Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

The Transfiguration of Our Lord (B)
February 22, 2009
Text: Mark 9:2-9

The Transfiguration of our Lord is one last assurance before we enter the solemn season of Lent that our journey to the cross, suffering, and death of Jesus has a goal. It is one last glimpse of who Jesus really is, one last manifestation of His divine nature, one last epiphany that this is God in the flesh come to save us from our sins. And it is a visual promise of the glory that Jesus always has in His divine nature, and will take up again in His human nature when the Father raises Him from the dead. In other words, it is a promise of the resurrection to come. It shows us that after Lent, after Good Friday, we will once again sing our alleluias, that Easter is coming, that in dying our Lord will conquer death, that in atoning for our sins He will bring healing and forgiveness to all, that in suffering all hell for us and for our salvation, He has crushed the serpent’s head. And it is a promise of our own resurrection from the dead on the Last Day. Because Christ is risen, we, too, will be raised. Thus the Transfiguration is a vital testimony for those who daily live under the cross in this life, a testimony of the life that we have even now in Christ Jesus, and of the glory that is to come. It is a testimony for you. You can willingly and boldly go the way of the cross with your Lord Jesus this Lententide knowing that Easter awaits. And you can willingly and boldly bear the cross and suffering in this earthly life knowing that your own resurrection from the dead is sure and certain.

The disciples themselves needed this testimony. They would, after all, have front row seats for the heartbreaking drama of Holy Week. Not all of the disciples get this wonderful glimpse of Jesus’ divinity however. Not all are present for the Transfiguration. Not even all the Twelve. Only the inner-circle, Peter, James, and John, are given to see this marvelous sight. And marvelous, indeed, it is. Jesus leads them up onto a high mountain and as He is praying, communing with His heavenly Father, He is transfigured before them. The Greek word is μετεμορφώθη. We could translate it, “He was metamorphed before them.” He was transfigured, or metamorphed, in this way: “his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them” (Mark 9:3; ESV). His divine glory shows so brightly that even his clothes become radiant. And though Jesus clearly tempers the display of His divine glory, for the disciples do not die, they do fall down before Him and hide their faces. And as if all this is not enough for the disciples, Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus. What a sight! Heaven has come to earth. The disciples don’t want to leave, even though they are terrified. Peter even wants to build three tents, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. He doesn’t want the mountaintop experience to end. But if Jesus even acknowledges Peter’s misguided suggestion, we are not told, for immediately the whole company is enveloped by a cloud, just like in the Old Testament when the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the glory of the LORD filled the Tabernacle (Ex. 40:34). And a voice comes from the cloud, the same voice that came from heaven at Jesus’ Baptism, the first epiphany (Mark 1:11), saying virtually the same thing: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (9:7). Just as at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry the Father verbally testified that Jesus is the very Son of God, God in the flesh, so now before Jesus goes to the cross to fulfill His ministry, we have the verbal assurance of the Father that Jesus is who He says He is, the very Son of God, and the command to listen to Jesus, the Word made flesh.

St. Peter and St. John both would later write of this experience. St. 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 when 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” (2 Peter 1:16-18). So also St. John writes, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14; emphasis added). The Transfiguration was a great assurance to these three disciples who were about to travel with Jesus the road to the cross and Good Friday, and who, after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, would suffer much for Jesus and for His Gospel.

As I said, the other disciples are not given to see this great sight, nor are Peter, James, and John to talk about what happened on the mountain until after Jesus’ resurrection. Why? Because Jesus doesn’t want His Transfiguration to be misinterpreted. The Transfiguration is a glimpse of the great glory of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. But that glory would ultimately be displayed on the cross, when Jesus empties Himself of that glory to die for us for the forgiveness of our sins. He doesn’t want the disciples to think He will save them with a great display of power. Instead, He will save them by His power made perfect in weakness, in suffering, in death. His grace will be sufficient for the disciples. So why does He even take the three? Because on the testimony of two or three witnesses a thing shall be established (Deut. 17:6; 19:15; Matt. 18:16). Peter, James, and John are the witnesses, and even though they don’t understand the Transfiguration right away, they would, after Jesus’ resurrection, after they received the Holy Spirit, and then they would confess the significance of the Transfiguration before the whole world: Jesus is God in the flesh. They are eyewitnesses. They have seen His glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. Jesus, God in the flesh, has come to save all humanity through His holy, precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death.

