(The Last Sunday after Epiphany) February 14, 2010
Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-38
546, 290, 719 (TLH alt: 48), 135
Grace be to you and peace, from God the Father who sent His Son, the Son who willingly came to be sacrificed for our sin, and the Holy Spirit who leads us to believe all that God has done for our salvation.
On this Wednesday—Ash Wednesday—we will begin another Lenten season of remembering Jesus’ suffering and death for our sin. In the days and weeks leading up to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem for His death, Jesus prepared His disciples by speaking frequently about what would come. About six days after one of these “preparation sermons” Jesus took three disciples to a mountain to pray and was there transfigured before them.
Today we walk with Jesus and His disciples as we hear the eye-witness account of that event and we seek to likewise be prepared in our hearts to remember our suffering Lord.
The Holy Spirit inspired three out of four Gospel writers to include the Transfiguration in their Gospel accounts. With this emphasis we can be sure that this is a momentous event. So come with Jesus to the Mount, as we read the Word of God as harmonized from Matthew chapter 17, Mark chapter 9, and Luke chapter 9.
Now after six days, Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves to pray; and He was transfigured before them. As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His clothes became exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them—white as the light and glistening. And behold, two men appeared to them and they were talking to Jesus. They were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of [Jesus’] [death] which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him. Then it happened, as they were parting from Him, that Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. He didn’t know what to say, for they were greatly afraid. While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud. 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, and looked around, 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.” So they kept this word to themselves, and told no one in those days any of the things they had seen, [but] questioning what the rising from the dead meant. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. And how is it written concerning the Son of Man, that He must suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer many things at their hands and be treated with contempt.” Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.
This is the Word of God which we do well to heed—may the Holy Spirit bless our study of it. Amen.
Sometimes things run out of usefulness. For example, a box of 8-track tapes doesn’t have much usefulness anymore. Anyone much younger than I wouldn’t even know what an 8-track tape is. An instruction booklet for a Wii and a set of games for it—that’s a different story.
Another example is some of the old laws that stay on the books but no longer have any relevance to today’s world. I imagine at one time most cities had laws concerning how and where you’d hitch your horse downtown. That is not so much of a concern anymore. If there was a horse downtown, the concern would be to keep it out of traffic.
Usefulness and relevance of man-made things fade as time goes on and progress is made or lost. The world changes, what we make changes, we change—but God’s Word doesn’t change which is why it is always useful and always relevant. If God’s Word is unchanging and always meaningful, then the individual events recorded in Scripture remain meaningful. Today we consider that “JESUS’ TRANSFIGURATION IS MEANINGFUL—THEN AND NOW” I. Revelation to give a glimpse of glory, II. Encouragement to give strength for suffering, and III. Testimony to give confidence for proclamation.
To fully understand and appreciate Jesus’ transfiguration we need to remember how He looked on the average day. Through all 33 years of His life, Jesus didn’t appear particularly different than the average young boy growing up to be and average Jewish man of the day walking around the countryside. He looked like an ordinary man, He slept and ate like an ordinary man—everything about Him was very usual and normal except for two things during those three years of his ministry: 1) His preaching was different and more powerful than the average rabbi, and 2) He did miracles which no one else could do. Jesus’ preaching and miracles were glimpses into the fact that He is more than the average man and average preacher. He was indeed the Son of God.
On the Mount of Transfiguration, all of a sudden when those three disciples saw Jesus’ face and appearance everything about Him looked different. He was glorified in a brilliant white light that was greater and whiter than anything we could find on the earth. For that brief moment, the disciples saw the glory that truly belonged to Jesus as the Son of God. It was a visible glory and brilliance that He set aside and did not reveal during His life and ministry on the earth. Instead, He humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on the cross (cf. Philippians 2).
That glimpse into Jesus’ glory was meaningful then because very soon Jesus would enter into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and die. It wouldn’t be long before the disciples would see their beloved friend and Savior, master and teacher hanging on a cross, bloodied and dying. The disciples would need the assurance that this dying, bloodied Savior really was the Son of God and not a defeated rabbi at the hand of the Jewish leaders.
