Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr;
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” (Mt 17:1-9, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Isn’t this nice, the bright white color here at the front of church. Rather reminds you of Easter does it not? But, it’s not Easter. In fact, this Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday starts the season of the church year we call Lent. At our Ash Wednesday service you can receive ashes on your forehead. Those ashes set the mood for all of the next 40 days. When you get that little black cross you will hear the words “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” It’s to help us to remember that because of sin, death is in our future. That in turn reminds us how much we need a Savior. We call that having a penitent or repentant attitude; looking at ourselves and seeing sin, then looking at Jesus and seeing Him as Savior. Lent is a penitential season. That is why we leave flowers out of the sanctuary, drape the altar in dark colors, and skip singing alleluias. We might rather skip the somber tones, but it is good way to keep in mind who we are and what we really need.
Ah, but all that is a few days away, right now the altar is white, we’re singing bright songs and looking at Jesus shining as bright as the sun. Today is the day we talk about the Transfiguration of Jesus. It is good to be here, just as the hymn said. It is good to be here where everything is bright and shiny, and there is not any of that dark talk about our sin and death and punishment.
That is kind of what Peter thought, too. He saw Jesus standing there with his cloths glowing and his face beaming like the sun. He saw Moses and Elijah with him (how he knew it was them, we will never really know). And even though he was frightened, it was too good to let go, he wanted it to last forever. Let us just stay here forever, he must have thought. It came out in the words, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
And yet, it isn’t all bad to dwell here for a little while either. Jesus did not scold Peter. After all Peter and the other disciples saw Jesus in a way they had not seen him before. That is, they saw the divine nature of Jesus shining out. What I mean is, that here on the holy mountain (2 Pet 1:16-18) we see that Jesus is really and completely God. His face shines like the sun. It is an internal light, not a reflected light. It is a part of who he is; not something he gets from somewhere else. It is like the pictures of God that are painted for us in the Old Testament and Revelation. In the OT; Daniel speaks about the “Ancient of Days” whose clothing was white as snow and the hair of his head as pure wool. (Dan 7:9) St. John saw a similar view of God in Revelation. (Revelation 1:12-16)
We should make sure we understand Jesus as much as we can. Jesus is not God in a human suit. It isn’t that he is a man with God deep inside. Jesus is God and man together, completely God and completely man. On the mountain of Transfiguration Jesus is not pulling back his clothes like Superman to reveal a great big “S” on his chest. What we see is Jesus as he is. St. Paul describes him like this: For in [Jesus Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Col 1:19-20, ESV) For the sake of what he had come to do, Jesus did not fully reveal his whole self. He humbled himself and chose to appear as a man, a servant, holding back the divine nature.
The 16th Century Theologian Martin Chemnitz said it like this:
He humbled Himself and willed, not only to bear the substance of our nature but also in it to be similar to men in the infirmities with which we are burdened because of sin (even though He could have been immune to all of them as penalties for sin; because where there is no guilt, there no punishment is required), and He was found in fashion as a man, that is, subject to the emotions, deeds, and actions of a complete human life, not exempt as someone who is beyond the lot of the others, but as any other man taken at random from among men. Chemnitz, M., & Preus, J. A. O. (1999, c1989). Loci theologici (electronic ed.). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
If he had not done so, brave Roman soldiers would have run in terror, Pharisees would have bowed in obedience without argument, and Pilate would have never assume authority to put him to death.
There were other times, too, when we see Jesus choosing to let his divine nature to come to light. He turned water into wine (John 2:1-11). He healed the deaf, blind and sick (Mark 7:31-37, Matt 20:29-34, Matt 8:14-15). He cast out demons (Matt 9:32-33), and raised the dead to life again (Matt 9:18-19, 23-25).
Here on the mountain we see Jesus as he is; God and man together. God in human flesh come to earth to save human beings from their sins. And not only that but we see the ultimate end, Jesus will go to the cross and die, but that cross is victory for him, not defeat. As Jesus stands on the mountain with Moses and Elijah we see His resurrection.
Now, we shouldn’t think that because Jesus is God that the cross was nothing. Don’t forget we said that Jesus isn’t only God; he is fully and completely human. He is God born in humble human flesh, as we celebrated a few short weeks ago. All that affects human beings affected Jesus, because he is fully. As we heard a moment ago, he was subject to the emotions, deeds, and actions of a complete human life. That includes pain, suffering, and even death.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Php 2:5-8, ESV)
That obedient isn’t just talking about doing the right thing, it’s also talking about being completely human, suffering and dying, as a human would suffer and die. If you doubt the reality of Jesus suffering all you have to do is spend some time reading the accounts of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane before he was arrested. It’s a far cry from the Mount of the Transfiguration:
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. (Mt 26:36-45, ESV)
It’s the same cast of characters, except Jesus is suffering and the disciples are sleeping. Later on the cross for three hours, Jesus bore the pain of death (and more) and we see why it’s so important to know that Jesus is God and man. All human beings, except Jesus, deserve God’s anger and punishment for their sin. That’s you and me, that our sons and daughters, our grandparents and great-great-grandparents, in fact, every person who has ever live and will ever live. That’s a lot of sin, a lot of punishment, a lot of suffering. We deserve the suffering of hell. But it’s the suffering and death of Jesus, true God and true man, Jesus, the Son of God, that is set in the balance against it all. His death is enough to cover it. His suffering is enough to cover it. Not only did he suffer a physical death but also he suffered the spiritual consequences of our sin. On the cross and in his death, Jesus suffered torment of hell. God, the Father, abandoned him to death. Jesus suffering in our place was enough; we don’t have to suffer the punishment of hell anymore.
And that brings us right back to the Mountain where Jesus is shining like the sun. The story of Jesus doesn’t end with suffering, death and punishment on the cross. The transfiguration is like a little glimpse of the resurrection. The victory of the cross is shown when life returned to Jesus body in the tomb. It is no longer necessary for Jesus to hold back his divine nature. From then on he is just as he was described on the mountain; Jesus in all his glory; Jesus God and man in one person, still fully God and fully human; Jesus the one who conquered sin and death and hell.
And so where does that leave us, as we stand here at The Mountain of the Transfiguration, with forty days of Lent, forty days of a penitential attitude ahead? Well, depending on Jesus, I hope. Just think, the same Jesus that stood on that mountain shining like the sun, suffered the darkness of death, and rose again to shine like the sun. The big thing to remember is that he did it for you. You know how difficult life is. You know how death chases you around. You know how your sin makes your life miserable. You know that no matter how hard you try, nothing you do is going to change it. That shining Jesus is the answer to it all. His life, death and resurrection change it all for you. Your sin is forgiven. That means that you can set it aside and go on with your life. Your death won’t end in hell’s punishment; it ends in a resurrection like Jesus and in life forever with him. That’s why the dark colors and somber tones only temporarily cover up the joy that is coming at Easter. That’s the attitude that Transfiguration sets in place for Lent. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.