We Rejoice in the Hope of the Glory of God. Transfiguration Sunday 2014
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 17:1-9
February 9, 2014
“We Rejoice in the Hope of the Glory of God”
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God writes St. Paul in the third chapter of Romans. It’s a passage of Scripture that is commonly taught to children because it teaches a basic truth that is necessary for salvation. There is no one righteous, no, not one. Since we are all sinners before God we are all in need of God’s grace to forgive our sins. What we have deserved from God is not grace or forgiveness but condemnation and punishment.
But the verse says something more than that all have sinned; it says that all fall short of the glory of God. That part of the verse tends to go overlooked. I don’t know very many people who, if you ask them what they’re aiming at with their lives, would say, “The glory of God.” They would probably say, “I want to be happy,” or, “I want my kids to have a good life,” or, “I want to be a good person.”
But God did not create human beings simply so that we could be happy or be good. He created us to see His glory. And without seeing His glory we can’t be happy or good.
Because of sin we fall short of the glory of God. Our lives are like arrows shot from a bow. They are aimed at a target—the eternal glory of God. But not one reaches the target. They fall in the mud. Our lives fail to reach the destination for which they were created—the glory of God.
Well, what do you do if you miss a target with your arrow? You go get it out of the mud and try again. If you miss a shot in a basketball game you go practice until you can make that shot in your sleep.
But it doesn’t work that way with our lives. There are no do-overs. Either we hit the target—fly straight and true and live a life that is worthy of God’s glory. Or we miss and fall short of the target, the glory of God. And we fall forever. Eternally we are those who were created to see God’s glory but went astray from the purpose for which our Creator made us. Since He made us and He is good and has all glory forever and ever, whose fault is it that we went astray? His? God forbid. We turned aside.
And because of sin we are off course before we even leave the bow.
On the mountain of transfiguration Peter, James, and John saw the glory of God. It was shining from a man—a human being, a son of Adam. This is already a strange thing. Every human being, every son of Adam, every single one, has been flying off-course, falling short of the glory of God. Not that there were no human beings with whom God was pleased before Jesus, but the Scripture says that they were not arrows that flew straight and true but that God “counted” them as though they were. Abram believed God, and [God] imputed [or counted] it to [Abram] for righteousness. (Gen. 15:6)
There was at least one human being before Jesus who had seen the glory of God—Moses. When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai, the “skin of his face shone” because he had been talking with God. It was like radioactivity. Moses’ face shone with the “fallout” of God’s glory. And Aaron his brother and the Israelites ran away when they saw him.
But Moses’ face never shone like Jesus’ does here. It radiated and reflected God’s glory. But Jesus’ face shines like the sun. A piece of glass can catch some of the light of the sun and reflect it, but those reflections do not compare to the sun’s light. Out of Jesus’ face the light of God’s glory radiates like the light from the sun. The sun’s light doesn’t come from another star. It generates light because it is so hot, the scientists say, that hydrogen atoms collide to form a new element, helium, and the energy that is released sends light streaming to earth—light that plants use to make sugar which then feeds the lives God created on earth.
The sun is like a well of energy and light. And Jesus is the well or the factory or the fire from which God’s glory streams and shines. Except, like the bush Moses saw which burned but the fire did not go out, the well of God’s glory in the face of Christ is eternal, never diminishing, never running out.
What Peter and James and John saw on the mountain is what Moses and Elijah and all the prophets and the law had been prophesying throughout the Old Testament. They were seeing the glory of God in a human being. They were seeing what human beings were aimed at, but what they had fallen short of since Adam’s sin.
But now what human beings were aimed at is a reality in front of their eyes. There is a human being—their master, Jesus—who not only reflects the glory of God, but participates in the glory of God.
In the previous chapter Jesus had just had a discussion with His disciples about who He was (and who He is). You quite possibly remember it. Who do people say I am? The apostles said, “They say you’re a prophet. Or Elijah.” And Jesus says, “But what about you—who do you say I am?” Peter said, “The Christ, the Son of the living God.” To which Jesus responds, “Blessed are you, Simon, for this was not revealed to you by men but by my Father in heaven.”
But immediately afterward Jesus began to teach them that He had to go to Jerusalem, be rejected by the priests, handed over to the Gentiles, be abused, rejected, and killed, and that God would raise Him up on the third day. This is not new information for us, but for the disciples it was unthinkable. So Peter said, “Jesus, what you are saying is blasphemous. God will never let that happen to His Son. Stop saying that!” And Jesus responded, “Get behind me, Satan! You don’t have in mind the things of God but the things of men.” And Jesus went on to tell them that anyone who wants to be His disciple must deny himself, take up the cross, and follow him; that it will do us no good to gain the whole world if we lose our soul. If we embrace Him we also embrace His suffering and death. We embrace those and then, when He appears in glory with His father He will also glorify us.
Then He told His disciples, “There are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”
And that is what they see here. The Son of Man coming in His kingdom. A glimpse of the glory of God in the body of a human being. This is what Jesus will look like when He comes again, except probably He will be even more glorious.
And when He appears, those who are His will share this same glory. We too will not only see the glory of God, but participate in it like Jesus does. The difference is this—that Jesus is the eternal Son of God in human flesh. In eternity the saints will be His brothers. We will not be God, but we will share His glory.
That is why God the Son became a man and appeared on earth. You were created for the glory of God, but in Adam you traded what God made you for for the empty dream of being a god apart from God. And what do we have? We are not gods. We no longer even dream consciously of being like God. We aim much lower than God had aimed us. He aimed us at seeing His glory and sharing it. We aim at being happy with food and drink and tvs and maybe, if we’re ambitious, power and prestige and money in this short life of a few decades.
