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. (Luke 9:28-36, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today we’re remembering the Transfiguration of our Lord. The word “Transfiguration” means changed. On that mountain with Peter, James and John Jesus’ appearance changed right in front of them. What’s happening here is that some of God’s glory in Jesus is poking through to be seen. Although Peter didn’t understand what was going on at the time, he was so impressed by what he had saw that he wrote about it in his second epistle (2 Peter 1:16-21). There he calls it God’s majesty. When Jesus began to shine there on the mountain of the transfiguration Peter was basking in it. “Lord! It’s great to be here in your glory, with Moses and Elijah. Let’s make this last a while. Let’s just stay right here. Let’s build three tents. This is just what I’ve been looking for in you. Now we’ll really be able get things done. Now life is going to be good.” Luke tells us that Peter didn’t know what he was saying. Maybe Peter had visions in his mind of an end to the Roman occupation with the Roman Legions running from Jerusalem with their tails between their legs. Or maybe he was thinking about knocking the Pharisees, the “holier-than-thou” religious leaders of the day down to size. Or maybe he had visions of mountains of fish being carried to market from his fishing boat and the new house he would be able to build with all his new found profits. When Jesus was glowing on that mountain, when his clothing became dazzling white, Peter was looking at God the way we all want to see him.
That’s right, if you and I were standing on that mountain with Jesus… and Moses… and Elijah… we’d have said it something like this: “Now this is what I’m talking about! Jesus, this is more like it. Here’s the real stuff, the power, the dazzling white I need for life. Here’s a god that will make my best life now. Here’s a god who can heal me, fix my finances, straighten out my wife, make my husband a better lover and fill my life with driven purpose. Here’s a god who can teach my obnoxious neighbor a real lesson in humility. Here’s a god who I can use to make my life better.”
But just like Peter, we don’t know what we are talking about. Just like Peter when we think about our Lord Jesus in that way, we’ve got him all wrong. It’s easy to be that way, in fact, it’s impossible for sinful human beings not to be that way. We focus on the here and now. We focus on our needs. We focus on our wants and desires. But just like Peter on the mountain of Jesus’ transfiguration, we’ve got God all wrong. We don’t know what they are talking about.
Martin Luther wrote about this. He explained this way of thinking about Jesus in a very interesting and easy to remember way. First, understand that no matter who you are you are a theologian. We don’t all think of ourselves that way but it just means that everyone has a way of thinking about and talking about God. The word theology means simply “god-talk.” Dr. Luther said there were only two types of theologians: Theologians of Glory and Theologians of the Cross. Theologians of Glory use god to make life easier for themselves. They see god as a means to shape their world and change hard questions into easy ones. They see god as someone that you do good things for and then in response he does good things for you. Live the right kind of life and god will reward you with wealth, health and happiness; pray real hard and god will take away cancer; tell god how great he is in song and he’ll respond with good feelings of peace and happiness; put enough money in the collection plate and god will keep your checkbook in the black; follow these ten biblical principals on marriage and god will bless your relationships with pure joy. The truth is that every human religion in the world works this way. Appease the gods and they’ll reward you. It’s a theology of glory, and it says that I’m the center of attention. If I’m happy and healthy and wealthy then god is pleased with me and the world is a good place to live. God is just a way to shape my world and make it happen for me. That’s god not as he is found in scriptures, but a god invented out of human imagination. One pastor I know calls this a theology of self glory.
And, if you’re honest you’ll admit that much of the time that’s the god you want too. God, make my life easy, take away trouble and suffering from my life. God, give me good things for my life. You and Peter (and me too!) are all, in our sinful nature, theologians of [self] glory. Our lives are filled every day with thoughts that put us first. That is the way with all religions; they focus on human beings and what human beings can do to get god on their side. Well that is all religions except Christianity. In our faith, Jesus God’s only beloved Son, does it all. He reconciles us with God without us doing anything for him. Jesus tells us what that’s all about. In fact, it is really what this text wants us to understand. It starts out Now about eight days after these sayings… What sayings? Well you just turn back a page in the bible and read what Jesus said.
