21 January 2018

Homily for Transfiguration - 2018

Matthew 17:1-9

Listen here.

Make no mistake about it. When you see Jesus transfigured on the mountaintop, you see your own glorious future. You also will be transformed and transfigured. But also, don’t doubt this: it will be a rough, dark road to get you there.

This glorious sight of Jesus outshining the sun itself is no random event, no mere magic show. Jesus is not just showing off His divine glory. No, this event is intimately connected to what happened six days earlier. Jesus had asked His disciples who they confessed Him to be. Peter spoke up for all of them: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). “Well done, Peter!” Jesus said. “You’re confessing the faith that My Father has given you. Believe me, I will build My church on that very confession.” Then Jesus spoke of going to Jerusalem, suffering many things, being killed, and then being raised on the third day. We accept the words well enough, but Peter strongly objected: “Never Lord! How can you even think that?” So Jesus countered and corrected Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! … You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matt. 16:23).

We, like Peter, love the picture and promise of radiant glory. We’re not so sure about the harsh reality of gloomy suffering—not for Jesus, and certainly not for ourselves.

So when Jesus is transfigured—revealing Himself as the very source of all light and glory—He seeks to comfort and sustain His distressed disciples. Suffering? Death? Cold, dark grave? The mere thoughts of such things, let alone going through them, lay us flat like a boxer giving a gut punch followed by an undercut. Jesus knows His disciples are laid flat by His prediction of the Passion. He wants to encourage them and sustain them. It’s as if Jesus is telling them, “Yes, it will be dark and deadly. Yes, you too will be shaken to the core, as well as opposed, hunted down, imprisoned, even executed just for confessing Me. But let not your hearts be troubled. Here is what lies on the other side of suffering and death, both Mine and yours.”

You see, this was not the first time that Jesus was transfigured and transformed. He has been the radiant, brilliant source of all light and glory since before the beginning of time—along with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Then, when the time was right, the Son of God actually transformed Himself by taking on our human flesh and blood. In taking our humanity into Himself, He transfigured Himself—He hid Himself—in humility.

So when Jesus predicts His passion and death, He’s simply unveiling what lies further back in the deep dark recesses of His glory—His suffering in the garden, His arrest, His trial, His bearing the cross to Golgotha, the pounding of spikes into His hands and feet, the lifting of the cross into its place, and the weight of His body hanging from wrists nailed into the cross beam. This is the Son of God completely revealing Himself. This is His real glory—suffering so to redeem and forgive us sinners who had fallen from our glory. It’s on the mount called Calvary that you are transfigured.

Peter, James, and John basked in and soaked up the brilliant glory of Jesus transfigured. Peter even wanted to extend his mountaintop experience with a bunch of tents. Moses and Elijah, though, were there for a different purpose. Yes, they are heroes of the faith—Moses the icon of the Law and Elijah the representative of the prophets. Yes, Moses’ skin shone with a most incredible suntan after his time on the mountain with God. Yes, Elijah was taken to heaven in a fiery chariot, and hence did not taste death. But Moses and Elijah were also there as fellow sufferers with Jesus. Consider the many times God’s people rejected Moses with their complaining over things as mundane as food and water. Remember the times that Elijah had to flee for his life from the government out to get him or the time he took on the many prophets of Baal. The same people rejected Jesus. On top of that, Moses and Elijah appeared to speak with Jesus about His “exodus”—His soon-to-come suffering, His pending Passion (Lk. 9:31).

With all of this darkness and gloom hanging over the disciples, they desperately needed some encouragement, some hope, some promise. That’s why Jesus shone brighter than the sun—just a small glimpse of what lies ahead. That’s why the Father’s voice boomed from the cloud: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” That voice still bids us to listen to Him, and Him alone. And we find that voice speaking ever so clearly in the Scriptures. After all, here’s “the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

Here’s what awaits all who follow Jesus—first, the suffering and dying of a fallen world; then, the glory and radiance of new life with Jesus. It’s the way it works since we humans first transfigured ourselves from God’s holy people into the devil’s sinful slaves. We should have had the brilliance of a trusting, loving relationship with God all along. Instead, we chose the nakedness of self-centered shame. Instead of being clothed with God’s glory, we had to settle for being covered by garments of animal skins.

But Jesus has come to reverse all that. He’s the new Moses as He leads us out of our slavery to sin and death and into the Promised Land of His mercy, forgiveness, and eternal life. He’s the new Elijah—surpassing all the prophets—because He alone has the words of eternal life. He is transfigured on one mountain, but on a different mountain—the one called Calvary—He accomplishes your transfiguration. He transforms you from sinners to saints, from people suffocating in death to people breathing the very air of life.

Make no mistake about it. The transfiguring and transforming continues. He who was transfigured from humility back into glory now comes transforming Himself in the bread and wine of His holy Supper. And with that Meal, He begins and continues transforming our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).

So we live patiently and trustingly, awaiting that day when our own transformation will burst forth with brilliance. Much like putting up with the inconveniences of renovating an organ or soon a sanctuary, we bear with those things that are not yet set right—the crosses we bear, the sorrows we endure, the losses we suffer. But as we live patiently and trustingly, we draw strength and resolve from our transfigured Lord of glory. He sustains us. He gives the promise, the hope, the courage.

And so we can be people of life in this world of death. By God’s grace in Jesus, we can resist being conformed to this world. Instead, we are transformed by Jesus renewing our minds, by discerning what His good and acceptable and perfect will is. We can rejoice with those who march for life year after year. We can work with those who help mommies and daddies to keep their babies as well as teach them how to be better parents. We can run into the muck and the mess of our culture of death—this culture bent on snuffing out lives in the womb and shortening the lives of those who suffer or become frail with age. You see, our Lord of glory gave those people their very lives. He wants to protect their lives. He wants to transform them to eternal life too.

Our transfigured Lord reveals Himself to be the Lord of life in the face of death. This glorious revelation sustains us and gives us hope and courage as we journey through the valley of the shadow of death. Through Jesus’ transfiguration, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom. 8:16-17). Amen.

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