The Transfiguration of Our Lord February 13, 2000
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.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, Whose glory all believers will one day share, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
I’m glad to see you all here this morning! You’re in the right place, at the right time, and you’re doing the right thing by assembling here to worship the one true God. It is good for you to be here. But where will you be tomorrow? You’ll be back out there in the world, struggling with day-to-day issues. You’ll be dealing with all the pressures and problems and anxieties that seem to fill up our lives in this present world. When tomorrow comes, will you remember what you heard here today? Will you carry God’s Word with you, and put it to work in your daily life? I hope you will—but it’s not easy! Our immediate problems and concerns have a way of crowding God’s Word out of our minds. We get so wrapped up in this earthly home of ours that we tend to forget about our heavenly home, how we get there, and what we’re supposed to be doing on our way there.
But we’re not alone—Jesus’ own disciples had the same problem. Shortly before the events of our text, Jesus sharply rebuked Peter for thinking too much about the things of men, and not enough about the things of God. Well, our Lord decided it was time to wake His disciples up a bit. He was going to remind them—in a way they’d never forget—about the most fundamental eternal truths. He took them up a mountain. We need that reminder, too, so today we’re going up that mountain with them. When we get there, I think you’ll agree with Peter that, in the words of our theme—
Despite the many artists renditions of Jesus, we don’t really know what He looked like. We do know that there was nothing special about His physical appearance (cf. Is 53:2). He didn’t look any different than the other people of His time—and that was no doubt part of the disciples’ problem. They traveled with Jesus, ate with Him and talked with Him every day. They tended to lose sight of the fact that Jesus was not only true man, but true God as well. Well, they were about to get a powerful demonstration of Christ’s deity—one that would stay with them for the rest of their lives!
Peter, James and John were the core of the disciples, representative of the other twelve. These were three Jesus chose to be witnesses to this special miracle. At the time, they were at a town named Caesarea Philippi in northern Galilee, and the three must have wondered what was going on when Jesus took them on a hike to a nearby range of mountains. Our text says, “Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves.” If you’ve done any hunting or hiking in the hills, you know what hard work climbing is. Luke tells us that the disciples were tired when they arrived. As Jesus began to pray, the three disciples started to go to sleep. But in the twinkling of an eye, an event took place that had them suddenly wide awake! “And Jesus was transfigured before them. His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them.”
Do you remember the first time you saw a firefly? I do. I was a little kid, and I remember being absolutely flabbergasted that light could come from inside this tiny creature. In fact, we found that if you collected enough of them in a jar, you could almost read a book by the light! Now imagine, if you will, how amazed you would be if you saw an adult human being who radiated light from his whole body. Then you’ll understand the wide-eyed wonder that struck the disciples there on that mountain top. Jesus was “transfigured” before them; He became a human light bulb. He was literally metamorphosed from His normal, earthly body into His heavenly, glorified body. His face shone “like the sun,” Matthew says, and His clothes radiated a powerful snow-white light. The disciples were stunned by the sight. This was no mortal human standing before them. This was God—just as He would appear to their eyes in the courts of heaven itself. Peter had only one reaction; he stammered, “It is good for us to be here!”
For those disciples, the transfiguration was a vivid reminder of Jesus’ deity that they would never forget. Years later, John would say, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”—John 1:14. Peter later used this experience to remind his hearers that Jesus really is God. This isn’t all some fairy tale we made up, Peter said. Rather, “We were eyewitnesses of His majesty.”—2 Pet 1:16. We saw it with our own eyes! We glimpsed heaven, and it was good for us to be there!
Well, today you and I are on the mountain top, and it is good for US to be here, too! Because here on the Mount of Transfiguration, we see Jesus’ deity—His Godhead. In His Word, our Lord allows us to look upon our glorified Savior with they eyes of our faith—to see Him the way He will look when we meet Him on Judgment Day. Not just a man, but true God, all-knowing and all-powerful. He is the glorified Savior who even now is watching over us, protecting us, and providing for our every need. The Lord would have us take that picture of a glorified Christ with us into our daily lives, and keep that picture before our eyes as we go about our day-to-day tasks. No matter what the “scholars” of our age may say, the Jesus we serve is more than just a man, more than simply a good example and a “fine moral teacher”—He is almighty God!
There’s another reason why it’s good for us to be here. Like the disciples, it is here on the Mount of Transfiguration that we understand Jesus’ mission.
