This past Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks destroyed the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. The Seattle defense strangled the vaunted Denver offense which had Payton Manning at quarterback. The Seattle defense should probably get most of the credit for the win, and linebacker Malcolm Smith was named the game’s MVP. However, all the pictures that I saw after the game showed another player holding up the Lombardi trophy in the midst of the celebration – Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. He was the player that I saw being interviewed on morning shows like Good Morning America.
Quarterback is the glamour position, and so it is not surprising that Wilson received attention. It doesn’t hurt that he is a good looking and articulate guy. But as good as the Seattle defense was this year, the reality is that Wilson was the difference between Seattle being just a good team, and being Super Bowl champions. His surprisingly strong and accurate arm; his ability to run; his leadership; and that “it” factor that is hard to describe but separates great players from everyone else have put Wilson at the center of attention. It has brought him sports glory.
Wilson’s glory as Super Bowl winning quarterback stands in contrast to what had preceded in his career. As a high school quarterback he was only ranked as two star recruit by recruiting services Rivals and Scout (for those of you not familiar with the recruiting scene, that’s two stars out of five). Not surprisingly, he didn’t receive any great scholarship offers. Wilson is only about 5’11’’ and so it seemed unlikely that he would be a successful quarterback at the college level.
There was no doubt that Wilson was good athlete. He signed with North Carolina State where he played both football and baseball. He was successful at both sports, and in 2010 the Colorado Rockies drafted Wilson in the fourth round of the baseball draft. Wilson intended to play minor league baseball as well as college football. However the NC State football coach, was opposed to the idea. While Wilson had been good, he hadn’t been great and so the coach gave Wilson a release to transfer.
Wilson was not considered a great pro-football prospect. In fact, he would not even have been invited to the 2011 NFL combine. So in 2011 he made use of a new NCAA rule that allowed a player who had a year of eligibility and had graduated to transfer and play one more year as a graduate student. Wilson transferred to Wisconsin where he had a spectacular year. He was drafted in the third round by Seattle. But it’s not as if they were certain that he would be a star. Instead they had signed Matt Flynn as their quarterback and had given him a contract with 9 million dollars in guaranteed money.
Wilson’s Super Bowl glory contrasts with what had preceded in his career in which he had constantly been doubed. We find the same contrast as we look at our Gospel lesson for the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord. Jesus shines forth in divine glory, and yet immediately before our text he had predicted his own suffering and death.
Our text this morning begins by saying, “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.” Jesus takes the “inner circle” of his disciples, who are all pictured on the walls of our nave, up on a mountain and there his appearance was changed in a way that revealed the fact that is the Son of God. His face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. It was amazing.
And that wasn’t the end of things either. For we learn that Moses and Elijah appeared there with Jesus and were speaking with him. There stood two giants of the Old Testament to whom God had revealed himself; two figures associated with the end times.
Peter’s response to this experience was classic Peter. He said, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Peter spoke in a way that seemed to put Jesus in the same class as the other two.
However, we learn in our text: “He 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.’” A bright cloud came upon them, just as it had stood over the tabernacle in the Old Testament. And if Peter was confused into setting Jesus in the same group as Moses and Elijah, the Father immediately set things straight by commanding: “Listen to him!”
The focus was to be on Jesus and what he had to say. And that takes us back to the last thing he had said in the Gospel. The phrase “after six days” at the beginning of our text provides a critical link with the events at the end of chapter sixteen. There Jesus had asked, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” When the disciples indicated that people took him to be some kind of prophetic figure, Jesus asked: “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter had replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus had answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
This was great stuff! But immediately after this we are told, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Peter had confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. And now Jesus says that he is going suffer and die.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, he then goes on to add: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” The One who is the Son of God tells his followers that they will need to suffer for him … and even die.
Now this is not what you want to hear. Because, after all, you don’t have to be here. You could be somewhere else, doing something else. You have chosen to come to church – to live the life of a Christian – because you think that in Jesus Christ you have great benefits. We speak of forgiveness and peace and salvation. We speak of comfort and joy and love.
But Jesus isn’t talking about those things here – at least not directly. Instead Jesus is talking about his suffering and death … and he is talking about the cross for you. The cross was not something that people in the Greco-Roman world used as a metaphor to mean anything positive. The cross was about humiliation and weakness and suffering. The cross was about death.
Jesus does not promise you “your best life now.” In fact, he says that faith in him will make your life harder. It’s harder because it means when the conversation about “religion” is going on, you are called to speak the truth about who Jesus Christ is and what he has done. It’s harder because it means taking a stand and saying what God’s word says about living together outside of marriage. It’s harder because it means saying there is right and wrong in a world where the only thing that is really wrong is to make that claim. You know there will be consequences for doing these things. And so at times, you just don’t.
In our Gospel lesson Jesus has just predicted his own suffering and death. He has predicted hardship for his disciples. This could shake our confidence and call everything into question. And so in his transfiguration, Jesus provides a glimpse of his glory. He does this even as God the Father points us to Jesus with words that take us back to what he said at Jesus’ baptism.
There, at the beginning of the Epiphany season, we saw that Jesus was designated as the Servant of the Lord. He identified himself with sinners as the One who would be the suffering Servant in your place to give you forgiveness. He began a mission that was directed towards one thing – it was directed towards the cross.
In our text today was see again that although it involves the cross, it is still God’s mission. It is God’s glorious saving mission that occurs in a hidden way – in the way of the cross. Yet in spite of its appearance, there is no doubt about its final outcome. It leads to the glory of resurrection and eternal life.
That’s what Jesus shows us in the transfiguration this morning. He is headed to the cross. But for a brief moment he shines forth with a glory that points forward to his resurrection. He points forward to what lies on the other side of the cross. And in doing so he tells us that cross, weakness and suffering do not contradict his promises. They are instead the way those promises are fulfilled.
The same thing is true for you as you walk in the faith. Confessing Christ in this world will bring the cross. But our Lord calls you never to lose sight of the resurrection. For it is the resurrection that gives you hope – a living hope that enables you to take up the cross. In the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ you know you have peace with God now. And in the resurrection of Jesus you have the assurance that the way of faith leads to the eternal and complete peace of resurrection life in the new creation.