January 21, 2018
When Jesus was transfigured his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. This was un-reflected glory shining from Jesus, unlike the reflected glory that shone from Moses. The source of the glory is Jesus himself. Jesus is God.
Now, it is important to note that in Jesus' transfiguration he did not change into something else. Jesus' outward appearance changed, but he was still the same Jesus, who walked up the mountain with Peter, James, and John. The glory that shined forth on the holy mountain was present even before the transfiguration, yet it was hidden.
Jesus is both God and man. Yet, Jesus humbled himself so that his divine glory did not shine forth. Yet, Jesus remained God even then. The baby in a manger was God. The emaciated man tempted by Satan in the wilderness was God. Even as Jesus was scourged and nailed to a tree and finally laid lifeless in a tomb, Jesus remained God. This is very important, because when Jesus died on the cross for our sins, it was not just a righteous man who died. Everything Jesus does he does both as God and man. God bore the punishment for the sins of his people. This means that the price Jesus paid was greater than the debt incurred by the sins of the whole world. So, while we see a hideously bruised man dying on a tree, God is glorified by redeeming the world from sin.
Likewise, Jesus never ceases to be a man. As he was transfigured before his disciples displaying his divine glory, he remained 100% human. And when he rose from the dead never to die again, Jesus rose as a human being. And when he ascended to the right hand of the Father, filling all things with all powers and authorities placed under his feet, Jesus did this as a human being. You cannot separate Christ's divine and human nature. This means that our flesh and blood now reign in heaven forever.
Jesus' transfiguration foreshadows his resurrection. This is something Jesus' disciples were struggling with, in particularly Peter. Six days before Jesus climbed the Mount of Transfiguration he told his disciples how he must be betrayed and mistreated, suffer and die, and on the third day rise from the dead. Peter rebuked Jesus saying, "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you." To which our Lord responded, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."
Peter could not understand that it was necessary for Jesus to suffer and die. And because such a thought distraught him so, he couldn't even think of the resurrection of the dead. So, here on the mountain Jesus shows Peter his glory, which will be revealed at his resurrection. Jesus shows the proof that death cannot defeat him and that his resurrection is unavoidable.
And if Jesus, who shares in our human nature rises from the dead, that means that we too will rise from the dead. Jesus is the first fruit, and we will follow from our graves. And this is testified further by the witness of Moses and Elijah. These two men are living. All who are joined to Christ will live forever. They shall not die.
Peter is stupefied by this marvelous sight. But he feels the need to say something. So, he proposes to build three tents, one for Moses, one for Elijah, and one for Jesus. Yet, God the Father interrupts Peter by declaring Jesus to be his beloved Son. And God gives a simple command. "Listen to him."
Peter wanted to harness the glory of Jesus. But he didn't know what he was talking about. He needed to listen to Jesus. Jesus told him not to be afraid. And then Christ tells them to tell no one about his transfiguration until he has risen from the dead. Jesus was transfigured before his disciples in order to show them that he truly is God the Son and to assure them that he does have the power to conquer death. But Jesus must still die. Peter wanted to grab hold of this glory without Jesus' death on the cross. Jesus is telling Peter, "You cannot have my glory unless I die."
Peter displays a problem that is rampant in our generation. People want glory. But they don't want the cross. They want the glory of Christ. But they don't want his crucifixion. It was not only in the first century that people despised a suffering Christ. People despise the suffering of Christ now. They want a winner, not a loser. Even more, people don't want to suffer themselves. Jesus died on the cross for all our sins. This means that we must repent of our sins and trust in Christ for our forgiveness. But this involves humility. Humility can be a tough cross to bear, even if God promises glory in return.
Jesus says, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Matthew 16:24) This means that your glory will be delayed. It means that you must grasp the glory of God through faith, while you do not experience it now. But Peter wanted it now. He wanted to keep Jesus in all his glory, and Moses and Elijah too. But Jesus makes it abundantly clear, there is no glory without the cross.
