Luke 9:28 / Transfiguration C / 10 February 2013 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA
“But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” Jesus said that to His Twelve, His disciples. He said that among some other things. He predicted His own death and resurrection: “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” He spoke of their own self-denial: “If any many would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” He talked about losing one’s life for the sake of the kingdom: “For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.” He spoke of them not being ashamed of Him: “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in His glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”
And then He said to them: “But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”
What do you suppose the disciples thought about all this? What went through their minds, with all this talk of kingdom, rejection, death, resurrection, denying oneself, taking up one’s cross, losing one’s life? It has to make you think. What is Jesus talking about? What’s He going to do? He sounds like a revolutionary about to gather an army for holy war, preparing them to die for the cause with the promise of glory. He even promises that some of them would see the kingdom of God with their own eyes before they died. It really sound as though Jesus were preparing them for a martyr’s death and for a holy war.
A whole week went by. And they wondered what lay ahead. They wondered what they had gotten themselves into with this Jesus. And then, a week later, Jesus takes three of them – Peter, John, and James – up to a mountain, away from the others, off by themselves, to pray. And as Jesus was praying, something amazing happened to Him. His face was changed in appearance. He glowed. No, He shone like the sun. His clothing became dazzling white, too bright to look at. It was like staring into the sun.
And then something just as amazing – Moses and Elijah appeared in glory, long dead but very much alive. Moses, Mr. Torah, through whom Israel received the old covenant. Elijah, Mr. Prophesy, the chief of the prophets who has been whisked off to heaven with fiery horses and chariots. They were there, standing alongside shining Jesus, speaking of Jesus’ departure in Jerusalem.
Departure. The Greek word is “exodus.” They were talking about Jesus “exodus” which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. His exodus is His death and resurrection which He had predicted. This would be His “passover” from death to life. This would be His parting of the sea as He trampled Death underfoot by dying. This would be His exodus bringing humanity out of slavery to Sin and Death into freedom and life. His exodus. This is what Moses and Elijah and pointed to in their lives. This is what the Torah and the Prophets were all about, this Jesus shining like the sun.
And what about that shining face, those shimmering robes? What was that about? We confess it in the Creed: God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God. Jesus, while fully human, was no ordinary man. He is God in the flesh. And this shining is the glory of His divinity shining in and through His humanity. It’s as though every cell of His humanity glowed with the glory of God.
Moses and Elijah didn’t shine like Jesus. Yes, they appeared in glory, His glory, but they didn’t shine. They were as the moon is to the sun. They reflected the glory of Jesus, but had no glory of their own. Jesus stands alone, uniquely, as the shining One. He’s not simply a leader, a teacher, or a prophet. Moses was a great religious leader and teacher. Elijah was the greatest of the prophets, uniquely honored by God. But Jesus, and only Jesus, is the Son of God, Son of man, God in the flesh come to die and rise to save the world.
Of all the things you can take home about the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain, this is the most important. There is no one like Jesus. He is not some religious leader among great religious leader. He is not some wise teacher among the wise teachers of this world. His glory is not that of man become god but God become man, God dwelling among us, the Son of God hiding His divinity under His humanity, coming under His own Law to die for our sins.
No one but Jesus can save you, because no one but Jesus has a death and resurrection to save you. Not Moses with his laws and commandments. Not Elijah with his miracles and preaching and prophesy. No one but Jesus has the power to rescue you from Sin and Death because no one but Jesus brings God and man together in one Person.
When Peter sees the vision of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, he does what so many people in this world want to do. He wants to preserve the moment. Enshrine it. Memorialize it. He wants to put up three shrines – one for Jesus, one for Moses, one for Elijah. How great would that be? How wrong would that be? One is not like the other two. One is unique, one of a kind, God in human flesh. You can’t equate Moses and Elijah with Jesus. Just as you can’t equate Jesus with Mohammed or Buddha or any other religious figure no matter how great or influential. Only Jesus has a death and resurrection that can save because only Jesus is the Son of God, Son of man in one Person. God and man together, reconciled, at peace, at one. You can’t find this in anyone else.
A cloud and a Voice. The cloud obscures, hides, attenuates the glory. It reminds us of the pillar of cloud and fire that led Israel in her exodus. Peter, John, and James were afraid. And from the cloud, a comforting and clarifying Voice is heard, “This is my Son, my chosen One; listen to him!” Echoes of Jesus’ baptism day when the Father spoke and the Spirit descended. “This is my Son.” This Jesus. Listen to Him. He has the words of eternal life. His words are Spirit and they are life. Listen to Him and no one else but Him.
And then there was no one but Jesus alone. Just Jesus. Moses and Elijah were gone. The cloud was lifted. The shining had stopped. Just ordinary Jesus. And they told no one anything about this. Later, they would tell. Peter wrote of it in his epistle. But not now. Not until the exodus. Not until Jesus died and rose. Not until He did His holy war against Sin and Death.
And what about us? What about you and me here today? We don’t get a shining Jesus. And we wouldn’t want one. He’d scare the daylights out of us. We get a Word and Sacrament Jesus by His own words. And that’s a good Jesus to have. A baptismal Jesus. A forgiving Jesus. A Body and Blood Jesus. That’s the One to listen to; that’s the chosen One, the elect One, the One who saves you.
What about that vision with Moses and Elijah? Does this mean anything at all for us? Well, don’t go looking for that yourself. Don’t go off to mountains seeking some mystical vision. Only three out of twelve disciples were so privileged as to not taste death before they saw the kingdom. You and I must first taste death before we may lay our eyes on the kingdom.
That mountaintop vision of shining Jesus with Moses and Elijah, that’s a little preview of the coming glory that awaits you, baptized believer. You will one day stand with Moses and Elijah in the glory of shining Jesus on the day He appears in glory and you in glory with Him. The transfiguration is a glimpse of future glory, the glory of the last day, of resurrection day.
But not one day sooner. Now the glory is hidden. Now Jesus is hidden, and the power of His death and resurrection comes cloaked in weakness. Now there is the cross. First death then resurrection. First the cloud, then the shining. First the darkness, then the light. First the grave, then resurrection. First we must die with Christ, then we will rise with Him in glory.
Today we hear of the sneak peak on the mountain, the glimpse of what is yet to come and what now is by faith. This glory is yours in Christ, O baptized believer. This same Jesus who shined in glory is the One who died in darkness and who rose in power, who comes to you enshrined, tented in the water, the Word, the bread and wine.
This is God’s beloved, chosen Son sent to save you. Hear Him. Believe Him.
In the name of Jesus,