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Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

The Transfiguration of our Lord (A), March 2, 2014
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” [Matthew 17:5b]

These are powerful words that either thunder from God’s Holy Mountain as an “or else” statement, or they are the sweet melodies of comfort, taking the promises of God’s mercy and presence directly into our hearts, as a mother would sing a lullaby to her child.  How you take these words will determine how this mornings message works within your soul.  The disciples and Holy Apostles of Jesus found themselves in a similar situation just a few weeks before Jesus’ transfiguration.

While in the district of Caesera Philippi, which was near the Syrian border, Jesus asked His disciples a simple question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  That is, who do they say Jesus is?  Now the disciples gave Jesus different answers as they had heard them spoken among the people.  When they had finished, Jesus asked the real question: “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah!  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” [Matthew 16:13-18]  Then Jesus strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that He was the Christ.  “(And) from that time (on) Jesus began to show His disciple that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  (But) Peter took Him aside and began to (scold) Him, saying “Far be it from you, Lord!  (That) shall never happen to you.”  (Then) Jesus turned (around) and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a hindrance to me.  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man( that is, the things of this world).”

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me (that is if you want to truly be my disciple), let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” [Matthew 16:19-24]  After those Words, Jesus encouraged them with these mysterious Words.  “For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of the Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done (in faith).  Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom.” [Matthew 16:27, 28]

This morning, God wants you to see the truth about Jesus; it is a truth that only His Holy Spirit can reveal to you.  He wants you to declare and believe along with Peter and the whole church, “(Jesus is) the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  But He also wants you to see the absolute necessity of His suffering death and His resurrection.  He wants you to allow both your declaration of faith and your new life through His death and resurrection to lead you out into a world dark and dead in sin with no fear.  But Jesus knows, like Peter, you will have both doubts and fears; He knows that the devil will attempt to take your eyes off of His path, which is the painful way of the cross, so just as He rebuked Satan for Peter, He does the same for you.  And with Satan defeated and your eyes back on Jesus He says, “Take up your cross and follow me.”  Now let’s get into our gospel reading (Matthew 17:1-8).

This morning, we celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord.  We see whom those few are that would not taste death before they saw the “Son of Man in the glory of the Father.”

There on the mountaintop, Peter, James, and John were allowed to see who Jesus was… God Almighty.  There on the mountain top Jesus the Son of Living God is shining with all of His divine glory “like the sun.”  And there appearing with Him in a holy conversation are Moses and Elijah.  The disciples needed no introduction, because God’s Spirit was present and working within their hearts.  Both of these long departed men of God were national heroes to the Jews, and they collectively represented all that was good in being one who has been chosen, called, and protected by God Himself, as a Father protects and a mother comforts their own dear children.  Moses was the great lawgiver.  The Law was God’s way of protecting His children by creating a hedge around them, which would deliver them from their enemies both physical and spiritual.  And Elijah, he represented all of the prophets, which God had sent to remind His people that the Messiah, their Savior would soon come by breaking into our reality and delivering the long awaited salvation from their real enemies, which were sin, death, and the devil!

Please remember this: While Jesus, Moses, and Elijah were talking it was only Jesus who was shining in glory.  Any shining that came from the other two was simply the light of the Son of God reflecting off them, much like the moon can not generate its own light but only reflect the light of the sun.

Now in the middle of this moment when both heaven and earth become one, a time when most people would be still and silent, Peter can not help but declare, “Lord, its good that we’re here!”  Peter, Peter, what are you doing?  That was a divine A-B conversation between God and the Law and Prophets.  The only part you play in that conversation is “C” so SEE your way out of it!  But he doesn’t; in fact he makes it worse, well for us he makes it better when he asks: “if you want, I’ll make three shelters here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” [Matthew 17:4]

Now here is what I mean when I say that He makes it better.  Just when Peter asked that ridiculous question, Moses and Elijah vanished, making it clear that the center of attention are not Moses and Elijah. A shining cloud surrounded that mountaintop and the voice of God the Father speaks just as He had spoken at the Jordan on the day of Jesus baptism; He says, “This One is my beloved Son, in who I am well pleased.”

