Sermon – Transfiguration – “A Scenic Pullover” – Matthew 17:1-9 – 3/6/11

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Anyone who has ever visited Acadia National Park and driven the “Loop Road” knows what a “scenic pullover” is. It’s a place where the view is particularly beautiful and unobstructed. And the “Loop Road” is full of these “scenic pullovers.”

Today, the Christian Church on earth stops at a “scenic pullover” to catch a view of its Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The Transfiguration of our Lord is an unobstructed view of Jesus, from which we see what St. Paul describes as, “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2Cor. 4:6). And it is a beautiful sight.

Like Peter, we wish that we could stay forever. And in fact, one day, we will. This is the view of Jesus that Christian Church in heaven has all the time and its never time to move on.

But for the Church on earth, the Transfiguration of our Lord is a temporary, all too brief stop along the road that leads to the cross and grave. In fact, for the Church on earth, the journey is filled with one “overlook” after another in which we get an unobstructed view of the effects of our sin. It’s not a “scenic” sight at all. Too often, it’s a downright ugly view. The scenery is cluttered with selfishness, greed, gossip, theft, murder, adultery, divorce, broken promises, broken dreams, death, life in all its unfairness. Instead of wanting to remain and never leave, we want to move on as quickly as we can and put what we’ve seen behind us.

So, who can blame Peter for wanting to pitch a few tents and stay for as long as possible? Wouldn’t we love to do the same? But Jesus is on the road that leads to the cross and He will not be detained. And His followers are just that – ‘followers.’ They go where He goes and He goes to Jerusalem, where the scenery will be anything but pretty.

The Transfiguration of our Lord is the gateway through which the Church travels from the season of Epiphany where each Sunday we stopped at another ‘scenic overlooks’ with its view of Jesus’ divinity, to the season of Lent that is jamb packed with ‘scenic overlooks’ onto Jesus’ humanity and the cruel realities mankind’s sin.

The scenes of Jesus doing miracles that only God could do, and saying things that only God has the authority to say, are now topped off with this climactic, breakout view of His radiant face, flanked by two Old Testament heroes of the faith, Moses and Elijah, overshadowed by a “bright cloud,” and narrated by the voice of none other than God the Father almighty – “This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.”

The whole thing probably didn’t last very long at all, maybe not even as long as this sermon. “And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.” No radiant face, no Moses and Elijah, no bright cloud, no voice from the cloud. “Jesus only.”

It’s like that for us too. No visions or voices. No miracles or signs and wonders. “Jesus only.” “Only” His Word. “Only” His Baptism. “Only” His Supper. I know that sometimes that’s not enough for us and we want to see visions and speak in tongues and perform miraculous healings and do signs and wonders. But true faith trusts in “Jesus only” and demands nothing more, because it is enough. “Jesus only” is everything we need, more than we deserve, all that we have been promised.

The Transfiguration of our Lord is that time when the Church on earth stops to enjoy the scenery before moving on to the season of Lent. It is truly good, right and salutary for us to just sit and enjoy this incredible view of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

He is the “Son of God,” and He is the “Son of Man.” He is God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, being of one substance with the Father. And He is also of one substance with you and me, true man born of true woman, bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh.

HUMANLY speaking, He is like us in every way, except He has no sin. Sometimes we’re tempted to think that because He has no sin and has never sinned, then He isn’t truly human. The truth however is that Jesus is the only truly human being that there is or ever will be. He is the perfect human. He is MAN as God created MAN to be in the beginning before sin came into the world. It’s we who are something less than human, sub-human. Sin has so corrupted our humanness, that we are no longer TRUE MAN. But Jesus is “TRUE MAN.” We are “FALSE MAN.”

But Jesus is also TRUE GOD. There are lots who say that Jesus is “FALSE GOD,” because “TRUE GOD” would never stoop so low as to enter into His own creation as one of the creatures and as a suffering servant no less. But the truth is, this is precisely what He has done.

Because Jesus is TRUE GOD and TRUE MAN, when you listen to Jesus, you’re hearing the Word of God. When you obey Jesus, you’re obeying God. When Jesus gives you something, it is a gift from God. When Jesus gives you Himself, God is giving you Himself. When Jesus is crucified for you, it is God has given Himself unto death FOR YOU.

The fact that Jesus is TRULY HUMAN means that as we sit here and take in the view of Him, we’re seeing what He is out to make us to be – TRULY HUMAN. And the fact that Jesus is TRUE GOD means, that as we sit here and take in the view of Him, we’re seeing the One who has the power to make us TRULY HUMAN.

If He were only human, He would be nothing more than the example for us all to strive to live up to. The last thing we need is another impossible example to live up to. We’ve got plenty of those already. Were He only divine, He would be our judge who could neither understand us nor sympathize with our weakness and He would have no reason to be merciful to us.

