Click play to listen to the audio version of this sermon.
How many of you have ever attended one of your high school class reunions of 20 years or more? Was it hard to recognize your old classmates? I've never attended one of my high school reunions, but I can imagine that it might be hard to recognize the old gang just because they've probably changed quite a bit.
One of you drew my attention to an old photo album of members of the congregation the other day and as I looked through it, I was struck by how much some of us have changed over the years. (Not me of course.)
Life happens. And life has its effect on our body. We may do our best to slow the process with makeup and some skin tucks here and there, but you can only do so much. Sooner of later, we start to show our age. If life has been hard and stress runs high, then the lines really start to show up and run deep. Take the face of an American President for example. In just four or eight years all of them look like they've aged 20 or 30 years.
When God became man and took on a human body, there was nothing about Him that made Him look any different than anyone else. His body grew and went through all of the stages of development as ours do. And even though He was without sin, sin took its toll on His body. Long days with little rest, the pain of seeing so much suffering and so many so needy, the daily attacks and hassles from people who just don't get it, the disappointment and frustration of being surrounded by such incompetence. All of this took its toll on Jesus' body and on His face. "We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are…" (Hebrews 4:15). And His face certainly showed it.
The Transfiguration of Jesus Luke says, "The appearance of His face was altered." Whatever lines and wrinkles and age spots that might have been there were lost in the light. The disciples recognized that it was Jesus, but they saw Him in a way that they had never seen Him before. The three disciples were given a momentary peek at what lies beneath His humanity. They see His divinity exposed, uncovered, unveiled. Even in the miracle of Easter and afterwards, no one sees Jesus like these three saw Him here.
This is the whole point of the Transfiguration event. The Transfiguration happens and is in the Bible to tell us in unmistakable terms that this truly human man is just as truly, the Son of God.
The New Testament wants to be sure that we understand and believe this. When St. Paul writes to the Philippians, he says that Jesus did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped. He didn't have to reach for divine status or work to attain it, because it is His by His the very nature of His being.
Writing to the Colossians, Paul says, "His is the image of the invisible God." "For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell." "For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily." (Col. 1:15,19; 2:9)
Writing to Timothy, Paul calls God, "unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see," (1 Tim. 6:16) but Who has made Himself visible and approachable in the person of Jesus Christ. The writer to the Hebrews says it like this, "He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature." (Heb.1:3).
All of this is a long way of saying that the light didn't shine down upon Him, it shown out from Him.
Here, in the Transfiguration of our Lord, we are being told something very important about who this Jesus is. And not based on miracles He performs or anything He does. Even in the miracles He does, which John calls, signs of His glory, we are still left to infer who He is by what He does. But here, at the Transfiguration, we see Him "as He is." We see "the glory as of the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14) without inference or assumption.
On Christmas, we celebrate Jesus' humanity. On Good Friday, we celebrate the full atonement that He made for all of our sins by His innocent suffering and death on the cross. And on Easter, we celebrate the victory over the grave that He has won for us by His resurrection from the dead. But here on this day of the Transfiguration of our Lord, we celebrate the fact that this Jesus, born, suffered, died and raised again, is true God. Here we come face to face with "the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (2Cor.4:6) and we are confronted with the fact this is no less than God dwelling among us.
People have always had trouble with this. When you trace the history from Jesus Christ right up to our present day, men and women have always had a very difficult time accepting the divinity of this Jesus. The religious leaders of Jesus' day accused Him of blasphemy because He claimed to be God and they had Him crucified for it.
Some say he's a very special human, but not divine. Some say He's divine but of a lesser divinity than God the Father. Some say He's partly divine but no way does the "fullness of the deity dwell in Him."
Matthew, Mark and Luke each report that the Transfiguration is the very next thing that happens after Jesus asked His disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" They argue about whether it took place six days or eight days later, but the all agree that it is this question that Jesus is answering by taking His disciples up the mountain to see His glory. It's a question that each of us must be prepared to give an answer to. "Who do you say that Jesus is?"
It's perfectly understandable that Peter wanted to stay on the mountain. Rarely is Jesus' divinity as clear and unquestionable as this. In fact, doesn't it seem a bit odd that this is the only time that Jesus is transfigured before their eyes?
