“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” That’s what Peter had just confessed in the previous chapter. Jesus had asked the question: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The answers had varied – some said John the Baptist, or Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. And then Jesus had asked the really important question: “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. Our Lord replied, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” Jesus made it clear that only God the Father could make this known.
Now the really important point being confessed here is that Jesus is the Christ. I say this because in chapter fourteen, after Jesus had walked on water and stilled a storm, Matthew tells us, “And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’” The disciples have confessed that Jesus is the Son of God. Perhaps Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Son of God here in chapter sixteen involved some new understanding or certainty. But the thing that is really new is the confession that Jesus is the Christ.
God had enabled Peter to confess that Jesus was the descendant of King David who fulfilled the prophet Isaiah’s words in chapter eleven: “And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.” Peter was confessing that Jesus was the Messiah who would bring God’s end time salvation – the time when the wolf would dwell with the lamb in peace.
This was indeed wonderful news! It was the fulfillment of everything that God had promised in the Old Testament for Israel. And based on what Scripture said about the Christ, it meant that victory and glory were just around the corner. As God had said about the Messiah in Psalm two: “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.”
These two verses that talked about striking the earth with the rod of his mouth, and slaying the wicked with the breath of his lips; about breaking the nations with a rod of iron, and dashing them in pieces like a potter’s vessel, were the most quoted statements used in talking about the Messiah at the time of Jesus. The Messiah was seen as the mighty and awesome one who would bring nothing except victory for God’s people, and defeat for their enemies.
Yet immediately after this, Matthew writes, “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 confesses Jesus as the Christ. Jesus says that he is exactly correct. And then Jesus starts to talk about his suffering and death. It made no sense. In fact Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But Jesus replied, “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.”
Our Gospel lesson for the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord begins with the words, “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.” Now Matthew very rarely provides time references like this. And so it becomes clear that what he is about to narrate has a relationship to what has just happened – the confession of Peter that Jesus is the Christ, and our Lord’s declaration that he is going to suffer and die.
We learn, “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” During Christmas we celebrated the fact that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. We rejoiced in the fact that the Son of God become flesh – became man – without ceasing to be God.
The season of Epiphany has been about how Jesus began to reveal his glory as the incarnate Son of God who had come as the Savior. And now on the last Sunday of this season, we see Jesus’ divine glory revealed in a dramatic and unmistakable way. Matthew tells us that he was transfigured and his face shown like the sun. His clothes became white as light. For that moment Jesus the Son of God allowed the disciples a glimpse of his divinity.
It was an awesome sight! But there was even more. We hear: “And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.” There with Jesus were Moses and Elijah, two of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament, and two individuals that Scripture said had a relationship to the end times.
Always ready to speak, Peter said to Jesus, “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.” The problem with Peter’s statement was that it seemed to put Jesus, Moses and Elijah on the same level. This was not what Peter had just confessed.
And then God the Father acted in a way that made everything clear. We learn that while Peter was still speaking a bright cloud overshadowed them. God revealed his presence and spoke from the cloud saying: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
The Father spoke the same words at the Transfiguration that he said at Jesus’ baptism. They were words based on Isaiah chapter forty two which said: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” And of course, at Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove.
God had identified Jesus as the Servant of the Lord. Now, Jesus shines forth in divine glory, and the Father again indicates that Jesus is the Servant. The Servant of the Lord in Isaiah is the one who is also the suffering Servant. He is the One of whom the prophet says: “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one--to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Jesus shines in divine glory, and yet at that very moment God again identifies him as the Servant – the One who would bear our sins and suffer for us.
In the Transfiguration God shows that Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ, and Jesus’ prediction of his passion are not contradictions. It might seem that way. But Jesus is both the Christ who is victorious and the suffering Servant who takes away our sins. He is the One who suffers and dies on the cross as the Father judges our sin. But he is also the One who rises from the dead on the third day in a victory that conquers death itself. He is the One who wins victory for us by passing through suffering and death, and then out of the tomb on Easter.
Matthew tells us that when the disciples heard the Father’s voice, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear,” and when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
In our text, we hear God the Father say from the bright cloud: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” The Father says “Listen to him.” This is a reference back to Jesus’ first prediction of his suffering, death and resurrection. The Father had given Peter the ability to confess, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” But now, he and all of the disciples also needed to listen to what Jesus had to say about his mission. They needed to set aside their own ideas about how the Christ would work, and listen to Jesus who said that he would bring salvation and glory by means of suffering and death.
The Father’s words, “Listen to him!” speak just as directly to us. At the end of chapter sixteen, after rebuking Peter, Jesus went on to say, “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 way of sacrifice and suffering did not belong to Jesus alone. It will be true for all who wish to follow him as his disciples.
To follow Jesus will set us on a path that is opposed to the world. It will mean confessing that Jesus Christ alone is the truth, when the world says that is no such thing as truth. It will mean living God’s will for marriage and sexuality, when the world opposes everything about it. It will mean forgiving and loving, when the world knows only the way of power and payback.
Yet the reason that we can do this is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus showed his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed. But he also told them that on the third day he would be raised. Or as we hear in the last verse of our text: “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.’”
Jesus suffered and died to win forgiveness for us. But on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead. In our text today we see Jesus’ face shine like the sun and his clothes become white as light. In the Transfiguration we see an anticipation of what awaits Jesus on the other side of the cross. It is resurrection, and exaltation as Christ ascended and was seated at the right hand of God.
Because you have been baptized into Christ, the same resurrection victory will be yours. The ascended Lord will return. In fact, at the end of chapter sixteen he has just said, “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father.” The risen and ascended Lord will return on the Last Day to raise us from the dead. We may experience suffering and sacrifice now, but the Jesus is the Christ. He suffered and died to take away your sin and make you a child of God. He rose from the dead in order to conquer death. He will return to give us a share in his resurrection. And when he does, we will rejoice as see him in his glory.