The disciples didn’t really understand what had happened on the Mountain of Transfiguration until later. Later, when Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit called to this mind as well as all the other things they experienced. Having called these things to mind, the Holy Spirit enlightened them so they did come to understand what it al meant (cf. John 14:26, 16:13, etc.). It was important and meaningful for the disciples on the day of transfiguration to have that glimpse of Jesus’ glory emblazoned on their mind and in their hearts to prepare them for what was coming in a very short time (Jesus death) and to prepare them for what would be a lifetime of work of proclaiming Jesus’ death and resurrection to the world.
The meaningful aspect of Jesus’ transfiguration for us now is really no different. We have the eyewitness accounts of those who where there. Not only were they eyewitnesses, but when these things were recorded they were written by the Holy Spirit’s inspiration so that word-for-word what we are reading today is God’s Word. That Word given by inspiration and reporting an eyewitness account is sure and true as we heard in the epistle reading. In that sure and true Word of God we see Jesus transfigured and revealing for a brief moment His glory as the Son of God.
This is no small matter in our world today because there is so much pressure to view Jesus as just a man. Historians and almost everyone else will acknowledge that a man from Nazareth named, Jesus, once lived in Palestine and was killed by the Roman government and the request of Jewish leaders. This is recorded outside of Scripture so even scoffers of the Bible will believe this. But we need that revelation of God’s Word to understand who Jesus really is.
Today, even in Christian churches, it is not uncommon for people to deny Jesus’ virgin birth. If Jesus wasn’t born of the virgin Mary that makes Him an ordinary man born of an ordinary sinful human father. If we deny Jesus’ virgin birth we are denying the fact that He is true God, and if we deny that He is true God we have just denied our Savior and everything He came to do.
Jesus had to be true God and true man in order to redeem us from our sin. He had to be true man to be made under the Law for us. He had to be true man to take our place and complete God’s law in our stead. He had to be true man to die which is the penalty for sin. But He had to be true God to make that death count for something. He had to be true God to be holy. He had to be true God to make that sacrificial death the payment for the sins of not just one person, but for the whole world of sinners for all time.
It is important and crucial to our salvation that Jesus is true God. The revelation at the Mount of Transfiguration is a glimpse into His glory to assure us that He is fact true God and our Savior.
Peter’s reaction at the moment of transfiguration is revealing. He didn’t know what to say so he blurted out what first came to mind. He said, “‘Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” We’re not even entirely sure what Peter meant because, as we are told, Peter didn’t even know what he was saying. But the appearance of these two men and Jesus’ transfiguration was gone all too quickly to build anything. The disciples were left struck with fear at the appearance of Jesus’ glory.
When the world hears testimony to Jesus’ glory and majesty, it may try to deny it, or explain it away. Remember how the enemies of Jesus explained away Jesus’ resurrection on Easter morning. They even paid the soldiers to lie about it (cf. Matthew 28:11ff). They tried to dismiss it, but the reality is that we cannot dismiss the glory and majesty of God and our Savior. We sinners stand rightly afraid of such glory and majesty and holiness, but in Christ we have forgiveness of sins and are able to stand before our God confidently.
The significance of the revelation of Jesus’ glory on the Mount of Transfiguration is that He is the Son of God with all power and glory and majesty. We should stand in awe of Him, recognizing that as sinners we have no right to come before Him, but through the same Savior we have been reconciled to God and may come boldly to Him.
Jesus’ transfiguration revealing His glory is very meaningful for His disciples then and for us now.
We hear that as Jesus appeared glorified, two men appeared with Him—the prophets, Moses and Elijah. They “appeared in glory and spoke of [Jesus’] death which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”
As Jesus drew nearer and nearer to the time when He would lay down His life in sacrifice for our sins, the temptation to not sacrifice Himself grew greater and greater. The reality of what was about to occur weighed ever more heavily upon Him. By the time Jesus prayed in Garden of Gethsemane it was with great agony and misery over what was about to occur and what was already beginning to occur. There Jesus prayed to His Father, “Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from Me, but nevertheless, not my will but Yours be done.” (Matthew 26:39). The pressure, the need for strength was so great that God sent an angel to strengthen Jesus while He was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The discussion that Jesus had with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration would provide encouragement to Jesus for the suffering and death that lay ahead. Moses and Elijah are two very pivotal people in Old Testament history. Moses, as we heard in our Old Testament reading, is considered by God Himself to be the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. Moses had prophesied that there would be a prophet like him who would come out of the nation of Israel and save His people. Moses was prophesying about Jesus.
