Sermon for the Transfiguration of Our Lord, Feb. 10, 2013
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Luke 9:28-36; Sermon Theme: “WHAT YOU BRING IN YOUR HEART WILL MAKE WHAT YOU HEAR A MOUNTAINTOP EXPERIENCE”
(Sources: Emphasis Online Commentary; Emphasis Online Illustrations; original ideas; “Images” for February 7.)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
As I wrote this sermon in my studio, while looking out the giant window seeing my backyard splashed with bright winter sunlight, I was reminded of how important light is to human beings.
As we humans literally yearn for the light when we are in semi-darkness or total darkness, we spiritually yearn for the light in the dark shadows of the world. Light has symbolic meaning in just about every religion in the world, including Christianity. Since the Bible teaches that God is light, light symbolizes the very Presence of God, as the Burning bush did to Moses, or the Pillar of flame to the Israelites. That’s why we have an eternal flame hanging here in the chancel area.
The Bible has much to say about the Glory of God, and the fact that we will share in that Glory. This Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday, and the Gospel describes Jesus in His Glory on the mountain: “And as He was praying, the appearance of His face was altered, and His clothing became dazzling white. . . .” Moses and Elijah also appeared on Mount Transfiguration in glory. Peter, John, and James were able to see Jesus in His Glory, which manifested itself as an intense white light.
Transfiguration Sunday comes at the end of the season of Epiphany, which is known as the Season of Light, with the Bethlehem star being the brightest of lights!
The Bible is filled with verses about light. “And God said, Let there be light; and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). In John 8:12, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world: he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” In Matthew 5:14, Jesus says of us, “You are the light of the world. . . . Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Psalm 27:1 proclaims, “The Lord is my light and my salvation.”
And of course you remember after the resurrection, the launching of a ministry by the Apostle Paul to the Gentiles, Paul encountered Jesus in what was described as a blinding light experience, a blinding light, not so unlike how Jesus appeared to the disciples on the Mountain of Transfiguration.
The Father’s purpose in sending His Son into this world as a human being was known by Jesus from the very beginning. The plan was gradually made known to the disciples first and then the people. So first off, Jesus went about the business of teaching the crowds about the kingdom of God. Then He undertook the task of teaching His disciples about discipleship. As awareness of who He was developed, the Messianic Age was dawning. Peter has just made his great confession of Jesus’ identity.
Thus, finally, when the world was ready for the Messiah, God would see that the truth was revealed in rather spectacular ways.
He took three disciples from His inner circle up the mountain so they could witness God’s glory, as it shone in Jesus. They would take that first hand knowledge and pass it on to the other disciples, as it would be the proof in their minds of the Messiah-ship of Jesus. This would begin the countdown of events leading to the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and ultimately death on the cross.
The Transfiguration is an act of clarification. It becomes obvious that Jesus does not give up his human nature while expressing His divine nature in its glory. The disciples realize He is both human and divine simultaneously; the Transfiguration does not delete His human nature.
The Transfiguration helps to confirm the validity of God’s Word. ‘How so, you might ask.’ Why else would Moses and Elijah appear at this extraordinary happening. Moses represents God’s books of the Law, and Elijah represents the prophetic books. Appearing with Jesus, as they do, Moses and Elijah confirm that the entire word of God points to and is fulfilled in Jesus.
A silly question I’ve always had about this passage is ‘How did the disciples recognize Moses and Elijah?’ There was no photography in those days, and, unlike today, the Bible was not illustrated with pictures of the heroes of faith. Maybe Jesus whispered their identity to his guys, the passage doesn’t tell us.
Another question that my Adult Bible class used to raise, that wasn’t silly by any means, was: “Of all the disciples, why did Jesus choose Peter, John and James to share this incredible experience?”
Peter we can understand, — Jesus called him the rock upon which he would build his church. And John, — after all, John was referred to as “the beloved disciple,” the one Jesus loved the most. But it always seemed to me that ANDREW should have been the third choice. You remember it was Andrew who had brought Peter and the others to meet Jesus. Maybe our Lord is saying under his breath, “If I had wanted you to know, I would have told you.”
The ultimate confirmation comes when the voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!”
Regardless of who got to go up the mountain, Jesus shared that Mountaintop encounter with all of us by having it recorded in Scripture. No doubt this was a spectacular, exhilarating spiritual experience for Peter, John, and James. It began almost like a Fourth of July fireworks display, flashes, splashes and sparkles of light, with colored lights dancing on the faces of all present, and it ended with the assurance Jesus was the true Messiah and the Messianic age had begun.
In this dark, sinister age we live in, how many of us wouldn’t give anything for the opportunity of having a mountaintop religious experience like the Transfiguration! It would outshine any weekend retreat, Lone Star camping experience, or special Synod workshop we could go to! There is only one problem, the disciples recognized it, too.
What goes up the mountain has to come down the mountain. Up there in the peaks you were floating on the air of religious ecstasy; down at the bottom you were back to 9 to 5 and the same old same old! Or, if you are an active Christian worker, the often harsh reality of pain, struggle, suffering, and even death down below.
For the disciples, at the bottom of the mountain, a boy convulsed and the disciples stood helpless before this need. Jesus rebuked them, so soon after the climb up the mountain. And He healed the child.
All of us need the mountaintop experience, so that we can handle the reality of what’s down below in the valley. Now we’re not going to be able to book a retreat wherein we see Moses, Elijah and Jesus, — probably not even the Pope! But if you’ll let them, these midweek Lenten services starting next Wednesday can be spiritually uplifting to all of you. Hearing the Passion History alone has power to touch us greatly. What you bring in your heart will make what you hear a Mountain top experience! Amen.