The Gift of Glory. Transfiguration of our Lord 2015
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 17:1-9
January 25, 2015
“The Gift of Glory”
Beloved in Christ:
Look at the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ! Don’t pass over it. Meditate on it. It is a picture of the glory that is to be ours in eternity, when we see Christ face to face and know the splendor of the eternal God.
This is the reason we say, “Lift up your hearts” in the liturgy before the Holy Sacrament of the Altar. Heaven is being opened before us, because our Lord Jesus is coming to us in His flesh and blood. But our hearts are usually weighed down to the earth.
Here in the transfiguration the veil that covers heaven is parted for a little while, and we see what is always there in Jesus but which is hidden from flesh and blood. We see Jesus’ form suddenly changed and the eternal glory of God shining from His human body. His face becomes like the sun. His clothes become dazzling white. The saints who are in heaven appear and are talking with Him.
Jesus is true God and true man. In Him is all the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form. But the image of His glory was hidden when He was on earth until His resurrection. We call this “the state of humiliation.” Jesus hid His glory under the form of fallen human beings that have no glory. He became like us who have lost God’s glory and are under the curse of sin. As scripture says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” When we were created, we reflected God’s glory and shared in it, but through sin we have been cut off from the glory of God.
But now God’s glory is pouring out of the body of a man. Heaven is present with Him on earth—the departed saints are revealed alive, speaking with Him. And in case we were slow and didn’t get it, the father’s voice thunders from the cloud and says, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased. Listen to Him!” God the Father is saying—if you want to know what I think, if you want to know what pleases Me, if you want to know Me and come to Me, then listen to this man Jesus, for He is My only-begotten Son and He pleases Me in every way.
So when we have Jesus, we have this glorious God and man. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. It doesn’t matter if you have Him asleep in a boat, or crowned with thorns and spit upon, or buried in a tomb. If you have Jesus you have the glorious Lord we see in the transfiguration.
If you have Jesus hidden under the water of baptism or hidden under the bread and wine of the sacrament or presented to you in preaching and the Scripture, you have this glorious Lord whose face shines like the sun in today’s Gospel. And it doesn’t matter if you receive Him when you are a baby, a teenager, old or middle-aged. It doesn’t matter if you are sick or suffering, burdened by sin, even if you are lying in your grave—if you have Jesus, you have the glorious Son of God who is presented to us today in His transfiguration, in all His glory and life.
We long and hunger and thirst for glory. Is that true, really? It seems like most of the time what we are hungering for is pleasure, or rest, or security, or health, or love, but not glory. But isn’t it true that we want more? We are frequently not content with our lives, our jobs, maybe our families, our relationships. We want more.
We were created for more than to eat and drink and work and die. That’s what Scripture tells us. God created us to bear the image of His glory and to have fellowship with Him, the most High. It’s no wonder that people feel dissatisfied and restless in this world. We were created for more. We were created to see God’s glory.
And in the beginning God gave human beings glory. We were to bear God’s image in the world and see and know Him. His glory was given as a gift, but we tried to make it our possession. We tried to own and control God’s glory for ourselves and ended up instead under the curse. Our curse is that our labor is in vain. Man works the ground and it brings forth thorns. Woman gives birth to children in great pain and her husband rules over her. And both are condemned to return to the ground from which man was taken, and after that to be judged.
All our lives we rebel against this curse. We try to find a way to secure our lives and whatever little piece of glory we think we can hold on to. Those are our idols. Sometimes people make an idol out of their work. Even though work is good it’s not meant to give us life or save our souls. God gives us work so that we may serve our neighbor. Sometimes people make an idol out of family or love and try to find their little bit of heaven and glory there. But even though God made marriage and family He didn’t make them to satisfy our thirst and hunger for God and life.
But now God has given us His glory again as a free gift. He has given us Jesus. In Jesus all the glory of God is hidden. And everyone who believes in Jesus, who listens to Him in faith, receives God’s glory and shares in His glory.
You may notice, though, that Jesus did not give a vision of His glory to everyone. Only three disciples went up on that mountain and saw Jesus transfigured. And Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone about what they had seen until after He was raised from the dead.
It may seem like if Jesus wanted to have everyone believe in Him and honor Him all He would have had to do was have a transfiguration in front of all His critics. But Jesus didn’t want to do that. He didn’t even want His disciples to tell people about this transfiguration or that He was the Christ.
The reason was that it was necessary for the Christ to be rejected and suffer. It had to be that Jesus would not stay on the mount of Transfiguration but go down it to Jerusalem where He would be transfigured into the man of sorrows. His face would be so disfigured by blows and blood and scorn that Isaiah says He would almost be unrecognizable as a human being. It was necessary that the glorious Lord have His glorious head pierced with thorns, His garments stripped and His skin torn with whips, His hands and feet nailed to the tree of shame. It was necessary that He cry out to God in Gethsemane and from the cross and receive no relief from God’s wrath.
All this was necessary that He might take away our curse and crown us with glory. It was necessary that the glorious Lord be laid in the dust to rescue us from sin and death, to turn away God’s wrath from us and bring us His favor. That is why this glorious Son of God has come to earth and been made man. Not merely so that He might show us His glory for a little while on earth, but so that He might take away all our shame and make us sharers in His glory and the Father’s good pleasure forever.
This is why there is joy for you even though you are carrying a heavy cross, and God’s glory seems far away. Christians experience suffering. There’s no doubt about that. We struggle with boredom and restlessness as we live in a cursed world. We live with the gloom of death looming ever larger over us as we grow older. We live with physical and spiritual affliction. We struggle with doubt over God’s care and concern for us as we see loved ones die and the church growing smaller. Sometimes we are afflicted by doubt over the forgiveness of our sins. If Jesus would only show us His glory, we think, that would be enough for us.
But just as it was absolutely necessary for our salvation that Jesus hide His glory and willingly accept the suffering of the cross, so it is necessary for us to bear the cross while we trust Him. For we are not merely spectators, watching Christ. We are participants in all that is His. The glory we see shining from Christ’s face is the glory that will be ours in heaven and which belongs to our loved ones who have gone to be with Christ in paradise. Jesus doesn’t just give us a glimpse of His glory, but to reflect it and share in it forever. We have been baptized into Him. His life is our life. His glory is our glory. Our lives are hidden in Him at the right hand of God.
And because we are baptized into Him, His suffering is also our suffering. His cross is our cross. His death is our death. When we feel alone, forsaken, overwhelmed, we are not forsaken by God or being punished by Him. We are simply sharing in Christ’s sufferings, for we were baptized into Him. And the Father says about you and I as we cling to Christ and endure our cross—“With you I am well-pleased.” We are God’s beloved sons and heirs through Him who bore God’s wrath for us.
I saw a member of St. Peter at her work not too long ago by accident. I asked her how it was going, and she said, “You know, I’m just living the dream.” That of course was good German Lutheran sarcasm. But that’s exactly how we feel many days in our lives.
But God has given His glory to these lives that don’t feel like dreams. All His glory is hidden in Jesus, who died for us. And your life is hidden in Jesus through your baptism into Him.
Today you share in Jesus’ weakness and suffering, but you are also a sharer in His glory. We are being transfigured into that image of His glory just as we are being conformed to the image of His death. And the day will come soon when the old Adam will be put off forever and we will know nothing but the glorious image of Christ, the only Son of God.
Soli Deo Gloria