Amazing as the sight of the glorified Christ was to those disciples, they were about to see something more amazing still: “Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.” Now, instead of one shining presence standing in front of them, there were three! Moses and Elijah appeared in their glorified bodies as well—and they were talking with Jesus. Now what did these two Old Testament prophets have to discuss with Jesus? Luke tells us: “Then behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His death which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”—Luke 9:30-31. The topic of conversation was Jesus’ mission—His death on the cross of Calvary for the sins of the world.
Up to this point, the disciples hadn’t really understood Jesus’ mission, though He explained it to them again and again. Just six days earlier, according to Mark, Jesus had told the disciples in the plainest possible language “…that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”—Mk 8:31. They still didn’t get it. But this event spelled it out like nothing else had. Here on the Mount of Transfiguration, the point was hard to miss. Here before them was Moses, the giver of the Law, discussing with Jesus how that Law would be fulfilled and how the sins of the world would be paid for. Here before them was Elijah, the prophet who had preached repentance and urged the remnant of Israel to seek God’s mercy and forgiveness; now Elijah was discussing with Jesus exactly how that mercy and forgiveness would be won for all mankind on the cross. For helping them to understanding Jesus’ mission, Peter was right: it was very good for them to be there!
—And it’s good for US to be here, too! Here on the Mount of Transfiguration, we not only see clearly who Jesus is, we see the mission He came to accomplish. You know, it wasn’t blind chance that brought Jesus to that skull-shaped hill outside Jerusalem; it wasn’t just a lucky break that you and I were delivered from sin and eternal death. This was God’s plan from the beginning. From eternity, God knew exactly what it was going to cost to rescue us from the hell our sins deserved. From eternity, God determined to pay that price with the blood of His only-begotten Son. The promise of redemption—that there would be a way for us sinners to get forgiveness—that promise was made already in the Garden of Eden. It was repeated throughout the Old Testament by prophets like Moses and Elijah. And it was fulfilled with the last drop of blood that flowed from Jesus’ body on the cross. At that moment, the last of your sins was paid for, and you were completely redeemed! Hell’s gates slammed shut behind you, and heaven’s doors opened in front of you!
Rejoice, believers—you have been redeemed by Christ the crucified! That’s a historical fact that nothing can change. When you put your trust in Jesus’ blood and righteousness, you ARE on your way to heaven, no ifs ands or buts about it! The only question left is—what are you going to do with your life in the meantime?
—Because you’ve got to do something. At least, that’s the way Peter felt. His eyes were opened there on the mountain top, and it shook him up. He only knew one thing, and that was that he had to DO something to serve his glorious Savior. As it turns out, his first impulse was kind of a silly one—to build shelters for Jesus, Moses and Elijah as if they needed shelters! He had the right idea, though. The miracle on the mountain motivated him to serve Christ.
The same is true for us. It is good for us to be here, to see our glorified Savior, to hear about His death for us, because here we are motivated to serve Him. As a Christian, and knowing what you know, can you keep the Good News to yourself? Can you be a child of God on Sunday mornings, and a child of the world the rest of the week? Is it possible to sit on your hands and conduct your life as if none of this ever happened? No! You’re naturally going to want to let others in on the Good News. You’ll find yourself agreeing with the Jerusalem apostles, who said, “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”—Acts 4:19-20. You’re going to want to apply God’s Word to every part of your life: work, school, family life and leisure time.
And of course, you’re going to want to follow the instructions that came from the cloud there on the mountain top: “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” Keep on listening to the voice of your Savior, and learning from His Word. Because you know what? -The Bible will be an even greater power in your life than if you yourself had been physically present on the Mount of Transfiguration. That’s what Peter said! Yes—he said—we saw His glory with our own eyes, but “…we also have the prophetic word made more sure, 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.”—2 Pet 1:19.
It is good for us to be here! Here on the mountain we see we see Jesus’ glory, here we understand His mission, and here we are motivated to serve Him. But you know, we can’t stay here on the mountain, any more than those disciples could. When they heard the voice of God, they fell on their faces to the ground. A little while later, when they looked up, Moses and Elijah, the bright cloud and the glory—it was all gone. But Jesus hadn’t left them, and He won’t leave us, either. He says, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” Let us take the image of our glorified Savior with us as we return down the mountain, and keep it before our eyes as we go about our daily business. Let us sing with the hymnist,
Tis good, Lord, to be here.
Yet we may not remain;
But since Thou bidst us leave the mount,
Come with us to the plain.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.