a commoner, a person of the earth. The dingy, dusty robes are changed. “His clothes became radiant, intensely white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.” The holiness and glory of God is seen in the person of Jesus. His divine nature is witnessed by these three men of Galilee.
Yet, as if that were not enough, Peter, James, and John witness Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus. The Giver of the Law, Moses, and the Great Prophet, Elijah, stand with Jesus. They stand in as character witnesses, so to speak. Their words had spoken about the Messiah, the One who would fully obey the Law of God and fulfill all the promises of God to His fallen creation. Christ Himself had taught that He would not abolish the Law and the Prophets, but fulfill them. Now the authors of these writings discuss Christ’s mission with Him, including the punishment of death that the Law demands and the predictions of death that the prophets had given.
And as this conversation draws to a close, one more witness from heaven is given regarding the identity of Christ Jesus. Once again, a voice from heaven rings out: “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him!” The Heavenly Father Himself points to Jesus again and endorses Him without reservation. Jesus is no mere child of God; He is the Beloved Son, the One whom God the Father has loved from before time began, the only-begotten Son of God in the flesh.
But just as important as the identification from heaven is the command that the Father gives: “Listen to Him!” The command is not conditional or limited. The disciples are not told to listen to Jesus and follow Him when everything is great. They are not to listen to Jesus only when massive crowds are present. They are not to be around Jesus only when the miracles are being done.
No, the command is unconditional: “Listen to Him!” Listen to Him without question. Listen to Him at all times. Listen to Him even when the rest of Israel wants to murder Him, when no one wants to be associated with Him, when doubt and slander are spoken against Him. In fact, it is most necessary to listen at that these times, when all the visible signs are no where to be seen, but when the Lord God Almighty still reveals divine truth with what He speaks.
For in this time of weakness, this time of humility, the same dazzling God is present. Jesus is still the same glorious and holy God, despite what the externals may look like. The veil is necessary, the servant’s form is essential, so that He can provide salvation by being the Lamb of God sacrificed for the sins of the world. And those who put their entire faith, trust, and hope in Him will receive the benefits that Jesus provides.
The Father’s command is the same to us. We are called to listen to Christ. We are called to follow Him wherever He leads, to trust in Him despite what the externals may look like. The Father’s command is very appropriate to us in our days. For we have seen neither the miraculous signs nor the transfigured Christ. Yet, we here in this room confess that He is our God and our Lord, that He is the provider of our salvation.
Why do we believe such things? Why do we make such outrageous claims? Because we have Christ’s words spoken to us, we have the Father’s command to listen given to us, and we have the Spirit’s creation of faith within us. And with these three things working in concert, with the Triune God operating on our behalf, we make the confession of faith that we do.
And so it that our faith lays claim to the salvation, to the gifts that our Lord has won for us. We grab hold of His divine power for our behalf in His word and promises. Wherever His promises are made to us, wherever His teaching is made known, we are called to listen. And we do so. For that is what is done in this house of God.
Here are made His promises of regeneration and renewal in Holy Baptism. Here are spoken Christ’s great declarations of absolution. Here are given His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation in His Body and Blood under bread and wine, because He says so. Our Lord speaks and we listen. We listen, believe, and receive, despite all the veils in this life. We listen, believe, and receive because Christ came down that mountain of transfiguration and died on the mountain outside of Jerusalem. We listen, believe, and receive because not everything was majestic for Jesus.
And so we can listen, believe, and receive when not everything is majestic and glorious for us. For the Father’s command is unconditional, but so are the words of Jesus. They are for the grand times of our life, but more importantly for the low and terrible times. Yet, even then the Lord’s words come to us and are just as effective, just as true, just as powerful. What Christ has done for us and what He promises to us are for all times and all places. And as we listen, believe, and receive, we shall be brought out of this life of sinfulness, of things not going the way we desire, of sorrow and shame. For as our Lord has gone before us, so we shall follow—even to our own time of transfiguration, when the corruptible becomes incorruptible and the imperfect is glorified.
May we always stand firm in our faith, grabbing hold of the promises of Jesus, always listening, believing, and receiving, so that when He returns with His angels and nothing veiling His glory, we may see Him just as He is.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.