Sermon – February 23, 2020 – Transfiguration
Printable PDF: 2-23-2020 Transfiguration Sermon 2020
Vicar Lindemann ~ Transfiguration ~ February 23, 2020
What are you looking at?
1After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. 4Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” 6When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. 9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” – Matthew 17:1-9
I can never look at the FedEx logo the same way ever again after arguing about what it looks like. I insisted that I knew the FedEx logo – it’s purple and orange, and it simply has the words “FedEx.” But this other person insisted that there is an arrow in it too. So we had to look at a picture, and sure enough, I had never noticed what I was looking at before. There’s a hidden arrow in between the e and the x to symbolize that FedEx is always on the go. So now I look, to try to find just one time where there is no arrow in the logo, and I’ve been looking since. You have to know what you’re looking at if you want to understand the full picture. The disciples thought they knew what they were looking at on that Mount of Transfiguration, but they didn’t understand the full picture. The answer to this question alluded them at first, but with Jesus, they learned the answer to the question, “What are you looking at?”
1.It’s a lot to take in.
Peter, James, and John were looking at something amazing on that mountain. The disciples knew that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, but they were still confused about why he said that he was about to suffer and die. The transfiguration would make sure that they wouldn’t forget that he was God, even during his suffering.
On that mountain, those three disciples got a glimpse of the holiness of God. When Jesus walked around, he looked like any normal person; he was fully man. But Jesus was also fully God, and on this day, his divinity peeked through for the disciples to see. Jesus was transfigured; he was transformed; he was changed. His face lit up and was shining – not like a smile might “light up” a room or a watch face catches the light just right. Jesus’ face gave off light like the sun from his holiness. He was so holy and righteous that even his clothes became as bright as light. His glory couldn’t be shielded; he would illumine anything that covered him. “The people living in darkness have seen a great light.” Jesus’ holiness is so great that he is the great light.
The disciples saw another glimpse of God’s holiness. They saw two Old Testament prophets, heroes that they’ve only read about. They saw Moses, whom God had spoken to on another mountain when he gave the Israelites the Law, who led the Israelites with God’s Word and interceded for them to God. The disciples also saw Elijah, who prayed to God on another mountain when he contested with the Prophets of Baal to show who the real God was, who spoke the truth of God to people who desperately needed him. They saw two prophets who spent their lives pointing ahead to the Savior to come and were now speaking with him. The holiness of God is a lot to take in.
And while they were witnessing the holiness of God, the disciples must have wondered why they were there. They recognized that it was amazing, like seeing the Grand Canyon times a million. Peter said, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” And it sure was! But Peter also showed that they were confused about why they were there. “If you wish, I will put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Peter didn’t want this to end. This is what he was waiting for – God to come in power and might to shine like the sun to save all his people! But Jesus wasn’t transfigured for that reason. He didn’t give this peek into his divinity for himself, to start his kingdom. He didn’t reveal his holiness there to stay on the mountain. He was transfigured to strengthen his disciples to leave the mountain. He did it for Peter, James, and John. He did it to confirm what he had been teaching them – that he really was the holy Son of God. He was transfigured so that in the near future, when they watched Jesus suffer and die, they would be able to believe in him. They saw the glory of God on the mountain to strengthen their faith to leave the mountain.
Wouldn’t that have been neat to look at the transfigured Lord? Wouldn’t that have been incredible to hear the heavenly conversation? How honored Peter, James, and John must have felt! But don’t underestimate what you’re looking at. The transfiguration was amazing, and God did other amazing things, too. You have the honor of having a full collection, a full account of the amazing stories of God. You can see the whole picture of God’s plan. You are looking at how God has been working all things out for you since the creation of the world, the countless miracles he did along the way, the predictions of how he would save us, and how he carried it out in Jesus. And we have the honor of taking it all in week after week when we gather here.
Do we sometimes need to be reminded why we actually come here? Like Peter, we can get confused about why we are here, why God has chosen to reveal himself to us in this way. You can get confused about what you are looking at. You are not here to prove you’re better than someone who didn’t make it to church. You don’t say, “All right God, I’m going to go to church today, now you owe me a break later this week.” You don’t come here to hide from the sinful world, there’s plenty of sin here, too. You don’t come here to fulfill your spiritual duties for the week and then live however you want for the rest of it.
