Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | February 14, 2010

Sermon on Luke 9:28-36

Jesus Prepares Us

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray.  As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.  Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.  Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.  As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)  While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.  A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”  When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Luke brings a troubling question to mind:  If Jesus is the all-powerful God of the universe, as the glory revealed on the Mount of Transfiguration announces Him to be, then why doesn’t He make full use of this glory and power all the time?  Why, like the glow upon the face of Moses, does Jesus let this glory disappear?

No doubt, you’ve wondered this.  If God is able to do anything that He desires, why doesn’t He do…and you fill in the blank.  You’ve wondered it about your own life just as much as you’ve wondered about it in Jesus’ life.  The great question is “Why?”  Why Christmas, why thirty-three years, why struggling, why rejection, why suffering, why betrayal, why false charges, an unjust verdict, and a cruel death?  Why?  Why did it have to be this way?  Especially when we know, know for a fact, because Jesus revealed it to us today that it didn’t have to be this way.  He could have burst into the world with an unbeatable force, bringing all the vast power that is His and destroy sin, destroy the devil, and destroy death in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye.  Actually, He wouldn’t even have needed an unbeatable force.  He could have simply uttered the word, and it would have been done, just as He brought forth the universe and everything in it with a word.  Instead, we get this.  We get glimpses and flashes of glory, but mostly shame.  Mostly foolishness.  Mostly weakness.

In the end, we say with Paul, “My thoughts are captive to Christ.  If I can’t understand it, I simply leave it in God’s hands.”  And when it comes to God, to Christ, to the Scriptures, that’s not the worst policy to have.  Too often we seek to apply our wisdom and the world’s wisdom to God’s ways.  We seek to make God fit our thoughts and conceptions, rather than the other way around, the way it ought to be, that is, making our world, our thoughts, our ideas fit and conform to God.  Do that today.  Take your thoughts captive and ponder the mystery of the Transfiguration.  Be assured though, that we will not be let down by Christ.  He’s not toying with us.  He is, instead, preparing us for the hard road of Lent, the road to death and destruction.  Yes, JESUS PREPARES US.  BY SHOWING US HIS GLORY, and BY TAKING IT AWAY.

The appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Jesus lifted the veil.  What Moses covered after speaking with the Lord, Jesus revealed.  He brought Peter, James, and John here to see this.  He wants them to see it.  He needs them to see it.  To see Moses, Elijah, and Jesus standing here in glory – Jesus’ glory, the glory of the fullness of the Deity that He was – talking.  And they weren’t just shooting the breeze.  They’re discussing pretty heady stuff:  They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Luke says they spoke about Jesus’ exodus.  Not abandoning the world, but leaving because He fulfilled what He came to do, just as Jesus told the disciples a week earlier:  The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. In other words, Jesus, Moses, and Elijah discussed that moment when Jesus could declare: “Mission accomplished.”

But so shocking was this mission and the way in which it would be accomplished – it caused Peter to take Jesus to the woodshed when He announced it to them, saying, Never, Lord!  This shall never happen to you! – that Jesus had to prepare the disciples to understand.  And so, we come to this mountain.  And Jesus says, “Remember who I am.  I am the Christ of God, the Son of the Living God.  I am He who holds the whole world in His hands.  I am He, without Whom this world falls apart.  Nothing happens without my approval.  Nothing happens beyond my control.”  He says it by showing them that He is God from God and Light from Light.  And His Father testifies, This is my Son, whom I have chosen, listen to Him.

Listen.  Not look at.  But listen, because faith comes from hearing.  Faith is sureness of what’s hoped for, certainty of what is not seen.  Jesus says, “You will not always see Me like this, or at all.  But I am always this.  And I am always here, with you, to the end of the age.”  Jesus fortifies the apostles for the stretch run to the cross and the resurrection.  He even prepares them for the Ascension.  And thus He prepares us.  He speaks to a church like St. Mark and the Christians gathered here.  He says, “Listen.  Don’t let your eyes deceive you.  Things look bad, don’t they?  Deficits mount.  Faithful members move on.  Faithful members become unfaithful.  Numbers aren’t always encouraging.  Something is always breaking or missing.”  We’re tempted to complain to Christ, “Where is your glory?  We haven’t seen it!”  Ah, but if you haven’t, it’s because you’ve been too busy looking, and not busy enough listening.  Jesus gives us a glimpse of the glory hidden behind seemingly foolish things – His flesh and blood born of a young virgin, the offense of the cross, the Words of Scripture, the water of Baptism, the elements of Holy Communion, the frailty of the Church that ever seems on the brink of disaster.  Jesus’ transfiguration prepares us.  It prepares us to deal with a world still filled with sin, a flesh still encumbered by a sinful nature.  Because it says, “The Jesus who went to the cross is the Christ chosen by God, indeed the God Omnipotent who rules all, who by shedding His blood atoned for the sins, ransomed the many, declared holy a world convicted, and took away the sins of the world.”

But still, we wonder, why doesn’t Jesus shine like this all the time?  Why does He take away His glory?  Answer:  Because we’d do what Peter does, “Let’s put up some shelters and stay here.”  The Transfiguration is bookended by two times when Jesus speaks plainly.  A week before, Peter makes His great confession about the true identity of Jesus, and then Jesus says – betrayal, beatings, death, resurrection are coming.  The next day, Jesus heals a demon possessed boy, but then tells the disciples, “I’ll be betrayed into the hands of men.”  And the Holy Spirit says, “They didn’t understand.  It was hidden from them.  They couldn’t grasp it.  They wouldn’t ask Him about it.”  This contradicts the cliché uttered by so many, likely even among us, “If only Jesus would show Himself to me!  Or perform a miracle!  Or show His glory!  Then I’ll be convinced!  Then I’ll believe!  Then I’ll do whatever He wants and accept His plan for my life!”  The twelve guys closest to Jesus who saw everything He did didn’t do that.  Which takes us back to the words of the Father from the cloud, Listen to Him. Just as Abraham told the rich man in hell that a resurrected Lazarus wouldn’t help his pagan brothers, only the Word of God recorded by Moses and the Prophets, so too, God the Father says, “Not seeing Jesus in continual glory, but listening to Him will be your only help.”

So, listen.  Despite the inability of the apostles to understand their confession about Jesus, the miracles Jesus performs, or His transfiguration, Jesus resolutely sets out for Jerusalem.  While they – and we – argue about who’s the greatest in the kingdom of God, Jesus just does His work – dying, rising, interceding, sending His Spirit, gaining souls.  So, who’s the fool?  It’s kind of like the tortoise and the hare. The apostles – and, truth be told, us too – just want Jesus to blitz through with all His power and glory, to eradicate poverty and disease – at least among us, His believers – to end hard times and troubles, to make St. Mark and the WELS the greatest of all churches, to bring heaven on earth.   Which means we haven’t learned anything about the Transfiguration.  Which means we must wonder if we are really prepared, not only for Lent, but for Judgment Day.  Sometimes we still see Jesus as foolish.  Paul dealt with this also.  He wrote to the Corinthians:  For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.  Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

We preach Christ crucified.  Because that means we get to preach what is of first importance:  that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. And that means we’re also prepared for that time when Christ will do once more what He did on the Mount of Transfiguration.  There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. The redemption accomplished by Christ at the cross, won with His victory over death at Easter, given to you through faith, awaits only one thing – the transfiguration of the world at the End of Days.  And because you’ve already caught a glimpse, you’re prepared.  You’ve seen the Lord give and the Lord take away.  You’ve seen Him die and rise.  You’ve seen Him depart.  But now, you look for Him to return.  You’re prepared, because Jesus prepares you.  Amen.

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