That is why Moses and Elijah are present on the mount of Transfiguration. They are the two witnesses from the Old Testament, and they represent the Law (or the Torah) and the Prophets. Moses wrote the Torah, the Law, the first five books of the Bible. And Elijah is representative of the Prophets. Thus the whole Old Testament, the only Scriptures in existence at the time of the Transfiguration, these testify of Jesus. The whole Old Testament is about Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. In fact, that is what Moses and Elijah are discussing with Jesus. Luke tells us that they are discussing Jesus’ exodus, which He is about to accomplish in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31), in other words, the completion of His saving mission through His suffering and death and finally His resurrection from the dead. Again, on the testimony of two or three witnesses, a thing is established. Moses and Elijah come from heaven to testify on Jesus’ behalf.

They also serve as a visual testimony of the glory that awaits all of us who are untied to Christ Jesus by faith. These two bask in Jesus’ glory. They do not hide their faces. They talk with Jesus even as he shines. They are heavenly beings. Moses, as you’ll recall, after seeing the Promised Land from a distance, died and was buried by God in an unknown place (Deut. 34:5-6). Yet here he is, with Jesus Christ, alive in heavenly splendor. Elijah, as we heard in our Old Testament lesson this morning, did not die, but was carried into heaven by chariots of fire (2 Kings 2:1-12). And here he is, as well, talking with Jesus. And so we see that the Transfiguration is a foretaste of the resurrection to come, the resurrection of all flesh on the Last Day. Just as the goal of Good Friday is Easter Sunday, so the goal of our lives under the cross is the Day of Resurrection when Jesus returns to raise us from the dead. We will be glorified like Moses and Elijah. We’ll live together forever with the Lord, basking in His glory and communing with Him. We’ll know each other, too. Notice that even the earth-bound disciples need no introduction to Moses and Elijah. They’ve never seen them before. They just know who they are. So it will be in the resurrection. We’ll know each other. We’ll know those we never met. We’ll know Moses and Elijah. We’ll know Peter, James, and John. And we’ll all be focused on Jesus.

This gives us great strength and comfort as we bear the cross and tribulation in this life. Remember that this all has a goal. The goal is the resurrection. But to get to the resurrection, we must go the way of the cross and Good Friday. There is no Easter without Good Friday. There is no resurrection without death. Like Peter, we are often tempted to seek the Lord in glory and power. We want to stay on the mountaintop and bask in His glory. We don’t want the cross. But the cross is necessary. On the cross, Jesus wins our salvation. Through the crosses we have to bear, Jesus conforms us to His own image. He makes us into the people He would have us be. But as we suffer, we always have the resurrection in view. It is coming. It is just not yet. The victory is won. Jesus won it for us. Our rest and reward will be given soon.

In the meantime, listen to the Father’s beloved Son. It is the Father’s command to you today. Listen as He speaks of His Passion for you this Lententide. Listen to His Word. For St. Peter says that in this way you receive the same assurance he received in witnessing the Transfiguration, in fact, an even greater assurance: For “we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). So be here in church. Come every Sunday. Come to the midweek services. Hear the voice of Jesus in Absolution and Scripture reading and Preaching. Receive the Supper of His Passion, His very body and blood given and shed for you. Read the little devotion book you have in your mailboxes. Meditate this season and each day of your life on the suffering and death of Jesus Christ on your behalf, the blood He shed for you, the great love He has for you. Hide yourself in His wounds. For you are wrapped in the robes of His righteousness. You are baptized into Christ, into His death, into His resurrection. Put away your alleluias for a season this Lententide, but know that you will take them up again. For death is not the end of the story. The Transfiguration assures you of this. The end of the story is that there is no end. Only resurrection and life eternal for all who believe in Jesus Christ. That is to say that this resurrection and life eternal is for you. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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