Grace, mercy, and peace to you through Jesus! Amen.
If only I could see a miracle! We all would like that extra reinforcement of the faith we have that is certain of what we do not see. We would like to see some evidence, more than what God shares with us in his Word. We think that seeing a miracle would be only a positive experience. However, coming into contact with God’s miraculous working in the lives of humans can also be a scary thing. Consider the fear that overcomes the disciples on the mountain of transfiguration. Jesus has to touch the terrified disciples and say to them, “Don’t be afraid.” Consider also how often the risen Christ has to say things like, “Peace be with you!” “Do not be afraid.” There are other times when fear overcomes us as well. There are times when it seems by circumstance that God has forgotten or forsaken us. When everything is going horribly wrong we become afraid that God has stopped caring about us. The common denominator in the whole equation is us – we are sinners, who are afraid both as we witness the miraculous and when we endure the difficult. This account of the Transfiguration exists to rid us of our fear and encourage us to remain confident in Christ. So today the Spirit speaks to us through the account of Christ’s transfiguration and says, Don’t be afraid – Jesus is here!
So let us climb the mountain of transfiguration with Jesus, Peter, James, and John. Certainly this is a miraculous sight! Here we see Jesus in all his glory as God, we observe Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus about the work he had come to earth to do, we observe a blindingly bright cloud, and we hear the voice of God the Father speaking from the cloud. Matthew reports, After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. As they were going down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” What a sight to see Jesus in all of his glory as God! What a sight to see Moses and Elijah! No wonder Peter didn’t want this experience to come to an end! But why? What was this all about? It was preparation for the darkness that Jesus and his dear disciples would experience as he traveled to Jerusalem to suffer and die. It was important for Jesus to hear the assuring word of the Father, “This is my Son, whom I love.” Because when it came to the cross Jesus would cry out in agony, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus needed the assurance that this was indeed God’s loving plan for the salvation of sinners. The disciples needed this powerful reminder that Jesus is indeed true God, before they saw Jesus in his emptied state of giving up his very life as the promised Messiah. This bright glory was preparation for the deep darkness to come.
This mountaintop experience was also a preview of the result of Christ’s work. It was for Jesus an event that affirmed what his suffering and death would gain for sinful humankind. This is indeed a glimpse of heaven with Moses and Elijah showing up. Peter didn’t want this to come to an end. However, the only way heaven could be won was for Jesus to travel resolutely to the cross. Heaven is ours only through Jesus and his suffering and death. This is a preview for us as well. This is the kind of experience that awaits us in the glories of heaven. We won’t want to leave and in the case of eternal life, we won’t have to.
Our Lord Jesus is the one who removes fear, as he removes the source of all fear – sin. Consider the words of the Apostle John – “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” Christ has come to be punished for us. In removing our sin by being punished in our place, Christ has removed our fear. The announcement you heard this morning, “Therefore, as a called servant of Christ and by his authority, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” That has the same effect on you as when in this account Jesus came and touched his dear disciples and said, “Don’t be afraid.” Jesus says to you each Sunday – don’t be afraid your sins are removed by my precious blood, you are forgiven, I love you!
This miraculous event had one main purpose – comfort. It was comforting for Jesus to receive encouragement for his difficult task from his Father, and from Moses and Elijah as they spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment in Jerusalem. It was comforting to the disciples to be reminded in such a powerful way that Jesus is indeed true God. In addition, this event was a fitting follow up to the great confession of faith Peter had made just six days earlier. Peter had answered Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” with the confession – You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. This showed the disciples how true such a confession was.
We sure wish we could have such a mountaintop experience – such preparation for the suffering, such an awesome preview of eternal life, such comfort and assurance! The reality is that we have something similar – Jesus comes to us each week here in this sanctuary through Word and sacrament! While this may seem to pale in comparison to the transfiguration, it has the very same impact on us – Don’t be afraid – Jesus is here! What a comfort! It is an especially need comfort as we face the difficult days.
We have no reason to fear as we face the difficult days. Jesus is still with us. Consider the gruesome path of Lent. It is a gruesome path because as we travel the way of Lent, we are faced with the seriousness of sin. The reality of our confession – I have done what is evil and failed to do what is good – hits us square between the eyes in Lent. We will gather on Wednesday evening for the purpose of contemplating our sin and its eternal consequence. Lent forces us to come to grips with the death we have earned for ourselves. Lent crushes us with the facts of our sin. But that is only a part of this gruesome path we walk on in Lent. The other part is the depth of God’s love. We will see God’s love on full display throughout this Lenten season. Each harsh word, each pain, each insult, each strike of the flog, each drop of blood and moment of anguish – it all testifies to the undeserved love God has for us. It pains us to realize that our sins have caused Jesus’ suffering. However, at the same time the message of God’s love assures us that sin is forgiven, guilt removed, and heaven is indeed our home. So while we crawl through the dark days of Lent, we are comforted beyond all imagination. Jesus has suffered the punishment we deserved so we won’t have to suffer! What a comfort! What a relief! Yes, Jesus has lived for us, Jesus has died for us, and Jesus is still with us always and in everything!
When the glory of Jesus and the glory of the church remains hidden to our eyes – when things seem so dark and dauntless, when doubt rules the day: turn to the testimony of the Word! Peter says it is even better than the Transfiguration experience (2 Peter 1:16-19); recall the confession – You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!; remember the promise – I am with you always to the very end of the age!
Even on your darkest day the glory is still there, as Elijah learned on his darkest day – God’s biggest power and his greatest glory is the still small voice of his gospel, the whisper that says to you – You are forgiven! Your guilt removed! Your God loves you! May the Lord help us to always remember his love for us in Christ! Amen.