Vol. IX — No. 7 February 18, 1968


The Transfiguration of Our Lord Presents a Study in Contrasts Between the Present and Future

Matthew 17:1-9

And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light, And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid. And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only. And as they Came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead.

In Christ Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, Fellow Redeemed:

The basic philosophy that undergirds and characterizes our civilization is empiricism. That means that society today holds as true only that which can be scientifically observed and that which lends itself to experimentation. To put it another way: Society today rejects the Supernatural and accepts that which can be proven to the senses of man. Thus once again, man has made himself the measure of all things.

This modern way of looking at and evaluating things has been applied also to the study of the life of Christ. The past generation has been engaged in the quest for the historical Jesus. What does that mean? It means that modern scholars want to strip away all that is supernatural in the Gospel accounts and get down to the real Jesus, the man as He really was, lived, walked and died here on earth. That means that the virgin birth must go, also all the miracles, the resurrection and the ascension. What is left is supposed to be the historical Jesus. But it isn’t! It’s but a blasphemous caricature of our Lord. It’s but a cartoon drawing that denies the deity of Christ. It’s lowering Jesus to the level of the other human religious geniuses that have walked the earth. It’s putting Jesus in the same class with Buddha, Mohammed and even Socrates. This is the path of apostasy that modern man has chosen to walk, and most churches that still call themselves “Christian” have chosen to follow in that path.

We also are seeking for the historical Jesus, but we have enlisted the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our quest. And we have found that historical Jesus. We have found Him to be more than a man. We have found Him to be the Son of God. We behold Him in the Gospel empirically with our natural eyes, but that is only half an observation. He behold Him also spiritually with the eyes of faith. Then, and only then, do we see the whole Jesus, true God become for us true man.

Today is the Festival of the Transfiguration of our Lord. It’s an event in the life of our Lord that the modern empirical Bible scholar rejects in his search for the historical Jesus. But it’s an event that we cannot reject if We are to find the real Jesus. This event is especially valuable because it permits us to see Jesus empirically and spiritually, with the natural eye and with the eye of faith. As we observe, we shall find that—


I. Jesus as the Son of Man in humility—as the Son of God in glory; talking of His decease—being assured of His exaltation.

“And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain.” How natural is not that account! Jesus had friends—disciples because He was a rabbi. To the outward eye Jesus was just another man among men. He had family, friends, associates. He had human needs—food, shelter, clothing, rest, also the need for companionship. He also had arms, legs, a body, a head—all the parts of an ordinary man. He had the feelings and emotions of a man. He was a man, full and complete, like unto us. So He was that morning when He took three of His disciples and began to walk up that mountain. That was the present.

When they got to the top of the mountain, His disciples got a glimpse of the future, for he “was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.” This experience isn’t common to man. None of us have ever experienced it. We may go to the beach and be too long in the sun. Our faces may become burned, but they do not shine as the sun. Our raiment does not become transfigured by becoming as white as the light. This just doesn’t happen to us while we walk this earth. It’s because we are one hundred percent human, nothing more. But this did happen to Jesus because He is also one hundred percent human, but more. He is also one hundred percent divine. In Him—in His human form—there dwelt and still dwells the fullness of the Godhead. That’s the difference. We are but human. He was and is both human and divine, the Son of God and the Son of Man. This experience pointed ahead to the natural existence of Jesus after He had finished the work He had come to earth to do and when He would return to His Father. This was a glimpse into the future of the Lore for those three disciples. It’s a glimpse that permits us today to see how it is with our Lord right now—today, in this moment—as He sits on the right hand of His Father.

There’s another contrast—between His conversation and His transfigured person. St. Matthew reports, “And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him.” St. Luke reports the topic of that conversation. It was concerning our Lord’s decease, His death, His exodus from this world. Moses was the lawgiver, Elijah the law enforcer at a time when Israel had departed from the law. The law reflects the glory of our God. It has a glory all of its own, but the law kills. It damns, because it demands what no one can supply—perfect righteousness. The holy law condemns us because we are unholy. Moses, the lawgiver, knew that. Elijah, the law enforcer, also knew that. They knew that the righteousness demanded by the law would find its fulfillment in the Promised Christ. They also knew that mankind’s escape from the demands of the law could be realized only by a perfect atonement for the sins of all. They knew that God’s Son had come to earth to do just that—to give His life as the propitiation, the divine satisfaction, the atoning sacrifice for the sins of all mankind, also for the sins of the lawgiver and the law enforcer. They were talking with Jesus of His coming suffering and death when He would humble Himself even to death on the cross. That was the present for Jesus, a grim reality that would soon be upon Him.

