Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | March 6, 2011

Sermon on Matthew 17:1-9

Glimpse of Glory

Lessons: Exodus 24:12, 15-18, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Matthew 17:1-9

Hymns (from Christian Worship and CW: Supplement):  97, 712, 96, 95

Downloadable version

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

These last few weeks have given you the opportunity to see Jesus’ true nature through His teaching.  The Sermon on the Mount revealed and made known a Teacher who didn’t have to cite sources.  When Jesus taught, He didn’t say, “As the rabbis said,” or “As God says.” He said, “I tell you.”  Here’s Jesus, the carpenter…Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon (Mark 6:3). Here’s Jesus, Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness (Phil. 2:6-7). But, for all of that, still very much God from God, Light from Light, true God from God (Nicene Creed).

And in case you forgot that, Jesus makes it perfectly clear.  Near the end of His earthly ministry, just before making His final trip to Jerusalem, He reveals to Peter, James, and John that this servant in human likeness is still, at the same time, the fullness of the Deity.  He took those chosen disciples to the top of a mountain and He pulled back the curtain of His humanity for a moment.  Matthew writes: After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus (17:1-3).

This appearance knocked the disciples for a loop.  Peter says, Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah (17:4). But Mark tells us that he didn’t know what he was saying, he was so terrified.  Then God the Father stepped it up a notch.  While [Peter] was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him” (17:5)!

And the disciples responded as you might imagine.  When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified (17:6). And, thankfully, so does Jesus:  Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” The disciples obeyed.  They got up and looked around, as people do after they’ve been through some traumatic event.  You can imagine them gingerly making sure they’re all in one piece.  Then they glance around, looking for Moses and Elijah, but when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus (17:8). But it was only Jesus (“ONLY Jesus,” what a phrase!).  It’ the Jesus they know and are familiar with, the Jesus veiled in flesh, whose Godhead they had just seen.

Now it’s Jesus who throws them for a loop.  Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead” (17:9). If Jesus wanted to display His glory, why didn’t He do it in front of all the apostles, or in front of all His followers, or in front of the Jewish Ruling Council?  Why on this mountain, at night, with just three guys?  And why did He forbid them to talk about it?

Consider the context.  Matthew says, After six days. That sets this event in the immediate context of other events.  Important events.  Go back to Matthew 16.  As they were wont to do, the enemies of Jesus – some Pharisees and Sadducees – test Him by asking for a sign.  He says the only sign unbelievers will receive is the sign of Jonah, that is, the resurrection.  He takes the disciples across the lake and they travel to Caesarea Philippi, a town well outside of Jesus’ normal stomping grounds.  There He poses the question to the disciples:  Who do you say I am (16:15)? Peter says, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God (16:16). And Jesus rejoices, because they understand!  God has revealed to them His true identity and upon that confession the Church is built and the Gates of Hell stand no chance!  But, what seems to be an incredible high point, the place in the movie where the music swells and the spine tingles, gets confused very quickly.  Matthew writes:  From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things…and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life (16:21). Not surprisingly, Peter’s a little put out:  “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you” (16:22)! Jesus responds: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (16:23). It turns out the disciples had misunderstood a bit.  So, Jesus recatechizes them: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (16:24-28). Then, a week later, it’s transfiguration time.

Maybe you can understand now why Jesus does what He does how He does it.  He just said:  “Betrayal, beatings and death are coming.  My followers will lose their lives.  Your crosses are coming.  Only later, after resurrection, when the Son of Man comes in glory, will your glory come.”  If He now shows His divine nature to all twelve, or to a large group, it will only confuse them, because it will seem like a contradiction.  So He only takes enough witnesses to establish the truthfulness of this event.  He takes them to see and hear.  So that after Christ has risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, when confusion might once more set in, there is this truth:  This is My Son, Whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.  Listen to Him (17:5)!