If only He had done this in the Nazareth, His hometown and when He stood before the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate. Surely they would have been convinced that He is God dwelling among them. Surely, they would never have crucified Him. And just as surely, His divine body would not have been nailed to the cross as the one sacrifice for sin. And just as surely, His divine blood would not have been shed for our transgressions. And just as surely, we would still be in our sins and not reconciled with God. Here is the wonder and awe of His Transfiguration. This is the most-high God who lays down His life and is flogged and beaten, crucified, died and buried – for you.
The challenge of Christian faith is not that in seeing the unveiled glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ we must believe that He is the Son of God and follow Him. The challenge of the Christian faith is that we are only given to see the human face of Jesus, and even that, crowned with thorns and covered in blood, from that alone, we must believe that He is the Son of God and trust in His Word simply on the basis of His Word.
The Christian faith is based solely on what we hear and not on what we see. Even on this majestic mountain, as Peter calls it, the voice of the Father from the cloud doesn't not say, "This is my Son, my Chosen One, look at Him." He says, "listen to Him!"
So, the purpose for this and the reason that Jesus brings the three up the mountain to witness this, is not so that they can say to the others, "you're not going to believe what we saw." It is so that they may tell the others and themselves, "you really ought to believe what He says."
When Peter writes to the Church about what took place on the mountain, he says, based on what we saw and heard on that mountain, you ought to really trust and believe His Word. "We were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For we were with him on the holy mountain. And [based on that] we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts…" (2 Peter 1:16-19).
Hearing and believing is something we have lots of trouble with. We're all a lot like Thomas. We much prefer seeing and believing. "Unless I see with my eyes and touch with my hand, I will not believe."
St. John, one of the three who witnessed this promises that one-day, "we shall see him as he is." (1 John 3:2) As a warning to unbelievers and the hope for believers, John writes, "Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him" in His Transfiguration glory. (Rev.1:7).
But for now, we live by faith and not by sight. The revelation of Jesus' divine nature and the glory of God is hidden in the body of Jesus Christ, and nowhere more hidden from our eyes than in His body, crucified on the cross and buried in the tomb.
So even here, on what Peter calls, "the majestic mountain," what's the conversation all about? Moses and Elijah were talking with Jesus about His "departure, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem."
The word "departure" in the Greek is the word, "exodus." "Ex" means "out." "Odos" means "road" or "way." The "exodus" is about the "way out." And how fitting that Moses and Elijah are the ones talking with Jesus about His exodus.
Moses of course, knew something about exodus. He led the people of God out of Egypt from the slavery and bondage under Pharaoh, through the wilderness and to the Promised Land. But Moses wasn't able to actually bring the people into the Promised Land. As we heard, the Lord took Moses to the top of a mountain and showed Him the final destination, but another one, whose name in Hebrew is "Yeshua" would lead the people into the Promised Land.
Elijah had gone through an exodus of his own too. He tried to lead God's people out from under the influence of Baal and the many false gods that they worshipped. He didn't accomplish everything he had hoped to either.
Now, both of them look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of their faith. It was all up to Him to accomplish the exodus that neither of them was able to. After all, they were only human. And there's only so much any one man can do.
But the God/Man, Jesus Christ is the greater than Moses and the greater than Elijah. And He is able to lead His people through the ultimate exodus from our slavery and bondage to our sin, death and the devil himself, into the promised-land where the light of His glory shatters the darkness once and for all.
For now, the divinity of Jesus Christ remains hidden from our eyes under the shadow of the cross, in plain water, under an ever so thin piece of bread and sip of wine, in ordinary spoken words. None of this means a thing if Jesus is not God in the flesh. But it means everything if He is.
"This is my Son, my Chosen One," reverberates in the earthquake that shook the ground and tore the curtain of the temple at His death. "This is my Son, my Chosen One," gives meaning and power to the water in which we are baptized at His command, the bread and wine that we eat and drink and His invitation, the word of forgiveness and hope and life that He has commissioned to be preached. These words from the Father, "This is my Son, my Chosen One," are the basis for our hope and confidence that by His departure in Jerusalem, we too will be delivered.
We close with the words of St. Peter to the church, "Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls." (1 Peter 1:8-9).