“Jesus’ Transfiguration Prepares Us”
(Luke 9:28-36 – Transfiguration – March 3, 2019)
Luke 9:28-36 – Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him. Then it happened, as they were parting from Him, that Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” – not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” When the voice had ceased, Jesus was found alone. But they kept quiet, and told no one in those days any of the things they had seen.
Dear Redeemed in Jesus Christ, our glorified Savior.
Today we are celebrating the feast of the Transfiguration, which comes at the end of the Epiphany season in the Church Year. The main theme of Epiphany has been that Jesus was manifested as true God in our flesh, the Savior of the world. Transfiguration is the high point of Epiphany as we see Jesus, there on the Mount of Transfiguration, manifested in all His glory as the Son of God and Son of Man.
Transfiguration stands midway between Christmas and Easter. It represents a turning point in Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. From this moment of glory on the mountain, Jesus would descend to a path of deep humiliation, as we will observe through the coming weeks of the Lenten season. This path will lead to His suffering and death on the cross and then to His resurrection again in glory.
Since our eternal life and hope of heavenly glory is bound up in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, let us see how “Jesus’ Transfiguration Prepares Us”: 1) For His death and glorification and 2) For our death and glorification.
1) For His death and glorification
It says: “He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray.” We are reminded how soon, Jesus would take the same men aside with Him on the Mount of Olives, as He prayed the night before His death (Mark 14:33). Like that evening at Gethsemane, here as Jesus prayed the disciples “were heavy with sleep.” How soon you and I also, like those disciples, become drowsy and fail to watch for one hour with Jesus in prayer and spiritual matters. For “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38).
The slumber of Jesus’ disciples was interrupted when “As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening.” Matthew’s account says: “He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (Matthew 17:2). Suddenly, in the presence of Jesus’ brilliantly radiating glory, the disciples “were fully awake.” More than that, the accounts indicate that they were “greatly afraid” in the presence of that glory (Matthew 17:6). For when sinful man comes face to face with the glory of the holy Lord, he realizes how far short he falls (Romans 3:23).
The Greek word for “transfigured” is where we get our word “metamorphosis.” It means to undergo a great change, as when a plain and ordinary caterpillar transforms into a beautiful and magnificent butterfly. Jesus was not just reflecting a bright light shining on Him, like the morning sun. But His appearance was changed from within Himself. Usually, in His state of humiliation on earth, the Son of Man had nothing in His appearance that suggested any beauty or majesty (Isaiah 53:2). But here, His glory as the Son of God was allowed to shine through His human nature for the disciples to see. It was like the way an intense fire will cause ordinary looking iron to glow brilliantly with its heat. The disciples got a glimpse of the glory that has been Christ’s from eternity and still is His. For after the rulers “crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8), He rose from the dead. And now, in His glorified body, Jesus has “ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things” (Ephesians 4:10). In His state of exaltation, Jesus now always and fully uses the divine power and glory that is given to His human nature also. Even now, He shines as bright as the sun in heavenly glory, as our God and our Brother.
This manifestation of Jesus’ glory was to strengthen the disciples’ faith. A week earlier, Jesus had asked them: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter had answered for the disciples: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:15-16). But when Jesus had gone on to tell them that He must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die at the hands of men, Peter had rebuked Him saying: “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” (Matthew 16:22). Such talk of their Lord’s death had caused them to doubt. So on the Mount of Transfiguration, God the Father was revealing that, even through Jesus’ coming suffering and death, He would remain the Lord of glory and the true Savior.
God had more to show the doubting disciples in His glorified Son. It says: “And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory.” These men had entered heavenly glory long before; yet they spoke with Jesus. These great leaders of the Old Testament represented the law and the prophets. Their appearance with Jesus showed the disciples that He was the fulfillment of the Scriptures, as the Savior God had promised to send.