His transfiguration was for Him a comfort, for it pointed ahead to His victory after His suffering and death. The voice of His Father added to His comfort and encouragement, for His Father owned Him as His very own, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The approval of His Father was upon Him. With that approval He faced Jerusalem with all the agony and pain, bitterness and anguish that would precede His decease. But when it was all over, then there would be an entering into everlasting glory. The transfiguration was a preview, a foretaste of that which was to come. It eased the present and the immediate future with a glimpse of the eternal future. What a contrast does not his conversation give when placed beside the glory of His transfiguration!

There is another contrast in this scene upon that mount. It is the contrast between—

II The disciples clothed in mortality—Moses and Elias in immortality.

Peter, James and John were there. They were human beings, altogether like us. Though the Gospels are silent about these matters they all surely had their physical weaknesses—whatever they may have been. They had their aches and pains. They grew older and experienced a decline in their physical strength. They felt all the effects of their mortality. They knew that they were dying men living upon an earth that was but a large cemetery. They were just as we are. We’re mortal. Every ache and every pain, every gray hair, every cavity in a tooth, every decrease in our ability to hear and see, every wrinkle, every increase in our reaction time—impresses upon us that we are mortal. We are dying men, women and children. That is the present.

But on that mount there were two who had passed through what we are presently experiencing on to what awaits us—immortality. Moses had lived a full life, had died and been buried. Then he was taken up to heaven. Elijah was one of two men who never died. He was carried bodily to heaven. Both of these men were clothed in immortality when they appeared with the Lord on the mount. Their earthly existence had come to a close a thousand and fifteen hundred years before. But they were there, not in the feebleness of old age, but with the vigor of eternal youth.

This gives us a glimpse of what lies ahead of us. Some of us may die young. Some of us may live to what we generally call a ripe old age. But we will all die, unless the end of the world comes during our generation. But this is not the end. By no means! We shall rise again in glory. He shall be like Moses and Elias, as they appeared on the mount with the Lord. He shall have the same bodies that we now have, but in a glorified state as was our Lord’s on the mount and after His resurrection. We shall know and recognize one another in heaven. Think not in terms of a spirit existence. No, think in terms of what Scripture calls spiritual bodies. What amazing futures we have! In the great resurrection chapter, I Corinthians 15, St. Paul contrasts the present and future in this way: After contrasting the earthly bodies with heavenly bodies and after emphasizing that there is a difference between the glory of the sun and that of the moon, Paul contrasts our bodies now with what they shall one day be: “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.” I Cor. 15:42-43.

Oh that we were there! This longing for that glory created yet another contrast in that mount:

III. Peace and glory on the mount—strife and shame below.

It was so beautiful, so peaceful, so glorious on the mount with the Lord transfigured before them and Moses and Elias enjoying it with them that the disciples wanted to prolong the experience. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.” He was content to stay in the open, if only he could stay amidst such glorious surroundings and with such glorious company. Mark and Luke report that Peter didn’t know what he was suggesting. How true! He didn’t realize that he and the other two had received a glimpse of the life that would be theirs—but only after they had completed their allotted time below. First they would have to return below with the Lord, bear the brunt of the battle, suffer shame. Then when the Lord was ready, He would come again and receive them into glory.

So it is also with us. We’re in the valley below. We are part of the church militant, the church besieged, assailed by Satan. We have to man the battlements. We must from time to time sally forth on the attack. At other times we have to hold our own against bitter attacks. At still other times there may be a temporary truce, a stalemate when we may have but to bear shame for our Lord. This doesn’t sound very interesting or encouraging, does it? Not at all! That is why so many Christian churches and Christians have laid down their arms, decided to conform to the world, decided to be silent rather than confess the Truth, decided to compromise the Truth rather than defend it, decided to appease Satan. What such are actually doing is denying their Lord, for anyone who refuses to take up the cross of Christ and follow Him, is doomed to be one day denied by the Lord.

St. Paul also saw the Lord in glory. He knew the future awaiting the children of God, but he also experienced the strife and shame and pain down in the valleys He wrote words of encouragement to the Romans, “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” Romans 8:l8. We are in the valley. We are here to bear witness, whatever that may entail—strife, suffering, insult, shame, death. Let us do that in expectation of future peace and glory. Amen.

—Pastor Paul F. Nolting

Preached - February 4, 1968
Holy Trinity Independent
Evangelical Lutheran Church
West Columbia, South Carolina

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