Monday, February 20, 2012

Transfiguration (Series B, Mark 9:2-9)

“A cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.’” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this Transfiguration Day comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the ninth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Mark. Dear friends in Christ, on April sixth, nearly seven weeks from now, we will gather at St. John’s for Good Friday. On that evening, our yearly pilgrimage to the cross, which begins on Wednesday, will come to an end. That long, somber journey, centered on repentance, will lead us to the Sanhedrin, to Pilate, to a place outside the walls of Jerusalem, a bloody hill called Golgotha. You will hear from the Gospels of His suffering, you will listen to the mocking, the bloodthirsty cries of the mob: ‘Crucify, crucify!’ You will look to the cross, and there you will see a dying man hanging there, an innocent man, a man who did not deserve any of the suffering He endured, a man who spent His ministry healing the sick, driving out demons, even raising the dead. He is a remarkable man, to be sure, but to all the world, He is simply a man. Jesus never appeared more human than at the moment of His death. Who is this man, dying upon the cross, dying like a criminal? We find it impossible to see glory on Good Friday, to see anything other than a man unjustly crucified. Who is this man?

God gives us the answer at the Transfiguration. On this day, we learn exactly who this dying man is. It was out Lutheran forefathers who placed this festival on the last Sunday of Epiphany, and I believe that it was a great decision. Just days before we place ashes upon our heads and walk into the shadowy valley of Lent, we are given a glimpse of the glory, the curtain is pulled back, if only for a minute. “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 His clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.” On this mountain, Jesus is revealed in all of His glory to be true God. In the magnificent language of the Nicene Creed, He is manifested that day as “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.” The Transfiguration shows us exactly what is happening on Good Friday; this man hanging upon the cross, suffering in shame and humiliation, is more than a man, He is God. On Good Friday, you will see God dying on Calvary’s cross. The glory will be hidden, but the Transfiguration teaches us that it’s a reality, that Jesus is true man and He is also true God.

The Transfiguration has even more to teach us about this man dying upon the cross. “A cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.’” This Jesus, true God in the flesh, is the beloved Son of the Father. This makes Good Friday even more shocking; not only is God dying upon the cross, but the man who is also true God is called the ‘beloved Son’ of the Father! God’s beloved Son is dying upon the cross! This isn’t just a man; this isn’t even just a divine man. This is the One whom He loves, the One who is with Him from eternity, the only-begotten Son. The Father wouldn’t give the Son up into death lightly. How can God call Jesus His ‘beloved Son’ and then send Him to the cross? The Transfiguration teaches us the greatest tragedy of the cross: God’s beloved Son is crucified by God’s rebellious creatures.

What would motivate the Father to give up His Son into humiliation and death? Atheists call it ‘divine child abuse,’ and when we look at the cross, that seems close to the truth. But the answer is much different, and it is rooted not in God’s abuse but in our rebellion: Jesus Christ suffered and died because He was the only sacrifice that would suffice for the sin of the world. The cost of our sin isn’t the blood of rams, goats, or bulls. Those sacrifices could never completely appease God’s righteous wrath. Even the sacrifice of a man would never be enough. A perfect man? Closer, but still not enough. The cost of our sin is much higher; it is God in the flesh, the beloved Son of the Father. That is the only price that will suffice, the only sacrifice that will satisfy the wrath of God over our sin and rebellion.

