(The Last Sunday after Epiphany) February 10, 2013
2 Kings 2:1-12a
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
359, 135, Once Upon A Mountain Sacred, 15
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them. And Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”— because he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid. And a cloud came and overshadowed them; and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” Suddenly, when they had looked around, they saw no one anymore, but only Jesus with themselves. Now as they came down from the mountain, He commanded them that they should tell no one the things they had seen, till the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
Dear fellow-sinners, dear fellow-redeemed:
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, there was nothing about His appearance that made Him look like the heavenly Child He was. When the shepherds rushed in from the fields to see the “thing which had come to pass that the Lord had made known to them” (Luke 2:15) they saw an ordinary baby wrapped in strips of cloth. When the wise men from the east visited some time later and opened their gifts before Him, He appeared to them too as a little Child. As Jesus grew, it was not outwardly obvious that He was the Son of God. He was, after all, fully human, and He looked it; and although He was fully God at the same time, during His years on earth Jesus did not make full use of His divine power. There were, of course, instances when glimpses of His glory were seen—such as when He changed water into wine at the wedding in Cana or when He stilled the storm on the Sea of Galilee. The times when He healed people or raised them from the dead were also clear testimony that there was more to Jesus than met the eye, but for the most part His glory was hidden. Isaiah said, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him” (Isaiah 53:2 NIV).
Until He had risen from the dead and ascended into Heaven, even Jesus’ own disciples, His closest friends and helpers, had trouble fully understanding that He was the Son of God. They confessed that He was, but more often than not they were astonished when He did something miraculous in their presence. Several times Christ remarked that they were of little faith.
Admittedly, we who tend to want to see things in order to believe them would have had trouble too. “How can He really be the Son of God if He doesn’t look like He is?” we might well have wondered. This is why the Transfiguration of Jesus is important. Because here we have an event that shows—like nothing does until Easter morning—that SURELY THIS IS THE SON OF GOD. I. Look at His appearance, II. Consider His companions, and III. Hear the heavenly voice.
Peter, James, and John ascended the mountain with Jesus that day. Peter was the one who would later deny the Lord, repent of his sin, and then go on to be a very faithful missionary. James would be the first of the apostles to be martyred—put to death by Herod for confessing the truth. John would go on to write five books of the New Testament including the great Revelation. So to see Jesus in His glory as the Son of God would be of special benefit, encouragement, and strengthening for these three.
While they were alone with the Lord on the mountaintop, He was “transfigured” before them. That is, Jesus’ appearance was changed. Suddenly, gone was the humble, ordinary looking man they were used to seeing. Rather than a typical middle eastern man who would not draw the special attention of anyone, Jesus’ clothes became dazzling white—whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. He stood there radiant before them. It was an impressive sight to be sure.
While looking at the transfigured Jesus Peter, James, and John knew that they were looking upon the Son of God. It was brilliant and obvious to them at this point that Christ was more than a man born of woman. We know they recognized they were in the presence of God because they were so frightened. Peter did not know what to say or do. He offered to put up some shelters for everyone—presumably so that they could all stay awhile—he had no idea what to make of this thing.
Just imagine what it must have been like for them! A man whom they had gotten to know on earth was now standing before them as the Holy One—incredible! They certainly could not think now that Jesus didn’t look the part of the true God. He looked every bit divine.
Now, it is true that we live by faith, not by sight. We do not need to see Jesus face to face in order to know and believe that He is the Son of God, but here through the words of the Bible we are taken to that Mountain of Transfiguration along with Peter, James, and John and we are privileged to see the Lord appear in glory too.
To see Jesus like this strengthens our own trust in Him as the Son of God. We need this encouragement because there are times when we might be tempted to think, “He’s not really from the Father, is He?” Especially when so many around us say differently, it can be hard not to begin to think like them. It is hard to believe that God would come to earth in human form—that He even could.
Popular magazines and television programs claim to uncover the truth about who Jesus really was. Authors write in their books that they have found the “historical Jesus”—but very, very few, if any, of these so-called searches for the truth about Christ actually come to the right conclusion. The right conclusion is the conclusion that is clear in the Scriptures and here on the mountain—that SURELY THIS IS THE SON OF GOD.
But you, look on the appearance of the Lord who is here transfigured before you—the dazzling white clothes, the radiance. See and believe that He is from Heaven.
At the same time that Jesus’ appearance was changed, we also have the startling appearance of Moses and Elijah on the mountain. These two famous prophets who had long since left the earth were miraculously brought back to talk with Christ on this special occasion. What companions to have there! It was as if the Father in Heaven were piling on the proof that this was His Son.
