Transfiguration Sunday February 27, 2022
2 Peter 1:16-21
Worship Supplement 2000 #719 (alt. TLH 130), 135, 409, 401"
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ +
Prayer of the Day: O God, in the glorious transfiguration of Your beloved Son You confirmed the mysteries of the faith by the testimony of Moses and Elijah. In the voice that came from the bright cloud You wonderfully foreshowed our adoption by grace. Mercifully make us co-heirs with the King in His glory and bring us to the fullness of our inheritance in heaven; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. “For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village. (NKJV)
Dearly Beloved Fellow Believers,
Among the parables of Jesus is a little gem about the merchant who was looking for beautiful pearls (Matthew 13:45,46). When he found one pearl that was more beautiful than all the rest he went and sold everything he had and bought it. It is a story that is told in a single sentence, yet how powerfully and beautifully it expresses the surpassing value of the eternal salvation that we have in Jesus Christ. Eternal life is so great a gift that anything that is compared to it must be seen as vastly inferior. And if it comes down to a choice between eternal life and something else, then heaven must surely win out. Everything else we can afford to lose, but heaven we want to keep at all costs.
Jesus’ parable of the Pearl of Great Price helps us to maintain a clear view of what is most important to us. We need to see clearly that it is Jesus who is the most important person in our life. We need to see clearly that it is salvation that is our most precious possession. We need to see clearly that eternal life with Christ is our highest and greatest goal. We need to see that everything else—no matter how important, how valuable, how pressing—is secondary.
But how do we maintain such a clear view of these things? That we know is very difficult to do. We look to Jesus to keep our attention fixed on the goal of everlasting life. He helps us today with the event that we are remembering: His Transfiguration. It gives us a brief glimpse of the future glory that we will see and experience in the life and world to come. Also in our text Jesus helps us to maintain our clear view by showing us the clear view that He maintained of His goal and the single-minded determination with which He pursued it.
To convey Jesus’ determination the evangelist says that He “steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.” This expression is one that isn’t commonly used in English, yet it is an expression that we readily understand. It well describes Jesus’ single-mindedness in obtaining our salvation. It also encourages us toward a similar single-mindedness in pursuing our goal of eternal life. Today, let us consider the theme, “A face set toward Jerusalem” as we hear about the face of Jesus and our own faces as his disciples.
The events recorded in our text occurred shortly after the Transfiguration and are closely connected to it. When Jesus appeared in His divine glory on the mountain and Moses and Elijah appeared with Him, what was it that He was discussing with them? It was “His decease,” His departure from this world, His passion and death which were soon to take place in Jerusalem. Jesus knew that the time for His great sacrifice was fast approaching.
In our text, we see that Jesus was very much aware that the time of His decease was drawing near; literally, the days were being filled up. Jesus had a certain number of days allotted to Him for His work and that allotment was being filled up. This is true for every one of us, but of course with the Lord this was especially significant. His completion of what needed to be done in those days was of the greatest importance for all of humanity. And Jesus didn’t draw back from what needed to be done in the days that lay ahead. Just the opposite: “He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus knew that Jerusalem was the place where He would lay down His life for us all. He knew that when He went to Jerusalem He would be arrested, for His enemies were looking for an opportunity to take Him, and they were determined to have Him put to death. But Jesus didn’t try to stay safe by keeping His distance from Jerusalem. He set His face to go there; that is, He was determined to go to Jerusalem. No one was going to shake His determination to go there, neither His enemies nor His disciples. He loved us all and did not draw back from submitting to the cross and death to save us from our sins, from death and hell.
But it wasn’t only for suffering and death that Jesus was determined to go to Jerusalem. Notice that our text refers to the time that was fast approaching for Jesus as the time “for Him to be received up.” For Jesus the cross and grave meant the completion of His mission, the mission on which the Father had sent Him. Soon He would finish the work that had been assigned to Him and having done so He would rise to life and ascend to the Father. There He would be seated at the Father’s right hand in triumph and glory and power. We see that Jesus’ setting His face to go to Jerusalem wasn’t just a grim determination to face something that was hard; it was a going forward with joyful confidence toward a glorious goal.
Jesus always kept in mind the purpose of His work; He never lost sight of it, though His disciples often did. To go to Jerusalem Jesus and His company had to pass through Samaria, and we remember that there was ill-will between the Jews and the Samaritans. Now evidently this ill-will did not keep Jews from traveling through Samaritan territory to get from Galilee to Judea and Jerusalem. Large numbers of Jews would go through Samaria each year to attend the festivals in Jerusalem. No doubt there was considerable trade from these bands of Jewish pilgrims on their way up to the festivals, and that the Samaritans would surely have welcomed.
But on this trip Jesus wasn’t welcomed by the Samaritan village where He and His disciples had intended to stop on their way. The people of that village evidently knew about Jesus: they knew of His miracles and His claim to be the promised Messiah, for His fame had spread throughout the land, and we know that Jesus Himself had preached and taught in Samaria (John 4:40). But these Samaritan villagers were angry with Him because now He was just passing through their village and on His way to Jerusalem and the Passover at the Temple there. The Samaritans had their own temple at Mount Gerazim, and the difference over the place of the true temple was at the heart of their animosity toward the Jews. James and John were ready to call down fire from heaven on those Samaritans for their refusal to receive Jesus. But Jesus rebuked them. He reminded them that He hadn’t come for the purpose of destroying people. If God had had it in mind to destroy His creatures, He wouldn’t have sent His Son into the world to take on human nature and become a man. When Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem it was with this in mind that He was on a mission of salvation for us all.
As we see Jesus with His face set toward Jerusalem, shouldn’t we as His disciples also follow Him in this? Isn’t there a sense in which we, too, should set our faces toward Jerusalem? We, like Jesus, have a goal toward which we are heading. We, like Jesus our Brother, are heading toward the day when we will go home to our heavenly Father. We can speak of that in terms of Jerusalem because the Scriptures speak of God’s children in glory as the heavenly Jerusalem. Paul writes, “The Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.” (Galatians 4:26) And in Revelation John sees the church as the “New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Revelation 21:2) We are on our way to this Jerusalem. Along the way we pass through many trials, and there may be much that the Lord has for us to do before we arrive at our destination. But let us live as those whose face is set toward our goal.
And just as the disciples could see that Jesus’ face was set for Jerusalem, let our goal and purpose be seen in what we say and do. When we confess our sins, though that puts us in a bad light, we are setting our face toward Jerusalem. When we are honest even when it doesn’t appear to be to our advantage, our face is set toward eternal life. When we set aside work and pastimes for worship and when we give of what we have to support the spread of the Gospel, we are setting our face toward Jerusalem. When we bear the cross rather than turn away from Christ, we are setting our face toward Jerusalem. In each case we are accepting a loss of something in favor of a greater goal.
It is a glorious goal that lies before us. The Lord help us to see that clearly, at all times. 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.