You’re here to be strengthened, so that when it’s time to leave you are full of God’s Word. We love to look at Jesus in his Word, just like the disciples knew that it was good for them to look at Jesus on that mountain. It was critical to their faith and for yours to know that Jesus is the holy Son of God. When we are strengthened here in God’s Word, then we can leave this place with stronger faith. You came here because you need something different than the world has to offer. Look at Jesus, and see what God has done for you. Then confidently leave the mountain with the assurance of the forgiveness of sins and confidence in God. And be his witness in the world, telling other people what you saw on the mountain, that you have seen Jesus, and letting them know what they could be looking at, too.
The transfiguration is a lot to take in. Look at God’s holiness shining through the bright face of Jesus and the miracle of the appearance of the Old Testament prophets! There’s one more thing to look at and something to hear. What they were looking at terrified the disciples. But Jesus is there to encourage them to get up and not be afraid.
2. Get up and don’t be afraid.
If they didn’t know how holy God was before, now it’s crystal clear. A cloud envelopes them, but it isn’t foggy. It’s even brighter than it was before! And then as if out of a movie they hear the booming voice of God, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” Powerful stuff. God the Father double-stamped and triple-stamped who Jesus is. He is God, he is perfect, he is doing everything according to plan.
And how do the disciples react? Terror seizes them. God’s power was too much for them to handle, because when they looked at themselves, they realized the difference between them and God. God has come in power and holiness to the disciples, who were nothing compared to that. When they look at themselves they realize: They have not pleased God; God should be disappointed in them. The holiness of God makes them painfully aware of how unholy they have been. Their failures make them drop to their knees, because they know what they deserve. They have come into the presence of God, and they see God’s power and their sin. From their knees they fall to their faces shaking with terror.
But Jesus teaches them what to look at. He takes their eyes off of themselves, and wants them to look at him. He knows how weak they are, but he wants them to take comfort in the words that terrified them. “Get up and don’t be afraid. Did you hear what the Father said? I am God, he loves me, and I’m doing all this for you.” Jesus taught the disciples to look at him, because he was there to save them. Jesus came not to bring terror, but salvation. He communicated that with his words, and with his personal touch. Jesus saw Peter, James, and John cowering in fear, and used his power to go to them lovingly. He put his arms on them to say, “I’m not here to condemn you, I’m here to save you.” His personal touch shows that he knows what they’re going through and they can rely on him. Confident in Jesus’ Words and comforted by his personal touch, the disciples were able to get up, put their fear away, and leave the mountain knowing the answer to the question, “What are you looking at?”
You can learn the answer to the question, too, because you also come face to face with God. Maybe God’s power has never thrown you to the ground, cowering in fear. Or maybe it has. When we come into God’s presence, don’t we face the same thing the disciples did? You know how God expects you to live, you know what’s right and wrong. When you look at God and then look at yourself, the failure is obvious. Wrong decisions press on your mind, and haunt your nights. Looking at ourselves makes us afraid of how God will deal with us, because we know the powerful punishment we face because of sin.
But Jesus teaches you what to look at. Take your eyes off of yourself and put them on him. God has come to save you from your failure, he has come to take away your fear. Look at what Jesus is about to do for you. Jesus, whom God loves and approves, who showed his power on the mountain, will go down this mountain to climb another mountain – Mount Calvary. As we review again this year how Jesus suffered and died in the season of Lent, keep looking at Jesus. If you look at the FedEx logo differently now that you know what you’re looking at, how much more will you look at Jesus. Remember that when you look at Jesus, you not only look at a man, but God almighty taking away your sin. It is marvelous that, even though Jesus is all powerful, he put it aside to suffer to save you. Look at Jesus as you hear God’s Word.
He not only encourages you with his Word, he also puts his arms on you as if to say, “I’m not here to hurt you; I’m here to help you.” Jesus has personally come to you in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, too. The Holy Spirit has entered your heart, you have assurance of the forgiveness of your sins, as Jesus comes to you in that personal way.
Who are you looking at? It’s a lot to take in. So many stories, so much going on, but when the dust settles and you look, there is Jesus fighting the battle for you. Take heart at his words, “Get up and don’t be afraid,” Because your faith is in Jesus, who takes away your fear and gives you the victory. Amen.