The Transfiguration of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, February 25, 2006
St. John's Lutheran Church, Howard, SD
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah." For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, "This is my beloved Son; listen to him." And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw
anyone with them but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. (Mark 9:2-9, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
What a wonderful sight it must have been, on that mountain, Jesus shining like the sun, Moses and Elijah there with him. The disciples never forgot it. They wrote about it in their letters, they must have spoken about it often. John wrote in his gospel And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the
only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, ESV)
And Peter said, For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. (2 Peter 1:16, ESV) They were talking about this mountaintop experience, when Jesus was transfigured before them. "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God." we say with the collective memory of the church. Here is where human
beings saw Jesus Christ shine in His full glory, as the Only Begotten Son of God.
That's what happened there on that mountain. Jesus was "transfigured." The word is really metamorphosized! He changed his appearance; he became brighter than any bleach could bleach clothing. It's another mountain top thing. Just like when he gave the law to Moses for the people. It's a people of God event. That means that the transfiguration has something to do with us! But, more on that later.
First, we need to talk about what's happening to Jesus. I said here we see his 'glory.' Really what we are talking about is his divinity, his "god-ness," shining through his humanity. We should carefully note that Jesus is all at once True-Man and True-God all together in
one person. God, The Holy Spirit, his father, and Mary is his mother. He is 100% God and 100% man. You don't get Jesus by gluing a God-board to a Man-board. Or taking God stuff and mixing it together with man-stuff to get a God-Man mixture. He's not a hybrid. He is not a superman or a lesser god. He is God-Man. Unique in the universe. There is nothing like him anywhere, and there never will be. St. Paul said it like this. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, (Colossians 2:9, ESV) That's what Peter, James and John saw on that day, Jesus Christ revealed, God and Man.
So what does that mean for us? We weren't on that mountain to see it, but here we are some miles and several thousand years away. What does Transfigured Jesus mean to us? It is important to know that Jesus is God and Man together in a special way. You don't get just a part of Jesus, ever. When you talk about Jesus it is always Humanity and Divinity. When we say that Jesus is here (because he promises to be where two or three are gathered together, For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them." Matthew 18:20, ESV) we mean that he is here in humanity and divinity. His humanity isn't in heaven and his divinity on earth with us. He is not physically present "at the right hand of God" and spiritually present with us right now. He is here, among us, body and blood, flesh and spirit, God and man. The same Jesus born, in the flesh, in a food trough. The same Jesus, in the flesh, who walked and talked and laughed and cried with his disciples. The same Jesus, in the flesh, who became as
bright as the sun on that mountain. The same Jesus, in flesh and blood, who bled and died on the cross, who rose again, sits at the right hand of God and rules the whole universe.
How about a little quiz? Was God born to the Virgin Mary? Did a human being shine with God's glory on the mountain of transfiguration? Did God die for your sins on a cross in Jerusalem? Does a human
being now rule over the universe? The answer to all these questions is "Yes" in Jesus Christ. God and man inseparable, undivided for all eternity.
It really answers the question: "How can the death of one man be
enough to pay for the sins of the whole world?" It can be because the death of that man was the death of God. The death of Jesus was a "God-sized" death. A human life is worth one human life, but God's life is worth an infinite amount of human lives. When God dies his death, in Jesus Christ, it is worth more than the lives of all the
people that have ever lived, all that are alive now and all that will ever live. That's how Jesus redeems us, with his holy and precious blood and innocent suffering and death, as Martin Luther put it in the Small Catechism.
Notice also that God, in Jesus Christ, deals with us through his
humanity. He comes to us in ways that humans can comprehend and understand; he comes to us in flesh and blood. He comes to us in words spoken that travel through the air and strike our ears. He comes to us in water poured on our heads. He comes to us in bread and wine. All of these ways are earthly, physical and ordinary. God
reveals himself to us in the ordinary, human, flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. If you want to know what God is like, all you have to do is look to Jesus.