These were men who would know the glory of God when they saw it alright! Moses was no stranger to it. He had seen God at the burning bush (Exodus 3:1ff), had once hidden from His glory in the cleft of a rock as God passed by (Exodus 33:22ff), and had gone up Mount Sinai to receive the commandments from God (Exodus 19ff) when He appeared there in glory. Elijah had been a great prophet of God who had not died a natural death but had been taken up into Heaven by a whirlwind accompanied by fiery chariots (2 Kings 2:11). God’s glory had been evident to Him too.
Moses’ and Elijah’s presence along with Jesus was as if they were announcing, “Yes, Peter, James, and John, we know who this is! We know God’s glory when we see it and Jesus has it. He is surely the Son of God!”
Moses and Elijah had spoken of the Christ themselves long before this. Moses had told the Israelites: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear” (Deuteronomy 18:15). The prophet Moses was talking about Jesus.
Elijah too had worked hard to turn the hearts of the people back to the true God so that they would once again look in eager anticipation for the coming Messiah—the One who would be chosen and sent by God to save His people. In the end, the primary purpose of the ministries of both Moses and Elijah was to get the people ready for the Lord’s coming.
Consider these unique companions of Jesus. As we see Moses and Elijah on the mountain talking with Jesus we can remember how in their days they urged the people to turn to God, whose Anointed One would deliver them from the guilt of their sin. To see them at the transfiguration shows us that they acknowledged this One as the promised Messiah, and it gives us added certainty that SURELY THIS IS THE SON OF GOD.
In the days of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, God made His presence known by covering the Tent of Meeting—their church—their church—with a cloud. In the united kingdom of Israel, when King Solomon built the great temple to the Lord God in Jerusalem, God also made His presence known by filling the place with His glory, with a cloud. Once again on the mountain of transfiguration the cloud appears, enveloping those who are there.
God the Father is in this place and now He speaks, His voice affirming what the sparkling appearance of Christ and the prophets Moses and Elijah have also made clear to us. “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” [v.7] Could there be any doubt? Now we hear too the very word from Heaven, the divine proclamation that Jesus is not just a man, but He is the Son of God.
That voice must have caused the disciples to tremble deep within themselves. They were in the presence of the Father and His only begotten Son, the One true God.
You, dear Christians, listen to the voice too. Listen and know beyond all doubt that SURELY THIS IS THE SON OF GOD.
Now…does it matter? Does it matter that we have spent this time reviewing just one point of Bible teaching: That Jesus is the Son of God sent from Heaven? Is this fact really all that important? Can’t we know Jesus and get excited about Him even if He is only a great man, a wise preacher, a compassionate person who shows us the way of mercy? Well, no. Everything depends on the fact that Jesus is truly the Son of God. Your very life depends on it. Your eternal life.
In the coming weeks of Lent we will be tracing Jesus’ path to the cross. We will see again His bitter suffering and His death, and we will contemplate again what that death means—that when He gave Himself up on Calvary He was paying a debt—our debt—which needed to be paid. Our debt-load of sin, of every act of disobedience against God we have ever committed. Jesus paid the price for that, and it needed to be paid. For only with God’s justice satisfied can we enter Heaven, or else find ourselves separated from God forever in Hell.
But that death, that cross, means nothing if Jesus is not the Son of God. Only as God’s Son could He pay the high price that needed to be paid. The only death the Father would value enough was that of His only Begotten. No mere man can redeem His brother or give to God a ransom for Him (cf. Psalm 49:7).
That is why it matters to us who Jesus is. And why the transfiguration account is so comforting to us. We look on it and say: SURELY THIS IS THE SON OF GOD! Amen.
Once, upon a mountain sacred,
God in glory did appear,
As our Lord did shine so brightly,
Like the sun on earth so drear.
Can it be? Oh, praise the story:
God as man dwelt with us here!
Once on Calvary’s holy mountain,
God in glory did appear,
But that glory then was hidden,
As He suffered pain severe.
Now those cries of bitter anguish
Speak forgiveness in our ear.
Once upon the Mount of Olives,
God in glory did appear,
Far above this earth ascending,
From our sight to disappear.
Yet His promise shows us that He
Always shall be with us here.
Now from mountain unto mountain
Praises echo far and near,
That our sins are all forgiven!
Christ casts out our greatest fear.
This has now become our glory:
God in glory shall appear.
Text: John Pfeiffer
Tune: Sieh, hier bin ich (TLH 56)
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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.
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