Text: Luke 9:28-36
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.
We all know who God the Father is: maker of heaven and earth. We know what He has done: created all things out of nothing. But what does God look like? We know that He doesn’t necessarily look like us, having two arms and two legs. So what exactly does God look like? We’ll come back to that later.
Things have been ramping up for Jesus. He has turned into the local celebrity of sorts, with people from all over coming to Him, to hear Him, to touch Him, to have Him heal them. This has clearly taken a toll on Jesus and so He retreats to a time of prayer with three of His disciples: Peter, James, and John.
It’s a bit ironic that even the Son of God requires that time to pray, to be in conversation with His Father. While He hasn’t taught the disciples how to pray yet in Luke’s Gospel, here Peter, James, and John get a glimpse of what the prayer life of their Teacher was like – how He prayed, what He said, for whom He prayed for.
But while there, while in a time of contemplative prayer, “the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.” You know how I said we would come back to what God looked like, well, here we are. Jesus, the Son of God in the flesh, changes before the eyes of His disciples. They see a glimpse of God in Jesus – the full glory of God, a glory which sinful man cannot look at.
Man is not privileged to gaze upon the face of God and live, that is, God the Father. But we are able to gaze upon the face of God the Son, Jesus, born among us, living very much as we do because He is one of us. He is as much man as you are. He hungers as you hunger. He has emotions just like you do. Prick Jesus and He bleeds like you do because He is man. But here, on the mountain, Jesus has changed. No longer does His humanity reign supreme, but His godliness shines forth, literally. The bright whiteness that the disciples see is nothing short than the glory of almighty God. The glory of the Transfiguration wasn’t poured down upon Jesus, but broke forth from Him. The potency of it was in Him, but ordinarily restrained from manifestation by His voluntary humiliation. In other words, Jesus hid His full divinity from our eyes, but today, He peels back the lid just a bit for these three disciples to see His glory.
After Jesus turns a dazzling white, two figures appear with Him, Moses and Elijah. These two figures departed life mysteriously, according to the Scriptures. Some expected Elijah to return before the end. Others expected a “prophet like Moses.” But these figures converse with Jesus, so clearly He is neither. Moses and Elijah are also representative figures. Because of their presence the “law and the prophets” bear witness to Jesus, as on the Emmaus road.
When the three finally awoke from their slumber and saw what was going on around them, it must have been remarkable. A simple visit to a mountain to pray had turned into a visit between Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. Maybe Peter, James, and John happened to be in the right place at the right time. That would explain why Peter exclaimed that it was good for them to be there. And in the event they were going to be there for a while, Peter suggested putting up shelters for them. It was very likely that Peter wanted this moment in time to continue indefinitely, especially after hearing of Jesus’ impending death. It was far better to stay there on the mountain than to leave and face Jesus’ prediction of His death.
Indeed, Jesus had told His disciples repeatedly that He was God, and He had demonstrated that fact through the performance of miracles. Yet, here He is making a very visible statement about His divinity. There, Peter, James and John stood before Christ in all of His divine glory. If the Three had any doubts before of who Jesus was, this was all the convincing they needed. But it didn’t stop there. Before their eyes stood Moses and Elijah: Moses, the man of God through whom the Law was delivered on stone tablets. And with him was Elijah, representing the prophets who foretold of the coming Savior, and who endured the worst of times among God’s people.
How good was it for Peter, James, and John? How good is it for us to be here? We come today to where God has said He will be found. We come together so that we may hear the words of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus; the Law, the Prophets, and the Gospel. We come here today to receive from the Lord’s bounty forgiveness of sins that have been won for us by Jesus Christ on the cross. We come here today to receive the very body and blood of Jesus. We do not come merely because God commands it but we come because He invites us. He invites us to come before Him, to confess our sins and to hear that word of absolution pronounced upon us. We come because Jesus Himself invites us to His Table, feeding us with the bread of life.
Within about nine months, Jesus would enter into the depths of His humiliation by being arrested, mocked, tortured, cruelly executed on a cross, and buried in a tomb. Above all this, He had told his disciples that He would triumph by rising from the dead. His Transfiguration certainly authenticated that claim. His life would forever be changed at His Transfiguration as He begins to set His eyes to Jerusalem, where lives would forever be changed, including yours and mine.
As Jesus sets His eyes to Jerusalem, lives are about to change. The disciples’ lives would be forever changed when their Friend, their Leader, would be led to the cross and die. The lives of the Pharisees and Sadducees would be changed because Public Enemy #1 was no longer interfering in their lives and their teachings and so they could go back to business as usual. Your life would be forever changed because of the sacrificial act of Jesus Christ on your behalf.
The Transfiguration on this mountain points God’s creation to another mountain-top experience: Calvary. There, we see the extent of the love of God for us: the sacrifice of His one and only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. There, on the cross of Christ, your life was changed forever. At that moment, your sins became Christ’s sins and His righteousness became your righteousness. What should have damned us has been taken from us. That which is not deserved, that is, Christ’s holiness, was given to us.
Lives continue to be changed even today when we heed the words of God spoken to Peter, James, and John: “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” Why is it so important to listen to the words of Jesus? There are many other words that we could listen to that sound just as good. But we listen to the words of Jesus because of the promises which He gives to us. He gives to us great words of comfort when He says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He gives to us the great promise following His resurrection: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Hearing the voice of God was usually reserved for those of great stature, such as Moses, Abraham, David and other prominent leaders of the Old Testament. Yet God saw fit to come to Peter, James, and John to tell them to cast aside any fears, any doubts that they may have, both today and in the future.
Just as He did at the Baptism of Jesus, God the Father addresses mankind. This man Jesus is the beloved and chosen Son of God. At that point, God establishes for mankind who they should listen to; not the things of this world, but to the Son of God. How easy it is for us to give in and listen to what the world says because it’s what our itching ears want to hear. We don’t always focus our attention on the things of God, the promised salvation that comes through His Son, the love shown by Christ for the Father, a love willing to be put to death so that creation would once again belong to the Father. If you want to know what God looks like, look no further than to Jesus, God in the flesh, who has appeared to us this day in His means of grace of Word and Sacrament. Indeed, it is good that we are here.In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.