Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, March 06, 2011

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

The Transfiguration of Our Lord (A)
March 6, 2011
Text: Matt. 17:1-9

Listening is an art. I have been told I’ve mastered the art of selective listening, which really isn’t listening at all. Listening to other people does not come naturally to our fallen flesh, because that flesh is curved in on itself. We have a hard enough time listening to those we love, because it takes effort to pay attention to the interests of others, and our selfish selves are not convinced that the effort is worthwhile. But when it comes to the speech of the living God, we have an even greater problem. That is that the ears of this fallen flesh are totally tuned out. We don’t understand the language of God, and we don’t really want to. And because even the Christian is weighed down by the fallen flesh, the old sinful nature, we, likewise, have trouble listening to God. It’s not for lack of trying. It’s just that we fail miserably every time. Because we listen in all the wrong places. And we listen to all the wrong gods.

On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter thinks he’s listening. But he’s failing miserably. Instead, he’s talking. And by talking, he’s really listening to himself. He’s getting in the way of himself hearing the Word of God. Peter thinks that he will learn of God by talking.[1] Beholding the great light emanating from Jesus’ body in the Transfiguration, seeing Moses and Elijah, the author of the Torah and the great prophet, talking with Jesus about His exodus (Luke 9:31), His saving work in His fulfilling of the Law, His suffering and sacrificial death on the cross, and His victorious resurrection… In the midst of all of this, Peter has the audacity to speak and to tell Jesus how this phenomenal situation might be better. Peter wants to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles with the glorified Jesus and His saintly guests. “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Matt. 17:4; ESV). Peter wants to stay on the mountain. Peter wants to bask in Jesus’ glory. This is much better than Jesus’ plan. Only six days before Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the holy mountain, Jesus had predicted his death. And Peter, having in mind the things of men rather than the things of God, made himself an instrument of Satan, rejecting the Lord’s Word. Peter rebuked Jesus, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” (16:22). Peter, in turn, received the Lord’s stern rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan!” (v. 23). But now in the radiance of Jesus’ divine glory, Peter felt vindicated. “See, Lord, you don’t have to suffer and die. You have your glory now. Let’s stay up here on the mountain. Let’s enjoy the Kingdom here and now on earth. It is good that we are here. This is better than Your plan of death and resurrection.” St. Luke reports that Peter didn’t know what he was saying (Luke 9:33). He didn’t know what he was talking about. He was just talking. Enough talk. In talking, he was listening to himself. He had become his own god. Thus the true God cuts him off. While Peter is still prattling on and on, a bright cloud, the shekinah, the glory of the LORD, overshadows them, just as the same pillar of cloud guided the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness, and as the same cloud was present at the Tent of Meeting whenever Moses would speak with God face to face. This was the cloud of God’s presence. And from the cloud, the Father speaks. He silences Peter. No more talking. Listen. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matt. 17:5).

Stop talking. Listen to Jesus. Don’t instruct Jesus about how things could be better. Be instructed by Him. Learn of Him from His own Word. We’re always talking. And in talking, we’re really listening to ourselves. We become our own gods. We always think we have a better doctrine to offer than that which Jesus teaches in His Word, so we re-interpret His Word to fit the times and to fit our liking. We always think we can make worship better, more glorious, by making it more of an experience for the people, taking the emphasis off of God’s Word and His external means of grace (preaching and Sacraments) where God serves us with His gifts, and instead placing the emphasis on our praises and the things we can do for God. We’re just like Peter. We’re always talking instead of listening, teaching rather than being taught. We don’t know what we’re talking about. We listen to everyone but Jesus. We listen to the world, listen to our emotions and gut feelings, listen to our reason, listen to the devil. We listen in all the wrong places, to all the wrong gods. Most of all we listen to ourselves, for we worship ourselves by living for ourselves. We listen to our own desires, our own preferences, our own wisdom (which is utter foolishness). On and on we talk. God has to interrupt us. The Father silences us in our endless prattling. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him!”

