The Transfiguration of Our Lord + Matthew 17:1-9
In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Throughout His earthly life Jesus gives brief glimpses of the glory He had with the Father before the creation of the world. Through this season of Epiphany Jesus shows us His glory bit by bit, miracle by miracle, that He is “the brightness of [God’s] glory and the express image of His person” (Hebrews 1:3). He shows it bit by bit because He conceals His eternal glory by assuming our human flesh. He hides His divine glory under what Paul calls a “form of a servant” in Philippians 2:5. The son of God became incarnate, not to display His glory to but to give His life as a ransom for all are under the slavery of sin. He came to fulfill the Law on our behalf, being perfectly righteous in every thought, word, and deed since we sinners cannot do God’s righteous will and merit only wrath and condemnation. But in this state of humiliation He gives His disciples glimpses of His divine glory so that they might believe that He is God Himself in human flesh and hear Him. This is why Lutherans have traditionally placed the Transfiguration at the end of the Epiphany season. It is the greatest manifestation of His divine glory during His earthly life and shows that He is the only-begotten Son of God, God of God, light of light, very God of very God.
Jesus takes Peter, James and John upon on a high mountain by themselves. On that mountain “He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.” The veil of humanity is cast aside for a brief moment. That’s not to say that Jesus stopped being human at that moment. He will be true man for all eternity. But at this moment He allows His divine glory to shine through unfiltered. His face shines like the sun because He is the radiance of God’s glory, light of light. His clothing becomes as white as light as well, “exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them” said St. Mark (9:3). Those who imagine Jesus is a lesser God (and therefore not really God), or imagine that Christ is simply a regular man whom God adopted to be His Messiah, are shown that Christ radiates with His own glory, the glory as the Only-Begotten Son of the Father. Since He is the image of God, He images His glory and brightness exactly. He shines with God’s glory because He is God Himself.
The glory continues in that “Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.” In John 1:45, Philip told Nathanael, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote -- Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Philip believed that Jesus was the one whom Moses wrote about and whom the prophets foretold. Throughout Jesus’ ministry He shows this to be true. He does the things Moses did, but He does them to bring life and forgiveness not wrath and condemnation. So He turns water into wine where Moses turned water into blood. Moses expelled Lepers from the Tabernacle. Jesus cleanses lepers by faith and sends them to the temple to worship. Moses leads Israel from the bondage of Egypt into the bondage of the Law. Jesus fulfills the Law which Israel could not, and leads all who believe in Him into the promised land of everlasting life. Elijah, the prophet who stood against false Israelites to bring them back to the true worship of God, stands here as well, speaking with Christ about His standing against those who claim to be God’s people but who have abandoned Him in their hearts. Here are these men, the Giver of the Law and the Paragon of the prophets, speaking to Jesus about His exodus, Luke says. Christ’s exodus is His exodus of this world through suffering and death, for by these He will return to His Father. Those who imagine Jesus is another prophet like Moses and Elijah, as the Mohammadans do, are dashed against the rocks, for these two men, long dead but alive with God in paradise, are sent to bear witness to Christ’s superiority over the prophets because He is the One whom they foretold. He is Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, the Prophet to whom all men are to listen, and if they don’t listen to Him, they will be excluded from the New Israel, the Church.
The final, and most important part of this epiphany is what happens next. “Behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” The brightness of diving glory and the presence of Moses and Elijah, who are very much alive, are brought together with these words of God the Father. Jesus is His Son and He is pleased with His Son. They are to hear Him and no other. Hear Moses and the prophets because they testify to Christ. Hear the words Christ speaks. But beside this hear no other. Then the cloud dissipates and only Jesus remains. The glimpse of glory is over. The demonstration of divinity is past. They descend the mountain and follow Christ to the cross.
Why does Jesus show them this? Two reasons. First, so that they do not loose heart when they see Him overtaken by evil, unbelieving men who put Him to death in the most inglorious way. Six days before He took them to this mountain He told them, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). They’ll see Him suffer greatly and die on the cross. For their confession of Christ, they will have to take up their crosses and suffer greatly in this life as well. He shows them His glory today so that they do not forget that the one who suffers and dies is God of God, light of light, very God of very God. The man the world judges and condemns is actually God’s Son in whom He well pleased. As they witness all this they aren’t to judge with their eyes, their gut, or their experience, but with what Jesus has taught them, that “the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31). Second, He shows them this so that they see in Christ’s transfiguration their future glory as well. His transfiguration is a foreshadowing of their adoption as sons of God through faith in Christ in Jesus. And if they are sons of God through faith, they are co-heirs with Christ of heavenly glory, the glory they see on the mountain. No matter their trials and hardships, persecutions and tribulation for the sake of Christ, they know what awaits all who endure in faith unto the end.
Beloved of God, the Apostles give you their witness about Christ’s transfiguration for the same reasons. First, so that you do not lose heart when you see the world reject Christ and cast Him aside as if He were nothing. Don’t be offend when the multitudes refuse to “hear Him.” You know the radiance and glory which He possesses because you know Him to be the Son of God, God of God, light of Light, very God of very God. You also know that you must suffer in this life for His sake. You must take up your cross and follow Him. You are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, so that no matter what you endure, you know that God says over you, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” He is well-pleased with you because you believe in Christ. Even now you are clothed in garments of salvation and the robe of Christ’s righteousness. Because of that you know that the glory you hear described today of Christ is your future as well because you trust Christ now for the forgiveness of all your sins. In the life of the world to come, you will shine like stars because you are sons of God by faith in God’s only-begotten Son. As you take up your cross and follow Him, do not loose heart. But “hear Him,” and endure until the end. Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.