Transfiguration Sunday (Last after Epiphany) February 7, 2016
2 Kings 2:1-12a
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
41, 135, 132, 657
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.
If you search online for a list of the “most beautiful places in America” you’ll actually find many lists and many places. There are thousands and thousands of beautiful sights to be seen.
Picture traveling through Glacier National Park in Montana on a sunny morning, passing through and around some of the 200 lakes that are found there. Imagine standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon and trying to comprehend its size and scale. The mountains of Colorado, the lakes of Minnesota, the coasts of Maine, the plains of South Dakota, the Redwood forests of California, the sandy shores of Michigan—wherever you go, you can find beautiful things to see. Wherever you go, you can find vistas that will make you marvel.
God gives us so many beautiful sights to see in our world and when we see them they remind us of His mercy and love toward us. We live in a place stained by sin and marked by corruption and sadness, and yet God still lets us look at things that take our breath away.
What is the most beautiful sight you have ever seen? If you were to ask Peter, James, or John—three of Jesus’ closest friends, they may well have said, “The time we were on the mountain with Jesus.”
That was one of the most beautiful sights ever witnessed by human beings. Up on a high mountain, the three were by themselves with Jesus, and there He was transfigured before them. “His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them” (v. 3 NIV).
The sight was brilliant to see. Jesus changed in His appearance, no longer looking like an ordinary man from Nazareth, but showing Himself radiant and glorious. The sight was more beautiful than you would ever expect to see, for Jesus’ clothes became a brilliant white—more white than was possible to create using any known methods of cleaning or coloring.
The beautiful sight would remind them, even years later, that Jesus was the Son of God. Here on the mountain this was not beauty for its own sake, but the dazzling display revealed that Jesus really was who He said He was: The Son of God sent from Heaven to become human and to save human beings from death. The sight that Peter, James, and John saw would let them know that this Jesus would not let them down, that He could do anything He said and anything He promised, and that He was powerful enough to come to their aid in any and every situation.
In addition to the glorious form of Jesus, Moses and Elijah also appeared on the mountain and were talking with Jesus. This was a beautiful sight too! Moses and Elijah were two of the most famous prophets in the Old Testament. They had looked forward to Jesus’ coming into the world. They had talked and written about it. In their days they had looked ahead to what Jesus would do. So their appearance and conversation on the mountain was likewise about what Jesus would do—what He would do in about nine months’ time.
In less than a year, Jesus would arrive at the city of Jerusalem and when He got there He would have a Last Supper with His disciples. He would then be betrayed to His enemies by Judas Iscariot, and He would be arrested by the Jewish religious leaders. They would accuse Him of blasphemy, of claiming to be the Son of God, and they would nail Him to a cross. He would die on the cross amid the scorn and mockery of the on-looking crowds. There He would die, suffering between two common thieves.
This was a death, of course, that was more than an ordinary death of an accused criminal. Jesus was dying not for crimes He had done, but He was really being put to death for crimes that we have done. All our sin against God deserves death—from the smallest and least of our mistakes which the world would not even consider to be mistakes, to the greatest and worst of our thoughts, words, and actions. Even the most minor transgression against God’s commandments is serious enough to condemn us. There is no overlooking our wrongs. Whenever and wherever we have disobeyed God by what we have done or left undone, the punishment that we ought to receive is suffering—forever.
At Jerusalem Jesus accepted that punishment in our place. He became “the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2 NIV). There on the cross Jesus became the sacrifice that covers our guilt. This is how our wrongs are truly made right—by Jesus and not in any other way.
So not only were the Lord’s dazzling clothes a beautiful sight on the mountain of transfiguration, but this event was also a beautiful sight to behold because it was a stop on Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and His all-important death and resurrection from the dead.
Whenever we look on Jesus, the sight is beautiful. We see Him in His dazzling glory when we view His transfiguration through the eyes of Peter, James, and John. We gaze upon a beautiful sight whenever we catch other glimpses of Jesus’ glory too—when we see Him healing the sick, raising the dead, walking on the water, changing the water into wine, driving out demons, and things like that. We see our Jesus in His glory and it looks beautiful to us, because we see and know that there is nothing He cannot do for us.
But we see a beautiful sight also when we look beyond the Mountain of Transfiguration to the cross at Calvary. There too is a beautiful thing to view. Even though Jesus hangs there bleeding and dying, even though He endures insults and pain, it is a beautiful sight to our eyes because our crimes are crucified with Him. So the cross—an instrument of torture—becomes for us a symbol of salvation, the sign that our sin has been forgiven.
Whenever we look to Jesus He is a beautiful sight to us because He is our beautiful Savior.
There are many people who would laugh at us for thinking that Jesus is ever a beautiful sight. “Why would you look to Him?” they would say. “He doesn’t even exist and He cannot do anything for you.” They do not see anything attractive or useful in Jesus and see no reason why anyone would ever look in His direction.
Even we who believe and trust in Him sometimes think, “I wish He would show me more when I looked at Him. I wish He would do more for me. I wish He would show me more beautiful things than I see right now.” When we are pressed down by the troubles and cares of life, sometimes we blot out the beauty of Jesus in our sorrow. We fail to see it because we are too consumed with the problems we face, the struggles from day to day that wear us down and try to strangle our faith.
But Jesus is always a “sight for sore eyes.” Whenever you desperately need to see someone who will bring you happiness, whenever you need to look on someone beautiful and good to raise your spirits or strengthen your hope, you can look to Jesus—to His glory on the mountain, to His glory evidenced in what He can do, and to His cross.
The sight of Jesus coming into the world, lifting up the weak, laying down His life for a world He loves—this is a beautiful sight that reveals we truly have a beautiful Savior.
The things Peter, James, and John saw on the mountain did not last. After a time, Moses and Elijah disappeared, the clothes Jesus was wearing faded from the brilliant white back to their original color, and once again He looked as He had looked before. The Bible says, “Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus” (v. 8 NIV).
This might seem like a let-down at first—the beauty and glory they had seen so quickly faded away from view. But they had the One they needed with them. When they looked around, they still saw their beautiful Savior Jesus. He had not left them. He would be with them there, and then to continue on to Jerusalem, and then to rise from the dead and be with them always. They only saw Jesus, and in the end He was the only One they really needed.
We do not see Jesus’ glory directly. He does not appear before us in dazzling white, but we still see Him through the eyes of witnesses like Peter, James, and John, and we see Him through the eyes of faith.
Jesus is still with us—the only one we really need to see in the end. He is the only One we really need to be with us—our Beautiful Savior.
‘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 (TLH 135:5).
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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.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.