Jesus appeared so that we would share the glory shining from His face and be kings together with Him. That’s why He came and it’s why He suffered. And it’s why you were baptized—so that you might become like Jesus in the glory we see on the mountain.
But do you live as if that is true? No.
No, we come into the presence of this Jesus, Sunday after Sunday. But we forget the vision these three saw on the mountain. Because Jesus doesn’t show His splendor and power we act as if He doesn’t have it, and we come into His house with worldly thoughts and worldly manners. Peter was rebuked because He offered to build three tents for Jesus, Moses, Elijah. That seems like a well-intentioned mistake. The well-intentioned mistake of Peter met with such a rebuke that the three men were left on their faces in terror, fearing death, fearing judgment. But we come into the presence of Christ much more irreverently. Ill-prepared, not ready to listen. Showing by our actions that we fail to understand whose presence we have come into and why He is here. [We show disrespect and a lack of fear in the way we talk, the way we conduct ourselves here, our lack of preparedness…]
No one can draw near to Jesus without drawing away from sin, hating it. God does not call us to become good American citizens. We are to be those, but He calls us to more—to be participants in His glory. And participants in His glory must first hate sin—not only gross sins, but also the uncleanness of the heart which is always with us. Peter wasn’t rebuked for committing adultery or murder. He was rebuked for speaking foolishly and proposing to serve Christ according to the wisdom of his flesh. He thought, “The way for us to share in the glory we see in Jesus here is to stay here a little longer. So let me offer to build tents.”
He meant well, but instead of listening to Jesus he was talking and proposing his own plans.
Jesus had already told them the way that He was going to bring them to the glory of God. That was, He was going to Jerusalem to be put to death. Then He would be raised from the dead for them, ascend into heaven, and sit at the right hand of the Father for them.
And the disciples would share in the glory of God through Jesus—through suffering and dying with Him, being raised from the dead with Him.
That is also how we share in the glory of God. We do not stay the arrows that have gone off course from the moment we were put on the string of the bow. We must become different. And that is impossible for us.
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets. That is what is happening on the mountain of transfiguration. Moses, the law giver, and Elijah, the prophet, are talking with Jesus and bearing witness to Him who is the righteousness of God.
He is the righteousness of God. Jesus. He was with the Father from the beginning and shared His glory.
He laid it aside so that He might merit the glory of God for the sons of Adam who had gone astray.
He, Jesus, is the man who flies straight and true and is righteous according to His works and merits the glory of God.
That holy and spotless life, in which God and man are one person, He is going to offer up in Jerusalem.
He will suffer and die for our shame and sin and then be raised from the dead for our justification. He alone is going to destroy and cancel the sin that lives in us from the womb in His own body.
We don’t come to God through trying to imitate Him, although we do try to imitate Him. We come to God through being joined to Him, to His flesh.
We come to God through believing the Gospel, that in Him and His suffering God has cancelled our sins and declared us righteous. The righteousness of God has been manifested…even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe, for there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God displayed publicly as a [sacrifice of atonement] in His blood….
That is why the Father says “Listen to Him!” to Peter. Peter’s thoughts are not going to bring about the righteousness of God. Neither are yours or mine. Our thoughts according to our wisdom and reason, what we see and feel in the flesh—even when we think we mean well—oppose God and His salvation.
So He thunders. “Listen to Him!” He condemns our unbelief, our refusal to hear Christ’s word, our desire for earthly glory, our love of earthly things.
Then Jesus comes in His church. He does not show His glory and His shining face. But He speaks to us without visible glory and says, Rise and have no fear.
He absolves our sins.
He baptizes us with water with the hand of a man and the mouth of a man.
He gives us bread and wine which He says is His body and blood.
Those words are the words of the glorious Lord in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily. They are not man’s words but God’s.
They tell us that the glory that appeared on the mountain is ours by faith.
He tells us, “Rise.” On the last day we will rise. And these mortal bodies will put on immortality. These earthly tents will be put off and the body that Jesus wore at His resurrection will be given to us.
So we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. We have this hope not because we have flown straight and true to the glory of God. Anything but that is the case.
But Jesus has. And He is given to us in His Word. What Jesus is, He is for you, He is for me, even while we feel ourselves to still be sinners.
We listen to Him. He builds us an eternal house, a risen body that shares in the glory of God as a brother of the only-begotten Son. He built it in His resurrection and poured it on us in Baptism.
We go with Him in the way of the cross and experience that we are being torn down. But He says, “That is because I have to take off the old tent you wear and put the new on you. Flesh and blood does not inherit the kingdom of God, but you shall all be changed, transfigured. In a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound and you who died with me in Baptism will be raised imperishable and you will be transfigured so that your lowly bodies will become like my glorious body, even as my glory was laid aside in the dust when I was put to death and condemned to die as a curse on the cross.”
We are dying because we were baptized. Let us not try to build our own tents and stay away from the cross. That is to stay away from Jesus.
He doesn’t want to live in a tent so we can simply look at His glory. He died so that we could also share in the glory of the Father in our bodies.
So He puts us to death and daily strips off this old man so that we can put on the body of His resurrection.
Let us rejoice in this hope as we receive His body and blood which were given for us and which have made us holy. Let us eat and drink and rejoice as our earthly glory is stripped away so that, together with Moses and Elijah, and our loved ones, we may rejoice when we rise from the dead and see Jesus in His glory and our bodies are made like unto His glorious body.
The peace of God which passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria