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“And after six days Jesus took with Him Peter, James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.”
Matthew, Mark and Luke each record the Transfiguration of our Lord in their gospels. And each begin by dating it to a previous event that had taken place. “And after six days…” Six days from what? Whatever it is, it’s obviously connected to the Transfiguration of our Lord. We better find out.
Six days before this, Jesus had asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am.” And Peter replied for them all, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” A very important teaching event immediately follows.
The path that the Son of the living God is on leads directly to suffering, crucifixion and death. “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
And the same goes for anyone who would be ‘My disciple.’ “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Whoever would save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mat.16:24-25).
Talk of suffering and rejection, taking up a cross and losing your life, was pretty troubling to Jesus’ disciples. SO disturbing that they hardly even heard that part about “on the third day be raised.”
It’s the same for us. We are interested in pleasure, not pain. We want to find a church that we are ‘comfortable’ with and we want preaching that makes us ‘comfortable,’ even with our sins. We’re all for a religion that makes us feel good about who we are and what we’re doing with our life.
But a religion that says, “this is going to hurt, and the goal is to kill you…” well, that’s not what any of us have in mind. It certainly wasn’t what Peter had in mind. Peter protested to Jesus. Jesus rebuked Peter.
So, where do we go from here? Do we follow Him or not? This is clearly a lot more than we were interested in. All we really wanted was to add a little ‘spirituality’ to our life just to give it some more meaning.
But what if He’s right? What if Jesus Christ is offering what we really need, and can’t live without? What if there really is no other way, or truth, or life than this?
Well then, He is a Lord worth following wholeheartedly; and this is a religion worth diving into head first. If there is really something wrong with us… AND THERE IS… then let’s not waste time trying to make me feel good about myself and pretend that everything is just fine. Let’s go right to surgery. Let’s cut deeply.
So if this is the Lord whom you’re going to follow… AND WE ALL FOLLOW SOME LORD … and if this is the path you’re going to go down… AND WE ALL GO DOWN ONE PATH OR ANOTHER … you better be darn sure that He is who He says He is and that He knows what He’s doing and where He’s taking you.
“And after six days Jesus too with Him Peter, James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.”
He doesn’t bring all 12, just three. It’s unthinkable that He had invited all 12 to ‘FOLLOW ME,’ but 9 out of 12 declined the offer. As much as they wanted to, they were busy; other commitments; activities; life’s busy. I don’t like mountain climbing. That’s too painful to even imagine.
So, let’s just stick with the theory that He only invited the 3 and that they would tell the others who would spread the world to ‘ALL NATIONS.’ That’s much more comfortable.
“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 for us to be here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
This is much more like what Peter expected religion to be like. And in fact, one day, it will be a lot like this for all who “deny themselves” and “loose their lives for Christ’s sake” NOW. This is what religion is like in heaven for everyone.
“Peter 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.”
If ever there was definite confirmation that Jesus is the One to follow, here it is. God the Father declares His love for His Son. The Father is pleased with what the Son is going to do on the cross where He will suffer and die to atone for the sins of the whole world.
If you need more reason than this to “listen to him,” then you’ve already made up your mind not to.
“When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.” Strange reaction. Why were they “terrified”? You’d think that they would be thrilled. I know that we think that if could see what they saw and hear what the heard that it would be wonderful and thrilling. Truth is, since Adam’s fall into sin, everyone who ever sees God or hears Him speak to them is ‘terrified.’ We’re simply not able to handle it. Not yet.
The whole thing probably didn’t last very long, probably not as long as this sermon. “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.” 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. We think that we would like to have something spectacular to base our faith on. A ‘transfiguration,’ a miracle or vision, an EXPERIENCE will do.
But our assurance comes to us under plain, simple water and preaching from a lowly sinner, and meal of bread and wine. That’s as spectacular and glorious as it gets – for now.
And that really is enough. We don’t need to see what they saw. It’s enough for us that they saw it. We believe their word.
Peter writes, “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. For He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.”
The apostle’s word is, for us, the same as actually seeing and hearing it ourselves.
Maybe that’s what Peter is getting at when, in the same breath as telling us what he saw on the holy mountain, goes on to say, “And we have something MORE SURE…” What could be “More sure” than the shining face of Jesus as bright as the sun, and Moses and Elijah, and the voice of the Father from the brilliant cloud? What could be “MORE SURE” than that?
“THE PROPHETIC WORD…” The Word is “MORE SURE,” not as in, the Transfiguration is LESS SURE. But “MORE SURE” as in, it is the ever present and available testimony that Jesus is the beloved Son of the Father with whom He is well pleased. “More sure” than mountaintop experiences is the Word of God that reveals the true identity of Jesus and that leads us to identify Him as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
And if I may be so bold as to say this, if the PROPHETIC WORD, the Old Testament, which was what Peter was referring to, is MORE SURE than the Transfiguration as a foundation for our faith, then HOW MUCH MORE, MORE SURE should we be, who have both the PROPHETIC and the APOSTLIC WORD?
Therefore, “You will do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your heart…” Until our Lord comes again IN ALL HIS GLORY, and every eye will see Him just as Peter, James and John saw Him on the holy mountain, the Word guides and directs the people of God like a “lamp to our feet and a light to our path.” (Psalm 119:105).
When Jesus comes again in all of His glory, we will no longer need this Word. The Lamp will go out just like we turn the lights off when the daylight fills the house.
But until then, we can only see Jesus rightly, as He is, through the light that His Word shines on Him, through the preaching, and through Baptism and the absolution and the Lord’s Supper. Until then, “You will do well to pay attention to the Word.
The ‘takeaway’ from the Transfiguration of our Lord is that Jesus is who He says He is. He’s ‘the real thing’, the ‘genuine article.’ We confess what we believe to be true based on their inspired testimony. He is “God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, of one substance with the Father.”
And if we really believe in our heart what we say with our lips, if we’re not just mouthing the words, we believe with a doubt, that it’s perfectly safe and entirely reasonable to put our trust in Jesus, and follow Him, WHOLE-HEARTEDLY AND HEAD FIRST.
The Church has placed the lesson of the Transfiguration of our Lord as the last word that we hear before entering into the season of Lent for a good reason. Over the course of the upcoming 40 days, we will follow our Lord to Jerusalem, “where He must suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised.”
For that brief time on the mountain, the three disciples experienced what it is like to live by sight and not by faith. They “saw the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” They saw Jesus just like Moses and Elijah and the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven see Jesus all the time; just like we will see Him too.
But for now, that glory is hidden under the bloody sweat, the disappointment of betrayal and the screams of pain and the thirst that knows no relief and the nails that won’t let go and the agony of drawing even a breath and NO VOICE FROM THE CLOUD, and “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.”
To tell you the truth, it’s NOT the sight of His glory and the voice from heaven that moves me to want to follow Him and deny myself and lay down my life for His sake, as much as it is the sight of Him who is the beloved Son of the Father, hanging from the cross, shedding His blood, for me.
On the cross, I see neither His glory nor His power. But I see His love for me. And I am overwhelmed.