1 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. 3 And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5 He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
6 When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” 8 And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. 9 And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
In the Transfiguration of our Lord, we see a glimpse of Jesus’ divinity. His face shines like the sun, and His clothes become white as light. At no other moment during His time on earth, does Jesus become as gloriously dazzling and bright as at the Transfiguration. In the Transfiguration, we absolutely see that Jesus is divine. God the Father declares so from heaven, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” But all that being said, we do need to be a careful with equating Jesus’ brightness with His divinity. Just because Jesus is shiny doesn’t mean that He is God.
Here’s why we need to be careful. Jesus isn’t the only one shining at the Transfiguration. Luke’s gospel tells us that Moses and Elijah were both shiny as they stood with Jesus on the mountain (Lk. 9:30-31). Also, in our Old Testament lesson (Ex. 34:29-35), we heard how Moses’ face would shine after he talked with God. Moses’ shining appearance made the people afraid to come near him. We don’t say that Moses and Elijah are divine because they were shiny too. They are normal, human men. They are Christians, but they aren’t divine. Yet, both of them also radiate a splendid light.
There are other examples of this too. In the book of Acts, we are told about Stephen (Act. 6:8-7:60). He had been chosen to be one of the first deacons. Acts tells us that he was full of faith and the Holy Spirit and would constantly point people to Christ. The Jewish council didn’t like this, so they had some false witnesses accuse Stephen of blasphemy. When Stephen was on trial, we are told that the council saw that Stephen’s face was like the face of an angel (Act. 6:15).
Now, this makes us wonder: how did they know what an angel looked like? Would they regularly see angles? Probably not. It’s likely that they thought Stephen looked like an angel because of how the Scriptures regularly describe angles. In Is. 6:1-8, the angels are called seraphim which means ‘burning ones.’ Or in Ezk. 1:13-14, Ezekiel sees angels and describes them as “burning coals of fire” that had “the appearance of torches.” So, the book of Acts doesn’t say this for sure, but it is likely that Stephen had a bright, shiny appearance as well. Many suggest that the glory that Stephen was about to receive when he was martyred in a few verses began to shine through Stephen’s face a little early.
All of this is to say that it is possible for ordinary humans to have the that bright, shiny countenance that Jesus has in His Transfiguration. Maybe it isn’t the same number of Kelvins, but you get the point. In short, when Jesus undergoes this beautiful, majestic, bright metamorphosis (that’s the Greek word that gets translated as ‘transfigured’ in our text), that’s not just because He is God, but it is also because He is a perfect, sinless, holy Man. Jesus was Man as God intended all mankind to be. In other words, at the Transfiguration, Jesus gives us just a glimpse of how all humanity is supposed to look. Here, Christ bears the unstained, true image of God. And one day, dear Christian, you will have this glory as well.
Try this picture: Imagine that your whole life, you had the flu. Every day of your life you have had body aches, fever, vomiting, diarrhea. Your hair is always disheveled, and you can hardly walk straight because you are so weak and miserable. But, again, this is all you have ever known, all you’ve ever experienced. So, if someone came up to you to you on any given day and said, “You look horrible. You should go get some rest.” You would probably respond, “What do you mean, I look horrible? I feel totally normal.”
Now, expand that out. Let’s say everyone in the entire world is sick every day of their lives. Everyone is in misery, and all everyone experiences is pain and sickness. But no one would complain that much because nobody knows anything different.
But then imagine that one day, you woke up, and your fever and flu were gone. You aren’t running to the toilet every twenty minutes to explode out one end or the other. You have a new appetite and a new strength and vitality that you never knew was possible. You are filled with so much energy, vigor, and liveliness that you don’t know what to do with yourself. You’d feel like Superman, and everyone who saw you would be amazed at how strong and alive you are because they are still sick and miserable.
What Peter saw in the Transfiguration was glorious, but what he saw is what it is to be normal human being. Peter saw in Jesus how God created us to be. The only reason it was so foreign and different was because of how sick we sinners have become and how deeply we have fallen into sin. And this vision was so wonderful that Peter doesn’t want to leave. Just to behold Jesus in that glorious state was enough for Peter, so he wants to make some tents and gaze upon Christ.
