Sermon Hymn: Beautiful Savior
A Beautiful Savior he truly is. It was quite a moment of beauty when Peter, James and John saw Jesus shine in all his splendor. No wonder Peter wanted to preserve the moment when he offered to build three shelters for Jesus and the visiting prophets from heaven.
Preserving the moment can easily get in the way of observing the moment. I remember a wedding I attended over twenty years ago. The bride and groom stood at the altar, professing their love for one another, the minister stood before them, reading the solemn vows they were to take. The attendants took their assigned places at the right and left. As the couple began to speak the vows a man crept up behind the minister with a camera. We thought it was humorous at first, that he would take a picture and sit down discretely. Instead, he lingered there throughout the rest of the ceremony, snapping pictures with his instamatic camera, the flashcube twirling away on the top like they used to do. When, at last, the service came to and end and the poor coupleís eyes were near blind from the flashes, the man sat down. After all these years the only thing
I remember about the wedding is this man wandering behind the preacher with his cheap little camera. I suppose in his mind he only wanted to preserve that moment with a photograph for the couple, but for everyone else he obscured the precious moment in time. To this day I have always asked guests to refrain from taking flash pictures during weddings and baptisms.
The transfiguration of Jesus was such a moment when the Son of God went up the mountain and began to flash with the light of his glory. His clothes shone bright like lightening. Appearing with him were the two great prophets, Moses and Elijah, dead and buried long ago, giving their approval of his identity as the messiah they had promised would come.
Here we have a clear view into the identity of Jesus. Jesus lived a life like you and I do, working, eating, sleeping. Here on the mountain he was revealed to be different from us in an important way. Not only is he a real human being, he is also God living among us. In Jesus there are two natures present. He is fully God and fully human both at the same time. This mystery cannot be explained; it is to be believed.
We receive this vision by faith and we confess, "I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord."
Peter, full of awe at seeing this sight, proposed that the moment be preserved. It was phenomenal to see this thing happen, and he thought perhaps if he built some monument, some shelter for the Lord and his heavenly guests, others could see and believe it also.
Jesus would have none of this. Jesus and the prophets were talking about something, a departure that he was going to make at Jerusalem in near future. From this point on Jesus would cause much commotion among his followers by speaking about this departure. "We are going to Jerusalem where I will die for the sins of all people." The disciples couldnít see the benefit in such suffering. At every opportunity they tried to persuade Jesus to preserve the moment of his glory. "Donít go there to die. Stay away so you can continue to preach and do miracles." The didnít want to see him suffer because they loved him. At the same time, they had given up three years of their lives. All that would go down the drain if he died.
But Jesus had different intentions. He didnít come to show off his divine glory as it briefly shone forth on the mountain. He came to do something productive with it. His glory was not to be paraded before the world, accepting the praise of everyone because of the miracles he could perform, as if he were a sorcerer or magician. His glory was to come in his suffering for others. So later, as he set his face toward Jerusalem, ultimately to hang from that cruel cross of wood, he came into his ultimate glory as the supreme sacrifice for your sins and mine. There at the cross the true glory of Jesus as a servant shined through.
We can see things today that we never saw before. Today cameras work not only with light, what we see, but there are also cameras that feel warmth and create pictures for us. Such cameras can see behind walls and into houses. Just this week an arrest was contested because the law enforcement officers used such a devise to see drugs that were growing inside a home.
At the transfiguration it was as if the three disciples were looking through such a camera that gave them a picture of the true identity of Jesus which was hiding in the friend they followed. He was not merely a teacher, a prophet, and a worker of miracles. He was God himself.
This vision strengthened them for the future trials they faced and it will strengthen us as well. After Jesus ascended to heaven they would be sent to the far ends of the civilized world to preach the gospel and call the nations to faith in Christ. It was never an easy road. They were criticized constantly, always on guard against arrest, torture, and death. Yet this vision strengthened them, especially when the authenticity of their message was questioned.
Peter writes in his second letter, "We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. And we have the words of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts" (2 Peter 1:16ff).
Peter is saying to us that he saw Jesus on the mountain that day, standing with Moses and Elijah, and shining in his moment of glory. At the time he didnít understand the vision, but later he came to know it was a moment when the true identity of his friend Jesus shined through. This vision shined on for the rest of Peterís life, giving him certainty about the work he was doing and the words he was preaching. The vision has the power to shine on in our lives as well.
Our biggest problem is that we forget about this vision of true glory. We are taught that Jesus is both God and man, and that his glory was to die for us, but in our daily lives we lose perspective of that vision. How can the forgiveness of sins help me pay my bills or solve my familyís problem? we ask. We work hard to gain the things we need, but we pay little attention to the glory God has in store for us.
This reminds me of what my high school physics teacher said about the moon. You know how the moon looks small up in the middle of the sky, but when it is low along the horizon it looks larger. He said it was always the same size, but the frame of reference was different. When the moon is high there is nothing to compare it to. But when it is near the trees and landscape on the horizon, it appears so much bigger in that perspective.
It is the same with Jesus. If we see him just as another important person in history, what he did in his life seems insignificant and has little impact on us. But if we see him in his glory, dying on the cross for the sins of the world, but most important, dying for us personally, we know the love of God and have the certainty of Godís payment for our sins. We see the greatest glory in life is to serve God, for he has given himself to serve us.
The vision of glory shines on among us today as Jesus continues to serve us. He comes to us in His word, teaching us to know God and the thing we should place the highest value on in life, Godís mercy to sinners. He comes to us in Baptism, where he washed away our sins and gave us a new life to live. He continually comes to us in the bread and wine, a vision of his service to us, to lay down his life as a sacrifice for us. Godís glory is to come to us in these humble ways, and though the whole world would laugh at it, for the Christian these things are the greatest treasure, for this is where Godís glory is made known to us today. These are the things we cherish, and therefore must uphold them above everything else.
The vision of Jesusí glory shines on today in your life as you receive these gifts of God and live as his people. How good, Lord, to be here, as your forgiven people. Amen
Copyright © 1998-2011 James F. Wright. All rights reserved.
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