IN NOMINE JESU
The blessed apostle St. Peter must have had a hard time getting people to initially believe him. In Acts 2, we read of the events of the first Pentecost—the birthday of the Church, if you will. When the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, they began to speak in different languages, in the languages of all the people gathered in Jerusalem that day. Many marveled that these uneducated men were able to speak in the native languages of the people. Some were cynical, however, and sneered that the Apostles had had too much wine, that they were not moved by the Holy Spirit but by distilled spirits. Peter told the crowds that they could not be drunk, for it was still morning. We find in our text that Peter is defending himself from a potential charge that what he was telling his hearers was a cleverly devised myth regarding the transfiguration of our Lord, as he would note in the following chapter that false prophets make up stories to deceive their hearers. Peter testifies to his hearers that what he says is true. He saw the Lord's appearance change before his very eyes. He saw the Lord's face shine like the sun. He beheld the Lord's clothes being as white as light, whiter than anyone could bleach clothing. He witnessed the Lord conversing with Moses and Elijah about the Lord's departure, which He would bring about at Jerusalem on Good Friday. He heard the voice of the Majestic Glory, of God the Father Almighty, booming, "This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."
He was a witness of this blessed event along with his fellow disciples James and John, so that his testimony would be supported by two or three witnesses, as was the custom under Jewish law. Peter, James, and John were on that holy mountain when they witnessed the Lord Jesus Christ in His full glory and heard the heavenly Father's thundering voice from heaven. They were terrified. No one was to see God and live. Doubtless they were afraid they were going to die; they fell on their faces and were terrified. The Lord brought them up the mountain, and there they beheld the Son of Man in all His glory, so that they would later testify that He is the divine Son of God, for Jesus gave them His assuring touch and said, "Rise, and have no fear." The Lord chose them to tell what happened, but not until after His resurrection from the dead. They had to hold on to what they saw and share it with no one for quite some time. And even if they did tell someone, would he believe them?
For this reason Peter asserts before his hearers that this event was not imagined but real, as there are witnesses and as no prophecy, no apostolic proclamation can be made without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: "Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (v. 21). The blessed Apostle St. Peter is testifying to the divine inspiration of Holy Scripture. There can be no human authorship of Scripture unless there is divine authorship to move these men—the prophets, apostles, and evangelists—to write. The Holy Spirit inspired three men to write accounts of the Transfiguration: the blessed Apostle and Evangelist St. Matthew, one of the Twelve; the blessed Evangelist St. Mark, Peter's associate; and the blessed Evangelist St. Luke, an associate of St. Paul. There are three testimonies of the Transfiguration, even as one was required to testify in the presence of two or three witnesses, lest there be any doubt about the truthfulness of what happened on that holy mountain where the Lord was transfigured.
The account of the Transfiguration is a beautiful one, is it not? Imagine the Lord taking you up a mountain with Him, and while there His appearance changes completely, from God in hidden form in the person of Jesus Christ to the Son of God in His full glory. This would be awesome to behold. But could we behold it? Peter, James, and John could not. They could not bear to see the Lord in all His glory. They hit the deck, scared to death that they were going to die because they saw God. The prophet Isaiah lamented that he too would die when he saw the glory of the Lord in a vision. In His grace, the Lord spared him, just as He spared the three disciples. What would you have done if you were with Peter, James, and John atop the holy mountain? I probably would have fallen on my face, had I been there, trembling with terror along with them. I would not have been able to accept the Lord as He presented Himself at that moment because I would have been full of fear—not fear of the Lord as He commands us to have in the Ten Commandments—but the fear of being annihilated for having seen the face of God. The fullness of the glory of the Lord would likely be too much for me to handle, especially on this side of heaven, and it would likely be too much for you, too, on account of the brightness and beauty and majesty of the Lord in all His glory. The Lord knows that we cannot handle seeing Him as He truly is in His glorious form; for this reason He comes to us in hidden forms: in human flesh, and in Word and Sacraments.