Did you hear those Words?  He said this One; not Moses, not Elijah, but Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God!  He is the One who will fulfill all of Israel’s hopes in their waiting for the coming Messiah; He is the One who unlocks the meaning of all of God’s Word.  This is the One who will forgive the sins of the world and make all people who will follow Jesus, children of the Living God!  And what does the Voice of God the Father tell them to do next?  “Listen to Him!”  Listen to Him and see only Jesus.

This was enough to knock the three disciples to the ground hiding their faces from the glory of God.  They were terrified, because no one can see God and live; yet there they still were on that mountain alone with Jesus and still living!  And in the middle of their fears, Jesus the Son of God and son of Mary, their friend and brother and now clearly their God, taps them on the shoulder and says: “Knock it off!”  No, I mean He says, “Get up and stop being afraid.”  Come on I’m still here with you.  Follow me.  You know where we have to go, and you should understand by now that it will be all right.  I am not just a simple carpenter; I am not just your teacher, brother and friend.  I AM your God, the Son of the Father.  So follow me. Pick up your cross and come down from this Mountaintop Epiphany and follow me into real life and real death ; first my own suffering and death and then yours; first my resurrection and ascension into heaven, and then yours.  But we do not want to follow, do we?  Following Jesus means…

Fear.  Fear of things like betrayal, humiliation, suffering, and death.  Let me speak into your hearts some of those things that bring betrayal, humiliation, suffering, and death, and then let me speak Words of faith, hope, and comfort.  Words of victory over all of things that hound us and cause us to doubt, stumble, and fear.  (ILLUSTRATIONS: Please listen to the audio.) To those of you who have been stuck on that mountain top for years, Jesus is tapping you on the shoulder and saying, “Quit being afraid.  Follow me out into real life and know freedom.”

This morning, through the Word of God, empowered and defined by the Holy Spirit through other portions of God’s Word and yet spoken and written by sinful yet redeemed men, you have been given freedom.  You have heard the eyewitness account of God’s real presence in our world.  You have heard how easily He breaks into your reality with the means He alone chooses.  And now, through that same Word of God and the gift of faith, you too have become in essence, “eye witnesses”.  You have been shown through the Word of God His “Majestic Glory.”  You have also heard with your own ears, this is my beloved Son, with Who I am well pleased.”

You have all of the prophetic Word more fully confirmed than all those who were called “children of Abraham” before the coming of the Messiah.  They had only the promise of the coming, but you have the fulfillment of the promise, Jesus Christ!  As St. Peter says, “You will do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”  That is until the fulfillment of your baptismal promise is complete and you finally arrive within the House of the Father and reside in the place that Jesus has gone to personally prepare for you!

You can trust these Words dear children, because they are not simply the fanciful writings of sinful yet hopeful men; they are the very Word of God to bring courage and cheer to your heart.  Know this and remember it always, “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along (and led) by the Holy Spirit (of God).” [2 Peter 1:16-21]

This morning, God welcomes you like He always does as we gather around His Word and Sacraments.  He welcomes you with the Words, listen and believe.  It’s in that Word that He reminds you that in your baptism you have been sprinkled with a blood far superior to that of animals; you have been forever washed clean by the blood of Jesus Christ, the true Lamb of God.  In His Word, He invites you to His table to “Take eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sins.”  God wants you to receive all that is in His Living Word, which is Jesus Christ and then have faith.  Get up and go.  Go out into a world of darkness where there is real suffering and pain; real inequities and unfairness.  A world that appears to still be under the bondage of sin, death, and Satan.  But know that Jesus has overcome this world.  Follow Him and the way of the cross, because the way of glory has not yet fully arrived, but it will soon be yours eternally.  It will be a time, no an eternity, where you will never again know pain and sorrow; a time when all your tears will be wiped dry.

