Sunday, February 10, 2019

Sermon for the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord: Mt 17:1-9

                                                                                                Mt 17:1-9

            I hope that you like roller coasters, because our text this morning puts us right in the middle of one.  It 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.”  Matthew’s Gospel very rarely provides specific statements about the timing of events.  So when our text begins with the phrase “after after six days,” it should lead us to ask, “Six days after what?”
            Looking back into chapter sixteen we find a true high point in the Gospel.  Matthew tells us, “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’”  The disciples reported of variety of answers that were present such as John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the prophets.  Then Jesus asked the really important question: “But who do you say that I am?”
             Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  The key point in this confession was that Jesus was the Christ.  The disciples had already said to Jesus, “Truly you are the Son of God,” in chapter fourteen after he had walked on water and stilled the storm.  But now, Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah descended from King David – the One who would fulfill all of God’s promises of rescue and salvation for his people.  Our Lord replied by saying that Peter was exactly right.  In fact, he was right because God had revealed this to him.  He said, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”
            What an amazing moment!  What a high point!  But then, like a roller coaster that has reached its peak, things plunge down. 
Matthew tells us, “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.”  Right after Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus begins to tell the disciples that he must suffer and die.
            Now there were a variety of understandings about the Messiah in first century Judaism.  But what they all had in common was that the Messiah was the mighty victor who defeated all opponents.  The sure sign that a person was not the Messiah, was when he was killed.
            Jesus was getting it all wrong, so Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” Yet Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”  And as if that wasn’t bad enough, Jesus then added that suffering was coming for his followers.  He said, “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.”
            This is not what Peter wanted to hear.  It’s not what we want either.  We want a Jesus who is a winner in the world, not One who is rejected by many – even by our own family and friends.  And we want a Jesus who makes us winners. We want a Jesus who makes life easier, not harder.  After all, life is hard enough.  Why do I need Jesus to make it harder as he and his Word tell me to live in ways that are completely out of step with the world? Why do I want to invite disdain by saying that Jesus is the only way to salvation and life with God?  Why do I want to make life hard for myself by saying that homosexuality is sinful?  Why do I want to make life hard by saying that sex is only to take place within marriage?   
            From the heights of the God revealed confession that Jesus is the Christ, things had plunged down to the depths of the prediction that Jesus was going to suffer and die, and so also were his disciples. Surely the disciples’ heads were spinning. These were hard things Jesus had said.  So Matthew tells us in our text that six days later Jesus took with took with him Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. This roller coaster was heading back up to heights they had never seen before.
            We learn: “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” Jesus Christ is true God and true man at the same time.  In the incarnation he took on his human nature without ceasing to be God.  In humility he had come to serve us as he carried out the Father’s will.  He did not make use of his divine power in order to serve himself. But at this one moment, he allowed the three disciples to behold his divine glory. His face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as light.
            And that wasn’t all.  Matthew tells us, “And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.”  Jesus stood there talking with two of the greatest figures in the Old Testament. Both of them had encountered God in a unique and awesome way on a mountain.  Both of them were associated in Judaism with the end times.
            What an amazing moment!  What a high point!  Peter recognized this and 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 proposed the he would make arrangements so that they could stay there in that miraculous setting.
            Then, while Peter was still speaking 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.” God the Father spoke the same words that he had at Jesus’ baptism – words that were taken from the first verse of Isaiah chapter forty two about the Servant of the Lord.
            A moment before Peter had wanted to build shelters and hang out with Jesus, and Moses and Elijah.  Yet now, the disciples fell on their faces terrified. Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” When they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus.  And as they went down the mountain he commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”
            Our text this morning is part of a roller coaster that goes up and down.  This movement keeps going back and forth between glory and suffering.  Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.  Yet Jesus is going to suffer and die, and his disciples are going to have to take up the cross as well.  Jesus is transfigured and reveals his divine glory, as Moses and Elijah talk with him.  Yet then the voice of the Father speaks words that again identify Jesus as the Servant of the Lord. And as we saw at Jesus’ baptism, the Servant is the suffering Servant. The disciples end up on the ground terrified, and then they see no one but Jesus – Jesus who is once again the same old Jesus.
            The Gospel lesson this morning teaches us that for Jesus, glory and suffering; glory and humiliation; glory and death, are not contradictions.  Instead, suffering, humiliation and death are the very means by which Jesus carried out his glorious work.  Jesus passed through these things because he is the Christ, the Son of God.
            You cannot hear the account of the Transfiguration without thinking about Jesus’ baptism.  Jesus submitted to John’s baptism of repentance, even though he had no sin. The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus and the Father said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  He spoke the words of Isaiah chapter forty two because at his baptism Jesus took on the role of being the suffering Servant.  He began the path that led to the cross because of your sins.
            In our text this morning, Jesus has just told the disciples for the first time that he is going to suffer and die. For them, it makes no sense.  After all, Jesus is the Christ.  Yet in the transfiguration our Lord reveals his divine glory in order to show that both are true at the same time.  He is the Christ.  He is God in the flesh. And he is here to suffer and die for you. These go together. They must go together because this is the Father’s will.  God the Father says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” because he is well pleased.  Jesus is carrying out the mission and purpose he had been given by the Father.  Everything is exactly as it should be.
            We know it is, because of the resurrection.  Jesus predicted his passion.  But in doing so, he also said that on the third day he would be raised.  At the end of our text we learn that Jesus said, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”  The glory of the transfiguration is a preview.  It points to what awaits on other side of the cross.  It points to the glory of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
            What was true for Jesus is also true for all who have been baptized into his death and therefore have the certainty that they will share in his resurrection.  Glory and suffering; glory and humiliation; glory and death are not contradictions. We may follow our Lord Jesus in the way of suffering, humiliation, and even death.  But it always leads to glory.  It leads to the glory of already now being a forgiven child of God.  Already now, you know that you are justified.  You don’t need to wonder what the verdict will be on the Last Day.  You just heard it in Holy Absolution! The verdict is forgiven; innocent; not guilty.
            And it leads to the glory of sharing in our Lord’s resurrection on the Last Day.  The apostle Paul has told us that we await a Savior from heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ,who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” Because of Jesus’ resurrection there is no need to fear suffering, humiliation and death for the sake of Christ. There is no need because our Lord has already shown us where the path leads.  Taking up the cross and following Jesus leads to the glory of resurrection because the crucified Lord has risen from the dead.   





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