(The Last Sunday after Epiphany) February 22, 2009
2 Peter 1:16-19
39, 277, 296, 135
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”
When Jesus sent His disciples out into the world to preach the Gospel, He knew He was not giving them an especially easy task to carry out. He had these words for them: “I am sending you out as sheep among wolves…be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues.” (Matthew 10:16f NIV) Surely those early ministers were persecuted. They encountered opposition from those who hated Jesus. They struggled to apply Christ’s word properly to various situations and there were times when they felt lonely, sad, and weary.
Nobody who has been a minister or has been around ministers will tell you that shepherding one of Christ’s flocks here on earth is easy. A pastor bears not only his own daily burdens, but also the burdens of each member. When one of Christ’s lambs is suffering, the pastor suffers. When one is upset, the pastor too feels the frustration. When a sheep strays, the shepherd under Christ seeks to apply God’s Word to rescue that wayward soul. All of this is done by one who must answer to the Almighty in Heaven.
Your pastor fights daily against the Devil, the world, and his own sinful flesh. He is assailed on every hand by the “spiritual forces of evil” as Paul mentions them in Ephesians chapter six. But the Lord Jesus Christ—the Great Shepherd of all the sheep—knows all this. He knows all this because He is the best and most noble of all the ministers who ever lived. He knows the thoughts, feelings, turmoils, and joys that make up a pastor’s life, and He does not leave His servants comfortless along the way.
Today we are going to attend a “pastoral conference,” if you will, with Jesus. At this meeting He will strengthen, encourage, and prepare each of us—His ministers—for the work that lies ahead.
For this conference we are not taken to an air-conditioned hall with padded chairs and fancy video screens. We are taken instead to the top of a mountain. This conference is not attended by many. There is Jesus, of course. Then Peter, James, and John, and you can look in on things as well. It’s a private, intimate meeting. A bit of an odd location perhaps, but you can be sure that these ministers of Jesus will leave this conference with a renewed zeal to carry the Word of Truth to he nations. Today we view and become MINISTERS ON THE MOUNTAIN I. To Witness His Glory, II. To Follow After His Voice, and III. To Go Forth Unafraid
Something instantly amazing takes place once the group is assembled on the mountaintop. All of a sudden Jesus changes in His appearance. “He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” [v.2]
It truly was an amazing sight, but what was it supposed to mean? For what purpose was Jesus’ face shining like the sun? For what purpose were His clothes as white as the light? It was so Peter, James, and John could see just how glorious this Jesus of Nazareth really was. They already knew He was the Son of God and they had seen bits and pieces of His true majesty. For example, He had turned the water into wine at Cana. He had recently fed five thousand people with only five loaves of bread and two small fish—and the disciples themselves had picked up the twelve baskets of broken leftovers. They had seen these things, but now there could be no doubt that there was more to Jesus than His humanity. There could be no explaining away this miraculous transfiguration on the mountain.
Nobody they had ever known before had so changed His appearance and taken on a look—well—of God. Yes, that was it…the white clothes and the shining face gave the stunning appearance of divinity itself—an instant impression of holiness and purity, majesty and might that could not be equaled by anything else in the universe.
Peter, James, and John stood dumbfounded as they gazed on such tremendous beauty and power. Peter was so taken aback that He didn’t even know what to say. This impetuous one who always had an answer for everything began simply babbling at the sight.
We have quite a beginning, don’t we, to the conference of ministers on the mountain! How Peter, James, and John would remember this day when they would later find themselves deeply into the day-to-day grind of the ministry. As they faced the hardships of days ahead (including the very suffering and death of Christ), they would be able to remember that they had seen His glory—the glory of the Great Shepherd who would surely be able to guide them through the deepest waters. He, the Son of God, could not and would not fail them.
This glorious Jesus is your God and Lord too. Jesus is just as glorious and shining this day as He was on the mountain years ago. Jesus still shares that sight with you so that you can be encouraged and uplifted as you carry the message of Christ to all people. For you have seen His glory on the mountain too. Through the eyes of the Holy Scriptures you have seen the face shining as the sun and the clothes as white as light.
Remember the glorious Jesus you have seen! This is no idol that you follow. This is no simple-minded mere human being that you trust to go to the cross for all your sin and to raise you again from the dead. This is no weakling to which you pray for guidance, support, and aid as you carry out your church work. You call upon the very Christ who came down from heaven wearing the majestic garments of God!
Remember His glory as you minister to others and share the Gospel with them. It will give you the strength and encouragement to continue with your work. Consider that this is the Son of God who has called you to these labors. It is the almighty, ever-living Lord who says, “Preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15), and He will continue to help you to do that very thing. He is able because He is your God.
