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Matthew 17:1-9

Rev. Andrew Eckert

Last Sunday in Epiphany
Our Savior Lutheran Church  
Stevensville, MT

Sun, Jan 21, 2018 

Sometimes there are parallel passages in Scripture that appear to contradict each other, even though they do not really contradict. 

A parallel is a story that is also found in another book of the Bible.  This is common in the Gospels.  For example, todayís Holy Gospel from Matthew seventeen has two parallels.  This Transfiguration story is also found in Mark nine and Luke nine.  There three parallel accounts of the Transfiguration are not exactly the same, word for word.  The differences are not contradictory, although they may appear so at first.

In Matthew and Markís accounts, it says that Jesus took Saints Peter, James, and John up a mountain after six days.  Six days after what?  After the Great Confession of Peter and Christís teaching that followed.  But Lukeís Gospel says that it was ďabout eight days after these sayings.Ē Six days versus eight days sounds like a big difference.  Was one of the Gospel writers wrong about this?

As it turns out, none of them got it wrong.  Luke simply counted the days differently.  To illustrate what I mean, say that you were counting the number of days from one Sunday to the next Sunday.  You could say that the next Sunday comes after six days, because you count each of the days, Monday through Saturday, that come before the next Sunday.  Or you could start with the first Sunday and count it and each following day, including the next Sunday.  Then you get eight days.  So it is not a real contradiction between the three accounts.

This is important because we know that the Bible is inerrant.  Christ said that the Word cannot be broken.  As the inspired Scriptures, it is not the word of men, but the Word of God, and God does not make mistakes.

If we deny the teaching of inerrancy, then we begin to unravel all of Scripture.  If one passage is mistaken, then what is to stop any passage from being wrong?  Then every teaching is thrown into question, and people can reject any doctrine they please simply because they feel that it is not true.  Then the faith that is believed is simply whatever a person wants to believe.

So we should not regard these differences in Scripture as contradictions.  One account fills out details of the events more fully. 

We find in Lukeís Gospel that Christ went up on the mountain in order to pray.  The amazing events on the mountain happened while He was praying.  Matthew is silent about these things, although he does not deny them.  So we know more about what was going on.

Both Mark and Luke add some information about the three disciples.  When Peter spoke about building three tents, it was just as Moses and Elijah were parting from Christ.  It seems that Peter did not want them to go away, and wanted the tents set up to prolong the experience.

Mark adds that Peter did not know what he was saying because they were exceedingly afraid.  We may wonder why they were afraid.  There was Christ in glory, with face and clothing shining brightly.  Moses and Elijah appeared, which was a tremendous event.  We would think that they would be excited, amazed, or at least happy to see it.  But they were afraid, and not only a little, but exceedingly.

Why?  The glory of God was shining from Christ.  This glory scares human beings.  When God came upon Mount Sinai in His majesty to give the Law to the children of Israel, they could not bear it.  We humans in our sinful state are terrified when God shows Himself.  He cannot come to us in His full, uncovered majesty, or we will die.

So Christ came in the form of a servant.  He hid His glory most of the time.  That way, He could speak, and people could listen, without becoming exceedingly terrified.

In the same way, Luke adds that they were afraid as they entered the bright cloud that overshadowed them.

We might think that we would not be afraid at these things, but we would.  We also would fall on our faces.  These were not wimpy, cowardly men.  They were tough fishermen.  The bravest among us would also tremble at the overwhelming display of divine majesty.

As sinners, we cannot help it.  Godís glory is the shining forth of His holiness.  He is perfect and pure in a way that we cannot comprehend.  He is a just God, who must punish the wicked, and we know that we have hear full of sin.  Add to this the fact that He is all powerful, and therefore able to punish all sinners to the full extent that His Law demands. 

This is all a recipe for terror.  The presence of Godís glory dashes aside any pretense of self-righteousness of our sinful flesh.  We are compelled by His uncovered majesty to feel what we ought to feel.

Therefore, we also would have been scared into silence on the Mountain, like James and John were, or we would have babbled foolishly like Peter.  We would not have done any better than they.

In Luke, we also learn more about the conversation Moses and Elijah had with Christ.  Although Matthew simply says that they were talking with Him, it turns out that they were speaking about His departure that He was to fulfill at Jerusalem.

In that city, He would be betrayed, beaten, put on trial, and condemned to death.  On a hill outside Jerusalem, Christ would depart this earthly life by laying down His life for the sins of the world.  From a tomb near the city, He would depart from the clutches of death.  From the vicinity of Bethany, which was also nearby, He would ascend into heaven.

All these things are His departure.  This great, sweeping movement from life to death and back again, and from earth to heaven, are Christís work to open the way for us to depart peacefully.

He has opened the way for us to enter the glory of God without fear.  Luke mentioned that Moses and Elijah appeared in glory, which seems to mean that they had glorified bodies raised for this occasion.  They have been dwelling in glory with God, enjoying the bliss of His presence in paradise, even though they were no less sinners than we in their earthly lives.  Therefore we also will enter the same glory.  The same Lord who shone on the mount will also make us shine like the sun, as the Holy Gospel last Sunday said.  We who are made sons of God through adoption will become transfigured at the Resurrection of all flesh to be like the Son of God.

This is because we are people who have listened to the beloved Son.  We did not only hear and then ignore His words.  No, we paid attention to Him.  We have trusted Him because of what He said.  The Holy Spirit, who was not specifically mentioned at the Mount of Transfiguration with the Father and Son, is present whenever the Son speaks.  Through the Spiritís work in and with the Word of the Son, we have come to faith.  Therefore we have laid hold upon this Son, clinging to Him through this life into the next.  We also will have our departure as He did, from earth to heaven, to the new earth and new heaven to come, where our raised bodies will stand with Christ and all the saints of old.

In the Name of this beloved Son, and to His honor and glory.  Amen.

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