Sermon for the Transfiguration of Our Lord
February 11, 2018
The Glory of God Manifest in Christ
There is probably countless examples but recently, Lisa and I have begun watching a new dramatic series set on Medieval England. It is a struggle between the Christian tribes that are as yet ununited in the British Isles and the pagan Vikings that maraud the countryside and sack their cities. Certainly, it is a very simplified expression of Christianity but probably a very realistic depiction for many of the time as it is for many even today. We would here many expressions of “God is good” or of “God is mighty” but nothing of the atonement and sacrifice of Jesus for the sins of royal or common blood.
As one of the threads that are woven into the series, we watch the struggle between paganism and Christianity. This is highlighted in a couple of episodes in two particular characters. Both are warriors but one despises Christianity because of the weaknesses he sees in its adherents and the sufferings, hardships, and humiliations that he is forced to endure because of it. The other despises Christianity because he despises the Christian at the outset but he becomes intrigued by those who believe and the faith and trust that they put in God. He is eventually converted and is baptized when he is defeated in battle where the Christian God demonstrates His might over and against the pagan gods. He is converted because he believes God is more powerful than the gods he formerly trusted.
Peter is not much different than this pagan warrior that recognizes his gods are no match for the one true God. It was only six days earlier that he stood opposed to Jesus in what he saw as a weakness in the Lord when Jesus predicted that He would suffer and die but would rise again on the third day. Peter didn’t want a hero that would be humiliated and suffer. He wanted somebody powerful that he could follow. He wanted a God that was almighty and always victorious. Yes, he wanted a God that was good but he also wanted a God that demonstrated His power in ways that everybody that stood in His way would cower in fear. He wanted just what he was seeing upon the mountain: the dazzling glory that would shred every doubt that God was with Jesus and His army.
Yet Peter is once again rejected for his comments as he was the week prior. By denying he Jesus should suffer, he was rebuked as Satan by Jesus. Today, with the need to just blurt out something, Peter offers to build three tents for the Jesus and the heaven-sent guests. But he is rejected by the Father’s voice declaring Jesus to be His Son and that it is to Jesus that they should listen. In other words, quit shooting from the hip. You don’t have to think so hard Peter. Jesus is the one sent from God, the one that speaks as God, the one to whom you would do well to listen to and stop trying to tell him what he ought to be doing. Peter seems only to believe what his eyes see and not so much what his ears hear. He enjoys the glorious moments but shies from those that hint of humiliation.
Peter stands out in Scripture as one that struggles with accepting the humble Jesus, at least, at first. He stands out for us because he is very easy for each of us to relate to. We all want a powerful God; One who wins our battles for us and shames our enemies into submission. We’re not so different from those Norse pagans on TV that think little of a God that doesn’t seem capable or at least not willing to protect His believers from everything that ails them in this life. We so easily think God is the one that is deaf, or worse, indifferent to our needs and sufferings. We too easily wonder if He really hears us when we cry out in pain and when we call upon Him in our sicknesses and diseases. We don’t understand how an almighty God seems so powerless to heal His children of something so simple as the flu. Why should we have to fear such simple things?
It is not that we have to nor should we fear those simple things but God chooses to give us a true remedy and not just bandaids or something to hide the symptoms. Yes God is glorious. He is good and He is almighty. His glory is displayed in Jesus upon the mountain. But that is not where He brings healing to the nations. The Transfiguration is not the redemption of mankind. It is a glimpse of who Jesus is and from where he has come, but what Peter has to learn and what each one of us has had to learn is that our salvation is won when Jesus doesn’t rely on such glory as he empties himself upon the cross, shedding his blood and dying for us. For in his weakness, he displays faith in what is seen on this mountain, that he is God’s Son to whom all should listen.
Peter, James and John were given a glimpse of Christ’s glory; something normally hidden from the sight of men. It seems it would strengthen them for the future. We would think that it would embolden them that faith is no longer a part of the equation for they had seen his glory with their own eyes. They trust because they have seen. It should give them assurance that come what may, Jesus is the imprint of God in man. Yet, faced with the humiliation and suffering of Jesus, it still was not enough to keep them from stumbling and fleeing. It was not enough for Peter to hold back his fear amidst his denial of even knowing Jesus when he was asked in the courtyard.
We believe our faith would be so much increased, so much stronger, if we could only see such things. We think our confidence would grow if only God would overcome our sniffles and we would only be relieved of our great sufferings for then God’s glory would really be evident for us and in us. Then we and everybody around us would really believe. We would be more than happy to make a shrine in our hearts for Jesus to make his home.
But the truth is that you are no Peter, no James and no John. Just as such a glimpse of God’s glory manifest in Jesus would not keep them from falling away when the cross came into view, neither are such things enough for you. Just as Peter was forced to face his own inability to believe by his own power, so must you. Just as he suffered rebuke, repented of his sin, and received forgiveness from the Lord, so must you repent from all your fanciful ideas of being a super Christian, or knowing better than God how to save man, and thinking that there is a greater glory to be seen than the sight of the Son of God hanging dead upon a cross. For it is there that God’s glory is seen. It is there that man’s sin is forever dealt with and expunged. In the empty tomb God’s glory is seen in victory as death is defeated and this world’s tyrant is overthrown.
We might think, as did Peter, that Jesus shining brighter than the sun is a big deal. It is certainly something to behold. But we will see greater things than this. Think even about the creation in the beginning. On the first day God created light but the sun and the moon and the stars were not created until the fourth day (Genesis 1). Even the New Jerusalem as it is described in its coming down from heaven by St. John (Revelation 21) has no sun or moon for light because God and the Lamb will provide the light. As Jesus lit up the mountaintop with his glory, so he will light our eternal home in the heavenly city.
The transfiguration of our Lord is a big deal. I’m not saying otherwise. It is a grand manifestation of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. And it serves to strengthen and embolden the disciples as it should for us just prior to Lent. But greater than what the eyes see, is what the ears are to hear. It is Moses and Elijah, the two most prominent prophets of the Old Testament, that stand with Jesus and continue to speak of what is still the greater manifestation of God’s glory to man. While Mark does not record what the conversation is about, it was, as always, about Jesus and what he would do for the redemption of man and all God’s creation. There stood the Law and the Prophets, the whole of God’s testimony from times past, still pointing out the Christ as God’s redemption even as the Father Himself told us to listen to Jesus.
Yet, the even bigger deal is that God’s glory would shine even brighter when the day would become much darker. On that day when the sun would cease to shine and darkness would grip the earth, the glory of God would be manifest upon the mountain where Jesus would be lifted up. It is there that your battle has been won. Listen to him and he will tell you: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). There Jesus does more than just shine, he shines for you, for your victory over sin and devil and as would be seen in the three days following, over death as well.
Behold, the glory of God that has and continues to dwell among you.