The Transfiguration of Our Lord - Matthew 17:1-9 - January 17, 2016
Order of Service - Pg. 15Hymn #134 Songs of Thankfulness and Praise
2 Peter 1:16-21
Collect for the Transfiguration of Our Lord
O God, Who in the glorious Transfiguration of Thine Only-Begotten Son hast confirmed the mysteries of the faith by the testimony of the Fathers, and Who, in the Voice that came from the bright cloud, didst in a wonderful manner foreshow the adoption of sons, mercifully vouchsafe to make us coheirs with the King of His glory and bring us to the enjoyment of the same; through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.
Sermon on the Holy Gospel
1) Throughout the four gospels Christ reveals himself to be true God through many miracles, signs, and wonders. Christ reveals Himself to be God who turned the Egyptian Nile into blood by turning water into wine. Christ shows Himself to be the great physician of body and soul by touching a leprous man and instead of contracting leprosy, the leper contracts Christ’s life and holiness which eradicates the unclean disease from the man’s flesh. The evangelists tell us how Christ calmed the storm over Galilee’s sea, bringing order to a chaotic creation as He had done in the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth. In Christ’s miracles we see Him pulling back the veil that conceals His divine nature, giving us glimpses of His identity as the Only-Begotten Son of the Father. The transfiguration, however, pulls the concealing veil back entirely. For a moment we see Christ as He truly is, the brightness of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of his goodness (Wisdom 7:26). These three disciples, Peter, James and John, are blessed by Christ to see such a magnificent manifestation of Christ’s divine nature illuminating His human nature. The man they knew so well, who was like them in so many ways, now shone in heavenly glory. He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes because white as the light. Mark adds in his account of the transfiguration that His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them (Mark 9:3). Jesus shines forth as the light and life of men (John 1:4), His garments radiating with the holiness of the Godhead. Peter, James, and John gaze at His appearance, Christ’s purity penetrating their sin-darkened eyes.
2) Christ is showing them who He really is. Hidden beneath the form of a servant is One who is very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father. In this Christ also shows His Christians their future as well. We live in the sinful flesh in this life. Purity from sinful thoughts, lusts, and desires, continually alludes us. We are unable to be pure of heart by nature because sin sticks to our flesh, always tempting us with impure and perverse thoughts. The garment of our flesh is so easily defiled by sin that before God’s tribunal we appear as the high priest Joshua did in the third chapter of the prophet Zechariah. Joshua was clothed with filthy garments (Zechariah 3:3), which signified the impurities of the Levitical priesthood as well as Joshua’s own sins and unworthiness to hold the High Priesthood. And like the High Priest Joshua, Satan is often at our side to condemn us and show everyone, including the Lord, our impurity and utter unworthiness to stand before the Lord, let alone be His priest. In that vision Satan is rebuked and Joshua is clothed with new high priestly garments, signifying the forgiveness of his sins and the restoration of the priestly office. In Christ’s transfiguration He shows us a picture of that which we are not, by nature, but of what He will make us on the Last Day when He raises us from our graves. On that day the imperishable flesh will be put away and the faithful baptized will rise to new life with glorified bodies that are not tainted with the impurity and defilement of sin. On that day those who are wise shall shine Like the brightness of the firmament, And those who turn many to righteousness Like the stars forever and ever (Daniel 12:3), for we will be given the garment of praise, new garments of glorified flesh.
3) After Peter, James, and John adjust their eyes to the brightness of Christ’s glory, behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. By this Christ shows us that He is the center of the Old Testament and He is the Messiah that Moses and Elijah looked forward to. Moses isn’t usually thought of as a prophet of the Messiah, but Moses did write in Deuteronomy 18:15, the LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear. Jesus is The Prophet whom Moses prophesied. Not only this but the books of Moses are full of passages that look forward to Christ from the beginning of Genesis through the end of Deuteronomy when Moses the stern Lawgiver dies and the young man Joshua, called Jesus in Greek, then leads God’s people into their promised rest in the land flowing with milk and honey. All the Levitical institutions are shadows of Christ’s works. All the festivals, the Sabbaths, the sacrifices, all of it painted pictures of Christ’s person and work. Now Moses stands next to the glorified Christ, seeing with His eyes the reality which He faithfully preached in type and shadow. On the other side of the glorified Christ stands Elijah, the prince of the prophets, whose message for Israel was “repent.” Elijah’s ministry prepared ancient Israel for the Gospel, just as John the Baptist’s ministry had done to prepare a people for the arrival of Christ. Just like Moses, Elijah sees with His eyes the culmination of the prophetic word and the Lord God in whose presence he stood to receive his preaching of repentance and faith in the Gospel.
