Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”
Then He let those words hang in the air for a week. No one dared ask Him about it. Six days later, He took Peter, James, and John up to a high mountain, apart from the others. A little retreat, a get away. Peter, James, and John were granted to see the unseeable, to look on Jesus in His divine glory, to see the kingdom of God come with power. What about the others? It doesn’t seem fair? Shouldn’t everyone get to see Jesus this way? No, just these three. He doesn’t treat them all the same. That isn’t the way of love.
Jesus doesn’t want everyone to see Him this way. Not yet. Soon you will . Soon everyone will, when Jesus shines like the sun and flashes like lightning in the sky. But not now. Now that isn’t good for us. We’d be toast. Jesus won’t use displays of power to persuade the world. Just a cross and a resurrection, the Word and the Spirit.
Jesus is transfigured before them. Metamorphosized. Morphed. Changed in His appearance. His clothing became intensely white, whiter than any bleach or soap could make them. He face shone like the sun, so bright it hurt your eyes to look at Him. What does this mean? Jesus’ divinity was shining in, with, and under His humanity. (I use that phrase intentionally.) Every cell glowing with the glory of God. God and man joined together as One. “God of God, Light of light, true God of true God, and also true Man.”
There is something for us to learn from this morphed Jesus on the mountain. He’s not a two-part Jesus – part man, part God. He’s not a hybrid. He’s fully God and fully Man. Where His humanity is, there also is His divinity, and vice versa. When Jesus came down from heaven, He didn’t cease to be the eternal Son of God. When He ascended to heaven, He didn’t cease to be fully human. When you encounter Jesus, it’s the God-man you encounter, fully divine, fully human, all together, whether you are speaking of Jesus in my heart, Jesus in the sacrament, Jesus in the mouth of the preacher. Always true God and true man together.
That’s what makes Jesus the unique mediator between God and man. He is the go-between, going between the Father and us. He touches God with His divinity; He touches you with His humanity. No one else can do this.
With Jesus appeared Moses and Elijah. Who else would you want to make a cameo appearance but Mr. Torah and Mr. Prophets, “the Law and the Prophets” who testifty and typify Jesus? They are there talking to Jesus. Luke tells us that they are talking about Jesus’ “exodus,” His death and resurrection. Who better to talk exodus than Moses?
How did Peter, James, and John know who Moses and Elijah were? There were no introductions, no adhesive name tags. “Hi, my name is Moses.” This mountain is a glimpse of the resurrection on the last day, when we all will rise and be seen in the glory of Jesus, and we will be known. Our names will be known. And we will know others, all who joined to Christ. Think about it. You’ll know people you’ve never known before in this life, and they’ll know you, that “whole company of heaven” who worships with us every Sunday. We’ll finally get to meet them.
This mountain is a picture of Mt. Zion, lifted up and glorious. The city of God. The Lord is on His holy mountain. Let the nations tremble, let the earth shake. Great is the Lord in Zion.
Peter has a bright idea. “It’s good we’re here, Rabbiu. Tell you what. Let’s put up three tents – you, Moses, and Elijah. What do you think?” A kind of religious Mt. Rushmore – Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Why keep the event to ourselves? We should enshrine it, make a holy site out of it. Bus loads of pilgrims could come and take pictures and stand on the very spot where Peter, James, and John stood. They could sell little vials of dirt that said, “Jesus stood here.” The soil might even look a little charred, just for effect.
We love the sort of religious stuff – shrines, holy sites, pilgrimages. Have you ever noticed that Christianity doesn’t really have holy sites like other religions? Oh, we have historic places, because this is an historic faith that actually takes place in history, but we don’t go on pilgrimages to get close to God. We don’t have sacred tombs, like that mosque they blew up in Iraq this week that was the tomb of a descendent of Mohammed. And there’s good reason for that. Christ is risen. His tomb has been empty since the Sunday He rose.
