Friday, February 23, 2007

Sermon on Luke 9:28-36, The Transfiguration of Our Lord

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The sermon text for this last Sunday in the season of Epiphany, the Transfiguration of Our Lord, is Luke 9:28-36. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Before we dive into the meat of today’s text, I want you to hear what the verse just before today’s reading says. In Luke 9:27 Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” Each of the three Gospel-writers, Matthew, Mark, and Luke record this saying of Jesus right before the Transfiguration. Coincidence? Not at all. It’s easy to misunderstand that verse, if we take “the kingdom of God” to mean only Jesus’ second coming, the Last Day. If so, it seems like a problem that by now the disciples have all died, before Jesus’ return. But it is no accident that all three Gospel-writers place this verse right before Jesus’ transfiguration. For He, Jesus Christ, is the kingdom of God coming into the world. And in the Transfiguration, the disciples caught a brief glimpse of the glory and power of the kingdom of God, as it was revealed through God’s Son. So as we begin today’s text, we notice that it was only about 8 days after Jesus said this that they caught their glimpse of the kingdom of God. And again at Jesus’ death and resurrection they would see the kingdom of God more fully.

Now, on to the meat! We are just finishing today the church season of Epiphany, which focuses on how Jesus revealed Himself as the Son of God through various ways, from the coming of the Wise Men, to His Baptism, to the Wedding at Cana, and now we end with this account of Jesus’ Transfiguration. For a few moments in time, we don’t know how long…Jesus’ appearance was remarkably changed. The word transfiguration is “metamorphosize” in Greek. A change in form or appearance. Luke records what this change was like—the appearance of Jesus’ face was changed and His clothes flashed like lightning. “Not your everday occurrence,” would be a colossal understatement. The disciples were jolted out of their sleepiness by this sight, and quickly were confused about what to do or say. Words tend to escape you when your teacher suddenly glows like lightning and has an instantaneous change of appearance!

But Peter, always the talkative one, blurts out, “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.” Good intentions…wrong idea. Luke tells us that Peter didn’t know what he was saying. But he didn’t get a chance to say anything more, nor did Jesus respond. As if to interrupt Peter mid-sentence, the cloud of the glory of the Lord suddenly appears and his words are cut short. The cloud surrounded them and they were terrified. What ran through their minds now? But God was not coming to destroy them, He was coming to give words of approval to His Son. The Father speaks from the cloud, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him.” And as quickly as it began, it was over. The cloud had vanished, Jesus’ appearance was restored, and Jesus was alone with His disciples. Small wonder that there were three disciples along to see this—if there had only been one or two, they might have wondered if their senses had fooled them! We could bring out a list of adjectives: remarkable, amazing, marvelous, awesome, etc etc, but they all fall short of giving a description of what happened. But then again, like Peter, we’re prone to misunderstanding. We easily focus on the glory, and miss the real point.

What is the real point here? Thankfully, we don’t have to wonder, because God’s own voice made it clear! “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him!” The point was, that all this dazzling light-show around Jesus was to identify Him clearly as God the Father’s chosen Son! Make no mistake about it! He’s here. He’s the One. Listen to Him! When Peter’s voice was running on with confused ideas for trying to make this glory experience last, the Father’s voice interrupts and says: “Listen to Him!” Listen to my chosen Son. How great a blessing we would receive if we obeyed these simple words: Listen to Him. But we do not. We occupy ourselves with listening to all sorts of other people, messages, ideas, fads, philosophies. We listen to what our “itching ears” want to hear…as the Bible puts it. We only listen to what we want to hear. And not what we need to hear. From the One we need to hear.

“How have we done this,” you ask? I heard a pastor (not a Lutheran one, thankfully—though it could have just as easily been one) preach about how it was important to listen to God’s Word, but that we should really pay just as much attention to what God is trying to say to us outside His Word. That God is speaking to us in all sorts of ways outside His Word. That God is speaking to us in all kinds of situations and events in life, but that we just aren’t listening. Now perhaps that’s not a big jaw-dropper for you yet.

But let me help to paint the contrast a little clearer for you. I’m not suggesting that God isn’t teaching you things through your daily life—you know, learning things by experience? But God is not speaking to you through them! Why would we look outside God’s Word to see what He has to tell us, when it’s perfectly plain inside His Word what He has told and is telling us. (I’ll get to what it is telling us in a minute). God’s Word isn’t a supplement to the things He’s telling us elsewhere, in life, in experience, in difficulties. God’s Word, the Bible, is The Source! That preacher had it all backwards! Where we should be going to learn what God has to tell us is inside His Word, where we hear His Chosen Son, speaking to us. Listen to Him. When we start to think that God is speaking to us outside His Word, rather than in it, it won’t be long before that supposed “message” starts contradicting what God has actually said in His Word. And we know that anything that is contrary to what God’s Word comes from where? We are not only much safer when we stick to what God’s Word says, we are where He has commanded us to be. We’re on the rock instead of the shifting sand.