And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:21-27, ESV)
When Jesus says, deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me he’s discussing what it means to be a Theologian of the Cross. It’s not something we do to appease God, like other religions but something that God has already done for us. That’s exactly what Jesus and Moses and Elijah are talking about up on that mountain. St. Luke says,
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.
It’s that word departure. They are talking about Jesus death in Jerusalem. They are talking about the cross. Actually, I don’t really picture Moses and Elijah saying much in the conversation. I picture Jesus saying something like, “OK boys, this is how it’s going to go down. I’m going to Jerusalem to suffer under Pontius Pilate, be crucified, dead and buried. I’ll descend into hell. On the third day I’ll rise again from the dead and then ascend into heaven and sit at the right hand of God, the Father.” And then the voice in the cloud booms out, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”
God’s glory isn’t seen in the success of those who claim to be doing his will on earth. Instead, God’s glory is seen most clearly when we are looking at a dead Jesus on the cross. There’s God willing to kill his only son for the sake of sinful human beings who think first about themselves. There’s God willing to suffer the agony of eternal punishment for the sake of people who want easy lives instead of what is best for them. There’s God willing to bleed not out of selfish motive but giving everything he is for you and me. There is no contradiction between the shining Jesus on one mountain and the bleeding and dying Jesus on another. They are one and the same. That’s God’s love shining through. That’s God’s real glory being shown in a way that we can see, in a way that we can really understand. Jesus said it like this Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. (John 15:13, ESV) Well, that’s not very glorious according to the way people think, but that’s God’s glory shining through. That’s not very glorious according to our thinking. That’s not very glorious according to the world’s way of thinking. But that’s how we can know that the God we worship is the true God. He’s the only one who shows love in this way, by forgiving our sins through his own suffering and death in our place.
The theologian of the cross sees God’s glory in the cross of Jesus Christ, but that’s not all. Christians (aka Theologians of the Cross), see the cross of Jesus Christ in their own suffering. One thing I’ve learned in my very short time of being a Pastor: you and I see Jesus most clearly not when things are going well, but when life is hard, when pain is present and when death is very near. Jesus said that we should take up our cross and follow him. He’s not really talking about everyday suffering; he’s talking about suffering for the sake of the cross. You know, having other Christians questions our practice of closed communion and tell us we are unloving because we tell them that Jesus says they can’t commune at our altar. You know, pointing to Jesus suffering and death on the cross when others only want to look at how Jesus “makes my life better.” You know, insisting that Jesus and the cross are at the very center of our faith and worship every single week instead of some feel good program like 10 steps to financial freedom. That’s the cross Jesus is talking about. But he means too that when we hurt, when life presses in on us from all sides, when we are threatened with illness and loneliness and separation, when we see our own weakness, that’s when we see most clearly that we are lost without Jesus, that is when we cling to the only thing that we know can save us, Jesus our Savior. And when suffering and trouble come, Jesus doesn’t tell us to buck up and tough it out, he tells us to look for him; he promises to be with us right in the middle of our suffering.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. The Jesus whose glory shines out on the mount of Transfiguration went to the cross for you. There in his bleeding and dying he suffered sins punishment for you. That too is a showing of God’s glory. When he rose again from death, which he also did for you, he showed God’s glory once again. And he is coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead. And the amazing thing is that that story of God’s glory in Jesus is your story, too. You are connected to all that Jesus did. We saw it right here just a few weeks ago with Kenna. Jesus and Kenna connected by water and the Word. God’s promise that the glory he showed in Jesus will be reflected in Kenna. Let’s say it like this: Today God’s glory shines in Kenna as she was given the name of Jesus. All through his life weather it is long or short, God’s glory will show in the suffering she goes through. That’s because God has promised to be with her through it all and because the punishment for her sin was washed off of her and on to her Savior Jesus, none of his suffering is because God is angry with her but only to draw Kenna closer to Jesus. Someday in the future when Jesus comes in glory, Kenna will rise from death and receive a new glorious body. And that’s what it means for you, too. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.