This business of shrines and holy places all runs in the way of religious works, how you draw close to God. In Luther’s day, they had collections of relics – bones of the saints, pieces of the cross, a lock of Mary’s hair. You earned points with God by staring at those things. It isn’t much different today. Weeping icons, visions of Mary or Jesus. But that’s not how God deals with us. He draws close to you by preaching His Word to you, by forgiving your sins, by giving you the Body and the Blood of your Savior. The pulpit and the altar are the holy places of Christianity, wherever the Word is preached and the Body and Blood of Jesus are being given out, that is the most holy place on earth for you.
Remember those old SAT tests where you had to pick out the thing that didn’t belong with the others? Now put on your thinking caps and try that little exercise here. Moses, Elijah, Jesus. Which one doesn’t belong with the other? Moses gave the Torah; Elijah was a prophet. They all did miracles; all spoke God’s word, all were holy men. But only one is God in the flesh who came to die and rise to save the world, and that one is Jesus.
At that very moment, God pulls the plug, and the transfiguration lights go out. A thick cloud swallows them up. No more talk about shrines, religious Mt. Rushmores, or tents. The Father reiterates what He said when Jesus was baptized: “This is my Son, whom I love.” The emphasis is on the “this.” He’s the one and only unique Son of God. Moses and his commandments can’t save you. He’ll reveal your sin and mirror your need for a savior, but he can’t save you. Elijah can’t save you; he can’t take you along in his chariot ride to heaven. He can only point to Jesus and get out of the way.
“Hear Him,” the Father’s voice says. Hearing is what goes on with your ears not your eyes. Faith comes by hearing, not looking. The transfiguration of Jesus was a piece of evidence, as Peter said when he wrote, “We were eyewitnesses of His majesty when He received honor and glory from God and we heard the voice of the Father.” But Peter doesn’t say, “Now you go off and have your little mountaintop vision too.” He says, “You have the prophetic word made more sure, and you will do well to pay attention to this as a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
Hear Jesus’ words to you. He has the words that count. Words that are Spirit and life. Words of eternal life. The Word of Jesus, preached and heard, that’s your Zion, that’s your holy mountain where the Lord meets you face to face. That’s where the glory of God is revealed to you. Yes, the glory is hidden, cloud-covered, but it’s glory nonetheless. No “shine Jesus shine,” just words. Justifying words. Words that do justice to your sin. Words that justify the sinner. Jesus’ words. Hear them and trust them.
The three disciples looked around. “They saw no one but Jesus only.” Jesus the big “sola.” The Reformation spoke of “grace alone” (sola gratia). “Faith alone” (sola fide). “Scripture alone (sola Scriptura). It all comes down to Jesus alone. He alone is God in the flesh. He alone keeps the Law perfectly. He alone suffers for you, blees for you, dies for you, rises for you, reigns for you. He alone saves you and gives you life.
They saw no one but Jesus only. Not shining Jesus. Just ordinary, everyday, earthy Jesus. He told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until He rose from the dead. They wondered what rising from the dead meant. The would soon find out. And then the two mountains would come together: The Mount of Transfiguration and Mt. Calvary. The glory and the cross. Shining Jesus with Moses and Elijah; dead Jesus between anonymous two robbers. The same Jesus. The only Jesus who saves you.
You are being transfigured too. The apostle Paul said that to you in his epistle. You are being transfigured into the likeness of Jesus, “from glory to glory.” You say, “I don’t feel so glorious.” Of course you don’t. You’re a sinner. You can’t see the glory. Not yet. Your life in all its glory is hidden with God in Jesus. Only in Jesus are you glorious. In yourself, forget it. No glory there at all. Don’t even bother to look.
Look instead to Jesus. Crucified Jesus. Risen and reigning Jesus. Word and Supper Jesus. Absolving with hands laid on head Jesus. Jesus who touches your humanity with His humanity, with His words, His body, His blood, His baptismal water. And when you’ve been touched by Jesus, you have been touched by God
In the name of Jesus,