But that is not the only way that we do not listen to God’s chosen Son. I could go on to list other examples, but just one more. Like Peter, sometimes “not listening” is not about listening to someone else, but maybe just too much talking on our part. Like Peter we may be drawn to the glory and put off by the suffering. Peter, who wanted to make the glory of the Transfiguration last, but when Jesus spoke of going to His death before the chief priests, Peter rebuked Him. Or we are too busy expressing our own opinions, that we drown out the message God’s Son is speaking to us in His Word. From His Word. For all this and more, we must repent, and hear again the Father’s Word: “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him.”
Like Peter, we too can learn our lesson. Peter got it right sometimes too. He said to Jesus on another occasion, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!” And those words have become part of the church’s song in the Alleluia verse, often sung before the Gospel reading. At that point Peter knew who he wanted to hear. More importantly, who he needed to hear. Hopefully you’re wondering by now, what is so essential that we hear? What is the message that Jesus brings?

It may strike you as ironic that through this whole reading from Luke, not a single word of Jesus is recorded. But we do know the topic of conversation between Moses, Elijah, and our Lord. And by the presence of these two Old Testament figures we learn some important things. First of all, Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets, which is a common Biblical way of referring to the entire Old Testament. Secondly, their presence testifies to the immortality of the soul and the promise of the Resurrection, that even Old Testament believers had. But most important of all is their topic of conversation. Only Luke tells us what they spoke about. In the NIV it reads, “They spoke about His departure, which He was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” I only need to point out one important thing—the word departure is actually the Greek word, “exodus.” What was the Exodus, and who lead it? It was God’s mighty deliverance of His people Israel out of slavery in Egypt, led by their deliverer Moses. So now Moses appears here on the mountain with Jesus, some 1400-1500 years later, talking about Jesus’ Exodus, which was going to happen in Jerusalem?

What could this mean? What Exodus did Jesus’ undertake? If we read it like the NIV, as simply a departure, we might take that to mean Jesus’ departure into heaven, His ascension from this world. But if we read further in Luke we find that Jesus’ ascension actually took place out in the area of Bethany. So it must mean something more. Well, if you asked my 7th graders, I think they’d be able to answer you that Jesus lead an Exodus much like Moses did. Israel was enslaved in Egypt, just as we and all the rest of humanity were enslaved in sin and under death. And Jesus, like Moses has led us out of this slavery, into the freedom He has promised. How? Notice where this 2nd and greater Exodus would be fulfilled by Jesus? In Jerusalem! It was in Jerusalem that Jesus suffered and died on the cross for our sins. It was in Jerusalem that He rose from the dead. There Jesus became the final sacrifice for sins—the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Just like the Israelites had to sacrifice the Passover Lamb to mark their doorposts with blood, so that their lives would be spared. The Passover Lamb showed the Israelites that God had spared them from judgment and death. And that Old Testament sacrifice pointed forward to the One Lamb of God, the Chosen Son of God who would spare us from judgment and death. He did so by His death on the cross.

“This is my Son whom I have chosen, listen to Him!”, the Father said. And the message to be heard is this: Jesus has completed His Exodus in Jerusalem. He has led us out of the slavery of our sin and death, into the freedom of forgiveness. Our stubborn, closed ears, that wouldn’t listen, and our run-on mouths that don’t give a chance to hear God’s Word have been silenced by the vision of the Son’s Glory. And we have been forgiven, freed from that sin. Freed to listen to Him. Freed to hear the words of eternal life. Freed to be blessed by the hearing of that Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection. When God said “Listen to Him!” thanks be to God that He didn’t just give us good advice—we’d never be able to live it. Thanks be to God He didn’t just give us a perfect example in Jesus—we’d never be able to follow Him. Instead, give thanks to God for giving us the Savior, the substitute, who walked to Jerusalem to die on Calvary in our place. The Savior, the deliverer who completed the greatest Exodus of human history—the freeing of all mankind. And just like Moses didn’t leave Egypt alone but was followed by multitudes of the freed, neither does Jesus leave without a host of freed believers in His train. His Exodus opens to us the way to the Promised Land of heaven, our eternal home. Amen.

Now the peace which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting, Amen.

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