Jesus shines there on the mountain. And it's more than the disciples can take. Peter says something about building tents. We don't know exactly what he means, but he must have wanted to make some way of remembering what he saw. He probably wanted to build some kind of memorial that they could return to and remember. If he had done that we could all go there and visit. There'd be a sign: "This is the place where Jesus was transfigured." But, no one really knows where it was, and maybe that's a good thing.
The idea of setting up tents was probably a way of trying to bring God under control. It's something we human beings are really good at trying. We put Jesus in a box, in a church, in our hearts, instead of looking for him the only place he promises to be. We put him where we'd like him to be instead. We privatize Jesus and make our faith
only personal, private faith. "Just me and Jesus on a mountain." "I can worship God, just as well sitting out in a boat on the lake." Lord, it's good that we're here. Forget everyone else. Let's build a tent and remember the experience, the good feelings right here and now. That's where we want Jesus to be. We forget to look for him where he says he'll be, in the preached word, in his supper, in Baptism, and his people gathered around these things. Gathering here isn't about feelings or experience, it's about meeting Jesus the way that he promises to come. He is here with us in Word and Sacrament even if we don't feel any different at all. But we are so much more impressed by visions and feelings than humble words, ordinary looking bread and wine and plain old water. Yet though these Jesus promises to forgive.
What would it be like if Jesus, and Moses and Elijah appeared standing right here and their images were burned into the walls of the church? When word got out people would come from everywhere. Our little 200 person church would be packed to the gills and everything would change. We'd speak quietly when we entered, we'd bow our heads, and never want to leave. No one would sleep if Moses and Elijah appeared in the pulpit to tell you about the forgiveness of sins found in Jesus Christ.
And yet, we have that very thing here every Sunday. Jesus is here along with the angels and "all the company of heaven." Every time we gather here we are standing on the mountain of God. Every time we receive the forgiveness of sins won for us by Jesus Christ. Every Sunday He comes here to preach to you the Good News that you have been forgiven by his bloody death on the cross. And he comes to you in his very body and blood for you to eat and drink, right here.
You see something more than the miracle of the transfiguration happens here all the time. Jesus takes sinful people and declares that they are his saints. You can't see it; sometimes you can't even feel it. You have to hear it in his Word. That's the only difference. Jesus is here for you and me, just the same as he was on that mountain for the disciples. The only difference is you can't see him the way they
The truth be told you really don't want to see him. The sight of Jesus in all his glory would be way too much for us. It left "the Rock" blubbering about tents. The Glory of God left Isaiah shivering in his shoes saying he was dead. And the Apostle John tells us in Revelations that in the presence of God he fell to the ground like a dead man. "No one can see God and live." We are told. Jesus gives us a break. He is gentle with us. He comes to us in very hidden ways. So hidden, in fact, that most people pass him by without even
noticing. So hidden that we even sometimes forget that where the Church is gathered around his word Jesus is truly there.
There's something else important to notice about the transfiguration. God speaks to us there. "This is my son, whom I love, listen to him." Everything is focused, right where it should be, on Jesus. Moses and Elijah fade away and Jesus is left there alone. "Listen to him! He has the words of eternal life." In many and various ways God spoke to His people of old by the prophets. But now in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son. Heb 1:1-2. "Jesus alone" that's really what the mountain of transfiguration is all about. Only Jesus is God's beloved Son. Only Jesus shines with the Glory of God on the mountain. Only Jesus died on the cross bearing in his body the sins of the whole world. Only Jesus rose again from death never to die again. Only Jesus sits with God and prays directly to the Father for us. Only Jesus comes to you in Word and Sacrament to save and strengthen you.
St. Paul said And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of
glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18, ESV) Jesus Christ, present here with us right now in Word and Sacrament is here to transfigure you. He is changing you from the inside out, changing you to become like him. It's a hidden thing, this work that he is about. But when he appears in His Glory again at the end of time His work then will be shown for all to see. He will who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:21, ESV) That will be a Transfiguration day to see! Come Lord Jesus, Come! Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Jonathan C. Watt
St. John's Lutheran Church
Howard, South Dakota