The Transfiguration of our Lord + Matthew 17:1-9 + February 5, 2017

Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15
The lightnings lit up the world; The earth trembled and shook. (Psalm 77:18b)
How lovely is Your tabernacle, O LORD of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, even faints For the courts of the LORD.
Blessed are those who dwell in Your house; They will still be praising You.
O God, behold our shield, And look upon the face of Your anointed.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD will give grace and glory; (Psalm 84:1-2a, 4, 9, 11) 

Readings
Isaiah 61:10-11
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9 

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. Amen. 

Sermon on Matthew 17:1-9

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. 

1)         Jesus takes Peter, James, and John with Him upon a high mountain and there He reveals His glory to them. John, one of the three eyewitnesses to this incredible event, writes in his Gospel, “We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The glory that Christ possessed as the second person of the Trinity shines forth unadulterated and unsullied. The glory Christ possesses as the eternal Son of the Father shines through His human nature so that “He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.” He shone with perfect light because by nature He is the brightness of the Father’s glory (Hebrews 1:3). As the eternal Word and Wisdom of God “He is the brightness of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of his goodness” (Wisdom 7:26). Christ shines forth, for “n Him was life, and the life was the light of men” as the Apostle writes (John 1:4). 

2)         These three disciples see Christ as He truly is and in this image of their Lord they see their own future as well. The prophet Daniel writes that “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), and Christ Himself teaches that in eternity “the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43). As these three disciples see Christ in all His glory they see their own future and the future of all the saints. In this sinful world, our bodies fail us and decay. Because of our sinful flesh we walk in darkness and not in light. In this life the garment of our flesh is stained with sin. But Christ shows us that in the life of the world to come we will be free from the stain of sin, the burden of regret, and the darkness of our sinful hearts. Add to this that Christ is surrounded by Moses and Elijah. Moses representing the Law, Elijah the prophets. Their presence indicates to the three disciples that the Shining One standing in their midst is the culmination of the Law and the Prophets, and that everything foretold and every promise of God given in years past will find their answer in Jesus Christ. 

3)         Who wouldn’t want to remain on that mountaintop and bask in that divine glory? Peter speaks up and indicates just that. “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.” Peter, along with James and John who go along with the idea, want to soak up the glory and walk in this radiance. And none of us could blame them. Humanity likes glory. We enjoy the base glory that comes from sports competitions. We feel a surge a joy at the glory of seeing our favorite quarterback hoisting the Vince Lombardi trophy above his head. We love the glory that comes from being recognized for our own achievements at our work, in our family, or in our community. Those glories are not in themselves sinful unless we make idols of them or harm our neighbor to get the glory and accolades of men. But there is another glory which humanity seeks and that is the glory of being its own savior and redeemer. So we are tempted to glory in our works, thinking that we can earn our absolution from sin. We are tempted to glory in our own good deeds and to imagine that if we chase enough sin from our life, then we can have something to offer to God for our shortcomings. We are tempted to glory in our own righteousness, even though we have no righteousness before God whatsoever. This is not the case with the disciples. They are not sinning when they want to bask in the glory of Christ on the mountaintop. They see their future, for as St. Paul writes, “whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified” (Romans 8:30). They see their future glory. Who wouldn’t want to stay? 

4)         But they cannot. The final glorification of Christ comes in the form of the cloud which engulfs them all. The Father speaks audibly not for Christ’s sake for the sake of Peter, James, John, and all who hear this account read. “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him.” Like Israel at the base of Sinai, the sound of the Father’s voice causes the men to fall to faces greatly afraid. They quail at the undiluted presence of God, they cower at His almighty voice because they are still sinners, and sinners cannot handle God speaking to them undiluted. But then comes the Mediator between God and man, the One who came not for the righteous but for sinners, touches them and says, “Arise and do not be afraid.” Let it be to me according to Thy Word. They arise at the word of Christ, fear expelled and terror cast out, and they  no longer see Moses, Elijah, or the cloud. The voice of God reverberates only in their ears. They see no one “but Jesus only,” their Mediator, their Redeemer, their Advocate. As quickly as it happened it was over, just as it is with the baser glories we experience in our own lives. One moment they are enjoying the blessedness of heaven upon earth, the next moment they are wiping dust from their faces and its back to business as usual. On the way down the mountain, Christ cements them back in the reality of the sinful world. “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.” 

5)         Not only do they have to leave the glorious scene on the mountaintop, but Christ hits them with these sobering words. Christ conceals His divine glory beneath the cloak of His humanity once again, but now Christ goes not only to conceal His glory but empty Himself out entirely. Christ, the Word made flesh, “being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8). He conceals His divine glory because divine glory won’t atone for your sin. Only the suffering and death of Jesus can do that. Our sins are so great that we cannot atone for them ourselves. We need not a God who comes shining in resplendence but a God whom comes robed in our flesh so that He might die with every single one of our sins in His flesh. The flesh which shone with heavenly glory on the mountaintop will, on the cross, “be made sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). In the Transfiguration of Jesus we see what the disciples saw, the glory, the heavenly light of our Lord Jesus Christ and we love what we see for we see Christ as the victorious and triumphant. But before He can enjoy the glory that He has by nature of His Godhead, He descend into the valley of the shadow of death for our sakes, so that we too might enjoy that everlasting glory and the brightness of the heavenly light. He must bear our sins, carry our sorrows, be wounded for our transgressions so that all who believe in Him and trust that He is merciful to forgive them theirs join Him in glory. 

6)         Christ, possessing an eternal glory, conceals His glory under the shame and suffering of the cross. This is also a picture our lives in Christ. St. Paul writes this to the Colossians: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4). Like Christ during the days of His self-emptying, you possess the glory of God as well. You possess all that is Christ’s by faith. What you see in this glorious picture of Christ is your future in the life of the world to come. As Christ is dressed in the purest white, so you to are clothed with Christ and have put on His righteousness as your own by faith. You do not appear spotless and holy to the world. You still feel your sins your impurity. Yet they are forgiven by faith in Christ because you have the promise of the Gospel. As Christ shines with a radiance of pure light, so you too possess such purity from the taint of sin, though in this life sin still clings to you to you. Your glory as sons and daughters of God the Father, the glory you possess as co-heirs along with Christ, the glory of having the Holy Spirit in your hearts, is one that is not seen by the eyes of flesh. The glory you possess as ones who are baptized and thus washed clean of sin is one that is concealed in this life under sin, various crosses, sufferings, and temptations. But like Christ, that doesn’t mean the glory isn’t there. “Your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” That is His promise to all who have died with Him in Holy Baptism and all whose true life is hidden with Christ in faith. 

7)         Just as Christ had to suffer and die before His glory would be fully revealed, so we also have to suffer in this life. The glory we have as baptized sons of God is not one that the world sees, and even at times it is hidden from our own eyes. But it is there, for it is written: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs -- heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Romans 8:16-17). When you suffer for the sake of the gospel, you are suffering with Christ. When you suffer temptation, the fiery darts of the devil, you suffer with Christ your Lord who was also tempted, yet who defeated temptation for us. When you suffer pangs in your conscience and are terrified by the Devil’s accusations, you suffer with the one who suffered for all our sins. And as you suffer these things, you suffer them with Christ, who went before you in this path and walks with you through your suffering. Remain steadfast in these sufferings in the flesh, and “consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18), the glory of being sons of God, the glory which we see in the radiant face of Christ today. Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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