The Transfiguration teaches you the price of your sin; on that mountain, with Peter, James, and John, you see clearly the price that you owed to God. Your debt was so large that only the death of the sinless, beloved Son of God would suffice. On Transfiguration Day, we learn that we do not take our sin seriously enough. How many times have you done something that you know is wrong, thinking that ‘I’ll just ask for forgiveness later’? We do this with our choices throughout each day, and we do this with the sinful lifestyles we indulge in. Pornography, filthy language, addiction, sex outside of marriage, hurtful words, and gossip are all sins that Christians wallow in. Now, there is a vast difference between struggling against a sin day after day, sometimes fighting it off, sometimes falling, and living in a sinful lifestyle without any thought of repentance. The first group takes sin seriously and wants to escape from it; the second doesn’t, but instead simply gives excuses. We justify our own actions, especially if we have the uncomfortable feeling that God’s Word is condemning our behavior. Where God’s Word is black and white, we are searching for gray. We are seeking to avoid the spotlight of God’s holy Law, and when it does catch us, we have excuses, or we tell ourselves that it isn’t a big deal. We treat sin and forgiveness as if it didn’t cost anything at all. Do we even confess our sins? Do we take our sin seriously enough to bring it before God and ask for forgiveness? After the Transfiguration you cannot take your sin lightly anymore; on that mountain you have seen the cost, the required price, and it is a price you could never pay.

God knew this, He knew the cost of your sin, the price that was required to satisfy His wrath over man’s rebellion, and in love, He paid it. The Transfiguration teaches us the love of God, a love that didn’t spare His only begotten Son, but gave Him up for us all. God didn’t hesitate in giving His Son into death for you. The price was steep, but He paid it, because of His great love for you. On Transfiguration Day, God shows you His Son in all His glory, and says, “This is what I’m giving up for you. He will die in your place because I would not see you die in your sin. This is the depth of my love for you; my Son, true God in the flesh, is the price I’m willing to pay for your salvation.” God’s justice demanded that sin should be punished, but His love demanded that He act to deliver you. At the cross God’s justice and His love met; there Jesus died under the wrath of God’s justice in order that the Father could show love to you.

Jesus is God’s beloved Son because He sacrificed Himself for you. God said on the mountain, “This is my beloved Son,” because Jesus was walking the way of the cross. Jesus was no unwilling victim; He knew the cost, but His love for you wouldn’t allow Him to do anything different. He was the only price that could pay for your sin. Only as true man could He take your place and live the perfect life you couldn’t; only as true God could His death atone for the sin of the world. He suffered and died upon that cross to satisfy the wrath of God, to pay for every sin you have ever committed. In fact, He died for the corruption of sin that has filled you since your conception. On the cross, we see a man dying, but through the lens of the Transfiguration, we see that this dying man is also true God, with the glory of the only begotten Son of the Father. That glory was hidden on Good Friday, but three days later it would shine forth never to be hidden again.

Jesus rose victorious over death, receiving the crown of glory that will never fade away. Now He is seated at the right hand of the throne of God, interceding for His people, giving forth all that He won on the cross, through His instrument the Church. The Transfiguration was a glimpse of the glory that Jesus would possess forever. In the same way, because you have been joined to Christ in God-given faith, the Transfiguration is a glimpse of the glory that will be yours for eternity. Saint Paul declares, “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.” We too have glory, not because of who we are or what we have done, but because of who Jesus is and what He has done. He has transformed us through the power of His Gospel, through the washing of Holy Baptism, through the gift of His Body and Blood. We have glory, even though now it is hidden, and we must, like Jesus, pass through the valley of the shadow of death. This glory will shine forth forever when the Lord takes us to be with Himself. The Transfiguration is a picture of you, now through faith, and in eternity, as you will shine with the glory of heaven.

This picture of glory; the glory of Jesus and our own future glory, sustains us in the weeks to come, and it sustains us as we journey through this life. We can’t remain on the mountain any more than Peter could. “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He didn’t know what He was saying, all he knew was that he wanted to stay there and bask in the glory. But Transfiguration Day isn’t the end, it isn’t the goal, it’s simply a glimpse of what is to come. We must go down the mountain, we must travel with Jesus to the cross. Suffering always comes before glory; that is the pattern that Jesus followed, and that is the pattern that we follow, this Lenten season and throughout our life. We know that glory awaits us, that it’s already ours through faith in Christ, and we wait for its final revealing. On that Day, the Father will say to you what He said to Jesus, “This is my beloved child!” In the Name of Jesus, the price for our sin, offered willingly in love for us, Amen.

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