Transfiguration Sunday February 23, 2020
Exodus 33:12-23; 34:5-7
343, 720 (Worship Supplement 2000), 135, 352
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Have you ever thought it sure would be nice to have a glimpse of what the future will look like? I’m not talking about 200 years down the road or even fifty years. I’m talking about six months from now or a week from now or even just tomorrow. Wouldn’t it be nice to take a peek at the future so that we could know if that car you’re about to purchase from the used car lot is going to have transmission problems? Wouldn’t it make it easier to choose to have or not have a surgery if we could peer at what the recovery would look like and whether or not the surgery will be successful? I would venture to guess that those who invest in the stock market would love to see a glimpse at next week’s DOW report.
Ever since the Fall into sin, mankind has been somewhat fascinated by the thought of having a glimpse at the future. That’s what Eve thought she had when the devil told her that she would become like God by eating the forbidden fruit. That’s what many pagan societies thought they had in their omens, witchcraft, and mediums. That’s what many people today think they have in reading horoscopes, consulting tarot card readers, and even in looking for visible signs in the most mundane of events of this life. Every generation is consumed with knowing the future in the hopes of controlling it. Unfortunately, it escapes man to be mindful of a more distant future.
Our text for today gives each child of God a glimpse into his/her future. No, it’s not going to tell the young Christian which job to take or whom to choose for a spouse. It’s not going to inform older Christians how to invest their money or where or when to retire. The future that we are privileged and blessed to see, if even for a moment, is our eternal future in heaven. Mind you, it’s only a glimpse, but what a glimpse it is! Let’s focus our hearts and minds on the text before us as we consider its message to us in the theme: “Just A Glimpse Of Glory”
Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.
Let us start with a question: For whose benefit was Jesus transfigured in the event that our text describes? Well, there are only two possible answers to that question because we have two groups of individuals present at the time. Either the transfiguration happened for Jesus’ benefit or it was for those three disciples who traveled up the mountain with Him. No one else saw it except for Moses and Elijah who also had appearances like Jesus (which is a clue unto itself). We’ll come back to that in a moment.
For now, understand what it would mean that this event was for Jesus’ own benefit. Those who reach this conclusion do so because Jesus, as true Man, was just about to head to Jerusalem where He would be arrested, put on trial, be essentially tortured, and finally crucified—which was more torture resulting in His death. We know that Jesus, since He was true Man, was sometimes in need of physical strengthening, such as after His temptation in the wilderness and again after He prayed so fervently in the Garden of Gethsemane. On that first occasion, Jesus was in need of physical strengthening since He had just gone forty days without eating. In the Garden of Gethsemane, we are told that He was again physically weakened because He became so fervent in His prayer that His sweat was like great drops of blood falling to the ground. In the account of His transfiguration, though, we aren’t told that Jesus was being strengthened, nor are we given any information that would lead us to conclude that He needed such physical strengthening. The only kind of strength that this event would provide is spiritual strengthening. This wasn’t a physical recharging like the way we recharge a battery. This was Jesus’ divine glory shining through His human body.
The reason many believe that this event was for Jesus’ benefit is because they have a wrong understanding of how Jesus’ human nature and divine nature come together. The divine nature of Jesus—His spiritual essence—needed no strengthening. He’s true God, never waning in strength, power, and determination. He knew what He had come into the world to do and He was zealous to accomplish it, even through the weakness of His assumed human nature. The implication of saying that this was for Jesus’ benefit, then, is that Jesus may have been internally wavering from His goal of obtaining our salvation and that only by this divine respite did He receive the strength to carry on. This, of course, is nonsense inasmuch as the Son of God was determined, from eternity, to bear the sins of the world for the sake of His great love for mankind. Yet we are somehow supposed to believe that now that the time was near, He began having His doubts. Nonsense!
With that said, we can get to the correct answer to the question which is that this event was actually for the benefit of the disciples. Peter, James, and John—who would be spiritual leaders of the church in Jerusalem after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension—were about to witness many things that would trouble them. They would witness Jesus go from being a welcomed hero to an accused blasphemer, from one who could raise the dead to one laid in a tomb, from being the one who could bind Satan and the demons to one who would Himself be bound and lead to the cross. They would also witness in themselves the deep corruption of sin as they would attempt to talk Jesus out of going to Jerusalem, desert Him when His enemies came for Him, deny even knowing Him, and be so afraid of the Jews that they would hide themselves behind some locked doors. This image, then, was meant to be a glimpse not only of who Jesus truly is but what His suffering and death were actually all about. Then, in the face of what they saw happen to Jesus and what they experienced in the weakness of their own souls, they would have a reminder of who Jesus is and what He came to accomplish.
As to who Jesus truly is, this event demonstrated quite clearly that Jesus is the eternal God. The glory which shone through His human body was something more piercing than the rays of the sun to their eyes. The voice which they heard was a clear declaration of Jesus’ divinity as the Father, from a cloud, declared Him to be His own Son to whose Word they should listen—that is hear and meditate on.
Sadly, at first, these disciples missed the point of this event. They did still try to talk Him out of it. They did still forsake Him at His arrest. Peter did still deny Him, and all of them did still cower behind the locked doors after Jesus’ death. Later on, however, this event became the faith strengthening image Jesus intended for them as they were made bold to speak and to preach in Jesus’ name. James gladly laid down his life for the sake of Christ and was martyred. Peter and John were both persecuted and suffered greatly for being followers of Jesus. This image of Jesus transfigured on the mountain was, to them, a glimpse of their future.
How did they know that’s what it was? First of all, Jesus promised to share His glory with them. He told them pointedly in the upper room that they would be hated and persecuted by the world for being His disciples, but assured them that He had overcome the world. Secondly, the two individuals that stood there with Jesus were mere mortals like them, both having their own faults and sins, and yet there they were shining like Jesus with Jesus. Thirdly, they had the reminder of that voice of God telling them to listen to Jesus. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit brought to their remembrance Jesus’ Words and teachings and through that Word of Jesus they, too, became heirs of glory in heaven with Moses and Elijah.
Let us consider though, that in having this event recorded and presented so vividly in the pages of Holy Scripture, this event was for our benefit too—that we, too, might receive the same glimpse of our own future. We, too, like the disciples, are beset by so many hard circumstances in this world and by our own sinfulness. Temptations to sins that we know we ought to avoid come on us repeatedly and, like Peter, we give in to the temptations and deny our Lord by our sin. Jesus’ transfiguration gives us a glimpse of what awaits us in heaven, as He will share with us the glory that has always been His, even as Moses and Elijah appeared there in glory on the mountain with Jesus.
This glimpse of heaven, then, is meant to carry us through the trials and temptations that coming with living in a sin-corrupted world with a sin-corrupted nature. This glimpse of heaven is meant to encourage us to push onward in faith in Jesus who came to offer His life to ransom us from our sin and death, that we, too, might be bold in our witness of Jesus, knowing that the end of our faith in Him means eternal glory for us and all those who will receive our witness and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. We already know the future because we have been given a glimpse, even if just a glimpse, of what Jesus came to provide us. AMEN!
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.