I hadn’t thought of the Transfiguration and how it reveals what humanity is supposed to look like before writing this sermon, but it’s important for us to do that because the testimony of Scripture bears all this out. Romans 8[:19-23] talks about how creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. And the creation will be set free from its bondage to corruption (think of the sickness) and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Don’t miss that. Creation itself is watching and waiting for the full glory of you children of God to be revealed.
But as wonderful as that text from Romans is, there is another one that is even more fitting as we consider the Transfiguration of our Lord. It’s 2 Cor. 3:18, which I included in your Scripture insert. To briefly put it in its context, Paul there is talking about what our Old Testament lesson (Ex. 34:29-35) considered about Moses’ face shining and the veil he had to wear because of the glory that made his face bright. Remember that when Moses went to speak with God, he would remove the veil, and when he would speak to the people, Moses would put a veil over his face. Then, 2 Cor. 3:18 says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transfigured (same word used for Jesus’ transfiguration lit. the Greek word is ‘metamorphosized’ though the ESV translates it as ‘transformed’) we are being transfigured into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”
So, did you catch that? Already in this life, Christian, you are being transfigured into the same glory that Jesus had on the mountain. God brings about that transfiguration through His Word, through Him continually working on you through His Sacraments, and through Christian fellowship. Through these things, God is working on you to mold, shape, and metamorphosize you. We aren’t perfect like Jesus, not by a long shot. But we are, by the grace of God which we behold when we gather together in Jesus’ presence (Mt. 18:20), we are slowly being transfigured and metamorphosized into His glory.
Dear Christian, all you know is this life of sin, and so you think what you now are and how you see others is normal. But it isn’t. When we confess our sins, it is right – absolutely right – to call ourselves “a poor, miserable sinner.” And here’s the sad part, because we are so sin-sick, we set our hopes much too low. For, what, ten months now, we’ve been thinking how wonderful it will be to get past this pandemic and be able to spend time with family and friends, shake hands, give each other hugs, go on a trip, or walk into a store without having to wear a stinky mask. Sure, that will be nice, but you will still be in this fallen, broken world. A world full of sin and death, where you are still surrounded selfish, self-centered, narcissistic people just like yourself and myself.
Or we think, life will be so much better when my kids are older and can take care of themselves, when my preferred political party is back in positions of power, or when I retire and get to do what I want. Dear saints, that’s setting your hopes far, far, far too low. That’s like a person with the flu saying, “Won’t it be great when I only have to run to the toilet every 30 minutes instead of every 20 minutes.” No matter how good things get in this life, it’s not normal. Because of your sin, this life is not what God intended you to experience.
But there is a higher hope because God has promised in His eternal, abiding Word that you are being transfigured. And the picture of Jesus on the mountain today is what you are heading toward by the grace of God. That glimpse of Jesus’ glory is a preview of what lies ahead for you, believer. In Mt. 13[:42-43], Jesus says that the righteous – and that’s you, baptized Christian – the righteous will shine like the sun. And even now, Jesus declares you to be the light of the world (Mt. 5:14-16). May that light shine from you and radiate into this dark, fallen world.
This brief glimpse of Jesus’ glory is small taste of what is to come, and it made Peter want to remain there in tents. But Jesus wanted more for Peter, and He wanted more for you. It’s almost though Peter’s enjoyment of and desire to stay in this moment is what drives Jesus to set His face towards Jerusalem so that you with Peter can share in that glory without having to go through the trouble making a tent.
So, Christ went down from that mountain. He descended from that peak of glory. Jesus did it to ascend another mountain, Mt. Calvary, where He laid down His life for Peter, for Moses and Elijah, for me, for you, and for the whole poor, fallen, miserable, sin-sick world. He did this because He loves you and wants you to be fully transfigured to share in this glory.
Jesus did all of this so that you wouldn’t have just a glimpse, but the fullness of the glory and splendor that God created you for. May He come soon and bring us to that glory. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.