“As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon on our celebration of the Transfiguration of our Lord comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the ninth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, as an old man, nearing the inevitable martyrdom that would bring his life to a close, Peter looked back on this day, he reflected on the Transfiguration. In his second letter, the leader of the disciples tells us, “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we make known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.”
As he writes these words, the events of that remarkable day come flowing back. He sees the face of Jesus, shining like the sun, His clothing dazzlingly white; human language is inadequate to describe the glory of the incarnate Son of God. He sees Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus, representing the Law and the Prophets; the Old Testament has come to testify once more to the Christ. Peter remembers with shame his foolish question, his desire to keep the glory in tents, like the tabernacle of old—Luke kindly writes that he didn’t know what he was saying. And who could’ve thought clearly on the mountain that day? Brilliant glory blinding your eyes, seeing the greatest saints of God walking this earth again, joy and fear and wonder all mixed together? You would’ve lost your mind, too. And Peter remembers God’s response to his foolish question. The cloud overshadowed them, a cloud that brought fear into trembling hearts. This is the cloud of God’s presence, the cloud of His glory, and it is terror for a sinner to fall into the hands of the living God. But there is no destruction in that cloud, instead a voice, the voice of God Himself, speaking not to Jesus, not to Moses or Elijah, but to Peter, James, and John. What did this voice declare? “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!”
Listen to Jesus. The voice of God the Father, from the cloud of His glorious presence, had one command for Peter, James and John, for you and me. Listen to Jesus! Listen to Jesus, for He is the prophet that follows the pattern of Moses. Moses predicted that He would come, saying to the people of Israel, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.” The Law was given through Moses, and now the promised One has come, who has the authority to interpret that Law, to apply it to God’s people. Listen to Jesus, even when it’s inconvenient, even when He says things that make you uncomfortable. Listen to Jesus when He calls on you to love your neighbor, yes, even your enemy above yourself. Listen to Jesus when He tells you that hatred is murder. Listen to Jesus when He condemns divorce, greed, and selfishness, when He says that money and possessions are for the good of others, not for yourself, when Jesus declares that you are to humble yourself before God and your neighbors. The Father’s voice doesn’t tell you to listen to Jesus when you want to, when it makes your life easier, or when His words match up with the way that the world is going. The Father’s voice makes no exceptions.
Listen to Jesus! When God speaks, you shut up. You listen. No more excuses, no more caveats, no more attempts to explain away your thoughts, words and deeds. Jesus will take none of that. Listen to Jesus, and shut your own mouth. Quit talking and listen. Listen to Jesus! Listen to Jesus as He preaches the Law in its full severity, giving you no way out. Give up your pathetic attempts to justify your own actions, and listen to Jesus. Listen to Jesus as He calls you what you are, a poor miserable sinner, deserving only death and hell. Give up the foolish claims of the world, which deny sin and avoid death, which blabber on and on about man’s goodness, and listen to Jesus. Be silent before the words of Jesus, for His words are true, and they say the truth about you and all people.
Listen to Jesus, for only in Him is found the answer to sin and death. He is the promised Messiah, the chosen heir of David’s royal line. Listen to Jesus, for He alone has the words of eternal life. He condemns every other path that this world offers; He declares that He is the only way. Don’t trust yourself, your own good works or pious actions. Jesus says that no amount of good can outweigh your sin. Listen to Jesus! Every other path, every other way brings only death. Listen to Jesus, for He alone has come bringing life and salvation. Don’t listen to the world’s stupid chatter, the false claims of pluralism, diversity, and tolerance, that place the words of Jesus on equal footing with the claims of all other religions. Only Jesus has the endorsement of our Creator: Listen to Him!
Listen to Jesus, for only He has come to do what it takes to erase your sin and bring life into a world of death. As He stood in glory on the mountain of Transfiguration with Moses and Elijah, Luke is the only Evangelist that tells us what they were talking about. “And behold, two men were talking with Him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His departure, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” Jesus had a departure ahead of Him; He needed to come down from that mountain and go to Jerusalem. In fact, the Greek word used here is ‘exodus,’ the same word used to describe God’s great acts of salvation in bringing His people Israel out from bondage in Egypt. Moses and Elijah were discussing with Jesus the new exodus He would bring, this time salvation from sin. But this exodus, like the first one, wouldn’t be accomplished without blood. Eight days earlier, He had told His disciples, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Listen to Jesus, for He has a departure coming, and it will be bloody, it will come upon a cross. Listen to Jesus, for He is Isaiah’s suffering servant, who bore the iniquity of us all. Listen to Jesus, for He has come to bring the greater exodus, He has come to bring you and me out from the bondage of sin. Lamb’s blood will be shed once again, and the Angel of Death will pass over our doors. Suffering must come before glory, because only suffering can win salvation from sin and death.
But Peter doesn’t want to listen to Jesus. He wants no part of suffering before glory. He wants glory now, and glory forever. “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He wants to hold onto the glory, to make it his own, to keep it there on the mountain and adore it until breath leaves him. Peter would sacrifice His own eternal salvation and the salvation of all creation in His thirst for glory. But the Father intervenes, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!” Listen to Jesus: suffering comes before glory. Without His suffering, without His death, there is no glory; not for Jesus, not for Peter, not for you and me. Unless Jesus goes down the mountain and walks the way of the cross, there will be no glory, only death.
Listen to Jesus, for He declares that after the suffering comes glory. The Transfiguration is the sign, seal, and guarantee that after the horror and darkness of the cross comes the glory and light of the resurrection. The Transfiguration shows us what is coming, that on the third day Jesus will rise in glory, triumphant over the grave. At the empty tomb, the angels will bear white robes as witnesses of the great victory of Christ. And the Transfiguration is our guarantee of an even more glorious day, the fulfillment of Easter, the Last Day when Jesus will return in glory to do away with sin and death forever.
But that day is not yet; for now, you listen to Jesus. Listen to Jesus, for His Word bespeaks you righteous, it cleanses you from all your sins, all the times that you have stubbornly refused to listen to Him, and makes you the Father’s own beloved child. Listen to Jesus, for He declares that suffering comes before glory, in His life and in the lives of His disciples. Yes, you will suffer in this life, from the abuse and the cruelty of others, from the persecution and hatred of this world, from disease and ultimately from death. You will bear the cross as your follow Jesus. Like Peter, we don’t want to hear these words, we don’t want to face the suffering, but the Father’s voice calls on us to listen to Jesus. And Jesus guarantees suffering in this world of sin. But He doesn’t leave us without hope. As He didn’t remain in the grave, so we will not remain in this world of suffering and death. The Transfiguration is our guarantee that after our own suffering comes glory, and oh the glory that is to come! Saint Paul writes, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” The Transfiguration is a picture of your future, for Jesus descended that mountain and walked the way of the cross so that you would be glorified with Him forever. You too must walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but listen to Jesus: after suffering comes glory. God speaks Jesus to us, forgiving our sins, making us righteous, and giving us glory, glory that is hidden now, but one day will be fully revealed.
The Transfiguration assures Peter, James, and John, it assures Jesus, and it assures you and me that on the other side of the cross is the empty tomb, that Good Friday is followed by Easter. It assures us that on the other side of our suffering stands the glory of resurrection and an eternity in the new heavens and the new earth. Today we bury our Alleluias, to bring them back in even greater glory on Easter morning. Today we come down from the mountain for the Lenten fast, listening to the words of Jesus: suffering comes before glory. We ponder the sufferings and we look toward the glory, knowing that Christ suffered for us so that His glory would be ours for eternity. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! Amen.