Beloved in the Lord, repent, and listen to Jesus only. For His Word alone gives life. He speaks to you wherever and whenever His Word is preached, read, contemplated, studied, given and distributed. He ties Himself to His Word so that you can always know whether it is Him speaking, or someone else, some other god, your own sinful flesh, the godless world, or that sly old serpent, the devil. On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter was listening to other voices, especially his own. By the time Peter writes our Epistle, he’s learned his lesson. In his office as apostle, he writes by the Spirit’s inspiration just how we sinners can, even today, listen to Jesus our Savior. He points us to the prophetic Word, the Holy Scriptures, to which we do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place (2 Peter 1:19). The Word of God is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105) as we navigate through the darkness of this fallen world. By this Word of God the Holy Spirit keeps us on the path, keeps us in the one true faith, until the Lord’s return to judge the living and the dead. Because God is ultimately the Author behind the human authors of the Scriptures, the Scriptures are living and active, powerful, able to make us wise unto salvation, and keep us in the one true faith.

But with the Scriptures comes the cross and suffering. The Word of God always directs us to Christ crucified. And the Word of God always lays upon us a cross as we live this earthly life in a world hostile to Christ, in this rebellious and sinful flesh, walking by faith, not by sight. There is a reason why we would rather listen to ourselves, or to any other god, rather than Jesus. Because Jesus only gives us a glimpse of His glory before sending us down the mountain. We cannot stay and bask in the Transfiguration light. There is a cross to be borne down there. The road leads through suffering and death, Good Friday, Golgotha. It cannot be any other way. It is divinely necessary for the Son of Man to suffer, to be crucified, and after three days, to rise from the dead. Upon this hangs the salvation of the whole world, your salvation and mine. Only through the cross and suffering can we come to glory. Only through Good Friday can we come to Easter.

That is why the Mount of Transfiguration is where we begin our Lenten journey. Having now caught a glimpse of Jesus’ glory, and the glory that will be ours in Christ, we have been encouraged and strengthened to go the way of the cross, to trudge on (really, being carried by Him), knowing that after suffering glory awaits. The Lord knows how weak we are. The Lord knows that apart from Him we can do nothing, that we are utterly helpless. The Lord knows that like Peter and James and John on the mountain, naked in our sinfulness before God, we cower in fear. And so He comes to us, tenderly, and touches us (really, not figuratively… He touches us with His true body and blood in the Sacrament). And He speaks to us (really, not figuratively… He speaks to us in the Scriptures and the Absolution and the preaching). And He says to us, “Rise, and have no fear” (Matt. 17:7). By His Word we are able to rise. By His Word all fear is cast out. By His Word our eyes are lifted up to see no one but Jesus only. Seeing Him, we behold the author and perfecter of our faith. Seeing Him, we see the beloved and only-begotten Son of the Father, and we listen to Him. We live by His Word, which takes us through the valley of the shadow of death to His heavenly glory.

Dear Christians, be faithful this Lententide. Take up your cross and follow Jesus. Listen to Him. Discipline your bodies and your souls. Take every thought captive to the Word of God. Come to the midweek Lenten services to hear our Lord’s Word and meditate on His passion. We descend the mountain now to begin our 40-day journey to the cross. But know that you cannot do this on your own. You cannot do this by your own reason or strength. You cannot do this if you insist on doing all the talking. Listen to the Son of God. For His Word makes strong the weak hands and makes firm the feeble knees (Is. 35:3). Rise and have no fear. Set your eyes on Jesus. He lifts you up. He strengthens you. He takes away your sins and by His cross makes you sons of God, with whom the Father is well pleased. It is good that you are here. It is good that you are wherever Jesus is speaking His Word of life. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Rolf Preus, http://www.christforus.org/Sermons/Content/2009/Transfiguration%202009.doc.

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