The Transfiguration of our Lord

January 29, 2012

“A True Theology of Glory”

St. Matthew 17:1-9



Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!"  And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, "Arise, and do not be afraid."  When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, "Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead." St. Matthew 17:1-9


The testimony of one witness proves nothing.  There must always be two or three witnesses.  This is a fundamental biblical principle.  God spoke through Moses saying:


One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established. (Deuteronomy 19:15) 


Jesus and the Apostle Paul confirmed this principle.  Not only can you not prove someone guilty of a crime on the basis of the testimony of just one witness; you can’t prove anything.


The claims that we Christians make concerning Jesus are different from the claims that other religions make concerning their gods and teachings.  For example, the Koran – the book that Islam claims is the word of God – has no credible testimony to support its claim to be what it claims to be.  Muslims claim that Muhammad was illiterate and that the Koran was dictated to him by the Angel Gabriel.  They say that an illiterate man could not have dictated such a book.  But that’s not proof of divine authorship.  The Koran includes many errors about Christianity – including a total distortion of what we teach about the Holy Trinity – that reflect the fact that Muhammad was simply misinformed about the Christian religion.  Clearly, the Koran is not the word of God.


Similarly, the Book of Mormon – that Mormons claim is the word of God – has no credible testimony to back it up.  An angel by the name of Moroni allegedly gave to Joseph Smith some golden tablets that he translated from Reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics into Elizabethan English by the use of magical spectacles known as Urim and Thummim.  The Book of Mormon contradicts the teaching of the Holy Scriptures on many points.  Every single man who testified that he saw the golden tablets from which the Book of Mormon was supposedly translated later recanted his testimony.  Smith was left with no witnesses at all.  According to biblical standards of proof, there never was an angel named Moroni, there never were any golden tablets, and the Book of Mormon is a fraud.


The Holy Scriptures are confirmed by the testimony of witnesses.  There were witnesses to the great miracles that God performed through such prophets as Moses and Elijah.  Many thousands of people witnessed the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea.  God redeemed his people right out in the open with the whole world to see it.  Thousands of witnesses saw the contest between the prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel.  The prophets of Baal cried out to their idol all day long, but their idol could neither hear nor answer them.  The LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob answered Elijah immediately and sent fire from heaven.  The preaching and teaching of Moses and Elijah was validated by many eyewitnesses.


They were there on the Mountain of Transfiguration.  The prophets whose faithful word was confirmed by many witnesses stood as witnesses on the Mount of Transfiguration, standing with Jesus, confirming him to be the fulfillment of the Old Testament.  What was concealed in the Old Testament was now revealed in the New Testament as Peter, James, and John were also witnesses.  Listen to what Peter said about it:


For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. (2 Peter 1:16-18)   


Moses and Elijah stood as witnesses of Christ’s glory.  The Old Testament Scriptures testify.  Peter, James, and John stood as witnesses of Christ’s glory.  The New Testament Scriptures testify.  The testimony is that the man Jesus of Nazareth is the eternal, only begotten Son of God.  Listen to the Father’s voice: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!”


God joined the human race.  God became a man.  This is a wonderful mystery.  For many, it is a rock of stumbling.  How can the almighty God become a little baby dependent on his mother?  How can God be placed in a manger?  The very idea seems impossible, indeed impious!  So they reject the deity of Christ.  They reject the Christian faith.  If Christ is not true God he cannot be the Savior of sinners.  If Christ is not true man he cannot take the place of sinners under the law to obey for them and to suffer and die for them.


God became a man.  We do not have to explain how.  We don’t know how.  We simply bow before this wonderful mystery and confess it.  We take it to heart.  We rest our souls on this truth.  God became one of us in order to bring us back to himself.


Nowhere is the true deity of Christ more vividly displayed than on the Mount of Transfiguration.  Why did it happen?  Was it for the sake of Jesus, to strengthen him as he set his face toward Jerusalem where he would go to be betrayed into the hands of sinners, whipped, mocked, and crucified?  Was it for the sake of the three disciples, to encourage them in the face of the rejection their Lord would face after leaving the Mount of Transfiguration and heading toward Mount Calvary?  Or was it for us, who confess Jesus as our Lord and God, but see no proof of it?


