Matthew 17:1-9 (The Transfiguration of Our Lord—Series A)
“Listening to the Son”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
February 26, 2017
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson for Transfiguration Sunday recorded in Matthew 17:
1After six days Jesus took with Him Peter and James and his brother John and He led them up privately to a high mountain. 2And He was transfigured before them, and His face shown like the sun, and His clothes became white as the light. 3And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with him. 4Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, for us to be here is good. If you wish, I will make here three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah. 5While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice from the cloud was saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased. Listen to Him.” 6When the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and they were exceedingly afraid. 7And Jesus came to them and touched them saying, “Get up and stop being afraid.” 8Now when they had lifted up their eyes they saw no one except Him, Jesus alone. 9And as they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them saying, “Tell no one the sight until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”
I suppose many of you are familiar with the phrase, “Silence is golden.” It’s an expression that means it is often better to be quiet and to say nothing. My Dad’s version was, “A closed mouth gathers no feet.” Too many times we are so busy yapping that we really are not listening to what is being said. Too many times we are so busy speaking that we never take the time to listen, to really hear what needs to be heard. Silence is golden. But silence is also uncomfortable. We’ve been culturally conditioned to have something going on at all times—talk radio, music, television, conversation. We find silence hard to cope with, especially when we feel we ought to be telling someone what we really think and why the other person is clearly wrong.
This is actually what Peter does to Jesus a mere seven verses before the Transfiguration text. Simon Peter had just made the right confession of “Who is Jesus?” He said that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and he was spot-on! Jesus declared Peter “blessed” because God the Father had revealed this truth to Peter. Then Jesus began to reveal to His disciples what being the Christ actually means for Jesus. Being the Christ means “fulfilling all righteousness,” as Jesus told John at His baptism. Fulfilling all righteousness means standing with sinners, identifying with sinners, and taking the very place of sinners as their substitute in life . . . and in death. Jesus told His disciples 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” (Matt. 16:21). It is at this point that Peter opens his mouth and inserts his foot. Peter took Jesus aside and began to reprimand Him for saying such a thing. “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (16:22). In other words, Peter tells Jesus, “Let me tell you what I think. Let me tell you how wrong you really are about this Christ business.” Silence for Peter would have been golden because Jesus would not have then scolded Peter in the harshest of ways, “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” (16:23).
Lesson learned, right? Not quite. Within a week of this incident, Peter does it again. Jesus took Peter, along with the brothers James and John, and He led them up privately to a high mountain. There these three disciples witnessed the glory of God literally in the face of Christ! There was Jesus, true Man and true God, revealing His divine glory to these disciples. The fact that Jesus is the true Son of God, who on the mountain was filled with splendor and glory, does not change the fact that He has “a strange and terrible work to do . . . to save people from their sins.” And yet, as Moses and Elijah appear to them, talking with the transfigured Jesus, Peter cannot stay silent. He blabbers on, “Lord, for us to be here is good. If you want, I’ll make three shelters, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” It’s obvious that Peter doesn’t know what he is saying, as Mark points out in his Gospel. In some sense, Peter is lumping Jesus together with Moses and Elijah, as if they were all three on the same level with one another. He’s going to give them each the same kind of shelter. Jesus’ face shown like the sun and His clothes had become white as light. Here is God the Son Himself in glory and Peter is thinking that Jesus is somehow on par with Moses and Elijah!
God the Father intervenes. Peter hasn’t stopped talking when a bright cloud overshadows them. Peter hasn’t stopped talking when the Father speaks from the cloud, “This One is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased. Listen to Him!” Peter had interrupted and spoke foolishly when he should have been silent and listened. God the Father interrupted Peter and silences him. In effect, the Father was saying to Peter in no uncertain terms, “Shut up! This Jesus is My beloved Son, not Moses and not Elijah. Shush! and listen to Him.”
Solomon, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:7 that there is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” Never was that more true than in the life of Simon Peter. And never is it truer in our lives also. There’s a time to talk. There’s a time to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, whose glory we see on the mountain. There’s a time to speak about the cross of Christ where He bore the sins of the world in His own body on the tree so that all people would have forgiveness of sins and eternal life. There’s a moment to talk about the risen Lord Jesus, who lives and reigns to all eternity, who has poured out the Holy Spirit upon His Church on earth, delivering the gifts of faith, forgiveness, life, and salvation to people through the Gospel Word and the Sacraments of Christ. And there is a time to be quiet. There is a time not to speak, but to listen. There is a time to listen to Jesus—to what He says about Himself and to what He says about you.
That’s not always an easy thing in our world, is it? Being quiet. Not talking about ourselves or our lives. Listening. While silence for us might be uncomfortable, as it was for Peter, it is nevertheless much needed. The ruckus of noise caused by our sins, by the world, and by our flesh seeks to drown out the voice of the Son of God. The clamor of our guilt and shame doesn’t want us to hear the soothing sound of the Voice of grace and forgiveness. Yet the Father invites us, yes, He commands, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him!”
The Season of Lent which begins this week on Ash Wednesday can especially be that time for you to listen to the Son. Despite Peter’s protest, in spite of the fact that it is utter foolishness that God should take upon Himself our flesh become fully human in order to suffer and die on a cross in place of humanity, Jesus went the way of the cross. Jesus is the Christ came to bear our sins and redeem all people from sin, from death, and from the power of the devil. Jesus had to go to Jerusalem and suffer much at the hands of the chief priests and elders. He had to be nailed to a cross so that He might purchase and win your forgiveness with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, did this so that you “may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true” (Small Catechism).
It’s time to listen to God the Son. It is time to quiet our speech and to silence the noise of the world and our sinful flesh. It is time to listen to Him as He speaks to us through His Word in the Bible. The Holy Scriptures are where God the Son speaks and says to you, “I forgive you all you sins.” His Words of Institution delivers to you under the forms of bread and wine His true Body and Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins, for life and salvation, and for the strengthening of your faith so that you can listen to Him.
Listening to Jesus happens when you come into this place where the Lord Himself gathers you around His Word and His Sacraments so that you hear the message of Christ, about Christ, and from Christ through His Word. Avail yourselves of the additional worship opportunities to hear the Word during Lent. Turn off the TV, the cell phone, the PC and commit to extra time reading the Word at home. Be quiet. Be silent. Listen to Jesus. Amen.
Jeffrey A Gibbs, Matthew 11:2-20:34, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 2010), 859.
 Gibbs, 857.