4) The heavenly glory which encompasses Christ includes these chief saints of the Old Testament, showing us a glimpse of what our glory will be like. This shows us that in heavenly glory we will have fellowship with the saints that have gone before us. This comforts us whenever we mourn the death of a loved one because Jesus here shows that our heavenly glory is not only being in His presence, but also in the presence of those that have died in the faith before us. For now we have this fellowship with all the saints by faith. In the world we talk about church having unitas, unity by faith in Christ. We don’t see that unity because Christ is the head of the body and the body is the church catholic, all who believe the Gospel in their hearts, regardless of their denomination. We already have this unity by faith. We cannot have it by sight in this sinful world because of divisions of doctrine and divergent confessions of the apostolic faith. The fatal flaw of the ecumenical movement is that it assumes unity by faith in Christ is something that can be seen and realized in this life apart from Concordia, that is, accord and agreement in the apostles’ doctrine. The ecumenists wrongly assume, contrary to the Scripture, that the unity of the church by faith trumps the agreement in the apostolic doctrine, when in reality they are different sides of the same coin, both which must be confessed and lived. You can’t play one off the other. In Christ’s transfiguration we see the unity of the church, that which we now have with every believer by faith, except in the transfiguration Peter, James, and John see it with their eyes. So we rejoice that we have this fellowship with our loved ones who have gone before us.
5) Upon seeing Moses and Elijah, Peter wants to enjoy this unity and glory now and circumvent the cross and suffering. So he says Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish let us make here three tabernacles: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. But Peter is overruled. Actually he is interrupted by God the Father, speaking in the cloud, who says, this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him. Hearing the voice of God the Father, Peter, James and John fall to the ground. That’s exactly what creatures are supposed to do when their creator speaks directly to them, not using an intermediary like a prophet or His Son. By this the Father shows us the final comfort of Christ’s transfiguration. The Christian does not hear Moses as his final authority, nor is the Christian to only hear the prophets. The Christian is to Jesus only, for it is Jesus of whom the Father says form the Cloud, hear Him. The Law of Moses finds its perfect fulfillment in Christ. All the types and shadows Moses preached find their reality in Christ, so the Christian is not bound by dietary restrictions, festivals and Sabbaths. The preaching of the prophets culminates in Jesus, for all that is written in the scriptures comes from Christ and is about Christ. In the radiant cloud, the Father gives the Son His imprimatur, Hear Him. You are not known as Christ’s because you follow Moses. You are not known as Christians because you, with the prophets, still look for the one who is to come. You are Christians because you hear Christ, Him and no other. When you do hear Moses and the Prophets you understand that they are primarily about Jesus, who He is and what He does for those who believe.
6) This also shows us that the Father would not have His Christians look to anything outside of the Christ in the Gospel and Scriptures either. We accept no other prophetic word than that which has been confirmed in Christ Jesus the Lord. Don’t expect the Lord to speak directly to you, or anyone for that matter. You are to hear Him. Do not expect to find Christ speaking directly to you in the temple of your heart, for Christ promises to work through His Word and the Sacraments as His Word enfleshed in a visible element. St. Peter says, no prophesy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, meaning that God doesn’t speak a word to someone and then speak a different word to someone else. It’s not a matter of private interpretation, it is a matter of being the Word of Christ. Nor is the Christian to listen to the myriad voices of cultural Christianity and the false church which seek to draw you away from simple faith in Christ. You are to hear Him.
7) Christ shows us so much consolation in His transfiguration. That’s why He wanted it written down in the Scriptures, so that we might learn it, meditate upon it, and draw comfort from it. If you mourn, take comfort in in the fellowship of the saints in heaven demonstrated by the presence and conversation of Moses and Elijah, for you will see your loved ones again and you are still united with them through faith. If you are burdened with a particular sin with which Satan wishes to continually accuse your conscience before God’s throne, call to mind the purity and radiance of the garment of the glorified Christ. Recall that this garment is what is promised to all who believe the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins. By faith in the absolving word of Christ He gives you the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness (Isaiah 61:3). If you are torn between the voice of the world and what God has revealed in the Scriptures, take comfort in the imprimatur the Father gives to Jesus from the cloud, this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him. Dear saints of God, rejoice! Your Lord is transfigured to show you His glory and your future. Amen.