The Bible was written for us.  On the Mount of Transfiguration, where Jesus’ face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light, we see the Bible displayed for what it is.  We see Moses, whose writings form the foundation of the Old Testament.  Moses represents Israel at her greatest hour, when God delivered her out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, and gave her his holy law.  We see Elijah, all alone at Israel’s most precarious hour when there are only seven thousand left who have not bowed the knee to Baal.  We see God’s faithfulness to his word.  We see his authority, his fatherly care, his wisdom, his justice, and his grace.  We see Jesus.


That’s why God gave us the Bible.  The Bible was not given as a how to book to get rich, make friends, stay healthy, or establish justice in America and the world.  The Bible was given to us to show us Jesus.


They saw Jesus.  The Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles saw Jesus.  In seeing Jesus they saw the glory of God.  They saw the glory Jesus had hidden under his humility.  He showed his glory in changing water into wine, healing the sick, raising the dead, stilling the storm, and feeding the multitudes.  He did what only God could do.  But he had not displayed his divine glory so clearly.  This was unique.  It was wonderful.  His full and essential deity shone forth from his body with unmistakable clarity that would be imprinted on their memories forever.  As the Bible says, “For in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” (Colossians 2:9)  They saw him as he really was.


What a sight!  What a place to be!  Peter started babbling about building booths – anything to prolong the moment.  Here was a vision of heaven itself.  Here was a wonderful foreshadowing of our own glorification with God in heaven, for as Christ is so is his Church.  Who would not want to stay?  But even as Peter was talking God interrupted him.


A man talked.  God interrupted.  Then God identified Jesus as his beloved Son in whom he was well pleased and said to hear him.  A man talked.  He talked from his experience.  He talked sincerely from his heart.  But we aren’t supposed to listen to him.  We are supposed to listen to Jesus.  Jesus has something quite different to say.  Jesus told Peter, James, and John to tell no one about what they had seen until after he had risen from the dead.  He didn’t want people to be misled by the idea that we could obtain glory without suffering.


The transfiguration of our Lord revealed who he was.  It revealed his true glory as the beloved Son of God.  It revealed as well that the Father was well pleased with him.  Not only was he his beloved Son, but he was doing and would continue to do his will.  He was obeying.  His obedience was going to cost him.  Later on in this chapter of St. Matthew we read:


Now while they were staying in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up.” And they were exceedingly sorrowful. (Matthew 17:22-23)


Glory is as glory does.  The true glory of Jesus was not seen on the Mount of Transfiguration where his face shone like the sun and his clothes were as white as light.  The true glory of Jesus was not heard in the voice of approval that came from heaven.  No, the true glory of Christ was seen in his crucifixion.  And the true glory of Christ was heard in his prayer for forgiveness for those whose sins he bore.


Every Christian wants to go to heaven.  But no Christian wants to suffer and die.  Suffering and death are indignities that belie our status as children of God.  If we are glory-bound then why should we have to face pain, sorrow, rejection, and loss in this life?  Ah, but this is the vain babbling of Peter.  Our Father in heaven tells us to listen to Jesus.  Jesus talks to us of his suffering and death for our sins.  We listen to him.


His transfiguration sent him to the cross to suffer and die.  Only by Christ suffering for our sins, and bearing the enormity of their guilt, and enduring the anger of God against sinners could we be make partakers of his glory.  All Peter could do on the Mount of Transfiguration was to see it displayed.  It was a wonderful sight, to be sure.  But for us to share in Christ’s glory required him to leave the glory of that mountain to embrace the shame of another.  It was on Mount Calvary, where Jesus took away the sin of the world, that his Father’s stamp of approval upon him was placed on us as well.  “Hear him!”  Listen to him.  Take his words in and take them to heart.  Hold on to his words, for they give you forgiveness of all your sins and seal to you the Holy Spirit.


Brothers and sisters in Christ, do you want glory, true and lasting glory?  Confess your sins to God.  Admit that the source of all your pain and suffering is not the sins you suffer from others but the sin within your own heart.  You have wanted a glory you did not deserve.  You have exalted yourself instead of humbling yourself.  Confess your sins of pride to the One to whom all glory must be given.


Then hear him who suffered and died for you, shedding his blood for you for the forgiveness of your sins.  He says do not be afraid.  All your sins are forgiven.  There is your true glory, dear Christian.  In the words of Jesus that the Father tells you to head you hear the faithful testimony that you are God’s beloved child in whom he is well pleased.  Amen