Watch the livestream beginning at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday. After the livestream is finished, the video will be available to watch at any time.
Gospel: Mark 9:2-9 (NIV)
- Hymn: CW 389 “How Good, Lord, To Be Here”
- Hymn: CW 522 “Beautiful Savior”
- Hymn: CW 388 “Down From The Mount of Glory”
- Hymn: CW 661 “Draw Near and Take the Body of Your Lord”
- Hymn: CW 977 “Alleluia, Song of Triumph”
February 11, 2024 Pastor Ryan Wolfe
Transfiguration 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
“We Have Seen His Glory”
As I mentioned at the beginning of the service, today we come to the end of our “journey with Jesus” this Epiphany season. We saw him baptized in the Jordan river, saw him do miracles, cast out demons, call disciples, and preach with authority. But now the journey ends. And while we often say, “it’s always darkest, just before the dawn,” today we could almost say, “Jesus is always brightest just before the darkness.”
For example, just months after the glorious light of this episode on the Mount of Transfiguration Peter, James, and John would flee into the darkness in fear as their beloved teacher is arrested in Gethsemane and crucified like a criminal. Do you think this vision of glory might offer a glimmer of hope in the darkness? Decades later one of those disciples, John, would see Jesus in glory again. In a vision while exiled on the island of Patmos when God gave him the letter we know as the book of Revelation. And why that sign of glory then? The Roman emperor Domitian had come to power and initiated a persecution of Christians across the whole empire. Christians were dying for their faith from Israel to Africa to Spain and beyond. John was the last of the Twelve alive, but he had been arrested and taken away from his beloved congregation in Ephesus. Yet Jesus appeared to John in a way that said: “Remember how I looked on that mountain six months before I was crucified? How I shone brighter than the sun? I was in control then as the glorious Son of God and I’m in control now.”
Don’t you just wish God would give us that kind of comfort in times of difficulty and persecution? Our days are dark too. Our culture is awash in open sin and promotion of filth. The most popular movies, the highest rated shows, the most followed influencers take pride and glory in their sinful attitudes and images. As the darkness engulfs us, if only we could be reassured and see Jesus in his glory. But we have! That’s the point of these words in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. We have seen his glory, by God’s grace through the gospel.
Paul was writing to a congregation that wasn’t quite sure about his ministry. Was he really sent to them by God? If so, why weren’t there more conversions when Paul preached? I’ve asked that same question about our church and our synod. If we’re really from God, then why is it such a struggle to get people in through these doors on a Sunday morning? Why do so many people reject our message and our Savior? Paul’s answer is at the same time comforting and troubling. He says: “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
The reason a blind man can’t see the sun is not because the sun is not shining; it’s because the man is blind. In the same way when people don’t believe the gospel message about Jesus, it isn’t because that message is somehow defective. It’s because Satan, or the “god of this age” as Paul calls him, has blinded their hearts. People by nature are blind to this gospel. They can’t see it, and don’t even want to see it. And they won’t find it by themselves – it must be given. Paul put it this way: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Christ.” At one time every one of us was blind to God’s glory. We see it now only because God made his light shine in our hearts.
To explain, Paul takes us all the way back to the creation of the world. He tells us that if God had never said: “let there be light,” light never would have come into existence. Not in a billion years. In the same way had God not created faith in our hearts we too would still be in spiritual darkness. We wouldn’t understand just how offensive our sins are to God and that we need a savior. There would be no hope of salvation for us. The faith that we have – it’s every bit the miracle that creation was, and it took every bit the same power.
So why did God choose to exercise that power for us and shine faith in our hearts? He did so because he loves his creation…what we call his grace. An undeserved love that we didn’t have to earn or merit or ask for or accept. Instead of throwing out sinful humanity he shines his love on us. And because we are blind to that love in sin, he opens our eyes in faith. He “gives us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Christ.” Do you know what that means? It means if you have seen the face of Christ, you know the glory of God.
What Satan has blinded so many people to, we see clearly. The “gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” In the gospel message we see God’s glory. No, fireworks don’t shoot off the page when you read the good news about what Jesus did to save us from our sins but the events of Jesus’ life, his death, and resurrection are glorious. They’re glorious because through them Jesus provided salvation for all, and they’re glorious because they show us God’s loving nature. Jesus’ death, for example, shows how God is just and cannot tolerate sin. If God could tolerate sin, he wouldn’t have sent his Son to become man and die such a horrible death. But at the same time the crucifixion shows how God is loving. Instead of punishing us, God punished Jesus in our place. This is what we mean when we talk about the “gospel” message. And through this gospel you know what makes God, God. Let the philosophers speculate about God’s qualities, you know the truth. You have seen God’s glory through the gospel.
But be warned, we can become blind again. That’s what Satan wants and continues to work at. And frankly it doesn’t really take much to blind us. Just think of how you can block the sun’s light with something as small as a penny. If you hold a penny just right the sun’s rays won’t reach your eye. And so when people fall from faith that fall always starts with something small. Perhaps it’s a small worry about how you’ll pay the mortgage and before long you become obsessed with earning money. You think to yourself that if you can just make it through the next few years then you can take it easy and get back to being more serious about your spiritual health. But the thing is the gospel is found in the message of Christ. When we cut back on reading and hearing God’s Word, when we let life and work and sports crowd out our time with the people of God, we are cutting the amount of God’s light that reaches us. The more light Satan can block the more he can get us to buy into his lies.
We shouldn’t need extra encouragement to live in the light of the gospel – not we who live up here in Minnesota. My wife and I workout at 5:30am three days a week at a gym in Woodbury. For the past few weeks I’ve been comparing the clock to the sunrise. Guess what? The sun is coming back! I know it’s been a weird winter and it’s colder now that it was in January but the light is returning.
So as we give thanks for that light, let’s give thanks to the light of the gospel as well. The light of the gospel scatters the shadows of our sins so that we don’t have to carry around a load of guilt. The light from Christ’s empty tomb pierces dark and dreary days when nothing seems to go right and assures us that better days are ahead. The light of Christ’s ascension illuminates his promise that God really is in control and is bending your sicknesses and financial challenges into something eternally good for you. Yes, there’s a lot of light in the gospel – not just form the Mount of Transfiguration but from everything Christ did for us.
So when Satan tries to use your sins and failures to drag you back into shadows of doubt, remember again the light that God has given to shine in your heart. Bask in that light and soak it in and feel its warmth and comfort! Christians, we have seen Christ’s glory. We live in his light! We have walked with Jesus once again from baptism to glory. And we know his promises to walk with us in the same way. From our baptisms into faith, through the darkness of this world, into the glory of heaven ourselves. This is the light of the gospel that never fades. May God bless us who have seen Christ’s glory. And may we praise him in it forever. Amen.