Now, may you turn only to Jesus, who alone can sustain you as you deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him!  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Transfigured by God’s Word

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

The Transfiguration of Our Lord, March 6, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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INTRODUCTION:  What do you do, how do you feel when you are standing in the middle of God’s glory?  In our gospel reading this morning, we see what the three apostles did; they hid their faces in terror!  What would you do?  Well let’s try to put a more practical application to this question; think about your eyes and your ears for a moment.  Aren’t they wonderful?  With the ear we can listen to God’s Word.  We can hear about His law, which terrifies us because it shows how much God hates and punishes sin… our sin!  But then, we can also hear His gospel, which assures us that God is love, and that through faith in Jesus Christ, God has forgiven us of our many sins!  And then through our eyes, we can actually read this Word of God for ourselves.  We can discover and understand God in a way that is personal and real!  But what if, what if the eye and the ear fail us through disease or old age?  Does that mean that we should be afraid that God is angry with us?  Should we feel that God is punishing us?  Would God do that?  Could He do that?  Yes He could and He’s done it in the past!  Are you beginning to get a sense of the terror that the three apostles had?  Good!  That’s how a creature should feel about its Creator.  But to this terror, Jesus in that same Word taps you on your shoulder and says, “Rise, and have no fear.”  I AM with you!  So this presence and special protection of Jesus is what we will look at this morning.  And to do this, we will answer three primary questions: 1. What is the Transfiguration?  2. What is the Word of God?  3. What is the purpose of the Word of God?

I. What is the Transfiguration?  Well, the word “transfiguration” finds its origin in the Greek word “metamorpho” and it means to transform, or to metamorphose, or to change into another form. In the case of the transfiguration of our Lord, it means that the outward reality of His Human nature was changed to match the inward reality of His divine nature; a nature that was “veiled” (Hebrews 10:20) in human form.  So Jesus’ transfiguration was a glimpse at Jesus’ true glory; the Shekinah glory of God which has always belonged to the Son of God. And to make sure we understand this eternal reality, the voice of God the Father speaks to us with these Words: “This is my beloved Son, with who I am well pleased; listen to Him.” [Matthew 17:5b]

Through the audible voice of God, God’s Word explains His Work.  He is telling us essentially this: “I have sent my Son to you in your flesh!  I did this not to punish you but to lead and save you.  You must listen to Him if you wish to know and rest in my love and favor.”  So here dear friends is the wonderful Word of God first speaking in an audible voice to the three apostles, and now from the written Word of God He speaks to you!  Through this Living Word of God you like the three apostles are taken to a place where heaven and earth become one; you actually are allowed to experience a joining of heaven and earth!  But how can this be?  Simply because God’s Word, His means of grace and salvation are with you now!  They are with you to comfort you, to counsel and guide you!

II. But what really is the Word of God?  How can we be sure that our Bibles alone are truly God’s Holy Word?  Well friends, you can be sure because God has given you His own testimony to this truth in our Gospel reading this morning.  Think now; who appeared with Jesus and the three on that mountain top long ago?  It was Moses and Elijah!  Moses the great law-giver who promised that the Lord our God would raise up for us a great prophet from among us and it is this one that we should listen to! [Deut. 18:15] And Elijah the greatest of prophets of old is there with Moses to make sure that we understand that neither he nor any of the other prophets were the one that we were to look for!  And how do they appear?  Gathered around Jesus… listening to Jesus, all the while enveloped in the cloud of God’s glory.  And as Jesus, Moses, Elijah, and the three apostles are gathered in that place where heaven and earth join, the Word of the Father rings out like thunder: “This is my beloved Son!  (One who is far greater than the prophets and kings of old.)  Listen to Him!” [Vs.5]

And how do we listen to Him?  We listen to Him by hearing and reading the Word of God; both the Law and the prophets.  Now, some will say that there are many ways to know God, say like going to the beach or to the mountains.  But friends these things only speak about God in muffled tones and may I say they mainly speak to deaf ears and blind eyes!  What do you do when the sea becomes a Tsunami and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea because of a catastrophic earthquake?  How do you make sense of these things and find God’s wisdom when it seems that the whole earth around you and beneath you is going to hell in a hand basket?  You listen to God speak in the way that He has chosen to reveal Himself; you look to His Word which comes to us in our own history!  God has always been involved and even intervened in our history.  He has done it in mighty acts of judgment and even mightier acts of liberation!  Another way to say this is that God’s people always experience God among them saving them.  But why?  And that friends is the point; without the leading of God’s Holy Spirit calling up prophetic voices to explain what God is up to, all of this would remain a mystery and it would be subject to the whim of sinful human speculation!