Moses is the one through whom God gave the Law on Mount Sinai and is recognized throughout Scripture as the lawgiver, but there is one greater who came to fulfill the Law for us and to give us redemption from our sins. That greater one is Jesus.
Elijah was a fiery prophet. He was the one whom God sent to a rebellious nation to rebuke them in their sins, to call them to repentance. In Moses and Elijah we have the Law represented—the Law which Jesus came to fulfill and to rescue us from its judgment. Elijah preached repentance and was himself a picture of John the Baptist who would preach repentance while preparing the way for Jesus.
At His transfiguration, Jesus spoke to these two men about the things surrounding His suffering and death. Through this discussion with these Old Testament prophets, Jesus would be reminded and strengthened in His purpose to come and fulfill the Law, to fulfill all the Old Testament prophesies, to fulfill and complete redemption for all of mankind.
The benefit and meaning of the transfiguration in this regard is likewise similar for us. In Jesus we see the fulfillment of Old Testament Scriptures. Jesus is the focal point in every part of God’s Word because He is our Savior from sin. Our confidence that Jesus is indeed our promised Savior is created by seeing that He has fulfilled all of the Old Testament prophecies and fulfilled the Law in our place.
After the Transfiguration, the disciples asked Jesus about Elijah and why the Scriptures said that Elijah must come first. Then Jesus said, “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. And how is it written concerning the Son of Man, that He must suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer many things at their hands and be treated with contempt.” Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.”
As Jesus helped the disciples put the pieces together, they asked Jesus about the Old Testament prophecy that said an Elijah would come. Jesus informed the disciples that the Elijah had come, he had been rejected and killed—that was John the Baptizer. John came to rebuke sin in the spirit of Elijah. He had come and completed his work, now it was time for the Savior Himself to lay down His life. Again, we find the common thread of Jesus life and work—He completed the Old Testament for us, establishing God’s Word as true, and accomplishing our redemption.
In the Transfiguration, as a cloud overshadowed the disciples, God the Father spoke from Heaven saying, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” These words were also spoken by the Father at Jesus’ baptism. These two declarations from Heaven form “bookends” on Jesus’ ministry. At the beginning God declared who Jesus was and also His pleasure in Him. Now, nearly three years later at the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus was still God’s Son in whom He was well pleased. These declarations of the Father gave the confidence that the plan of salvation was still on track. Jesus was completing everything that was necessary for salvation, the Father was pleased with His Work and would soon accept His sacrifice in payment for sin.
The Father added one more declaration at the Mount of Transfiguration which He had not said at the Baptism, “Hear Him!” This pleasing Son of God would soon offer His life in payment for sin and His Word was and is life-giving. Hear Him, listen to the Gospel that He proclaims for in them is eternal life. Jesus once said, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39).
Jesus was preaching the life-giving message of the Gospel, but He would only be on the earth for a short time longer. He would have some time before His death, and then after His resurrection He would continue to teach God’s Word on a “part time” basis as He periodically appeared to His disciples throughout the 40 days until His ascension.
The ongoing proclamation of the life-saving Gospel after Jesus’ ascension would be done by the apostles and disciples of Jesus. Jesus has given us the commission to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…(and) teaching them” (Matthew 28:19f). Jesus explained the plan of spreading His Word by saying, “…repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:47f).
Disciples of Jesus, including us, have confidence in this proclamation of Jesus and His Word because Jesus has promised to be with us always (cf. Matthew 28:20) and that gives us confidence because we know who He is as evidenced by His transfiguration. Reflecting back on what he had seen, heard, and experienced at the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter said: “We have the prophetic Word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:19-21).
The inspired eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ transfiguration as well as His entire ministry proclaims the fulfillment of the Old Testament. That sure Word is confirmed and established in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Disciples of Jesus then and now therefore had and have every confidence in their salvation and every confidence in their preaching.
Jesus’ transfiguration remains meaningful and significant just as it was when it first occurred. As we prepare to enter another Lenten season of repentance and remembrance of what it cost our Lord, let us also do so with confidence and rejoicing as we hear Him and heed His Word.
‘Tis good, Lord, to be here.
Yet we may not remain;
But since You bid us leave the mount,
Come with us to the plain. 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.