The Transfiguration of our Lord: Jesus Only

Hymns: LSB 402, 413, 395, 414
Lessons: Exodus 34:29-35, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Matthew 17:1-9

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      After Jesus had set His face toward Jerusalem to enter the holy city to redeem the world, Jesus took Peter, James, and John up a mountain and there He was transfigured before them. There Jesus revealed His glory. It was a truly a mountaintop experience.

      The concept of a mountaintop experience has its origins not in pagan spirituality nor in the climbing adventurer’s spirit, but in Scripture. Today mountaintop experiences can be understood literally or spiritually. Even those outside the faith may talk about their mountaintop experiences.

      Setting the biblical connections aside for the moment, the mountaintop experience may be the thrill of actually summiting a mountain. It could involve serious technical climbing or it could be an easy hike to the top. Or the mountaintop experience may involve no mountains or hills at all. It could be achieving first place in a difficult competition, accomplishing what seemed to be an insurmountable goal, making a major breakthrough, or advancing in rank at work or school.

      I have enjoyed the mountaintop experience of summitting a few mountains (hiking, not climbing), including the top of Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48. Another time when taking a group of youth backpacking, we made it a point to hike up a mountain to grant them the bragging rights of bagging that peak.

      Mountains are rather majestic. They inspire awe. They bring out the imagination of many who seek to summit impossible-looking peaks. Mountains can inspire people to think of the greatness and awesomeness of God, for God created those mountains.

      But mountains can also be dangerous. There’s always the risk of stepping wrong even on a well-groomed trail and twisting or breaking an ankle, falling, or greater injury. Many fatalities have occurred in the mountains. Wild beasts may look at the unassuming hiker as lunch.

      Now from the Christian perspective, God uses mountains many times to teach His people many things. All Israel knew the danger of stepping onto Mt. Sinai when they were encamped there after leaving Egypt. Should they simply begin walking on that holy mountain, they would die. Yet, God confirmed His covenant with His people at Sinai and gave them the Ten Commandments. Years earlier, Isaac went with his father up a mountain and was placed on the altar for a sacrifice, which is what God instructed Abraham to do. When Abraham lifted his knife, God stopped him and provided a substitute for Isaac—a ram caught in the thicket—a sacrifice in his place. When Jesus was transfigured on the mount, He became as white as the light and made Himself manifest as God. After Jesus rode into Jerusalem, He prayed on the Mount of Olives and was crucified at Mount Calvary. There are many more mountaintop events recorded in Scripture.

      Today, we shall consider the events that occurred on the unnamed mountain where Jesus is transfigured. Our Gospel begins by stating, “After six days, Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain by themselves” (Matt. 17:1). So what happened six days earlier? Matthew tells us that Peter gave his great confession. Hear the Word of the Lord (Matt 16:13-18): [Jesus] asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’”

      So who is Jesus? He is the Christ! The Son of God! He is the Rock of Ages! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

      Peter gives this wonderful confession. Then, in just six days, Jesus brings with Him these three men who serve as the inner circle of the Disciples and there they also witness the appearance of Moses and Elijah, two great prophets of the Old Testament who represent the entire Old Testament Scriptures. They speak to Jesus concerning His upcoming exodus—His departure—His crucifixion. Peter then decides to involve himself in the conversion. “Lord? Lord, it sure is good to be here. I have an idea. If you like, I’ll go ahead and build three tents—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah. What do you…..” And suddenly Peter’s idea is interrupted by a bright cloud that overshadowed them and the voice of God the Father. When the disciples witnessed this, they fell on their faces in great fear.

      So, Peter goes from giving a great confession to making a strange offer to becoming greatly terrified. Such really is the way of the Christian in this life. There are times where we are bold to speak God’s truth and other times where we are timid. There will be times when we mean well but it isn’t the right. Yet God keeps on loving us.

      There was no good reason for Jesus to stay there on the mountain. His face was set toward Jerusalem. He must go to Mount Zion and clear out the money changers in the Temple, to the Mount of Olives to pray, and to Mount Calvary to shed His innocent Blood and offer Himself as the ransom payment for our sin.

      Peter would later write, “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” (2 Peter 1:16). Even in the days of the Early Church, some denied the divinity of Jesus, asserting that He’s merely a great man with powerful sayings. Many were convinced of His divinity when they witnessed Jesus heal the sick, cleanse lepers, or even raise the dead. Only God could do these things. To even further prove that He is God, He forgave sinners. And this all culminates with our Gospel today in which Jesus reveals that He is God through His glorious transfiguration. The prophetic Word of Christ is confirmed when the Father says, “This is My Beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him” (Matt 17:5).

      There are not many instances in which the Father is heard speaking in Scripture. That may seem odd, but it is true. God spoke often through His Son or through the prophets or the angels He sent. When the disciples heard the voice of the Father, they were filled with fear.

      At Mt. Sinai, Moses was up there before God so long that the skin of His face shone. The people were afraid. And when God gave His thunderous Law, many were filled with fear. In fact, some even petitioned that they stop hearing God’s voice (Deut. 18:15-18). That’s when God promised to send His Son who will speak peace to them.

      That peace is won by our Lord Jesus Christ when He bore our sins in His Body at Calvary and shed His innocent Blood on our behalf. He even spoke, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). That same forgiveness which Jesus lovingly bestowed on those who crucified Him is also granted to us. He not only takes our sin away, but He also covers us with His very righteousness. We are now clothed with the garments of salvation by virtue of our Baptism, and we wear the robes of Christ’s righteousness (Isaiah 61:10).

      This means we have nothing to fear. When the thunderous Law is commanding impossible burdens upon us, we do not need to say, “God please don’t tell me this any longer.” Instead, we say, “Yes, Lord, I have sinned. But here is Christ, who saved me. He died in my place. I am baptized into Christ. Jesus loves Me and has reconciled me to You.” When we become concerned about our future, our finances, our country, our children—you name it—we must learn that there is nothing we need to fear. For if God can send His Son to reconcile us to Himself, He will certainly remain in charge of all things and use all things for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28).

      In fact, when the disciples looked up after they fell on their faces in fear, they saw no one, but Jesus only (Matt. 17:8). Before them was the One who was without sin, yet the world’s sin was laid upon Him. Before them was One who looked like an ordinary man, yet He had just been transfigured and He is the Son of God—begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father. Before them is Jesus only—who alone can bear the weight of the world’s sin, defeat Satan, rise victoriously from the dead the third day, and grant everlasting life to all who call upon Him. Before them is Jesus only.

      He would soon be that humble and lowly Man who rides on the colt, the foal of a donkey into Jerusalem. Mountains are grand and God used mountaintops for some absolutely amazing things. But the divine majesty has wrapped Himself up into the Man Jesus. Just as in the days of Elijah, when God led him to Mt. Sinai. “And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.” Instead, God was there in a still, small voice—a low whisper who spoke words of comfort and peace to Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-13). In the same way, this same Jesus comes to us in His Word and promise. There’s Jesus, our humble suffering servant, our Good Shepherd. Our Rock and Fortress. Our Deliverer. He is all-powerful, yet gentle; all-knowing, yet humble; present-everywhere, yet true Man.

      May God grant it that as you study the Scriptures, as you attend the divine service here, that you will see Jesus only as He comes to you through the Absolution, through the Word read and preached, and through the Lord’s Supper. Jesus only. For you. Amen.        

     The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen