Matthew 17:1-9 – A Tale of Two Mountains

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transfiguration-iconMatthew 17:1-9

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.”

Grace, mercy, peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today, in hearing this text, we stand with Peter, James, and John to see the beautiful, awesome vision of Jesus’ divinity shining through the veil of His human nature. Imagine being there. Jesus’ face shines like the sun. His clothes become white as light. And there are Moses and Elijah talking with Him.

Peter, good ol’ Peter, loves it. He wants to stick around. He’s got a plan. “Let’s build three tents. One for you, Jesus, and one each for Moses and Elijah.” But Peter’s plan gets interrupted. God the Father has something to say. “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.”

Let’s do what God says, ok? Let’s listen to Jesus. Jesus says two things in this text, and we need to listen to both statements. The first thing Jesus says after the Father speaks is, “Rise, and have no fear.” More on that later. The second thing Jesus says is, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”

Jesus commanded Peter, James, and John to keep quiet, to shut their mouths, about the Transfiguration. “Don’t tell anyone about what you have seen here. Don’t tell them about the hidden glory that was just revealed. Yes, I am God in the flesh. But there is more for Me to do. I must rise from the dead.” You see, as great as the events on the mountain of Transfiguration were, Jesus has another mountain to climb.

golgothaAnd like Peter, James, and John, we and all disciples, all Christians, need to follow Jesus from the Mount of Transfiguration across the valley of Lent to that other mountain. We descend the Mount of Transfiguration with all of its glory and splendor and see our destination – another mountain, Golgotha – looming before us. And it is there, on that other mountain, we see the true glory of God, more glorious even than the Transfiguration. On that mountain, you see that your God is willing to die to save you, His people. And the events of Golgotha are similar to the events of the Transfiguration.

The events on the Mount of Transfiguration began in prayer. Jesus, Peter, James, and John went to this mountain to pray. Luke tells us that while they were there, the disciples fell asleep, and they awake to see Jesus’ transfigured glory (Lk. 9:28-36).

Across the valley of Lent, on Golgotha, Jesus will begin in prayer too. Peter, James, and John are with Jesus again. And they will fall asleep while Jesus prays, again. On Golgotha, Jesus’ face does not shine like the sun, but with agony and bloody sweat.

On the Mountain of Transfiguration, the disciples are awakened by the glory of Jesus’ metamorphosis where His entire being shines with glory.

Across the valley on Golgotha, the disciples are awakened by the tramping of soldiers and the clanging of their weapons. There the Son of God in the flesh will be defiled and kissed by the filthy betrayer, seized by guards, spat upon, stricken, and beaten.

On the Mountain of Transfiguration, the disciples marvel at the glory they see. Peter tries to take matters into his own hands and build those tents to retain the glory. But Peter’s plan to stay there with Jesus is stopped by the voice of God the Father.

Across the valley, on Golgotha, Peter will take matters into his own hands. He will reach out his hand to grab his sword and fight. But Peter will be stopped by Jesus Himself. “Put your sword away Peter. You know that I can call upon My Father and He would send twelve legions of angels to fight. But if that happened, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled?” And when Jesus’ divine glory does not appear, Peter will flee just like all the other disciples.

On the Mountain of Transfiguration, Jesus is joined by two men – Moses and Elijah – who speak to Jesus about His exodus and what will happen on the other mountain.

Across the valley, on Golgotha, Jesus is again joined by two men who are lifted up on crosses next to Him. These criminals will taunt and mock Him for being on that mountain. One will be brought to faith when He sees the hidden glory of God in the flesh crucified.

On the Mountain of Transfiguration, bright, white clouds glow. The Father’s voice booms through the sky like thunder proclaiming Jesus to be the King, “This is My beloved Son; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him.”

Across the valley, on Golgotha, there are clouds again, but they fill the whole land with darkness. There, Jesus is proclaimed to be Hing once again as He hangs under a placard with the words, “Jesus of Nazareth – King of the Jews.” Jesus, the beloved Son, will cry out to His Father. But the Father doesn’t follow His own command to listen to Jesus. Instead, Jesus’ cries are met with deadly silence because God turned His back on Him, the chief of sinners.

On the Mountain of Transfiguration, the glory fades when Jesus descends to accomplish His task.

Across the valley, on Golgotha, the glory fades when Jesus breathes His last and is sealed in the tomb.

jesus-lamb-slain-silver-goldBut, here is the important part, the task is accomplished. It is finished.

The tomb was sealed, but the earth cannot veil Jesus’ glory. On the third day, Jesus breaks free.

On the Mountain of Transfiguration, we do see glory – glory indescribable. But across the valley, there is a better glory that is uncontainable.

Today, and throughout Lent, listen to Jesus’ other words: “Rise, and have no fear.” Travel through Lent knowing that the glory of Golgotha is even greater than the glory of the Transfiguration. “Rise, and have no fear.” Jesus, God in the flesh, is crucified and risen for you. Amen.[1]

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] I am thankful for a sermon by Rev. Christopher Thoma as inspiration for this sermon.

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Matthew 5:38-48 – You Will Be Perfect

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Jesus Preaches the Sermon on the MountMatthew 5:38-48

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Grace, mercy, peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus says, “You therefore will be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Maybe, you are thinking, “Hold on there, pastor. Didn’t you just read that Jesus said, ‘You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect’? What are you doing? Don’t go changing the Word of God on us.”

Well, the way the ESV translates the verse is the Law way. And as Law, this verse says that you need to use a right measurement when it comes to your good works. So, first, quit measuring yourself by others’ standards. Who cares what Tom, Dick, Harry, Mary, Sheila, or Amber thinks about how good you are? It doesn’t matter if they say you are a good person. There is only one standard of morality that matters and that is God’s.

Stop using the standards of others to determine if you are a good person. And stop comparing yourself to others and their morality. “Well, no one is perfect, so I must be ok. We all get a poor grade when it comes to works. Maybe our professor, Mr. God, will grade on a curve. I’m better than most.” Nope. It doesn’t fly. It doesn’t change your grade in Goodness 101.

First of all, the statement, “No one is perfect,” is false. God is perfect. Jesus, the God-man, was perfect. Never sinned, not even once. And second, God doesn’t lower His standards. He can’t, and He won’t. If you want to be called a child of God, you must reflect who your Father is. Be perfect as He is perfect.

The measuring stick of perfection doesn’t have marks like a ruler or a measuring tape. There’s no such thing as 12 3/8ths perfect. There is perfect or not perfect. Pretty good, trying harder, working on it, making baby steps don’t fall into the ‘not perfect’ category. And if you don’t get to the standard of perfection – sorry.

Remember what Jesus just said in the Sermon on the Mount last week, “You’ve heard it said, ‘You shall not murder.’ But I say to you, if you’ve been angry, same thing. You’ve heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, don’t even think about it. You’ve heard it said, ‘Don’t lie.’ But I say to you, your lips and mouth are full of lies and deceit. You deserve judgment and damnation. You are of the evil one.”

Are you enjoying this measurement from Jesus? Probably not. But Jesus isn’t done measuring you. Not yet. He’s got some more standards.

Sinful Tree PersonJesus wants to ask you about your enemies. “You’ve heard it said, ‘An eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil. You got slapped on your right cheek? Offer him the left. Someone took your coat? Give him the shirt off your back too. Don’t retaliate. Don’t resist.

“You’ve heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you love your enemies. That’s right – love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. I make rain fall on the just and the unjust both. I’m good to those who do not love Me. I’m loving to those who do not fear Me. I give My blessings to good and bad, friend and enemy, alike. You want to be perfect? Do as I do.”

This is life under the Law. Infinite, eternal, constant, consistant perfection is demanded. Nothing less. If you don’t measure up to God’s standard of perfection, you are His enemy.

So repent.

Repent and believe the Gospel. While you were yet enemies, while you were a sinner, Christ died for you.

In Christ, God loved you. Jesus was slapped and offered the other cheek. He was forced to go one mile, but went all the way to the cross and the grave. Jesus was stripped of His cloak, but gave His life for you. He prayed for those who persecuted Him, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

Jesus did this all to completion. He did it all for you. When it was all completed, Jesus said so. “Τετέλεσται. It is finished.” The very word that closes our Gospel reading. “You will be τέλειοι, perfect, complete, whole, finished as your Father in heaven is τέλειοι, perfect, complete, whole, finished.”

The Law, the must-have-perfection is what is demanded of you from God. The Gospel, the freely-given-perfection is what is handed to you by Jesus. So what are you trusting? Are you trusting your works, your morality, your completeness, your wholeness? Or are you trusting Jesus’ works, His morality, His completeness, His wholeness?

Blessings from the CrossTrust Jesus. Trust His perfect life. Trust His becoming sin for you. Trust His death on the cross. Trust His resurrection and ascension. Trust His giving the Holy Spirit to you in your Baptism. Trust His Body and Blood given to you and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

When it is all about Jesus, His words, “You will be τέλειοι, perfect, complete, whole, finished, as your Father in heaven is,” are the greatest news you could ever hear.

Everything that Christ has done, He has done for you “that you may be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.” You will be perfect, complete, whole, finished. Blessed are you who live in the perfection of Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Matthew 5:21-37 – But I Say to You

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Matthew 5:21-37

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”

Grace, mercy, peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

peyton-on-sunday-morningMost jokes do not work unless you have certain pieces of information. This past NFL season, DIRECTV had a series of commercials called “Peyton on Sunday Morning.” As I was watching a game early this season one of those ads come on. The commercial opens with Peyton Manning sitting in his pajamas on his couch with his feet on the coffee table. He calls his brother, Eli, to tell him that he has NFL Sunday Ticket which allows him to watch every game in HD. So Eli should come over and Peyton even offers to make nachos. But Eli declines, “I can’t, man. I’m playing.” Peyton sadly shakes his head and says, “Oh yeah…. Alright, I’ll pencil you in for Tuesday.”

Sarah saw this commercial and asked, “How is that funny? Aren’t they both quarterbacks?” I had to inform her that Peyton had retired, a fact that I thought every red-blooded American knew, but apparently, I was wrong. I guess there are more important things than knowing the status of quarterbacks. Anyway, the light went on, and Sarah then understood the humor behind the commercials. She didn’t quite get them before because she didn’t have all the information.

The same thing happens in all sorts of movies, television shows, and suspense stories. There are certain clues that point to this person being the killer. But then, one piece of information comes to light, and everything falls into place and reveals what really happened. Columbo was great at catching criminals in their own words with his notorious line, “Just one more thing.” That “one more thing” was always the final piece of information needed to see the criminal’s guilt.

In this Gospel text today, Jesus is doing exactly that. But to bring our sin to light, Jesus doesn’t say, “Just one more thing.” Instead, Jesus says, “But I say to you.”

black-light-crome-sceneJesus is preaching about the Commandments – specifically the 5th, 6th, and 8th Commandments. But what Jesus tells us is no joke. His sermon does not give us that important nugget of information to bring us into hysterical laughter. Instead, Jesus’ preaching on the Commandments reveals the horrific murder scenes, the scandalous affairs, and the blatant lies that surround us every day. Like a black light revealing the traces of blood stains in an otherwise clean-looking room, Jesus’ words reveal just how sinful and depraved we are.

Jesus challenges our attempts to justify ourselves in the sight of the Law. In fact, He obliterates any claim we might have to keeping the Commandments.

Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. When you use angry words to insult your brother, you are liable to the council and the fire of hell.”

Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that look, that glance, that peek was just as evil as adultery in the eyes of God because you have already committed adultery in your heart.”

Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, don’t even bother with taking oaths. Anything more than a simple, ‘Yes,’ or, ‘No,’ comes from the evil one.”

And here is the rub. No amount of external discipline can change the hateful and murderous, the lustful and adulterous, the dishonest and deceitful ways of your heart. If you cut off one hand that keeps sinning, the other will make up for it. If you pluck out the eye that focuses on those lusty images, the other eye will compensate.

What Jesus says is true: It is better and preferable to enter the kingdom of heaven with one hand and one eye than to be thrown completely into hell. But self-mutilation doesn’t get you into the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus will not and cannot lessen the Law. The Law stands forever accusing you, sinner. Not the least commandment, not an iota, not a dot will perish from the Law until all is accomplished.

Jesus takes and becomes sinThese words of Law that Jesus preaches in the Sermon on the Mount are true and eternal words. But they are not Jesus’ last word. On another mountain, on Golgatha, Jesus preaches the Gospel that all the Law is accomplished in Him. He takes your sin, your anger, your murder, your lust, your adultery, your lies, and your betrayal. He takes it all and fulfills all the Law for you when He says, “It is finished.”

Sinner, you can’t get out from your punishment on a technicality because your sin has already been punished to the full extent of the Law on Jesus. You see, there are no loopholes in the Law of God because there are no gaps in Jesus’ mercy.

Just as Christ has reconciled you to God, be reconciled to others. Be forgiven. Be free. Love your neighbor even when you think he deserves your hatred. Husbands, love your wives and cherish them. Wives, honor your husbands and be submissive to them. Children, obey your parents for this is right. Be salt. Be light. Be forgiven. Be a beam of mercy in this dark world. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Matthew 5:13-20 – You Are What Jesus Says You Are

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Matthew 5:13-20

13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.Salt and Light 1

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Grace, mercy, peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Identity is a word that seems to be getting thrown around a lot today – and not in a good way. Discussions about identity cause all sorts of questions about who and what we are. And be careful, especially on social media, that you don’t label someone. You don’t want to be perceived as being judgmental!

But everyone is someone (obvious statement for the day), so everyone has an identity. But what is it that gives you your identity? While the world argues about if your identity comes either from biological facts or from how you perceive yourself, let’s listen to what Jesus says about your identity.

Jesus, the eternal Son of God in the flesh, has something to say about your identity. Jesus, the Word incarnate, has something to declare to you. “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” Notice, Jesus does not say, “You will be salt and light.” He does not say, “You should be salt and light.” He simply says, “You are. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.”

God doesn’t ask nicely if you want to be salt and light. He doesn’t invite you to accept the fact that you are salt and light. He simply declares it. God is powerful enough, His Word has the potency to make whatever He says to be so. When God said, “Let there be light,” there was. So when Jesus says, “You are salt. You are light,” you simply are. You are what Jesus says you are.

But let’s imagine, let’s suppose, that you don’t believe what Jesus says here. Maybe, you don’t feel particularly salty or overly light. What happens then? What happens when you don’t believe God when He says, “You are the salt of the earth”?

Well, Jesus answers that. When salt loses its saltiness, it isn’t good for anything anymore. So, that non-salty salt is thrown out and trampled down under people’s feet.

light-under-a-basketAnd what happens when you don’t believe God when He says, “You are the light of the world”? Jesus has an answer for that too. First, things become absurd. It is like trying to hide a huge city set way up high on a hill. Then, it becomes dangerous. It is like putting a dry basket over a flame. What happens when you put a basket, when you put fuel, over a burning lamp? Fire breaks out and burns everything up.

Too often, we don’t believe God when He declares things about us. And that unbelief ignites all sorts of evil around us. The Bible is full of tragic stories about when people do not believe what God says about them.

The first one is the most tragic. God said Adam and Eve were good – very good. But they turn around and instead of believing what God said, they believe Satan’s lie that they should be something more than what God said they were. And from that moment on, all sin, all wickedness, and all evil springs simply because we do not believe what God has said, what God has declared about us.

Our sinful flesh, the world, and the devil tell us, “Don’t be too salty; you’ll raise our cholesterol and give us a heart attack. Dim that light a bit; it’s just too bright.” And, all too often, we listen and oblige. That’s why Jesus comes once again to declare you to be His salt and light in this world.

So, stop disbelieving. Stop doubting what Jesus says about you. Repent of your sin. Repent of your unbelief.

Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth.” Salt isn’t salt for itself. Salt is salt to make things salty. So, you salt of the earth, salt the earth.

How? By being what Jesus has declared you to be. Be forgiven. Be righteous. Be the dash of flavor that makes life in this fallen, sinful, bland world a little more tasteful.

Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.” So, shine. Shine out. Jesus, who is the light of the world, commands your light to shine. Jesus flips the switch so your good works will shine in the darkness. And others will see your good works and give glory to God.

And what good works should you do? Well, there is good news here – you don’t have to make any good works up. Simply look at the Commandments, look at the Law which does not perish, not an iota, not a dot of that Law will perish until it is all fulfilled.

Small Catechism - Ten Commandments Cloud IconGod says, “You will have no other gods before Me.” So do the good work of believing God. Fear, love, and trust in Him above all things. He is saying, “Bet all your chips on Me being a good God to you.”

God says, “You will not take My name in vain.” Do the good work of calling upon His Name whenever you have any need. Do the good work of praising His Name.

God says, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” Do the good work of hearing God’s Word which declares you, to be a sinner, but which also declares that you, sinner, are made righteous because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

God says, “Honor your father and mother.” Do the good work of recognizing the gifts that God gives you in those in authority above you. First, in your parents but also in the other authorities over you who provide for you and protect you.

God says, “You will not kill.” Do the good work of defending the lives of others by helping and befriending your neighbor.

God says, “You will not commit adultery.” Do the good work of loving your spouse.

God says, “You will not steal.” Do the good work of assisting your neighbor in keeping his property and living.

God says, “You will not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Do the good work of speaking the truth. Be honest. Defend your neighbor when others gossip.

God says, “You will not covet.” Do the good work of not longing for and craving what God hasn’t given you. Instead, do the good work of being content with what He has given you.

Will you fail to do these good works? Yes. Resoundingly, yes. When you fail to do these things, God says you are a sinner. But still believe that. Believe that you are a sinner becauseJesus has come, not for the righteous, for you, sinner. Believe that He has fulfilled the whole Law and gives His righteousness, His good works, to you.

Believe what Jesus says about you. You are forgiven. You are His beloved child. You are His salt. You are His light. Believe Jesus because you are what Jesus says you are. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.