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Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9 (NIV)
- Hymn CW 389: 1,2,3,4 “How Good, Lord, to Be Here”
- Hymn CW 522: sts. 1,3-4 “Beautiful Savior
- Hymn CW 388: “Down from the Mount of Glory”
- Hymn 977b – “Alleluia, Song of Triumph”
The key to success is preparation. It’s not a new saying, but it is a true one. In order for our worship services to be as best and reverent as they can be think of all the preparation that goes into it, by the organist, the office, the tech people, the cleaners, and the pastor. Athletes have to prepare for their games. Soldiers have to prepare for battle. Students prepare for school. Preparation is important.
If you look at the church calendar on the announcement sheet, you see that Ash Wednesday is just three days away. That means the season of Lent is practically here. A season in which we consider our sin and our need to be saved from it. An annual journey we make with Jesus to the cross where he won heaven for us. We know the cross is coming. The disciples in Jesus’ day did not. So he prepared them for it with one of the most remarkable accounts in the Gospels. Jesus took three of his disciples up on a mountain and prepared them to face the doubts and discouragement that his final days would bring. And since we face doubts and discouragements ourselves, we find blessings on the mountain too. Today Jesus prepares us to remember his passion, meaning his suffering. On this mountain he displays his divinity, he gives us a glimpse of heaven, and he reveals his mission.
In the weeks ahead as we see Jesus’ suffering and betrayal what we see here will fill our hearts with confidence rather than despair. Because we see the light today, we know the light that awaits at the end of Lent too.
For the past six weeks in the Epiphany season we found Jesus to be the true Son of God and the true light of the world. What we saw in six weeks the disciples saw over three years. Six days before our text, Peter gave one of the Bible’s most accurate and truthful confessions about who Jesus is. He said that Jesus “is the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” and Jesus responded with joy, praising God for those words and telling them that this truth is the rock the whole Christian Church is built on.
But Jesus’ passion was right around the corner. Now, you may know already that “passion” refers to Jesus’ suffering and death. English is a weird language and this word that once meant suffering now can refer to any kind of strong emotion. But Jesus’ passion is the original meaning. The suffering. The pain. Anyway, as the time of suffering draws closer Jesus tells his disciples repeatedly that his journey would not be pleasant, for him or them. Just before our text, Matthew writes, “From that time on, Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” While the disciples didn’t know what was coming, he did.
So we find Jesus here in Matthew 17 taking Peter, James, and John up the mountain all alone…just the 4 of them together. These 3 men were Jesus’ closest disciples. And here on this holy hill Jesus prepares them for his passion by displaying His true identity.
The disciples become witnesses of Jesus’ true divinity as He reveals His true nature as God right before their very eyes, “There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” The Greek word for transfigured is the root word we know as “metamorphosis”. Like a change from caterpillar to butterfly, from tadpole to frog…Jesus was changed in his appearance from a regular looking human to a shining, glistening God. It wasn’t his essence that changed, it was his appearance. For a moment, Jesus pulls aside the curtain and lets them see him as he truly is. There on that mountain, Peter, James, & John saw Jesus as God. The Gospel of Mark says his clothes became dazzling white. Luke writes, “his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.”
As if the disciples needed more evidence. They not only see the evidence of their eyes, but they also hear God’s personal stamp of approval. “A bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” The voice of God underscores the truth revealed in Jesus’ transfiguration with resounding certainty. This Jesus, my Son, has pleased me, and he will continue to do so. “Listen to him,” God says. He is not only man, but also fully God. This is Jesus as he truly is, and as we will see him again at the end of time. Their confidence must have soared. Jesus was everything he said he was!
Now, it’s our turn. When we see Jesus transfigured, we see His true divinity as God. The disciples fell facedown to the ground scared out of their wits. Why? Remember Jesus’ words last week from the Sermon on the Mount? “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Since Jesus is God he knows us completely. He knows we have sinned and he knows how much. He knows whom we have offended, cursed, defamed, and ridiculed. He knows our hatreds, our bitterness, our laziness and our selfishness. He knows our complaints and our whining. He knows our doubts, our mistrusts, our worries. That’s why the glory of the Lord so terrified Israel at Mt. Sinai as the mountain thundered and roared in flame and smoke.
But that glory on this mountain tells us something else. It shows us that Jesus, true God, kept those commandments we shattered. His perfect righteousness exchanged for our sin at the cross. There Jesus became the criminal, the whiner, the selfish, bitter, doubting, lazy, worrying sinner that I am. There he suffered for it all. As Isaiah reminds us about Jesus, “the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all! Brothers and sisters, recognize what you see when you see a perfect Jesus revealed as the perfect Son of God on this mountain. Here we see someone that God would
welcome into heaven. Here, a perfect son. And then recall that God views you through that lens. Perfect status given, that could never be earned. In their fear the disciples fell to the ground, but Jesus didn’t leave them there. Here we see grace WITH glory as he touches them and tells them to get up. God’s glory no longer terrifying for the child of God, but welcoming. This picture on the mountaintop is a picture of our future in heaven.
Much has been written about the two who talked with Jesus there. Moses and Elijah. The other gospels telling us they spoke with Jesus about what was going to happen. Moses, seemingly there to represent God’s Law given at Sinai. Elijah, the faithful prophet of God’s love and Gospel. In this moment of true and beautiful glory, they stand there with Jesus. These two sinful men, but heroes of faith, encouraging the Son of God himself with words of peace and zeal. Everything they hoped for in life would be completed soon in his death and resurrection. What a scene!
No wonder Peter chimes in with what he thought was a brilliant idea: “Let’s freeze this moment in time,” he said, “so that we can enjoy this glorious glimpse of heaven!” Of course, there can be no heaven on earth. The other gospels tell us that Peter did not know what he was saying. Peter once again is confused about Jesus’ mission. Jesus didn’t come into the world to bring heaven here for a moment in time. He came into the world to bring us to heaven for an eternity outside of time. This mountain wasn’t the final, it was the preview.
The grace and glory we see on this mountain for a moment is a promise of what’s to come for every believer. Jesus promises us rooms, mansions in heaven, and if it were not so, he would have told us. But that glory has to wait. For now, Jesus says that we will suffer as he did. For now, Jesus tells us the world will hate us just like it hated him. For now, our life mirrors his own. Not to earn salvation by our suffering, but to see in our suffering a connection to the one who suffered to save us.
As I said before, Lent begins this Wednesday. This year our midweek theme is called “His Final Steps.” Each week we’ll look at a portion of the Gospels that shows just what Jesus did to save us. These services are different than our Sunday morning services, and I encourage you to make time to come to both. Lent is a special time because it reveals to us a special Savior with a special plan.
May we use this Transfiguration experience to prepare for our annual trek to Calvary and hear all that Jesus did for us. May God strengthen our faith through this Lenten season, reminding us that the one who suffers did so as God himself. He is the divine son of God. He will bring us to a full view of heaven in his time. And by his mission of salvation, we can know that one day we will stand in glory beside him too. Lord, it is good to be here. And it will be even better one day to be there. Amen.