But God did speak and He assures us that we can know what He has said.  To do this He has used many different voices of prophets to convey His message to His people of faith.  He has spoken and they have repeated in their own style exactly what God has said.  We can explain this use of prophets in a different ways.  In one way they are like a UN translator who takes the Words of a heavenly language and repeats their meaning into our language.  Or we can think of the prophets as different musical instruments.  As a flute or a trumpet, it is God who blows into them and pushes the different keys so that His musical composition can be heard each in the style of the instrument.  Or maybe He plucks the strings of a guitar or pounds the strings of a piano, but in each case it is God’s music singing into our hearts!  In the case of His Word, God choses to use language; He brings His Word to us in our own language. 

You know, there’s one thing each of us has in common, we like to talk; why we even talk even to ourselves.  We even think in words!  God has created us so that we organize our lives in words.  Because God designed us that way, He not only acted out His love in human history, He also explained those actions through the prophets in our own words.  Through the prophets we have both the promise and the power of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The entire Bible was recorded so that we would have something sure; so that we would have the prophetic and perfect Word of God, delivered to us exactly as God wanted it to be delivered!  And it is this Word that St. Peter tells us to pay attention to; he tells us to use it like a lamp that will shine God’s own light first in our dark hearts and then in a world that has been darkened by sin!  We are to use God’s Word with complete confidence knowing that no prophecy of Scripture, which is your Holy Bible ever came from someone’s own interpretation.  God assures you that nothing in your Bibles ever came by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit!  And what did they speak of?  They spoke of the very reason that God moved men to record His Word: So that you right now would know Jesus Christ as God’s only begotten Son and as your Savior! [2 Peter 1:19-21]

III. What is the purpose of the Word of God?  That you would know Jesus and by knowing Jesus know God!  This dear friends is also the purpose of our Lord’s Transfiguration.  It is God’s way of helping you make sense of the mystery which is the two natures of Jesus Christ.  It is God’s way of reassuring you that Jesus who is fully God and fully man is your Savior!  It is God’s way and means of telling us who Jesus is and what Jesus is doing; God is teaching us about Jesus mission and His ministry!  He is teaching us that Jesus was born to die for our sins and for our transgressions!  He is teaching us that Jesus is God’s beloved Son with whom He is well pleased and that we must listen to Him.

And when we listen to Him we discover that we have a God who is not only always with us but for us.  We discover that we have a mighty champion who fights for us and protects us.  When we listen to Jesus we find comfort and hope in a Savior who spoke these Words: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.  For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.  For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” [Jn. 6:37-40]  This dear friends is the fulfillment of the same promise that God has consistently made from the very first pages of our Bibles.  This is the promise that God has made yours in the waters of your own baptism.  And in this fulfilled promise, God’s heavenly glory has come to you on earth; it is a glory that envelopes you in His Word and Sacrament.  As you knell at His table you know that for that brief moment you are being given a glimpse of His eternal glory to come.  As you dine with all the company of heaven you know that this is a foretaste of the feast to come!  And as His glory surrounds you, through His Word, by faith know that you are in the miraculous presence of your Great Prophet and King. 

CONCLUSION: Now for some, to be in the presence of God is a terrifying thing.  But for us, we know that because we are with Jesus, everything will be alright.  We know that because Jesus is with us, we have a God who is for us and never against us.  So let the oceans roar and let the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.  Let the eyes and the ears fail; we will not fear because we know that we have a God who has made all things new.  And when we doubt, Jesus through the Word of God tap us on our shoulder and says, “Rise, and have no fear.”  And when we lift up our eyes we will see no real threat, but instead we will only see Jesus!  May God grant this faith to each of us.  AMEN!