But Jesus Christ is the “Son of God” and the “Son of Man.” He is the God/Man. Not half God and half man. He is TRUE GOD and FULLY God. He is TRUE MAN and FULLY man. It’s quite a sight isn’t it?

“And He was transfigured before them and His face shone like the sun…” Enjoy the scene. Take in the view. Fix your eyes on the face of Jesus and hold onto what you see. Because come Wednesday night of this week, He’ll be in a garden called Gethsemane and there, His face will not shine like the sun. It will be covered in a bloody sweat as He prays to do His Father’s will – which is to sacrifice His life to save yours.

Remember His face that “shone like the sun,” so that when you are faced with hard choices, where to do the Father’s will, will cost you dearly and demand a great sacrifice from you, you will pray as He prayed – “not my will but Yours be done.”

“And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him.” Just in case bible history was never your strong subject, let me just point out that Moses and Elijah died a long time before Jesus took Peter, John and James up the mountain. Jesus is conversing with those who have died yet who are alive. Remember that, when mourn for loved ones and friends who have died in the faith. Remember what you are seeing here and how Jesus said, “whoever believes in me, even though he dies, yet he shall live.” (John 11:25).

Elijah was the great prophet of the Old Testament and He’s present as the representative of all the Old Testament prophets. The job of the prophet was to speak for God. They didn’t offer their own interpretations of things. They “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

But Elijah was one natured, not two. He was human natured, not divine. He and all his prophetic prot??g??s spoke FOR God but they weren’t God. So when they said, “thus saith the Lord…” it was God’s Word coming out through human lips. And every word that they spoke pointed to Jesus – the Prophet of Prophets. So, as we have heard through out this Epiphany season, when Jesus opened His mouth and spoke, He never said, “thus saith the Lord.” He is the Lord. He always said, “Truly, truly, I say to you.”

Elijah’s presence in this scene tells us that Jesus is the One that all of the prophets spoke of Who would save His people from their sins.

Remember that when you see Jesus, “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” His suffering and death further confirms their word. He is TRUE GOD and TRUE MAN.

Remember what you see here, so that when you are despised and rejected by others, when you are filled with sorrow and grief, you may take heart that He “was wounded for our transgressions; crushed for our iniquities” just as the prophets foretold.

Moses was the great lawyer of the Old Testament. God summoned Moses to meet Him on the mountain called Sinai. And there, God gave Moses those two tablets of stone with the Law written on them. And God told Moses to go back down the mountain and lay down the law. We say, “laws are meant to be broken.” But God’s law is not meant to be broken, it’s meant to kept.

Moses and all his prot??g??s were given the authority to say, “Thou shall…” and “Thou shall not…” But Moses was one natured and not two. He was human natured, not divine. And his human nature was deeply flawed by his sin, just like ours is. All that Moses could do was dish out God’s law. Even he couldn’t keep it. And neither can we.

But now we see Moses meeting with God on another mountain. Moses’ presence here tells us that Moses is giving God’s Law to Jesus. He is the One who will able to keep in perfectly – according to the letter and according to the spirit. He is TRUE MAN who delights in the Law of the Lord as a TRUE MAN should. And He is TRUE GOD. He’s the One who wrote the Law and delivered it to Moses. He will keep the law on our behalf, as only TRUE GOD can.

Remember that when you see Jesus bound and on trial before the High Priest and the Governor of Judea for breaking the Law of God. He is keeping the Law by receiving the just punishment that we deserve for breaking God’s Law. The full justice that the Law requires is being carried out upon Him, the only innocent One, so that through faith in Jesus Christ, the God/Man, we may be declared innocent and justified before God.

So, enjoy the scene. Take in the view; the shining face, the radiant clothes, Moses and Elijah, the bright cloud, the voice from the cloud. It’s all for our benefit, so that we may follow Jesus without fear.

I wonder, how will we do? Will we remember what we have seen with our ears this morning on this “holy mountain”? If Peter is any example, we won’t do very well at all. Peter testifies that “he was an eyewitness of His majesty.” Yet down in the valley where a fire was burning in the High Priest’s courtyard and the pressure was on, Peter denied knowing Jesus, not once but three times. How could he have forgotten what he had seen and the voice that He had heard?

How can we? How many times have we said that if only we could see His glory, then we’d believe, then we’d be brave and bold? How easily do we succumb to the pressure to deny Jesus for fear of the sacrifice or suffering we will surely encounter if we confess that we are one of His disciples? How quickly do we forget what we have seen and heard on this Transfiguration Sunday?

So, we dare not linger any longer. It’s time to leave this mountain top view, follow Jesus down the mountain and get on with the “Journey to the Cross.” For Jesus must set aside all of His glory and not let it be seen again until the 3rd day. Because this is just what we one-natured men and women need and it is just what this two natured Christ has come to do.

ew 17:1-9
The Transfiguration of Jesus

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