We cannot behold the fullness of God's glory because we are blind in our trespasses and sins. Our first parents' eyes were opened in Eden when they ate the forbidden fruit, and they saw the shame of their nakedness and were no longer able to see in the way of God. We were not there to eat or not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but we do not need to, for we are already blind and totally naked in our trespasses and sins. We are wholly unable to walk in the way of the Lord, for we cannot even see the way He would have us go. And even if we could see the way He wants us to go, we do not want to follow Him, for we are not only spiritually blind and dead, but we are also enemies of God. We are completely opposed to Him and His will for us. We seek not the Lord's glory but our own, making idols, false gods, of ourselves. We pay no attention to the sure, prophetic Word, a lamp shining in the darkness of our hearts, a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. Unlike Peter atop the mountain, we do not think it is good for us to be here in the presence of the Lord, for we have repeatedly shown ourselves to not heed the Word of the Lord nor care for it. God the Father Almighty says, "This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him." We do not love Him with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind. We do not listen to Him. We despise preaching and His Word. We do not hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. We let the preaching go in one ear and out the other, not letting it stop so that we may reflect on what He tells us in His Word—namely, that we are sinners who are truly in need of repentance, lest we perish eternally. We need to turn our eyes away from ourselves, much as we despise doing that, and turn them to the Lord for our deliverance. Yet how can we look to Him who is full of the glory of God the Father?
The Lord protected Moses on Mt. Sinai, though Moses only saw God's back. He protected Isaiah. He protected Peter, James, and John, for they all had seen the glory of the Lord. He protects us today, but in a different way. Our Lord protects us as He comes to us, for He comes hidden through means. This is not to say that He is invisible—far from it. He is not invisible this day, but He is hidden; He has hidden His glory so that we may come to Him, or better yet, that He may come to us with His gifts. The Lord appeared in the Bible as a burning bush, as a man, as an angel, as a whisper. Today we behold Him as He comes to us in Word and Sacrament. We behold the One who hid His glory in the body of a baby born in Bethlehem. There was God, His glory hidden in a diaper and lying in a trough. When He had grown and began His earthly ministry, He showed only glimpses of His glory as He performed miracles. His glory was revealed when He was crucified on our behalf. The world did not see His glory; they see only a condemned man dying the death He deserved. But, you see, that was His glory; His glory was in the cross, for there He accomplished His Father's will, dying the death He deserved in the Blessed Exchange by taking our sins upon Himself, becoming our sin, dying the death that we deserve. There He was, nailed to the cross, bloody, gory, ugly, and in His glory. His glory was hidden in the nails and the crown of thorns, but it was there for us to behold. This was God's beloved Son, with whom He is well pleased, for Jesus by His death has reconciled us to Himself and restored our relationship with our heavenly Father, winning our forgiveness there on the altar of the cross as Jesus, our High Priest, bled and died there as our Sacrifice; He made Himself the Sacrifice for our sins, and by His stripes we are healed.
The Lord's glory was hidden in the tomb, where His dead body lay. Yet on the third day the tomb was opened to show that the Lord had defeated death once and for all, and His glory was hidden in His risen body, which He showed to those who believed in Him, including His disciples, so that they would be sent out into the world as eyewitnesses of the Resurrection, even coming again to them so that Thomas would believe in His resurrected being. And He who rose from the dead and ascended into heaven comes to us this day, coming in hidden form. He comes to us, hiding His glory so that we would behold Him and receive Him as He comes to us. He comes to us in the hidden forms of His Word and His body and blood. Through these means He gives us Himself, bringing with Him the gifts He won on the cross for us. He comes to you hidden in the words you heard as your sins were forgiven in His Name, hidden in the words you heard from the lectern and now hear from the pulpit, through which spoken Word He tells you that you are forgiven, and He will come to you in a few moments in His holy meal, that you would taste and see that the Lord is good and that your eyes would see His salvation which He ha prepared before the face of all people. In this Sacrament your Lord comes hidden in bread and wine, and with His Word comes to you in His body and blood, giving you a foretaste of the Feast to come, where you, by God's grace through your God-given faith in Jesus Christ, will be at the eternal banquet in heaven, where you will see your Lord face to face in all His glory. It will not be a dreadful time when you see the fullness of the glory of the Lord. It will be beautiful, for you will be with Him in all eternity, and you will be transfigured as well, for you will be made perfect, regaining the image of God that man once lost in the Fall. We will see His face, and His Name shall be on our foreheads, as it has been from the moment of our Baptism. By faith we look forward to the Last Day, when this transfiguration will all be made alive, as the blessed Apostle St. Paul says: "Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory.' 'O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 15:51-57 ESV).
And "…the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen" (1 Peter 5:10-11 ESV).
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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