“Jesus’ Transfiguration Shows His True Glory as Our Savior”

(Mark 9:2-9 – Transfiguration – February 11, 2018)

Mark 9:2-9 – Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves; and He was transfigured before them.  His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them.  And Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.  Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” – because he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid.  And a cloud came and overshadowed them; and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son.  Hear Him!”  Suddenly, when they had looked around, they saw no one anymore, but only Jesus with themselves.  Now as they came down from the mountain, He commanded them that they should tell no one the things they had seen, till the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Dear Redeemed in Jesus Christ:

Martin Luther identified two types of theology: theology of glory and theology of the cross.  The theologian of glory seeks to know God by human reason and experience.  He bases his theology, not on Scripture alone, but on what he expects God to be like.  So we have 1) the theologian of works-righteousness, who expects God to reveal His glory and show His favor to people based on their good works and merit; 2) the prosperity theologian, who expects God to reveal His glory to people by giving them success, wealth, and a good life in this world – if only they will follow His guidelines; 3) the faith-healer theologian, who expects God to reveal His glory in healing sickness and infirmities – if only one’s faith is strong enough; 4) the charismatic theologian, who expects God to reveal His glory in charismatic gifts like speaking in tongues, prophecy, etc – if only people will open their hearts to the Holy Spirit.   And so on…  But when the theology of glory doesn’t work – when one no longer feels favored by God, despite his best works; when one no longer feels blessed with success, no matter how hard he tries to do what is right; when one is still sick and infirm despite all his faith prayers; or when one cannot experience charismatic gifts, no matter how spiritual he tries to be – then he may question the sufficiency of his faith, the existence of God, and the security of his salvation.

The theologian of the cross, on the other hand, seeks to know God only by what He reveals in Scripture.  Here we find that God acts in ways contrary to human reason and expectation – particularly in what Christ has accomplished for us by His cross.  The theologian of the cross directs us away from seeking signs of God’s glory and favor in worldly success, health, and religious experiences.  Instead, he points us to the cross of Christ as the proof that God is for us.  Even when we suffer, even when all experience suggests that God is distant or our relationship with Him is lost, the theology of the cross says: “Look to Jesus, God in your flesh, who suffered and died for you, that you may share in His eternal glory.  There is your proof that God still loves you, and is working all things for your good.”  The true glory of God is not revealed in worldly experiences or spiritual highs, but in His Word that declares Christ crucified for us.

Why do I say all this, on a Sunday when the Gospel records the disciples’ direct experience with the glory of God?  Here in that mountaintop experience, the theologian of glory meets the theologian of the cross; and only one finds comfort.  “Jesus’ Transfiguration Shows His True Glory as Our Savior”: 1) Not in the theology of glory, 2) But in the theology of the cross.

1) Not in the theology of glory

Truly Peter, James, and John experienced the glory of God that day, when Jesus led them up the high mountain and “He was transfigured before them.”  Jesus’ glory as the Son of God shone through in a way the disciples had never experienced.  To be sure, Jesus’ divine glory had already shone through to some extent through His ministry.  It was seen in His miracles as He healed the sick, raised the dead, cast out demons, and quieted storms – all by the power of His Word.  And when He preached the people were astonished, because He taught as one having authority.  The disciples had seen Jesus’ glory in His words and deeds.

But here on the mountain, as they watched, it says: “His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them.”  Matthew 17:2 says: His face shone like the sun.”  They saw Jesus’ divine glory radiating through His human nature, like when a hot fire causes metal to glow brilliantly with its heat.

Now, to add to the disciples’ astonishment: “Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.”  Right here, in this mountaintop experience on earth, the disciples see the Lord of glory speaking with saints already glorified in heaven.  And not just any saints; these two great prophets represent all the Old Testament Scriptures – the Law and the Prophets – through whom God had revealed His plans for the coming Messiah and His Kingdom.

Thrilled at the sight, Peter blurts out: “Rabbi, 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 prolong this heaven on earth.  Not long before, he had declared to Jesus: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16; Mark 8:29).  Now that truth was visible.  God’s Messiah stood on the mountain in His heavenly glory; God’s Kingdom of glory had come on earth!  Peter could envision Jesus soon descending the mountain to establish His messianic kingdom, with Peter as one of His right-hand men!  From now on, he could expect to experience the glory and favor of God in victory over enemies, success, health, and a good life in this world.

But at this point, Peter’s visions of glory had no place for the theology of the cross.  We remember that, after Peter’s bold statement of faith in Christ just days before, it was not long until Peter was rebuking Jesus for even talking about going to the cross.  That is when Jesus had turned and rebuked Peter: “Get behind Me, Satan!  For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (Mark 8:33).  Here in this mountaintop experience, Peter could not imagine the Lord of Glory descending to deepest humiliation, suffering, and death on a cross.

At this point, it would be natural for us to join Peter as theologians of glory.  Who of us has not begun to imagine God’s plans for our life based on our own reason and experience – particularly the good experiences we choose to focus on, the glorious plans we want to hear for life in this world – instead of what God reveals in His Word?  When Jesus wants to lead us in the path of the cross, and lead us by His Word to take up our cross and follow Him, to die to our sinful desires, to die to the ways of the world, how often have we rejected the cross of Christ and its shame?  How often have we sought a kingdom of glory in our own sinful way?

