Luke 9:28-36 The baptism of our Lord and the transfiguration of our Lord are the two bookends to the Epiphany season and both are pivotal moments in our Lord’s earthly ministry-- but they need explanations so that we can understand how they are part of our salvation.
That is what Luke is doing when he says that the transfiguration occurred about eight days after these sayings. But what sayings are those?
Looking back at what immediately preceded our Lord’s transfiguration, we hear Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ and then Jesus explain just exactly what this means: rejection by his own people, death upon a cross and resurrection three days later. Jesus goes on to tell his disciples that they too will have a share in his suffering-- but if they will remain faithful to his Word, they will see the glory of God and have a place in his kingdom.
That’s what Jesus was talking about before the Transfiguration and these authoritative words form a summary of the Christian faith and life: faith in Jesus as the Savior of the world—a life of discipleship following him as Lord-- and an eternal future with God.
What the transfiguration does for us is shows that the one who speaks these words about the great questions of life—what we re to believe and how we are to live-- has the right to expect our faith and obedience and is able to keep all of the promises he makes to those who follow him for he is God in human flesh. The Bible says that:
Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray…and the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white…and they saw his glory
Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Christ of God was a pivotal moment in our Lord’s earthly ministry and a high point in Peter’s life.
But what did Peter mean when he confessed that Jesus was the Christ? We know that many of the Israelites of that day were expecting national hero like Joshua who led the people to the Promised Land or a king like David who ruled a mighty kingdom.
But who Jesus really was-- and what he had come to do-- was even more than the great heroes of the past and Jesus revealed the truth slowly—piece by piece.
He turned water into wine. He drove out demons and healed the sick. He fed the multitudes and calmed the stormy seas. All of these miracles were intended to lead to only one possible conclusion: that Jesus of Nazareth was God in human flesh.
That identity of Jesus was confirmed on the Mount of Transfiguration. The uncreated Light and Glory of God shone through the veil of human flesh that hid the divinity of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity behind the face of a carpenter. That identity shapes all that follows as he journeys to the cross. And so then…
It is God who will be rejected by his own people. It is God who will lay down his life on a cross. It is God who will rise again and come to the aid of his people-- and that makes all the difference in the world when it comes to how we spend our life and where we spend eternity. Let me explain why it is so important that we get this right.
Virtually every person in the world recognizes that a person names Jesus of Nazareth once lived here on earth. Everyone regards him as decent and good and kind and what human beings ought to be. The world’s religions all respect him. But it is only in the Christian church that he is confessed to be—who he reveals himself to be—God.
God in human flesh: 1. That is why the rejection by his own people (and by so many today) is a matter of eternal consequence—2. that is why we be confident that his death on the cross really has atoned for the sins of the whole including those sins that trouble us—3. that is why we can be certain that death is not the end for us—because it had been conquered for us by the Author of Life who rose from the grave.
His identity as revealed on the Mount of Transfiguration (God in human flesh) is the lens through which: we view his saving work-- and his call to discipleship-- and his promise of another life to come. The Bible says that:
Two men were talking with Jesus, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
What was so important that the veil that separates heaven and earth was pulled back so that Moses and Elijah (departed from earthly life for centuries) could be there with Jesus that day on the Mount of Transfiguration? What was so important?
They came to talk to Jesus about his departure. In the original language: his exodus. His exodus. 1500 years before this moment of Transfiguration, the Israelites were slaves in Egypt—living painful lives of sorrow and hopelessness-- and knowing that nothing better waited for their children either.
But God saw their great need. He saw that they were powerless to help themselves—and he had mercy on them and sent Moses to be their deliverer and bring them to freedom.
Taking refuge from the angel of death under the shed blood of a lamb, by the power and might of the outstretched arm of Almighty God, Moses led them to freedom and they witnessed the complete destruction of their enemies. That’s the exodus.
What God did for the people of Israel in 1500 B.C. he was about to do for the WORLD in 30 A.D. as Jesus Christ, in his death and resurrection, would lead us out of slavery to sin and death and take us into the Promised Land of: life with God here on earth and forever in heaven.
That’s why Moses and Elijah were there! That was the exodus he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem! God’s plan of salvation from before the foundations of the earth—witnessed to by the Law and the prophets—was at hand!
Of course Moses and Elijah were there—for the promise of God they proclaimed (the reconciliation of God and man) was about to be fulfilled! The Bible says that:
Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.
Peter’s desire to remain in the presence of God and his saints was right and good and God-pleasing. It’s just that his timing is a little bit wrong. Peter had this same trouble when he confessed that Jesus was the Christ but then tried to turn Jesus away from the cross.
Life in God’s presence (now and in eternity) is the absolute promise that Jesus makes to all who trust in him as Lord and Savior-- but that journey to heaven goes through the cross! It did for Jesus and it does for his people. There is no way of escaping it.
Jesus never sugar-coated what the life of a disciple is really like—that each of us are called to take up our cross and follow Jesus and die unto self-- and that it profits us nothing to gain the world and lose our souls.
That said, the Transfiguration of our Lord is a wonderful confirmation that the promise that Jesus makes to all who follow him about seeing the glory of God and having a part in his kingdom and enjoying life everlasting—is absolutely true --and something that we can look forward to and comfort ourselves with as we follow Jesus in this life.
And until that day, we have his Word to guide us and strengthen us each step on the way of the cross. The Bible says that:
A voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”
Jesus once said that if anyone was ashamed of his Words, the Son of man would be ashamed of him on the Last Day. On the Mount of Transfiguration we hear the voice of God himself speaking to the world and directing us to listen to his Son. Faithfulness to the word of Christ is the mark of a disciple of Jesus Christ.
His Word—must be the final Word—in our lives and in our congregation. Unashamedly—unapologetically—unreservedly. That is easy enough to do sitting here in church with our fellow Christians but when we go out back out into the world-- as we all must do—how much more difficult this becomes!
The words of Jesus about forgiveness and priorities and values and how we are to treat our enemies become much more difficult to follow- and much more easy to ignore- because they are so different than what we hear and see all around us in the world.
But what we see on the Mount of Transfiguration is that the One who speaks authoritatively and says “my words are truth” and the One who speaks from the majestic glory and says “listen to my Son” cannot and must not be ignored-- for these words are the dividing line between life and death—promising judgment to those who are ashamed of Jesus--but the kingdom of heaven to those who believe what he says.
Peter, James, and John saw how true that was on the Mount of Transfiguration and bear witness of that Good News to us: that Jesus leads us from slavery to freedom in a land of our own—that death is not the end for those who trust in him—but that life in the very presence of God is promised to all who trust in as Savior and follow him as Lord! May God graciously grant it to us all! Amen.