It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? From the celebration of the Epiphany of our Lord to today, the Transfiguration of Our Lord, we have experienced something that we won’t experience again for another 27 years, or until 2038: we celebrate the entire season of Epiphany. That means we have heard some texts from Scripture that share more of what the Church was like at the time of Christ and shortly there-after: it was rough. It was ugly. It was not what we would think of the Church as being. During the time of Christ, there were groups who sought to put our Lord to death because He made what they thought to be heretical claims, such as being the Son of God and dying and rising from the dead three days later. For Paul, some 25 or so years later, we hear how the Church of Corinth was slowly tearing itself apart from the inside out, setting up faction against faction. Some of the other churches which Paul either visited or formed began to throw out the teachings of Christ and reverting to their previous ways, or accepting the worship of idols and the like as part of their worship. This was the Church, in all of its glory. Praise be to God that this was not a picture of the entire Christian Church, but it was a picture of what can happen when the Church moves away from Christ. But when the Church is firmly rooted in Christ, then it is life-changing.
Today in our Gospel reading, we experience an event that was life-changing. Our text begins: “After six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.”
Jesus had just begun to show His disciples that God’s plan for Him as the Christ will take Him to Jerusalem to suffer and die and rise to eternal life. Instead of taking all of the disciples with Him, Jesus chose to take with Him Peter, James, and John. Sometimes referred to as the Three because they were present with Jesus on special occasions, such as this and again in the Garden of Gethsemane, these men were present when a life-changing event took place. They saw the transfigured Jesus, that is, the Jesus who shone with glory “like the sun.” His clothes became white as light. What occurred to Jesus’ appearance and form was as drastic a change as a caterpillar becoming a butterfly or a tadpole becoming a frog. Here, in this moment, Jesus was allowing some of the splendor of His divine nature to show through.
Indeed, Jesus had told His disciples repeatedly that He was God, and He had demonstrated that fact through the performance of miracles. Yet, here He is making a very visible statement about His divinity. There, Peter, James and John stood before Christ in all of His divine glory. If the Three had any doubts before of who Jesus was, this was all the convincing they needed. But it didn’t stop there. Before their eyes stood Moses and Elijah: Moses, the man of God through whom the Law was delivered on stone tablets. And with him was Elijah, representing the prophets who foretold of the coming Savior, and who endured the worst of times among God’s people. And finally, to top it off, they were overshadowed in a cloud and heard the voice of God. Jesus’ disciples were not dreaming. They actually saw two individuals who had died centuries before this time. How Peter, James, and John were able to correctly identify these two people as Moses and Elijah we are not told. But these disciples were experiencing a little glimpse of heaven. Their lives were changing right before their eyes.
Peter, experiencing this life-changing event wanted to build shelters there on the mountain because he didn’t want the experience to end. Maybe he had the idea that eventually Israel and even the whole world could come to this mountain top and worship the Lord. Peter did not understand that there was an even greater mountain top experience waiting in the future.
But that wasn’t the only life being changed on the mountain. The life of Jesus was being changed as well.
Within about nine months, Jesus would enter into the depths of His humiliation by being arrested, mocked, tortured, cruelly executed on a cross, and buried in a tomb. Above all this, He had told his disciples that He would triumph by rising from the dead. His transfiguration certainly authenticated that claim. His life would forever be changed at His Transfiguration as He begins to set His eyes to Jerusalem, where lives would forever be changed, including yours and mine.
As Jesus sets His eyes to Jerusalem, lives are about to change. The disciples’ lives would be forever changed when their Friend, their Leader, would be led to the cross and die. The lives of the Pharisees and Sadducees would be changed because Public Enemy #1 was no longer interfering in their lives and their teachings and so they could go back to business as usual. Your life would be forever changed because of the sacrificial act of Jesus Christ on your behalf.
The Transfiguration on this mountain points God’s creation to another mountain-top experience: Calvary. There, we see the extent of the love of God for us: the sacrifice of His one and only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. There, on the cross of Christ, your life was changed forever. At that moment, your sins became Christ’s sins and His righteousness became your righteousness. What should have damned us has been taken from us. That which is not deserved, that is, Christ’s holiness, was given to us.
Lives continue to be changed even today when we heed the words of God spoken to Peter, James, and John: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” Why is it so important to listen to the words of Jesus? There are many other words that we could listen to that sound just as good. But we listen to the words of Jesus because of the promises which He gives to us. He gives to us great words of comfort when He says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He gives to us the great promise following His resurrection: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Just as Jesus spoke to the Three, He speaks to us as well: “Rise, and have no fear.” There is no reason we should fear. We know that all of the promises made to us by God have been fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
As we prepare for our journey to Calvary, we make ready for another mountain-top experience. On that mountain Jesus will express the inner most being of God in sweat and blood, pain and suffering, and, ultimately death and burial. It is through that suffering and death on the cross that Jesus earned our salvation. It is through that suffering and death on the cross that Jesus took away our sin and replaced it with His righteousness. It is Jesus working through the cross who offers us forgiveness, life, and salvation. It is Jesus who takes away the burden of our sin and makes it possible for us to stand in the presence of God. It is the glory of Christ on the cross that gives the glory of eternal life to us, glory manifested at His Transfiguration and fully shown to us on the cross where He won for us the forgiveness of our sins. In Jesus name, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.