February 6, 2022
Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID
Nowhere else in Gospels does Jesus appear in His divine glory as He does in His Transfiguration. From His lowly birth, throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus’ humanity is revealed in His appearance. Even when He has been raised from the dead and ascends into heaven, He looks like a man. Now, of course, as we see every year during the Epiphany season, this man Jesus reveals His divinity by means of His miracles. But in His transfiguration He reveals more of Himself than He does any other time. His face shone like the sun, His clothes became white as light. Until He returns in glory upon that Last Day, this is as glorious looking as Jesus gets, which is only a glimpse of what we will see in eternity.
Peter, James, and John – Jesus’ inner circle of disciples if you will – witness this wonderous sight. But they aren’t the only ones there, either. Moses and Elijah are there, pillars of God’s promises throughout history. The great lawgiver and the great troubler of Israel prophet represent all the Law and the Prophets, the OT Scriptures. They aren’t just standing around, but they are talking with Jesus, and as St. Luke states, they were speaking of Jesus’ exodus, that is His journey to the cross. If that weren’t enough, a bright cloud overshadows them, God the Father revealing His presence as He did on Mt. Sinai and throughout the Exodus as He led His people to the Promised Land. Here He is, at it again, now echoing the words He spoke at Jesus’ baptism, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him” (Matthew 17:5).
The Transfiguration confirms to the disciples that Jesus really is the Messiah. This shouldn’t have been news to them, for over and over again this very fact had been revealed to them. A chapter earlier, Peter had made the great confession in answer to Jesus’ question about who they say that Jesus is, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” True enough, yet he doesn’t understand what that really means. When Jesus then foretells His death and resurrection, Peter rebukes the Son of the Living God Himself. Peter fails to envision a Christ who must suffer and die, the very thing that Moses and Elijah are speaking to Jesus about. Jesus knows that He must take up the cross for our salvation. This is the very purpose for which He became man, after all.
Peter genuinely thinks that He is helping Jesus when he tries to talk Him out of going to the cross and then to set up tents to keep Jesus there on Peter’s terms and on how Peter thinks Jesus should act. That takes quite the gall on Peter’s part, don’t you think? How many of us would dare speak to God and tell Him that He is wrong, that His plan isn’t good enough? And yet, we do, don’t we? We can’t be too hard on poor Peter, for we act the same way. At times, we fail to understand God’s ways, His actions, His work, thinking we know better, and we feel the need to lecture God on how we think He should act and what He should do and how His view of the world ought to match up to ours. But God doesn’t answer to you. You have no place, no right, no authority, no power, to stand in judgment over the will or the plan or the actions or the Word of God in the flesh.
“This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him” (Matthew 17:5). “Listen to Him,” the Father says. When the disciples are flat on their faces with fear over the glory of God in Christ, they hear Jesus’ own words, “Rise, and have no fear.” If Jesus is beloved of the Father, do not be afraid, Peter. You should already know of His power and you confessed that He was the Christ, though denying the need for the Christ to die and be raised again. Take courage in the voice of the Father. In the Lord’s plan to reveal His glory by means of Jesus’ death on your behalf. That we see the glory of the cross, of Christ crucified for the forgiveness of your sin, of humility before glory, of suffering before glory, of death before resurrection!
“The Lord’s attitude in this is a challenge to the faith of believers, reminding us that although we should not doubt the promise of blessedness, we should understand that, amid the trials of this life we must pray for perseverance before glory; for the joys of heaven cannot come before the times of trial” (Leo I of Rome, Sermon 51). This is why Jesus speaks six days before His transfiguration, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
Christians are marked by possession of the cross. We must endure hardships, all kinds of trials and temptations and evil from the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh that attacks our very soul, that leads us to think it is not good to be here, to bring sadness and sorrow and depression and confusion. Yet the end is not the cross; the end is eternal life in God’s kingdom.
In baptism, the cross is traced upon the forehead and the heart to mark one as redeemed by Christ the crucified. It is a recognition that in those blessed waters, in Jesus’ cross and resurrection being applied to you, that God the Father declares you to be His son. God has only one natural Son, only one begotten. All other are adopted, which takes place in your baptism. We pray for this in the Collect of the Day, “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…” He has. He does. He will.
The Transfiguration is a foretaste of the coming glory; the coming glory of Christ in all His divinity while retaining His humanity; the coming glory of those adopted as sons of God by grace, co-heirs with Christ; the coming glory of eternal life, the world without end. For the sake of Christ, by faith in the only begotten Son of God, the Father declares the same to you, “You are my beloved son; with whom I am well pleased.”