February 10, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“Now about eight days after these sayings [Jesus] took with Him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as He was praying, the appearance of His face was altered, and His clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with Him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His departure, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”
The events from Christmas through Epiphanytide have led up to this day, to this mountaintop experience in Galilee. It has been a long trek from Bethlehem to here. It may not seem like it, since we mark thirty years of Jesus’ life in about three months. But consider what had taken place, even in the short snippets of Jesus’ life that you have heard since the Nativity of Our Lord was celebrated on December 25.
You have heard how Jesus was born and laid in a manger. It was there, since no room was found in the inn. But what did such birth show? The humble origins of Jesus. That was confirmed with the appearance of Jesus in Jerusalem’s Temple at His Presentation. The requirements of the Law were done for Him, but what was the sacrifice offered? A pair of turtledoves—the prescribed sacrifice for those of low means. But then the humility began to be turned around: the Magi come bearing their gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh and they fall down worshiping the Infant Jesus. Then the movement was to hearing of Jesus’ adulthood. He is baptized; at that baptism Jesus is identified as the Beloved Son of God, the One well-pleasing to His Father. His preaching in Nazareth confirmed that the Spirit of the Lord was upon Him. And you heard how Jesus began to perform miracles: changing water to wine, casting out demons and healing the sick.
Everything is on an upward track, a climb up the proverbial mountain. And what did you hear take place today? The revelation of Jesus glory is made: “Now about eight days after these sayings [Jesus] took with Him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as He was praying, the appearance of His face was altered, and His clothing became dazzling white.” Jesus’ true identity is on display for three of His disciples to see. They witness a change in Jesus’ form. Gone are the humble trappings of the world. No more shabby clothes. No more dinginess from Galilee’s dirt roads. No more signs of hard life. Instead, there is the dazzling, majestic, divine appearance.
And what else was told concerning this mountaintop experience? It didn’t stop with just a transfiguration. No, there was even the appearance of people who were enjoying the life of the world to come: “And behold, two men were talking with [Jesus], Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory….” Not only does Jesus have His divine glory on display, He has an audience who had shown up in similar appearance. This is it! It all led up to this. This is the Messiah that all had been waiting to see. What more could Peter and John and James or anyone else want? How could this glory be topped?
But there is something that doesn’t seem to fit during this Transfiguration Event. In the midst of all these glorious happenings, there is a detail thrown in that doesn’t belong. All is moving upward, higher and higher. But the audience that Jesus has with Moses and Elijah puts forward something that moves everything downward again: “And behold, two men were talking with Him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His departure, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” Do you catch that detail? Moses and Elijah’s conversation with Jesus brings up a subject that is not glorious. They talk about Jesus’ departure, His “exodus”.
What is this departure that Moses and Elijah speak of? It’s more than the gates that lead to airplanes taking off from Harrisburg International to Atlanta or Chicago. It’s a way of speaking about what none of us really want to. This departure is a euphemistic way of talking about death. In fact, some of our English translations [NKJV, HCSB] put it right out there, rendering this as Moses and Elijah spoke about Jesus’ decease or His death. That’s the subject matter that these two men appearing in glory discuss with Jesus whose face is glowing and clothes are dazzling white. In the midst of all this glory is discussed the inglorious.
But why must this be brought up? Because this is part of Jesus’ true identity. It is an essential aspect of His life, of His role as the Messiah. The subject matter that Moses and Elijah bring up is what the Law and the Prophets had foretold concerning the Promised One whom the Lord would send. It had actually all led up to this—not the mountaintop Transfiguration Event, but the appearance of the Messiah who would suffer and die on a different mountain in order to bring salvation to all who were suffering and dying.
This fate had not been kept secret. And it wasn’t something that Jesus only first learned about after He climbed up the mountain and had Moses and Elijah talk to Him. No, it was made clear by Jesus Himself. Note how the Gospel Reading began: “Now about eight days after these sayings [Jesus] took with Him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray.” What sayings is the Gospel Writer referring to? The sayings that Jesus had given to the Twelve: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised…. If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me…. Whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in His glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” The sayings reveal the prophesied purpose of the Messiah, what He would do and what His followers would also share in.
That is why Peter’s suggestion about making three tents for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus to dwell in on the mountain is of no purpose. This is also why God the Father appears on the mountainside to confirm again Jesus’ identity: “As [Peter] was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a Voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!’ And when the Voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.” Jesus’ identity is made clear: He is the Messiah, the One whom the Lord had chosen; He is the Son of God the Father. So Jesus must be listened to and heeded, especially when He discloses what He will do to fulfill the prophetic statements made about the bringing of salvation to you.
As you hear the details of what took place at Jesus’ transfiguration, you begin to understand fully who your Redeemer is and how He has brought redemption to you. The Church Year calendar turns today. And the change from Epiphanytide to Lent brings with it a change in what you will hear concerning Jesus. Not that you hear of a different Jesus. No, it is that the same Jesus whom you heard being honored by the Magi, being anointed by the Holy Spirit, turning water into wine, preaching and casting out demons will also undergo rejection by people who will not heed His calls to repentance, who hate His seeking out the lost, and who will not accept the testimony concerning His identity. But that is how it must be. It all leads up to this—that the Son of Man suffers many things, dies, but also rises on the third day.
Since this is what Jesus does, you can find salvation in Him. Because this is what Jesus does, you can speak of the glory that He possesses. It is not something that Jesus has for a few hours on a mountainside in Galilee. No, it is what He possesses eternally. It is His as He was faithful in all things, even in the events that led to His humiliation and rejection for your benefit. That is why you were also given the instruction concerning Jesus: “Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to Him who appointed Him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house.” And what should be considered about Jesus? That He did what the Father told Him to do. That He performed all the actions that had been prophesied about Him. That He did suffer and die and rise again, as had been foretold.
And so you are to heed the command that God the Father gave about Jesus: “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!” Listen to Jesus as He speaks about who He is. Listen to Jesus as He speaks about what He has done. Listen to Jesus as He discloses where the good things that He has earned for you are located—in the font, from the pulpit, on the altar. Listen to Jesus as He calls you to follow Him. Listen to Jesus as He shows you the way of discipleship, including the taking up your cross and following Him when no one else seems interested in doing so. Listen to Jesus as He reveals the blessed end that will be yours because He didn’t stay on the mountain basking in glory but hung in humiliation. Listen to Jesus as He rises from the dead and speaks His peace to you.
Why listen to Him? Because God the Father says so. Because of the promise that is attached to that command. Because of what Moses and Elijah prophesied about Him. Because of who Jesus is: “Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are His house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.” That confidence and hope are found in what Jesus has done, in what His life led up to—the humility of coming down and suffering and dying turned to the glory of life and resurrection and ascension.
What Jesus experienced is not just something that He did for Himself. It is what Jesus has done for you, so that your path leads to the same end, so that you may witness what Peter and John and James saw, so that you may be raised and found in glory in Jesus’ presence, so that you will be able to fulfill the command: “Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at His holy mountain; for the Lord our God is holy!” That is what Jesus’ life as the Son of God and the Father’s Chosen One all leads up to. Listen to Him and receive it.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.