Then while Peter, James, and John were there on the special mountain with Jesus, two more amazing things happened. “There appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus…a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” [v.5 NIV]
One of the goals of this little conference on the mountain was to turn thoughts and hearts of the ministers toward Jesus and His words. It seems so obvious at first when God says, “This is my Son…Listen to Him!” Of course, Jesus is God’s Son. Of course, we listen to the glorious, transfigured One! But it’s not always quite that easy, is it? There is a reason God reminds Peter, James, and John that Jesus is the One they should listen to—in future years they would be tempted this way and that by other voices, voices which would try to lead them astray.
Sometimes we might think that Jesus’ voice sounds a bit harsh. Just before He came up the mountain, Christ had referred to Peter as “Satan” when Peter tried to suggest that He didn’t need to go to the cross. Jesus also told His disciples that if they wanted to follow Him they would have to deny themselves. They would have to realize that seeking Him could bring them personal hardship and difficulty and that in order to trust in Him completely they wouldn’t be able to trust in themselves at all.
These are hard words for naturally selfish folks. Jesus’ words do run the opposite of the inclinations of our sinful hearts. So God took the opportunity to remind His ministers that Jesus was the one voice they needed to hear above all others.
Only from Jesus would they hear the message that they needed to take to the world. Nobody else was going to give them straight spiritual truth. Jesus’ words exposed sin for what it really is: a cancer that eats away at the soul and creates a wall of division between men and God. But Jesus’ words also gave the sweet answer to the horrible corruption and deceit of mankind. They give the sweet answer to guilt, frustration, sorrow, and concern.
Jesus says, “All your burden I take upon myself. All the holiness you owe to the Father in heaven I gladly offer from My own life. The crushing burden of every last thought, word, and action by which you have offended the Most High—I take it upon myself as though I had committed the very crimes themselves. The very death sentence that was leveled upon you—eternal torment in the Hell prepared for the Devil and his angels—this too becomes mine as I hang upon the arms of the cross. It becomes mine so that you need not bear it.
“And I rise from the dead, to proclaim My victory over sins and to show that they are taken away and can no longer result even in your death. For the wages of sin is death—but now that sin is paid—death itself has lost its hold on you.”
This is the voice of Jesus. Listen to Him! “I heard the voice of Jesus say, ‘Come unto me and rest!’” [TLH 277] Why follow the voices of the false prophets when you have a Savior who speaks to you so lovingly from His very heart? Why follow the voices of your sinful nature, your own selfishness or ideas? Look at what Jesus treats you to in His precious word.
The ministers on the mountain learned to listen to Jesus’ words, even as every minister is taught to do. When a pastor faithfully speaks from a pulpit, he is not proclaiming his own ideas and philosophies about spiritual things. When he preaches the Law and the Gospel it will not be his Law and Gospel, but it will be the words of Jesus’ Law and Gospel. It is the voice of Jesus—God’s beloved Son—He is the One you should hear. When you hear the word preached to you, accept it for what it really is—the word of Jesus. Respect it for what it is—a word that can save your souls.
Moses and Elijah were talking with Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration, but the voice from heaven didn’t say listen to them. Great ministers though they were, the voice that all were to hear was the voice of Jesus. Earthly shepherds have differing gifts and personalities, but in all things, remember what matters. Whatever faithful minister God places in your midst, the heart and center of his words are the same. Listen to your Savior and be blessed!
After all these stunning miracles on the Mountain of Transfiguration, the ministers attending this pastoral conference were pretty well terrified. They had seen the glory of the Lord. They had been told by a powerful voice to listen to Him. Now it was time for things to settle down again. “Jesus came and touched them. ‘Get up,’ He said. ‘Don’t be afraid.’” And then comes this beautiful verse: “When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.” [vv.7-8 NIV]
When their excitement and fear had subsided, when their confusion had ended, and after they had heard calming words from the Lord, the only thing that filled the disciples’ field of vision was the face of their beloved Savior. With their eyes fixed on Him, they could truly go forth into the work of the ministry. They could go forth unafraid because they knew that anytime they looked up, they could see Jesus.
May it be said of you that you looked up and saw no one except Jesus. That when the waves of trouble roll, you look up and see your Lord’s face. That when thanksgiving fills your heart, you see no one but Christ. That when you carry the Gospel forth in your community and are rejected or made fun of and you become discouraged, you look up and see no one except Jesus.
Jesus alone will keep you on the steady course. He alone will do His work of the ministry through each one of you. He alone can take away your fear and give you the confidence to preach the Gospel to every creature. All of you, dear friends, are ministers on the mountain—to witness His glory, to follow after His voice, to go forth unafraid. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.