Yet, even today, people still strive to obtain glory here and now. Yet, they don't do this through faith in Jesus. Faith in Jesus doesn't give you glory now. It gives you the promise of eternal glory in the future. The way people try to obtain glory now is through the law, that is, they try to obtain glory through their own works. This makes sense. The Gospel of Jesus' death and resurrection and the free forgiveness of sins that flow from it does not have to do with your works, but with God's work. Through the Gospel, God says to you in regard to glory, "My grace is sufficient for you." The Law, on the other hand, has to do with your works, what you do. This gives people the idea of control. If I show myself to be a good person, be generous and kind, hard-working and virtuous, then I can gain glory here on earth. And many will invent a Jesus, who fits this model: a Jesus who preaches prosperity now! And this glory seeking might seem to work, temporarily anyway. And there's a good chance that you'll gain the admiration and praise of many people and be considered a good and successful person.
Yet, this earth won glory can only be temporary. The Law does not demand the approval of human beings. It demands the approval of God. This means that you must fulfill the law in all its parts without fail. Before God, the Law accuses you of sin and condemns you to death and hell. So, the Law which promised glory and which seemed to give it in this life proves to bring shame and death.
If you are going to obtain glory through the Law, you have to go all the way. You must completely submit to the Law. And in so doing, you will find a cruel master, as St. Paul writes in Romans chapter 3, "Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin." (vss. 19-20)
But there is a Savior for those condemned by the Law. St. Paul continues, "But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe." (Romans 3:21-22) This is of immense comfort to us sinners. When we try to achieve glory through works of the law, the Law shines brighter and brighter, exposing our failings and how far we are from God's righteousness. We are forced to shrink from this glory, just as the Israelites hid from the radiance of Moses' face. Yet, now God's righteousness is given to us through faith in Jesus Christ apart from the Law.
The glory of the Law is a glory that condemns sinners to hell. The glory of the Gospel, however, is a glory we do not need to shy away from. The glory of the Gospel is the righteousness of God given to sinners as a free gift. The glory of the Law condemns those, who lack glory. The glory of the Gospel causes those without glory to be glorious, as 2 Corinthians 3 states, "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." (vs. 18) And so the glory that brings salvation to us far exceeds the glory that brings condemnation.
This glory of the Gospel that gives us salvation can only be received through faith. This is why Jesus would not let Peter build three tents for him, Moses, and Elijah. This is why Moses and Elijah stood with Jesus. This is why God the Father told Peter, James, and John to listen to Jesus. And this is why after the vision they saw Jesus only. Faith comes from listening to Jesus' word. If you want Jesus' glory, you need to listen to his words.
Moses and Elijah represent the Scriptures of the Old Testament. Jesus says in Luke 24, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. … Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations." (vss. 44, 46-47) Moses and Elijah stood as witnesses that Jesus was the Christ foretold in Scripture. And Christ stood as a witness that the Scriptures are true. If you want Jesus' glory, you need to listen to Scripture. Scripture is Jesus' Word.
The Word of God is a rather despised thing. People generally don't want to listen to it, or read it, or learn it. It doesn't seem glorious. The message of Jesus' death on the cross seems the opposite of glorious. And the call to repentance is very unappetizing. Perhaps if God would speak through a bright cloud, more people would come to hear. Perhaps if the preacher's face shone like the sun and he brought people from centuries past, then more people would come to church. But Christ has chosen to hide his glory in his Word, spoken by ordinary men. He hides his glory under ordinary means here on earth, so that we might receive God's glory through faith. We've already learned that just because God's glory is hidden, doesn't mean that it is not there.
Christ's glory can only be received through faith in Christ's cross, where he bore everything that would cause us to shrink from the glory of the Law. It is through faith in Christ's death and resurrection that we gain the hope of the future glory to be revealed to us, a glory from which we will not shrink back, but rather into its image we will be changed. Amen.