Transfiguration Sunday March 2, 2003
2 Peter 1:16-19
139, 136, 135, 652 (1,3,4)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
May you be given the faith and the wisdom to recognize both the power and the mercy of God our Father, of his Holy Spirit, and of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dear Fellow Christians:
For centuries men scorned the barren sands of Arabia as some of the most worthless and inhospitable real estate on the planet. What they could not see were the vast oceans of black gold that lay beneath the barren dunes. When Secretary of State William H. Seward championed the purchase of millions of acres of frozen wasteland from Russia in 1867 (at a total cost of $7.2 million or 2 cents per acre) many derisively referred to it as “Seward’s Folly.” What they could not see were the vast natural resources that lay beneath the surface of the Alaskan wilderness. When non-farming pioneers first encountered the vast plains of the Midwest, they referred to them as “grass covered deserts.” Again, what they could not see were the billions of tons of coal that lay in great black lakes below the surface.
So it ought not surprise us that when sinful human beings encounter the vast panorama of God’s Word they have similar reactions. Even those who trip lightly across the surface routinely come to imagine that what they have witnessed is really of very little practical value. Oh, the writing is pretty good in their estimation, and it contains some solid little bits of moralizing, but all-in-all the Bible is to them an over-hyped piece of real estate.
The real problem is that man has no idea what untold wealth lies just below the surface of God’s Holy Word. What is more, all men from birth lack both the vision to recognize the potential and the tools to extract all of those divine riches. The result is a catastrophic waste on a scale unimagined by humankind. The unparalleled wealth given to us by our gracious and merciful God will forever remain hidden from the unbelieving world unless and until they are given faith to extract it.
We share much with the unbelieving world, don’t we? We too miss out on so much of what our Lord would lavish upon us simply because we fail to mine the wealth offered to us in our Bibles. We skim over, flip through, and pass over great riches that are just lying there, waiting for us to pick them up. This morning we will seek to collect some of these great riches from God’s Word which reveal to us the event we celebrate during this week: The Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord’s Transfiguration is found recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, the Seventeenth Chapter:
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.”
So far the very words of God. Concerning this very Word of God the Apostle Peter said that we would “do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place.” So also we pray, “Sanctify us through Your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth.” Amen.
Dear Fellow Servants of the Lord Jesus, is it wrong to be selfish? We are taught from little on that it is, so it can be difficult at times to recognize that the right answer is: “Not always.” It is not wrong, for example, to be selfish about reading our Bibles. There we are to be selfish both with our time and in our thoughts. We are to be selfish with our time because so many things in this world struggle to draw our attention away from things spiritual and toward things material. So many other obligations and expectations are forced on each of us that we find ourselves giving up first the things that matter the most—the times of spiritual strengthening and growth. Be selfish about those times.
We are also to be selfish in our thoughts during our personal prayer and study time. That means that we are supposed to close the world out from our thoughts and our attention, and it means that we are to apply what we read first and foremost to ourselves. God never intended for us to read his Word without applying to ourselves what we find there. Bible reading becomes little more than a High School Literature 101 assignment if we fail to be very selfish with our thoughts when reading and meditating.
So, also on this day of the festival of the Lord’s Transfiguration, we Christians are to be at least partly selfish in our thoughts. This event was not recorded for our entertainment. It must have some higher purpose for each Christian. This morning we seek to learn, from the Word of God, just what that purpose was and is.
When we hear that it is Transfiguration Sunday we immediately ought to realize that we once again stand at the door of Lent. The Transfiguration of Jesus was done both for Jesus and for us. It was done for Jesus as a special strengthening just before he undertook the final leg of his journey of humiliation on earth. That journey carried him from the womb of Mary to the cross of Calvary. The Transfiguration served as Jesus’ final great spiritual boost before he suffered the terrors of Good Friday.
Yet, the Transfiguration was also for us. Remember, when you read your Bibles you are to be selfish or self-centered in your thoughts. Ask yourself, over and over again, “What’s in it for me? What is the message or truth here that applies to me and to my day to day life on this earth?” There is truly a wealth of insight and comfort to be found in the account of the Lord’s Transfiguration.
