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Transfiguration Day Sermon — Mark 9:2-9 (LSB Transfiguration B)

February 22, 2009

February 22, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

And after six days Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them. . . . And as they were coming down the mountain, He charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

The Transfiguration Event confirms the identity of Jesus. During the past several weeks, you have heard about things Jesus did—wondrous things, miraculous things. These showed something about who Jesus is. Like the people of Galilee, you could make statements about Jesus: He is an amazing teacher, unlike any other; He is a great healer; He is a merciful Man who takes pity on the sick, the downtrodden, and the outcast. That is what those preaching, healing, and caring activities of Jesus rightly told you.

But the identity of Jesus is even greater than that. All the above is true, but is incomplete. There is more to Jesus. The one unclean spirit in Capernaum actually gave a hint about this. When Jesus encountered it and cast it out, the unclean spirit said: “I know who You are—the Holy One of God.” And that statement is confirmed by what happens on the high mountain.

At the end of Jesus’ Galilean Ministry, “[He] took with Him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.” What Jesus had meant to accomplish through His preaching and wondrous deeds in Galilee had been achieved. The people of Jesus’ home region knew that a man sent from God, a prophet, had been among them. They had even witnessed the fulfillment of the prophecies about the promised Christ’s work against the effects of sin, against the forces of evil. But in the Transfiguration, Jesus is shown not just as a man sent from God, but God-in-the-flesh: someone greater than any prophet.

Jesus’ heavenly nature is seen by what happens on that high mountain: “He was transfigured before them, and His clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.” Peter, James, and John see this holiness and glory on display. Jesus looks exactly like what the prophets Daniel and Ezekiel had seen in their visions of the Lord God in heaven above: the Ancient of Days with clothing white as snow and hair like pure wool; a human appearance like gleaming metal, like the appearance of enclosed fire, with brightness surrounding Him.

This is what the Inner Circle of disciples witness. But as you hear, there was even more: “And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.” The greatest prophet and the greatest leader of Israel—long since dead on earth—were speaking with Jesus. Heaven had opened its doors on that high mountain. And still more: “And a cloud overshadowed them, and a Voice came out of the cloud: ‘This is My Beloved Son; listen to Him!’” Peter, James, and John see things, hear things, greater than what the Israelites saw with Moses and Mount Sinai, greater than any of the prophets’ visions. For they see and hear the Godhead and gaze upon the Son of God in the fullness of His divinity and humanity. Jesus’ identity is confirmed, and by grace these mortal disciples witness it and survive.

The Transfiguration is a great event. It is so great that Peter says: “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” In his awe, Peter suggests the only thing that makes sense to someone who doesn’t know what to say. It is good that he and his two fellow disciples are there. It is good to see the revelation of exactly who Jesus is. It is good to be in the unveiled presence of God and not die. But it is better for them to leave that high mountain.

Note how quickly everything ends on that high mountaintop. Right after the Voice of God the Father booms out of the cloud and states exactly who Jesus is, the event ends. The purpose of the Transfiguration has been fulfilled: “And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.” The Transfiguration was not Jesus’ goal, but a means to an end. Jesus must be explicitly identified as the Son of God. Peter, James, and John must receive the explicit command to listen to Him. But they must be left alone with Jesus. They must come down from that high mountain for the identity of Jesus to be fulfilled.

The Gospel-writer mentions that purpose in a roundabout way, but it is there: “And as they were coming down the mountain, [Jesus] charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” Did you get that? Listen again to that last phrase: “until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” A death has to take place from which the Son of Man rises. That is what Jesus has to achieve. Jesus and His disciples must descend the high mountain, so that He can climb an inferior, undesirable, and cursed hill outside Jerusalem. For the Son of God and Son of Man is not on earth for the purpose of being metamorphosized, but for the purpose of sacrificial death and resurrection.

It was good to be on that high Galilean mountain, but for all humanity’s good, Jesus comes down. His identity is not being kept secret, but who He is does include the necessity of His death and resurrection. You heard how Mark began His description of the Transfiguration: “After six days Jesus took with Him . . . .” Other translations make it clearer: “Six days later. . .” But six days after what? Earlier this year, you heard the what. It was the dialogue about who Jesus was: “[Jesus asked]: ‘Who do people say that I am? . . . But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered: ‘You are the Christ.’” And after that confession about Jesus’ identity: “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

Six days after the dialogue, that identity is confirmed: Jesus is the Christ. Peter, James, and John now see just who it is that will be rejected and murdered. They know Jesus’ fate after coming down that high mountain. Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets—even the Psalms also—had spoken of the Christ dying for the sins of the world. John the Baptizer, who had already heard God the Father identify Jesus as His Son at His baptism, testified that Jesus is “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” The events in Galilee, all the healings and the exorcisms, were not leading to the Transfiguration, but to Jesus’ death and resurrection. For then both the effects of sin and sin itself were removed from mankind and Satan’s tyranny over humanity was ended.

What had transpired in Jesus’ life had crescendoed to this Transfiguration. But this was not the pinnacle. There was more to take place. The Son of Man would rise from the dead, and then Peter, James, and John could freely speak about what they had seen. They could speak about Jesus as the Son of God with all His glory; how God the Father loved Him fully for what He did; how there really is life after death as the presence of Moses and Elijah proved; and how even sinful, mortal humans could stand in the presence of the Lord God because of the mediating work of Jesus. All of this is meant for you to hear and to speak, because the Son of Man has risen from the dead for you.

The Transfiguration shows you just who exactly it was that hanged on the cross of Mount Calvary, that most inglorious hillside. You know who and what Jesus is and what He has done for you. This is what the Spirit of the Lord has made known to you as Peter, James, John, and their successors spoke freely about Jesus. All the veil of sinfulness has been removed from your eyes, as St. Paul wrote: “God has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” The identity of Jesus is no mystery to you, but has been made explicitly clear by the events on that Galilean mountain and Jerusalem’s hill.

So now you need not be frightened by the presence of God. You should have a sense of awe and reverence, but not terror. For God-in-the-flesh has died for you and the Holy Spirit is purging your sins away. The radiance of God’s glory will not be a beam that blinds or causes you to hide—like a prison searchlight—but a beacon to draw you to Him. For His glory is meant for you. You are destined to have an experience like Peter, James, and John: to witness Jesus unveiled. But the experience meant for you will surpass even what those three disciples saw.

Remember that Peter, James, and John had to leave that high mountain. But the time would come when they would see Moses and Elijah again. And so it is for you. The day shall arrive when you are transfigured and will permanently be in the presence of the glorified Christ and all His people—Old and New Testament believers. That is what Jesus’ death and resurrection has achieved for you, what you have been given a share of through your baptisms and being made children of God. That is what Jesus’ words—the words of eternal life—have guaranteed to you.

The Transfiguration is a preview of what awaits you and all who trust in what that Voice of God the Father said: “This is My Beloved Son; listen to Him!” Those words have been spoken plainly and freely for your benefit. Believe them and receive what that Beloved Incarnate Son of God has achieved for you. So when Jesus leads you up the mountain of Holy Zion in Paradise with all His people, you will be like Him and see Him as He truly is.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


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