Moses and Elijah were talking with Jesus about what He must do to save sinners. It says they “spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” Soon, Jesus would suffer and die on the cross for our sins and the sins of the world. But there would be more, as Jesus had told His disciples: “He must… be killed, and be raised the third day” (Matthew 16:21). Through His humiliation and death, and His glorious resurrection, Jesus was about to accomplish the salvation of the world His Father had sent Him to do. Therefore just as at Jesus’ baptism, here again the Father’s voice came from heaven, expressing His delight in Him as the Savior of the world: “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!”
As Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus about His decease, in the Greek the word is “exodus.” Here, consider how Jesus fulfilled for His people all that was pictured in the Old Testament Exodus. Long before, the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt. At the Red Sea they passed through the water, as the Lord led them into the wilderness, on the way to the Promised Land. At Mount Sinai they received the Law through Moses. But Israel fell into the temptations of Satan, the world, and the sinful flesh. Therefore, many of them died in the wilderness. By their sinfulness, they broke the first covenant. It is the same way that we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We all have broken His covenant of Law, and we all deserve to die in the desert of our sin. We do not deserve to enter the glory of God in the heavenly Promised Land.
But God sent His Son to undergo this Exodus, His “decease” in behalf of us sinners, to save us. In His Exodus, Jesus did all that we have failed to do. Like Israel, He too came up out of Egypt as a child, after His flight from King Herod. He too passed through the water in His Baptism. He too was led into the wilderness to be tempted. But Jesus did not fall into any temptation and sin. He overcame the devil. And because we all, like Israel, have broken God’s covenant of Law, Jesus was cursed on a tree as the Law said, as the condemned Sinner in our place. By dying for our sins, He took away the curse of hell we deserve. Therefore, no longer must we die in the wilderness. In His Exodus, Jesus has come to set His people free from slavery to sin, Satan, and death. He has come to lead us by faith to the Promised Land of heaven.
2) For our death and glorification
Therefore, not only does Jesus’ Transfiguration prepare us for His death and glorification; it also prepares us for our death and glorification. For just as the Lord brought Moses and Elijah to appear with Him in glory, so also He will bring us and all who believe, to appear with Him in heavenly glory.
Having gotten a glimpse of the glory of heaven, Peter now exclaimed: “Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Peter wanted to stay there forever. But of course, this was not possible. There is never going to be heaven on earth. We who are part of the New Israel by faith will enjoy the wonders of the Transfiguration in heavenly glory, but only when it is the Lord’s time to bring us home.
The good news is that our glorified Savior is always with us as we travel through the wilderness of this world. Like Jesus’ life, our earthly life is pictured in the Old Testament Exodus. As God called Israel His people when He brought them through the water of the Red Sea, so He called us by name when He brought us through the waters of baptism, giving us a new birth and saving faith by the Spirit. As they entered the wilderness and temptation, so we are passing through this wilderness where we are tempted by the devil, the world, and our flesh. We struggle with sin, we face death and sorrow. “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
Yet all through life’s wandering, our crucified and glorified Lord is near, leading us in His grace. Jesus feeds us with heavenly manna, the bread of life in His Word. He continues to wash away our sins by the power of our Baptism and His cleansing blood. In His Holy Supper, He gives us His Body and Blood with His forgiveness, life, and salvation. By His Gospel promises in Word and Sacrament, He continues to strengthen us to face the difficulties on the path of life. And when we fall, He picks us up in His forgiving and loving arms. Our divine Savior, whose glory now fills the heavens, still remains our humble Savior who loves and cares for us. He is our Good Shepherd, who carries us in His strong arms and holds us near to His heart.
Since Jesus has passed through His decease – suffering and dying on the cross, and rising again for our salvation – we need not fear our exodus from this wilderness. When we tread the verge of Jordan, He will still be there to carry us. Across the water of death, Jesus shows us the glorious Promised Land of heaven. It is the most wonderful place ever, of which the Transfiguration gives but a glimpse. There, all of our sorrows and tears will be wiped away, and we will have joy forever. The Lord Jesus “will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). Therefore we declare with the hymn (Amazing Grace):
Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forevermore. Amen.