Sermon Text: Matthew 17:1-9
JESUS’ TRANSFIGURATION: WHAT HIS CHURCH IS REALLY LIKE
Prayer: Lord Jesus: How blessed were Your disciples to be eyewitnesses of Your majesty and see the glory that Your Church really has. This was hidden from them the rest of the time, as it’s hidden from us too. Isn’t this why we’re often weak, sad, and struggling? Lord, open our eyes to see with the eyes of faith the glorious things You do for Your Church, in heaven and here on earth! Give us the strength, gladness, and quiet confidence that come from You and mirror the saints’ life in heaven. Amen.
Sermon Text: Matthew 17:1-9.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ: Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
This is called Jesus’ “transfiguration.” This is when His glory as true God, which He kept hidden and covered up, suddenly was uncovered and it shone through His human nature so that “His face shone like the sun.” It was glorious! He was glorious. But that wasn’t all. Two of the saints in heaven, Moses, and Elijah, were there. It was a place of glory. It was really what the church is like in heaven, a glorious church!
But the way it was on top of the mountain, where this happened, is not the way it was on the way up the mountain. The way His church looked before Jesus went up the mountain with the three disciples was very different. The church didn’t look glorious at all.
There’s a hint of this here, as it begins with the words: “After six days.” If you go to Matthew 16, you see what happened six days previously:
Jesus asked His disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter spoke up for all of them and said: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus praised Peter for this. He called this confession of faith by Simon Peter the “rock on which I will build My Church.” This was a high point for Peter! It felt like a glorious Church! But then Jesus said He was going to suffer and be put to death. It was then that Peter rebuked Jesus and said, “Lord, this shall never happen to You!” This caused Jesus to turn to Peter, give him a piercing look, and say, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are not setting your mind on the things of God but the things of men.”
This stung. It burned. It was a low point. Right after a great confession of faith came a great denial. This is what happened six days earlier. It’s still on their minds. How could he – Peter! – be the devil’s instrument to tempt Jesus? This was too horrible to face. He was also thinking of Jesus. They were all sad and gloomy, thinking of Jesus’ words of His own death. A dark cloud had come over them as they went up the mountain.
At the top of the mountain, Jesus was praying (Lk 9:29), when all of a sudden a glow came over Him. As they looked at His face it was like looking into the sun. His clothes – which had been dirt-spattered, dust-covered – were “white, like snow, such as no launderer can whiten them” (Mk 9:3).
Then suddenly there were two other people there. Peter couldn’t say how he knew this, but he knew they were Moses, who had last lived on earth 1,400 years ago, and Elijah, who had gone to heaven 900 years ago. Peter had not seen a picture of them. But he knew them. He heard them speaking to Jesus of the death He was going to die (Lk 9:30). This had heaven’s approval!
It all went so quickly. A dark cloud. The voice of God the Father, saying: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” Peter and the others were back to being afraid. Then a hand on his shoulder. The cloud was gone, the one with the Divine Majesty and also the gloomy cloud they were under. They saw “no one but Jesus only.” Now He wasn’t shining. Peter could look into His eyes. There was only compassion there. The voice wasn’t thunder but gentle as usual: “Rise, and have no fear.”
So that was glorious. It felt glorious. No wonder Peter said that bit about wanting to stay there. But as they went down the mountain it went back to how it was before. They found the other disciples failing in their faith. They couldn’t cast out a demon, which Jesus had given them power to do. The scribes took the opportunity to mock them and make them feel small. Then Jesus cast out the demon for them.
Was this Jesus’ church, lacking so much? Or was it the glorious one on the mountaintop? The answer is yes. Jesus’ Church is the glorious one on the mountaintop, and it’s also the one that seemsso lacking in glory.
Jesus’ church – the way we experience it – doesn’t seem glorious. Or at least it doesn’t seem impressive to us.
We’re often tempted to feel ashamed of what the church is. We might feel like saying: “We don’t have much going on here.” We’re tempted to look for some impressive thing to tell people about our church. We want to be able to say that we have this or that activity, or this amount of people. And when it’s lacking we feel bad about it. That’s because the world doesn’t think the ministry of Word and Sacrament is anything. So it tempts us to think the ministry of Word and Sacrament isn’t much of anything.
Also, in how we experience the church it’s full of weakness and imperfect- tions. Because people are that way. We aren’t what we should be. We can disappoint each other. Like Peter we’re unsteady. We lose focus. We focus on ourselves. In ourselves we find weakness. Our faith fails.
Is this what our church is like? What would you say if someone asked you, “What is your church like?” But before we do, Jesus steps in to show us. His transfiguration is Jesus saying: “Let Me show you what My church is really like.”
What is Jesus showing us as “His face shone like the sun?” Of course He is showing us who He is, that you can believe He is true God and true Man, that He is truly the Savior of the world. But it isn’t only about Him. Jesus also said: “The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Mt 13:43). Not just Jesus. You too!
You are “righteous” – forgiven — because in His death Jesus took away your sins, and because He rose from the dead which proves you’re forgiven. When His forgiveness is spoken to you, believe that you shine like the sun. Your sins are made white as snow, like Jesus on the mountain. You will shine like this in heaven because you are shining like this now, through His grace.
As God does this for you, He does it for the person next to you. They’re just as pure and holy in His sight as you are. There’s nothing in him/her to criticize, nothing to judge, because God judges him/her to be without spot or blemish, and He sees him/her being white as snow, just as He sees you. They’re already shining too! This is how to see the people around and with you in the church on earth: you’re looking at people who shine like the sun.
This makes Jesus’ church glorious: not what we put into it, but what He does by grace; not what we do, but what He does. That’s His church’s glory.
But what else does Jesus show in His transfiguration? What does it show when Moses and Elijah appear with Him? And that Jesus brings Peter, James and John there? He’s showing that the church in heaven and the church on earth – aren’t just one. They are together as one.
So when we worship Jesus here, it’s heaven on earth. Heaven joins us, and we join heaven. This comes together most clearly in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus is present with us with His body and blood, and “all the company of heaven” is with Him, together with us who are being communed. We’re together with them! He lifts us to their level, to that great glory, dignity, and beauty.
The same thing happened yesterday right here, when Chris Schultz came here with his dad Steve and mom Rita. It was only the four of us. I baptized Chris, after all these years, all the suffering and struggles he’s had and still has. But his sins were washed clean, he was made white as snow, in the blood of Jesus. The Holy Spirit came to him. And God the Father said that Chris is His own child, and in him he’s well pleased, for Jesus’ sake.
Nobody but us knew it was going on. But as the Triune God did this for Chris, we weren’t alone. He was being joined together with everyone in the church: our church, the whole church on earth, and the church in heaven too. No matter what his life looks like to the world, in Jesus his Savior, Chris shines like the sun, he has the same glory, dignity, and beauty as the saints in heaven. You too. That’s what Jesus’ church is really like. Amen!