Worship Theme: Jesus Appears as the Son of God in Glory
Sermon Theme: Witness the Glory
Peter was an eye and ear witness to the events of Transfiguration. But it’s more than just Peter, James and John that “Witnessed the Glory.” In 2 Peter 1:16-21, Peter tells us where to look so that we can see it too. February 19, 2023.
“Oh, to have been a fly on the wall that day!” Well, I guess technically they were outside – so “Oh to have been a bee buzzing around that mountaintop” and witnessing the events of our Gospel today. First four people, then six, then back to four…the dazzling brightness of glory that no man or fly or bee had ever seen before…what an event to see!
But there were words to “witness” as well. Not just seeing the events of that day, but hearing them…how incredible that would have been? Matthew’s Gospel – which we heard read just a few minutes ago tells us that Moses, Elijah and Jesus struck up a conversation. Luke’s Gospel records for us what they spoke about. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem (Luke 9:30-31). What must that conversation have been like? Like two star-struck little boys meeting their hometown hero – can you imagine Moses and Elijah meeting Jesus and speaking about his ministry and work? Both had spent their lives and ministries pointing forward to the one that God would send. Both played pivotal roles in leading God’s people and pointing them forward to trust in the coming Messiah. And then they were called to the mountaintop-to see the glory of the one to whom they spent a lifetime pointing. And then they spoke! About it all! What was happening on the mountain and what would happen when Jesus and his disciples would leave it! How incredible that must have been!
It’s interesting that Luke uses the word “departure.” Jesus, Moses, and Elijah spoke about Jesus’ departure! That’s interesting because Moses and Elijah each had one of the more interesting departure stories of anyone in the Old Testament. Moses led the people to depart from Egypt, as God parted the Red Sea and allowed them to walk through on dry ground. He led the people through the wilderness and to the border of the Promised Land. There Moses climbed Mount Nebo, and God allowed him to see the Promised Land. Moses breathed his last at the top of that mountain, and God himself tended to the burial of Moses’ body (Deuteronomy 34). Moses had one last talk with God and then he departed to be with him forever! Elijah served the Lord faithfully until the day that God had planned for his departure. God sent chariots and horses of fire and took Elijah home to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2). Elijah didn’t experience death, but was just taken bodily into glory!
But Jesus’ departure story is the one that takes the cake! He is the one that actually accomplished something by departing. Jesus took on human life with that single goal in mind – to one day depart. That’s a concept that Peter didn’t really grasp at first, that’s why he suggested setting up shelters “One for you Jesus, and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He wanted to stay up there on glory mountain! “It’s pretty cool up here. We should make this last forever!” But that’s not why Jesus came! He didn’t come to set up an earthly kingdom. He didn’t come to bask in earthly glory. He came instead to depart! And so, he lived a perfect live in our place and then he departed. He lived and then laid that life down as the payment for your sins and mine. He paid the price so that we could be forgiven and departed. Eventually Peter came to understand. Jesus came to the place where we live, so that we could one day join him in the place where he lives and could live with him forever.
And that’s what Transfiguration is really all about. Jesus wanted his disciples to be reminded of who he was and what he had come to do. He had just told them about his suffering and his passion. He had just told them the way that things had to be, and yet they weren’t so excited about it. Had they forgotten what the Messiah had come to do? Had Peter forgotten his confession from just days before? “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16).”
Jesus knew that things in his life weren’t going to look so glorious – as he was betrayed into the hands of evil men, as he as was beaten and bloodied. He sure would look defeated hanging on a cross. Jesus knew that the disciples’ lives wouldn’t always look so glorious – as they would face hatred and persecution. He knows the same is true about our lives as well. Sometimes it’s messy. Sometimes the hurdles and hardships are more than we want to deal with. Sometimes the reality that we are sinners living in a sinful world is all that we can see. Sometimes it just plain hurts! Things aren’t always as easy as we’d like them to be. We grow impatient, waiting for things to go our way. It is easy to get frustrated when we don’t understand the why’s of life in this world. We might even begin to doubt if we are on the right path.
And it’s for just such a time as this, that our Savior pulls back the curtain and reminds us who he is. It’s just then that he allows us to see a glimpse of this glory. The One who lived for us and died for us, he’s the One that promises us grace and every blessing. The One who died and now lives again, he’s the One that assures us that every last enemy has been defeated. The One who set his power and glory aside to be our substitute, he’s the One that will take us to live with him – in perfect, unhidden and ultimate glory forever in heaven.
Peter was an eye and ear witness to the events of Transfiguration. He Witnessed the Glory that was on display that day on the mountain. He heard the Father voice his approval and then recounted that approval as he wrote the letter we know of as 2 Peter. To warn his friends about the dangers of false teachings, he cites that glorious day that happened more than 20 years before he wrote these words: For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
There’s a place for clever stories and make-believe, but discussing matters of eternity and our standing before God is not at all the place! That’s why Peter brings his people the facts. His testimony from his own ears and his own eyes. The events of that day and the words that God himself spoke about Jesus! These are the rock-solid foundation that we need. There’s no better commendation than the one that Jesus received! The Father was pleased with Jesus. God was pleased with the work that Jesus had accomplished and the work that he knew that he would complete. Jesus came to be the Savior of the world and that’s exactly what Jesus was doing! Peter had some compelling evidence. He Witnessed the Glory of Christ.
But it’s more than just Peter, James and John that Witnessed the Glory. Peter tells us where to look so that we can see it, too. We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
The Transfiguration confirms every Old Testament promise that was made about Jesus. He is the One who would crush the serpent’s head. He is the One that would make Abraham a blessing to all. Jesus is the One to whom the scepter of Judah belongs. Jesus is the One who would be the prophet who would come after Moses. Jesus is the One who would shed his blood as the sacrificial Lamb of God. Jesus would make David’s throne last forever. He is the One who bind up the brokenhearted and set the captives free. Jesus is the One who would be God’s messenger. The Old Testament pointed forward to the One that God would send, and Transfiguration proves that Jesus is that One! Son of Man and Son of God together in one person to be our Savior. God who took on human flesh to save us. On the mountain that day, we can see it all so clearly.
Suppose you are hiking in a system of caves, when a rock slide closes off the path to the only way out. You are in complete darkness, not sure what to do or where to go. You have no light source; you are running out of food and you aren’t sure how much oxygen is left in the cave. You go into conservation mode because you aren’t sure how long you can survive. First an hour, then a day, then two. You begin to think that no one is going to find you! You are figuring out that you are probably not going to last much longer in the cave. But then you see some light flickering through the pile of rocks. Would you think “Ah, no big deal. It’s probably nothing?” You couldn’t possibly think that way. When you are in the deep darkness, you have no choice but to pay attention to the light, because that is your only chance at getting to safety.
We were in the deep darkness of sin but that is precisely when Jesus came to us as the Light of the World. He shone the light of his forgiving grace into our hearts and lives and made it so that we could see him and know him. He told us of his love for us in his holy Word and through its pages he arranged that we could Witness the Glory of his undeserved love. In the Bible we have God’s very words to us. That’s why Peter said: Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
God has given us the Holy Scriptures, precisely the way that he intended to give them. He inspired the writers to speak his truths in various ways, even miraculously using their own styles and personalities, all the while maintaining the veracity and integrity of his Word. We can open to any page of Scripture and say “These are the Words of God!” “These are the Words that point us to Christ” “These Words are Most Certainly True!”
We have the completely reliable words of our God. Through them we can learn who our God is and experience his grace. Through them we can see the light of his love shining through even our darkest days. Through God’s inspired writings, we can be assured that we are forgiven and that everlasting life with God is ours. Through his Word we can Witness the Glory of our God.
Jesus had some instructions for Peter James and John. As they were coming 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” (Matthew 17:9). Jesus had his reasons for this prohibition, but the terms of it have expired. Jesus has risen from the dead, and today’s Second Reading is proof that Peter set about to share with people what he had seen and heard. Peter became a witness, to tell as many as possible that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. And now, through the Scriptures, we too can share the love of Christ with as many as we can. That light has shone into our lives and now we can reflect that light into the lives of those around us. We can become witnesses as well – so that others can join us and can join Peter James and John to Witness the Glory. Then they might through faith honor our God, worship his holy name and receive the gift of everlasting life. There in heaven, together as God’s holy Church, we will receive more than a glimpse, but there we will bask in the fullness of God’s glory – a glory will never fade and that will never end. All this is ours because of the glorious love of our God. Amen.
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