Oh, the power of that statement!  The Father speaks, as He did at Jesus’ baptism, and says so much in so few words.  This is My Son! The Father affirms the divine nature of Christ, that He is indeed eternally begotten of the Father (Nicene Creed) and His status as the chosen, appointed Messiah, the Savior of the world, the only sacrifice for mankind’s sins.  This is important information.  In a world of darkness, where you don’t think you see anything good, here is something great – Christ!  The Son of God, who by faith, makes you into sons and daughters of God!  Whom I love. Jesus is the dear, sweet, favorite, only son of God!  He is the only one worthy of this, and God assures you of Jesus’ worth, because in Christ is your hope.  You are worthless, He is beloved.  And He shares that love of the Father with you.  With Whom I am pleased. What the Son does, the Father likes.  And if the Son’s behaviors please the Father, they should also please you, no matter what He does, what He says, and what you think.  Listen to Him. The Father didn’t say this at Christ’s Baptism.  He says it here, now, because Christ has begun speaking plainly and clearly to the disciples:  “Betrayal, Death, Resurrection!”  The disciples rebelled against those words.  The Father says, “Listen!” and wrapped up in listen is “Obey!”  James writes, Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves, do what it says (1:22). Because, as Jesus says, If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31-32).

It’s for this very reason that Jesus takes you aside too, by yourself.  There’s this small little group here on earth called the Church.  It gathers on a weekly basis, rather privately, in small little buildings, sometimes unnoticed.  And here Christ removes the veil, because it’s easy for you to get confused.  Living in the New Testament era, you aren’t coming upon these things for the first time, as Peter, James, and John were.  Every year you hear the account of the transfiguration, the crucifixion, the resurrection, the ascension.  You itch, like Peter, to build shelters for Jesus, to move forward in glory, to appropriate all these blessings and rewards.  But you hear Jesus say, Deny yourself.  Take up your cross. It’s almost like Jesus says to you, Don’t tell anyone what you have seen. But He doesn’t.  Jesus is only loving you as He loved them.  He gives you glimpses of His glory.  He gives you enough to fortify you, but not so much as to confuse you when crosses come – and they do come, don’t they?  Your life isn’t all that different from King David’s.  While his son Absalom was trying to steal his kingdom, David fled.  Some people followed him, but they were confused.  “You’re the anointed one of God, David?  Can’t you crush these enemies?  Hasn’t God promised to take care of you, to have the Messiah come from your family?”  David put rephrased questions in Psalm 4:  Many are asking, “Who can show us any good” (4:6a)? So say you, I’d wager.  “The words of Scripture are hard.  The life God allows me to have is hard.  This world is hard.  Why not simply eradicate sin, Lord?  Why not make your teachings a little easier, Lord?  Why these crosses, Lord?  Why must I wait for Judgment Day, Lord?”  David’s prayer:  Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord (4:6b).

And the LORD does.  On this quiet mountain Jesus literally let the light of His face shine upon you.  And the effect is that it forces you to listen to Christ’s hard words in the right way.  It focuses you on the eternal glory to come, these glimpses of glory Christ gives.  You have only Word, Water, and Meal, you have these teachings of Christ, as you’ve heard in the Sermon on the Mount.  You really do have the light of the face of Christ shining upon you.  And, like Moses, by faith, now your faces shine with the reflected glory of Christ.

Your fathers in the faith wrote about this in the Formula of Concord:  The eternal Father calls down from heaven about His dear Son and about all who preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name, “Listen to Him.” All who want to be saved ought to listen to this preaching. For the preaching and hearing of God’s Word are the Holy Spirit’s instruments. By, with, and through these instruments the Spirit desires to work effectively, to convert people to God, and to work in them both to will and to do….  God works through this means (i.e., the preaching and hearing of His Word). He breaks our hearts and draws us to Him. Through the preaching of the Law, a person comes to know his sins and God’s wrath. He experiences in his heart true terrors, contrition, and sorrow. Through the preaching of, and reflection on, the Holy Gospel about the gracious forgiveness of sins in Christ, a spark of faith is kindled in him. This faith accepts the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake and comforts itself with the Gospel promise (FC SD II:51-54).

Your sin, and God’s incredible power manifested on that mountain, force you to fall to the ground before Christ.  Yet, feel Him.  Jesus…touched them. Just as He touches you.  He touched you at a baptismal font.  He touches you at His altar.  He touches you through the read and heard Word.  There He shines His face upon and is gracious to you.  He says, Get up.  Don’t be afraid. You have nothing to fear because the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.  Put to death for your sins. Raised to life for your justification.  Amen.



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