First Reading Exodus 34:29-35
Second Reading 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
Gospel Reading Luke 9:28-43a
Sermon “Jesus Revealed”
The scriptures we have read this morning all have to do with the Glory of God revealed in some way. We will deal with all of them to some extent, but I want to begin by calling your attention to both the placement of this story in Luke’s gospel and this festival Sunday’s place in the church year. In both cases the surrounding material is important. First the gospel: You might have noticed that the reading began in a peculiar place, starting out with the mysterious phrase “about eight days after this”. After what?! If you look back up the page a bit you will find that Jesus has just asked his famous question to the disciples “But who do you say that I am?” and Peter has given his inspired answer that “You are the Christ of God”. Jesus follows this exchange with disturbing news. For the first time, he tells them what being Messiah and the son of God will mean – Listen to a bit: (Luke 9:22 NIV) And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
Then Jesus concludes his sobering news, along with its invitation “to take up your cross and follow me” with an intriguing statement (Luke 9:27) “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” That is the setting of the “about eight days later” introduction to the story and it is important. This event of the transfiguration – Jesus momentarily appearing in his glorified body accompanied by two outstanding figures of the Old Testament is exactly what Jesus had promised: A vision of the Kingdom of God. Luke puts the transfiguration account at the turning point of his Gospel. It marks the place where Jesus begins to turn his focus toward Jerusalem and where hostility and opposition become very apparent.
The remembrance of this event serves the same function in the sequence of the church year as well. It closes the stories of Epiphany, all of which tell us who Jesus really is, and prepares us for Ash Wednesday and the somber season of Lent. It has been remarked by preachers in the past that there are mountains on both sides of Lent. The Mount of Transfiguration at the front and Golgotha at the end. It is a fact of human nature that the first shows us the Jesus we want and the later shows us the Jesus we need. The shinning glory of the mountain is fleeting, but lasting glory comes to us only in the cross.
The Transfiguration of Jesus reminds us of the Exodus reading where we read of the shining face of Moses after he had been in the presence of God. This same Moses, who gave God’s law to the newly freed Hebrew nation, now stands with Jesus briefly revealed in his heavenly state. Elijah is there too. The mightiest of the prophets and the one whom was prophesied to return to prepare for the reign of the messiah. But Luke tells us a bit about the conversation between Jesus and those two great Old Testament Saints. It was not about Heavenly glory or the reign of God on Earth. No, it was about Jesus own exodus – his death and resurrection. This is the act by which God would save his people as He had saved the Hebrews so long before.
This is a wonderful revelation of the person and mission of the Son of God; showing us how much God loves us. So much that he would take human form, live among his creation, teaching, feeding, healing and serving them. Then take our shortcomings and failures on himself and die in our place. That is the glory of the cross and the meaning of Jesus’ coming truly revealed. Just as happened at his Baptism, again a voice from Heaven was heard. It again identified Jesus as the Son of God and urged his disciples to listen to him. The disciples didn’t understand what they saw, not even those special three that Jesus had taken with him. They didn’t even tell anyone for a long time. Later they would. Peter wrote: (2 Peter 1:16-18 NIV) 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.
Interestingly, the story goes on and tells of an incident the very next day when Jesus and Peter, James and John came back down from that strange and unique event. Back down to the ordinary world, far removed from strangely glowing skin and heavenly voices. A boy is suffering with what sounds to our modern ears very much like epilepsy. Jesus responds to the plea of his father and restores the boy – whole and sound. Luke’s summary again gives us a glimpse of the glory of God in a different way. He says “All were amazed at the greatness of God”. You see, acts of love, compassion and healing are also evidence of the glory of God, ever bit as much as the Transfiguration.
For the last couple of weeks, we have been challenged by Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the plain. We have heard him tell us that we are to reflect the love, grace and mercy of God in our daily living by forgiving our enemies, by being unconditionally loving and generous – even with those who appear not to deserve such gracious treatment. We are to do this because it reflects what God has done for us. We are to pass along the grace of God which has made it possible for us to also be sons and daughters of God – even more so – the actual hands, feet, eyes and ears of the body of Christ, here on earth as Paul taught the Corinthian congregation. This is a different way of seeing God at work and certainly a different way of seeing ourselves. It might not be a visibly dramatic as the scene on that mountain top, but it is lasting – eternal in fact. From this viewpoint of ourselves, we can begin to see that sitting here in the quiet beauty of this place, contemplating the majesty and glory of God while wonderful and necessary, is but a portion of our life as Christians. We too must enter the very needy and messy world around us.
In order to explore this thought further, let’s turn our attention now to the reading from Paul we heard earlier this morning. Paul writes that, in Jesus Christ, God’s nature is clearly seen to all who believe. But not only that, we too are being changed – transformed into the likeness of Christ. Not a momentary change of appearance, rather a life changing, eternal transformation. Listen again to Paul’s words:
(2 Corinthians 3:18-4:1) “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.
You see we are being transformed – made new and different. We have been given the very ministry of Jesus Christ to rebuke the evil in this world that torments it and enslaves it. The two halves of the gospel story really do belong together. Jesus really is glorious and he really did get down in the dirt and deal with real life. It is not a contradiction but a full and rich understanding of who God is. It is also how we must be. The love of God we talked about last week, must walk about in Good sturdy shoe leather and not be left with the hymnals in the pew rack when we leave this place. Like the disciples, we will certainly fail at times, but as Paul says, we do not lose heart. God has come to us in Human form and concerns himself with Human issues. It is only as we respond to those needs that God places in front of us can we really ever know the true glory of God.