17:1 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. 3 And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5 He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” 8 And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no but Jesus only.
9 And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” (Matthew 17:1-9)
Transfiguration, for us a holiday that caps Epiphany. It is the final Epiphany of Jesus, he shows to his disciples, three of them anyway, Peter, James and John who he truly is. Jesus leaves no doubt for these three that he is God. He is the one to be listened too. He is the one to be trusted and believed in. And then he tells them why he is revealing this to them. “Tell know one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” He is preparing these three for the trials ahead, these three who are his main confidants. And so, whereas the time and location of Transfiguration has been celebrated at different times in other places, it is normally seen as a nice bridge between Epiphany and Lent. Though I have to say, I’m confused about the necessity of Gessamatide, or pre Lent taking away so much of Epiphany, that seems to be a habit peculiar to the LCMS and perhaps a couple other churches. In any case, today is Transfiguration for those of us in the LCMS following the one year lectionary. Jesus reveals himself to be God in the final epiphany of Epiphany.
There is a lot going on in the text. Jesus is speaking with Moses and Elijah, He himself, as man is being encouraged for the task ahead by two of the greatest men and prophets the nation of Israel has ever known. It was Moses whom God used to bring his people out of Egypt. He used him to set up almost their entire culture, and give them his law, the Ten Commandments. And Elijah? Want to talk about a hero of the Old Testament? A hero of the faith? Elijah is your man! In many ways Elijah surpassed Moses in the faith. He was the last one in the Bible to be recorded as translated, who knew no earthly death, but in the end was swooped up by the Chariots of Fire made famous in great African American Spiritual, “Swing Low Sweet Chariots.”
It is crazy but there are people who don’t know this stuff today. Our culture is an enigma to most, as so many have no idea of anything in the Bible, sayings and songs, lose their frame of reference. It is the disintegration of Western Culture. We no longer understand ourselves, because we discount that which we do not know before we even bother to read it or to try to understand it. Culture today assumes it is wrong, without even so much as cracking the Bible open. And the church isn’t much better off today, in this regard. People can go to church these days and hear anything but the word of God. I became a pastor because I went to church for two years and never heard the gospel. I grew up with the gospel, I knew the gospel, but I didn’t hear it for those two years. Not one sermon referencing the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. And people ate it up. Absolutely devoured it, because it taught them to have faith in themselves.
Not Elijah, not Moses. These men knew better. They had no faith in themselves. They put their faith in God, in his righteousness, they put their faith in this event to which they encouraged Jesus. Elijah and Moses despaired of themselves and their own abilities. They were sinful men. Elijah would ask God just to kill him already. Moses would be disciplined for taking matters into his own hands. But at every turn, God’s hand was there to guide them, to strengthen them when needed, to lift them up, and they knew that finally it would all come to this, the son of God marching to Jerusalem to be killed by the descendants of the same people who persecuted them in this life.
Jesus talks to them. As a man, he needs their encouragement. He also knows that his disciples need to see who he truly is, and know what he is up to. Peter, doesn’t want to leave. A day in the courts of God is worth more than a thousand elsewhere. But when the Bright Cloud envelopes them, they are overcome with fear and trembling. To actually be in the presence of God, holy and righteous, with our sin exposed is a fearful thing. And then there is Jesus: rise and have no fear. And the whole thing is over. Rise and have no fear. And the only one they see is Jesus, the one of whom the Father had just spoken “This is my son with whom I am well pleased, listen to him.
Listen to him. Rise and have no fear. He says it to you. Rise and have no fear. Because you were baptized into his death so that Just as he was risen to the glory of the Father, so you too might walk in the newness of life. That is you were buried with him into his death in baptism, that you could rise and have no fear. This is what it means to walk in the newness of life. It is to rise and have no fear, because outside of Christ there is every reason to fear God. But in Christ God has reconciled you to himself. And you are no longer outside of Christ, but you have been joined to him in Baptism. You are now members of his body, you are literally in Christ. Your sins have been forgiven. So rise and have no fear, but live in the newness of life reconciled to God. Because the Son of Man has been raised from the dead, and you with him.
Now the peace of God that Surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.