Matthew 17:1-9 (The Transfiguration of Our Lord—Series A)
“Comfortable with Jesus”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
February 23, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel recorded in Matthew 17:
1And after six days, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, his brother, and he led them up into a high mountain by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shown like the sun, and his garments were white like light. 3And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them conversing with him. 4And Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. 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, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him.” 6And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and they were extremely afraid. 7But Jesus came to them and touched them and said, “Rise and stop being afraid.” 8And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one except him—Jesus only. 9And as they were coming down out of the mountain Jesus commanded them saying, “Tell no one the vision until the Son of Man shall be raised from the dead.”
People are generally comfortable with Jesus in His humanity. The man Jesus is rather non-threatening. However, when it comes to the divinity of Jesus, people aren’t so sure what to do with that. Jesus on the mountain was transfigured before Peter, James, and John. Matthew tells us that Jesus’ face shown like the sun. His garments were white like light. Here is the man Jesus displaying the brilliance of the glory of God! And Peter doesn’t know what to do with it, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make here three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (St. Mark tells us that “he did not know what to say, for they were terrified.”) And that fear only escalates when a bright cloud overshadows them and they hear the voice of God the Father speak, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him.” The disciples fall on their faces because they are extremely afraid.
Why is there such fear when people encounter God? Again, people are quite comfortable with the man Jesus, but Jesus is not simply a man. He is “God in man made manifest.” Jesus is “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God” (Nicene Creed). Jesus is “God, begotten from the substance of the Father before all ages; and He is man, born from the substance of His mother in this age: perfect God and perfect man” (Athanasian Creed). So to encounter Jesus is to meet God in human flesh—true God and true Man, one Christ. And it is the presence of God that brings fear to those who are separated from Him because of their uncleanness and unholiness.
The writer of the Book of Hebrews simply states, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31 ESV). God alone—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—can put to death and bring to life. And being put to death because of our sins is why we fear God the most. There is now, since the Fall, a disconnect between humanity and its Creator. He is holy, without sin. Humanity is not. And “the Lord [our] God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deut. 4:24 ESV) so that “the wicked will not stand in the judgment” (Psa. 1:5 ESV).
Sinful, corrupt, unholy humanity cannot stand before the righteous, perfect God. God said to Moses on Mt. Sinai, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘Yahweh.’ . . . But . . . you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Ex. 33:19–20 ESV). No mortal human can see the face of God and remain alive. He is the holy God and a consuming fire to humanity’s unholiness. As our vision is destroyed by looking directly at the sun, so our whole nature would be destroyed by the unveiled sight of the brilliance of the glory of God. His holiness would simply eat us up. We cannot bear it.
And so we are much more comfortable with Jesus in His humanity. It is much less
frightening than the glory of the holiness of God. And yet, in the person of Jesus there is exactly that—the holy, righteous God of heaven and earth. And Peter, James, and John got to see a glimpse of that glory and holiness in the transfigured Jesus. With shining face and gleaming white garments, speaking with Moses and Elijah, stood the Creator, God the Son, incarnate, covered in human flesh, living among His fallen creation. As we sang with such joy at Christmas, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity! Pleased as Man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel! Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn King!’” (LSB 380:2).
This King born for us is the Savior. Jesus reveals His glory to the apostles on the mountain so that they might know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is true God. The Father Himself sets His imprimatur upon Jesus, just as He did at the baptism in the Jordan, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him.” The disciples are to hold fast to what Jesus teaches. They are to trust in His Word. They are to believe that it is for their salvation from sin and death that Jesus has come to be delivered into the hands of men who will crucify Him. He will die and on the third day be raised again.
This Jesus, true God and true Man, is the Father’s appointed agent for our salvation. We heard this on the First Sunday after the Epiphany at the Jordan River, “This is my beloved Son.” On this last Sunday after the Epiphany, we hear it again, “This is my beloved Son.” Because of the separation caused by sin, “no one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, He has made Him known (John 1:18). Jesus, the beloved Son Himself, makes known the Father’s heart to us. Yes, He is the holy God in whose presence sinners cannot stand. But He is also the gracious Savior who desires salvation from sin, Satan, and death for all people.
So from the revelatory unveiling of His glory as the One-of-a-Kind Son of the Father on the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus will descend into the valley of the shadow of death to be nailed to a cross on a mount called “Golgotha,” the place of the skull. In black cosmic darkness, bearing in His body the sins of the world—all the evil, all the hatred, all the lust, all the broken promises, all the greed, all the thoughts, words, and deeds of which you and I are ashamed—He will die. He died for you. He died to make you holy with His own blood, cleansing you from your sins and making you a new creation by grace through faith in Him alone.
Did you notice how Matthew concludes our reading today. It’s beautiful Gospel. “But Jesus came to them and touched them and said, ‘Rise and stop being afraid.’ And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one except him—Jesus only.” Jesus only—by grace only through faith only—gives you forgiveness of sins and eternal life, not death and hell. His blood has bridged the separation between you and God. St Paul writes, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18–19 ESV). And in Romans 5:10 it is promised, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:10 ESV).
There is now nothing to fear. Your sins, which separated you from God and which earned your death, have been paid for in full. You are forgiven. You are declared right with God and have been given the privilege and rights of being His children who see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. In the Divine Service, as you gather here, you come into the Lord’s presence to listen to Christ’s Word (as the Father bids you to do—“Listen to Him”). In Holy Absolution, your sins are forgiven with the Word of Christ. As you come to the Table, you receive the true body of Christ in, with, and under the bread, and drink of the blood of the new covenant in and with the wine which strengthen your faith, grant you the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. This Gospel, given to you in Word and Sacrament, reveals to you the glory of God in the person of Jesus, true God and true Man, your Savior.
Because of the Good News of Jesus, you can be most comfortable with Jesus, not only in His humanity but also in His divinity. The Father loved you so much that He gave His One-of-a-Kind Son to be born in human flesh so that He might purchase your forgiveness with His own blood, making peace between you and God. That peace of sins forgiven in Jesus only assures you that you need not fear the presence of God. He is gracious and merciful toward you because of the merits of Jesus’ perfect life, death, and resurrection, which are credited to you by faith. As you enter the holy season of Lent this Ash Wednesday, behold the glory of Christ in His death for you as we come to the Day of Resurrection with joy and peace. Amen.