Our Hero Shines in All His Glory
A sermon based on Luke 9:28-36
Sunday, February 10, 2013 –Transfiguration C
One of the popular genres of movie these days is the story of the superhero. And you know how the plotline always goes. Before he gets to the real challenge, the superhero must face some smaller problems. Before he gets to the supervillian—the mastermind behind the destruction of the planet—our hero first has to defeat a few thugs that aren't really a threat to him. Isn't that how it always goes?
But why does the plot always run that way? It's because those smaller victories reveal to you who the hero is. They show his superpowers so you know that he has what it takes to take care of the supervillian. The initial glimpses of power prepare you for the real struggle yet to come.
Today, as we take a look at Jesus' Transfiguration, we see how God does the same thing for us. He reveals the strength of our superhero, Jesus, as he's revealed as true God in all his glory. And the timing of this revelation of who Jesus is was no accident. Right before the real struggle of dying for the sins of the world, this glimpse of his glory prepared his disciples (and prepares us) for it. We can be certain that Jesus is the Son of God who can (and who has) overcome all of our enemies.
Listen now to Luke's account of the Transfiguration of Jesus in Luke 9:28-36 and see Jesus revealed in all his glory at the pinnacle of Epiphany to prepare us for his suffering in this lead-in to Lent…
28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, 31 appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, "Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." (He did not know what he was saying.) 34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him." 36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen.
I. On the Mountain
After a physically exhausting climb to the top of a mountain, the disciples were understandably worn out. They were "very sleepy" Luke tells us. But nothing like having a spotlight shined in your face to wake you up, right? What a startling sight the three saw! Jesus face was light up as bright as the sun itself! (Matthew 17:2) His clothes were brighter than anyone could bleach them (Mark 9:3), as bright as a flash of lightening! And he wasn't the only one shining!
There with him was the prophet Moses—the one with whom God had spoken face to face! The one through whom the law was given! And with him was Elijah—one of the truly great prophets, who never even had to face death! What guests! What glory! What a privilege for these disciples to see the kingdom of God!
And Peter rightly confessed, "Master, it is good for us to be here!" And though he wanted to contain the glory that was on that mountain and bottle it up with a couple of tents, that's not what Jesus had in mind. Jesus hadn't come to bring heaven to earth, but sinners from this earth into heaven. And to do that Jesus still had to suffer and die. The real struggle still lie ahead. He still had to "depart" in Jerusalem.
And before those events took place, how good it was for Peter, James and John to see what they did! For on that mountain Jesus revealed his glory. Though he usually walked around like an ordinary man, or as Isaiah put it, with "no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him," (Isaiah 53:2b) though he usually looked more like the nerdy Clark Kent than the powerful Superman, now Jesus pulled back his humanity to reveal his glory to the disciples, like Clark Kent pulling off his glasses, shirt and tie to reveal his tights and cape. Here, for a moment, Jesus let his divinity shine through clearly to reveal who he was! If the miracles he had performed had left any doubt of who Jesus really was, for Peter James and John that doubt was certainly removed there on the mountain!
And how clearly you and I see who Jesus is! We've been catching glimpses of his divine glory all Epiphany season. We've seen the Holy Spirit descend on him and heard God the Father boast about him. We've seen him turn water into wine and fulfill all prophecies of Scripture. But now, seeing his glory shine through at his transfiguration, we see more clearly than ever the proof of his divinity! While Moses reflected the glory of God (cf. Exodus 34:29-35), Jesus glowed with it himself! Here, on the Mount of Transfiguration, we have seen Jesus shine in all his glory!
II. In His Exodus
Now, for Peter, James and John, this revelation of Jesus' glory couldn't have come at a better time; right before Lent, when they would be tempted to wonder if Jesus really was God. After all, if he had the power to stop disease, why didn't he stop these men from scourging him? If he could raise the dead to life, why didn't he prevent his own death?
Our text began with the words, "About eight days after Jesus said this…" But, said what? Well, a week earlier Jesus told his disciples, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life." (Luke 9:22)
He explained that they were going to Jerusalem so he could accomplish his mission. But that's not what Peter wanted. A week earlier he said, "Never, Lord! ... This shall never happen to you!" And now, Peter still didn't want Jesus to go to the cross. He wanted to keep this moment of glory for as long as he could. He said, "Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." Here Jesus didn't respond to Peter's request. He didn't need to. God the Father did it for him.
"While [Peter] was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them… A voice came from the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him."
God pointed out to Peter that Jesus was his chosen one. But he also pointed out that his chosen one was not chosen to bring the disciples glory, but forgiveness. In Isaiah 53 he spoke of Jesus' mission in the past tense when he said, "…he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed." (Isaiah 53:4-5)
This is the mission that Moses, Elijah, and all the prophets described. This is the mission Jesus explained to his disciples when he said, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and… be killed and on the third day be raised to life." This is the departure—literally the "exodus," the "exit" or "going out"—that Jesus discussed with Moses and Elijah on the mountain top. This is the mission the chosen one—the Messiah—had come to fulfill.
And this is exactly the kind of Superhero Peter and all the disciples needed. Not one to shine in triumph over Rome, not one to shine in splendor on the mountain, but one who would suffer and die and take their sins on himself.
And that's exactly what kind of Superhero we need. Let's face it. We don't always listen to Jesus like God the father commanded. And implied in "Listen to him!" is "Obey him!" Yet, how often don't we put our desires above what God desires and let our selfishness creep in. You and I are far less than perfect and since it's perfection that God demands, we deserve hell.
And yet, how often don't we still wish Jesus were some other kind of Savior. We want him to save us from this economy. Save us from the growing government. Save us from our physical or emotional pains. Like Peter, we cry, "Save us from the boring and mundane, Jesus, and show us your glory, right here, right now. And let us hold on to that glory! We'll build a tent and you can stay here and give us our best life right now."
But thank God he doesn't give us the kind of Savior we want, but the Savior we need—a Savior from sin. That's what his departure–his exodus from this life—was was all about! That's what his mission—the whole reason he came to earth—was all about! And it's there, in his exodus, not there on the mountain, where Jesus real glory shines!
It was good for Peter, James and John to be there to see Jesus on the mountain top. And it's good for us to see him there too. For as we soon watch him suffer and die this Lenten season, we can take comfort that he is true God. His death wasn't just the death of a man, but the death of God himself. It was God's blood shed on the cross. And therefore his sacrifice was enough to pay for your sins and for mine—for every one of them!
III. Through Us
So how do we respond this view of Jesus' glory shining through? We do what God told Peter, James and John to do. We listen to him. When he tells us it's time to leave the mountaintop of worship where we see his glory and it's time to go into the plains of our mission fields at work, at home, and in our neighborhoods. And just as Jesus' glory shined on that mountain, well, we obey him and do as he says in Matthew 5:16: "In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."
Others will see how you live differently, how you work more faithfully, how you're kind and compassionate, even to those who hate you. And they'll want to know what makes you different. And you can tell them. And when you do tell them that it's because you long to serve your Savior for winning your forgiveness of sins on the cross, then Jesus' glory will sine in all its splendor though you.
And finally, one day soon, you and I will shine with glory like Moses and Elijah did on that mountain top, like Peter, James and John and all the saints who have gone before us do right now! And while we can't have that glory here on earth, who needs it?! We rejoice that because of our Superhero, because of our Savior and his work, we'll soon leave this earth for the glory of heaven to experience Jesus' glory first hand! In him, dear friends, amen.