But wait a minute!  All is not so well for the theologian of glory in this moment of heaven on earth.  Immediately after Peter’s excited expression, our text tells us why he blurted out what he did: “he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid.”  Now it says: “A cloud came and overshadowed them; and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son.  Hear Him!”  Matthew’s account says that as the disciples heard the voice of God the Father: “they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid” (Matthew 17:5-6; Luke 9:34).

Now why should the theologian of glory be so afraid in the presence of God’s glory?  Shouldn’t reason and experience tell him that this is the ideal situation, the perfect proof of God’s blessing and favor?  But you see, the theologian of glory has not dealt rightly with the problem of sin.  The fallen child of Adam, being thoroughly corrupted by sin, cannot stand before the holy Lord God in all of His bare glory, and live.

Moses could tell you that.  Remember when he ascended mount Horeb, as the cloud of God’s glory descended all around him?  Moses asked the Lord: “Please show me Your glory.”  But the Lord said: “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.”  Instead, God put Moses in a cleft of the rock and covered him with His hand as He passed by.  Then the Lord took his hand away so that Moses saw only His back (Exodus 33:18-23).  Remember also when the Lord appeared to Elijah, later on that same mountain?  Elijah experienced a great wind that tore into the mountain and broke the rocks into pieces before the Lord; then there was a violent earthquake; then there was a fire.  The Lord was not in the wind, earthquake, or fire.  But then there was “a still small voice”; and in this way the Lord spoke to him (1 Kings 19:11-13).

As unworthy sinners, you and I could not experience the bare glory of God and live.  It would destroy us.  There is only one way we can approach the holy Lord almighty and live.  It is only in the humble way He has chosen to reveal His glory to us in this world – like Moses seeing only His back, and like Elijah hearing His still small voice.

2) But in the theology of the cross

But here, we must turn from the theology of glory to the theology of the cross to understand.  For God has come to us in all His glory, but not at all as the world expects.  God sent His Son into our flesh, clothed in deepest humility, that we might behold the glory of God in the face of Christ and live.  God comes to us in hidden glory – hidden in the face of the Son of Man: in whom there could be seen no majesty, but who was despised and rejected of men; who came, not to be served, but as the Servant of all, to give His life as a ransom for all; who came, not to take His throne at Jerusalem, but to bear His cross outside to Golgotha; who came, not to judge and punish us sinners, but to be judged and punished for our sin.

It was in view of His cross and suffering that Jesus was glorified on the mountain.  Indeed, this is what Moses and Elijah had discussed with Jesus.  Luke 9:31 says: “They spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”

It is only with this Savior of sinners and His cross before us that we can dwell with God in peace.  The disciples learned this on the Mount of Transfiguration.  After falling on their faces in terror at the voice of God, now it says: “Suddenly, when they had looked around, they saw no one anymore, but only Jesus with themselves.”  Matthew 17:7 adds: Jesus came and touched them and said, ‘Arise, and do not be afraid.'”  Here, the Theologian of the Cross spoke to fearful sinners with His still small voice; and the disciples were comforted.

Our text concludes: “Now as they came down from the mountain, He commanded them that they should tell no one the things they had seen, till the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”  True glory and salvation in the name of Christ can only be preached in view of His cross of suffering and death, and His glorious resurrection.

Today, God the Father still says of His Son: “Hear Him.”  Where do we hear Christ today?  It is not in human reason and speculation; it is not mountaintop spiritual experiences.  But as always, the Lord comes to us in the still small voice of His Word.  This is where Peter, as a true theologian of the cross, pointed in his second epistle.  After recounting Jesus’ Transfiguration, he points us to Scripture alone, saying: which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19).

In His Gospel, Jesus reveals His true glory as our crucified and risen Savior.  Here, the Lord of glory comes to us humbly and gently, saying: “Arise, and do not be afraid.  I have taken away all your sin on the cross.  I have risen from the grave having conquered sin, Satan, and death for you.”  Jesus brings His salvation to us through His Gospel in Word and Sacrament.  Here we partake of His glory by faith, and we dwell with God in the peace of His forgiveness.

Now, as we bear our own crosses in life, we find proof of God’s favor in the cross of Christ.  As His glory was hidden in His cross, so Christ is hidden in our own crosses.  When we suffer, His cross assures us that He is with us; He understands our weakness, and He is here as our ever present Help and strength.  When we are sick and infirm, His cross shows that He bore all our sins and infirmities so that He could give us eternal healing and health.  When we are dying, His cross shows us that He passed through death before us so that He could give us eternal life.

As surely as Jesus rose from the dead, and lives and reigns in all His glory, one day He will raise us up and turn all our crosses into glory.  He is preparing a place for us in His heavenly Kingdom of Glory.  When He comes again, He will glorify our bodies and souls.  Then we will experience perfect life, health, peace, and joy in the presence of God (Romans 8:17, 30).

Jesus’ Transfiguration shows His true glory.  He is not a God who remains distant and unapproachable to sinners in His heavenly of glory.  He is our loving Savior who descended in deepest humility to the cross for us, that we may share in His glory.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.  As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.  Amen.