The Apostles, who spent about three years at the Savior’s side, had to face a problem unique to their situation. Because of their physical, day-to-day contact with the man Jesus, it must have been difficult for them to recognize that Jesus was also true God. How difficult it must have been for them to remember Jesus’ divinity, since they regularly saw Him eat, sleep, laugh, cry, and all the rest. How difficult it was to remember that in Jesus “dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9)
Jesus invited Peter, James, and John to witness his Transfiguration as a remedy for this very problem. Never again would these three men forget that Jesus was more than just true man. Through their witness we today can never forget that the man Jesus, who was nailed to the cross, was also “very God of very God, begotten, not made. Being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.” (The Nicene Creed). What a fitting reminder, as we enter the season of Lent, that it was God Himself who offered His life for man!
There is also great meaning in the fact that it was Moses and Elijah who attended to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. Moses was the one through whom God gave the Law. Elijah was arguably the greatest of the prophets. In Moses and Elijah is a representation of “the Law and the Prophets,” which are so often mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments. In fact, we read the words of Jesus himself in Luke 16:16, “The Law and the Prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it.” Again we read in Romans 3:21, “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.” The day of Moses and Elijah—those who symbolized “the law and the Prophets”—was rapidly coming to a close. A new order, a New Covenant, was being established. The Old was passing off to the New.
Remember, the Transfiguration holds great treasures for you and me. Therefore, recognize that the Law and the Prophets have given way to Jesus Christ. The Old Covenant, with all of its demands and condemnations, has given way to the New Covenant. This New Covenant says simply: Your sins are forgiven. Jesus has paid for them. Salvation is yours. You are reconciled to God.
The next very personal application of this section of God’s Word is the fact that this very Son of God is the One who died for my sins and even today serves as my intercessor at the Father’s right hand. The Bible tells us “If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1 John 2:1)
While on earth, Jesus set aside the glory that was His along with the full use of His power. On the Mount of Transfiguration we are given a brief glimpse of that power and majesty. Through the eyes of Peter, James and John we see Jesus as He is now. Jesus Himself told us, after His resurrection, “All power is given unto me in heaven and on earth…” (Matthew 28:18). This is the same Jesus who intercedes for us, even now! We, therefore, have a God who has the power to do for us whatever is best for us. Wouldn’t we do well to remember this picture of Jesus’ shining in power and glory on the mount when we are tried and tested here in time? Next time such a problem confronts you, look not to the Jesus lying helpless in the manger. Look to the Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration and see there the power He has promised to use on your behalf. Shall not such a God be able to accomplish for you whatever is best for your soul?
The next diamond to be mined from the account of the Transfiguration is that when Peter, James, and John, had seen and experienced the great glory of the Savior, they wanted to stay right where they were. Peter offered to build homes for everyone right there on the spot.
So we too will be tempted to seek safety in numbers and in comfortable surroundings. How safe and warm we are here on Sunday morning, gathered around the Word of God and surrounded by our fellow Christians. How tempting to adopt Peter’s mentality of running from the rest of the world and hiding away to enjoy the special communion with God offered in this place. Jesus would have none of it—not from Peter and certainly not from us. Souls are being strengthened here, but souls are dying out there and each one of us has the simple truth they need to escape an eternity in hell. Our Lord Jesus wants us to expend the same effort at reaching others that we would want others to expend in bringing us the Words of life. Jesus’ Transfiguration tells us, “You’ve met with the Lord, now go and tell the world about it.” Then also to us come those tender words of the Savior, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” [v.7]
One final jewel we harvest from our text this morning. We will very likely never see anything like the Transfiguration during our time of grace on this earth, and yet we have what the men on the mount did not have—the New Testament. That Word of God will supply all that we need and more. Peter recognized that we would not be privileged to see what he saw on earth, yet, he assures us that we have something just as certain. So also the Holy Spirit says through Peter in our Epistle Lesson: “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” (2 Peter 1:19).
We do not have the light of the Transfiguration. Our light is the light of the Word of God—“a light shining in a dark place.” Keep the eyes of your faith focused on that Word of God, learning from that very Word and from our Lord’s Transfiguration to appreciate the glory and power of our God! 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.