“And we have seen His glory, glory as of The Only-begotten of The Father, full of grace and truth.” When St. John wrote these words, he could have had today’s Gospel in mind. On The Mount of Transfiguration, he saw Jesus in a totally different way than his sinful mind was prepared to handle. He saw Him as God in the flesh, as “God in man made manifest.” Peter, James, and John saw on that mountain their God, and they could not doubt that.
Today is The Last Sunday after The Epiphany. We’ve been hearing about how our Lord revealed His Deity during His state of humiliation. He did this every time He did a miracle, and we’ve heard just a small sampling of them. We’ve seen it in the trip and gifts of the wise men, in His youthful preaching in The Temple. But today it is thoroughly revealed, if only for a minute.
What did they see? I don’t think they had the words to explain it. They compare it to things like the sun or snow. They didn’t mean the small bits of snow we’ve gotten this winter, but that heavy snow you can’t look at because the sun is shining on it. And you can’t look at a bright sun in the summer sky too long! His face was shining like, and far brighter than, these things. His clothes were shining too. They couldn’t believe what they were seeing. It’s amazing they didn’t fall on their faces right then so they wouldn’t go blind! They saw how lovely shined The Morning Star and yet weren’t dead!
The Morning Star shined before them. He was transfigured. The Father caused Him to shine forth with the honor and glory He has had through all eternity, the honor and glory with which we shall all see Him shine when He returns, the honor and glory He has not just because He’s God’s Son, but because He died and rose for our salvation.
He died and rose for our salvation. That’s why our Evangelical-Lutheran Church began to read this Gospel on this day. The Church observed it on August 6, but in time it came to be heard on this day, the Sunday before Septuagesima. She does this not just because it happened chronologically between Jesus’ Birth and Death. She does this because Moses and Elijah showed up on the mountain to talk about, St. Luke says, Jesus’ Exodus.
Moses led The Exodus. That was Israel’s escape from Egypt by crossing the Red Sea on dry ground to watch the pursuing Egyptian army drown. They went on to freedom in The Promised Land. Now Christ had come to suffer death and yet come out of it alive. So Moses and Elijah came to Him to speak about these things. They told Him what He Himself had had them write and preach, what all The Law and The Prophets proclaim, what He Himself had told His disciples only a week before: He was going up to Jerusalem to suffer and die for sin, but then would rise again. He is human like us, and still in His humiliation, so this comfort was well-taken.
The Apostles were probably gawking. They knew who these two guys were who were with Jesus, and they were shocked they were seeing them and even that they knew who they were. Moses’ face was probably still shining, and Elijah was probably still dressed in his unique fashion which recently St. John the Baptist had imitated. He’d never died, and Jude seems to tell us in his Epistle that Moses didn’t stay dead long. Perhaps these two things in the back of their minds made them realize who they were looking at. Perhaps their words gave them no other options for who they could be. But just when they were ready to enjoy the sight, God knocked them flat on their faces, right where they belonged.
What happened? A cloud showed up, and not just any cloud, but the very cloud that led Israel out of Egypt, that filled the Temple, that came upon The Virgin when she conceived, that would envelop Calvary and receive Him at His Ascension. And The Father spoke from the cloud, spoke words He spoke when Jesus was baptized and the clouds ripped open when The Spirit descended on Him as a dove: “This Is My Beloved Son.” This time He added something: “Listen to Him.”
For that very reason at this very moment Moses and Elijah leave, and the next thing the disciples know, Jesus is touching them, telling them to get up and not be afraid, and He’s back to normal. They’d fallen over like dead men realizing they were in God’s presence and nobody can see God and live. Now they learn what’s important to God. It isn’t His looks; the crucifix makes that obvious. It’s His Word. His Word, what Jesus says to you in Holy Scripture, on every page, in every sentence, no exceptions, is what’s important to Him.
Why? Because there Jesus says to you what He said to His Apostles: “Get up and fear not!” Why does He say that to you? Because you should be flat on your face, scared to death, before God, that’s why. You are just as sinful as St. Peter was, who once said to Jesus, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” You know he wasn’t kidding because all in one night he chopped off Malchus’ ear to defend Jesus only to deny Jesus 3 times.
How do you know you are a sinner? The Scriptures give you examples of the sinfulness of the great men of faith to encourage you to examine yourself with The Ten Commandments, which you have not kept. They show you, who have not chopped off an ear, you have fought your brother, your sister, your classmate, the guy nobody likes. You have not openly denied Jesus, but do you listen to Him, really listen to Him? Too often we must say we have not quite listened to the sermon, rushed through devotions when we did them, and probably know as much or little as we did a year ago – and Luther says in The Large Catechism that we should always be learning from God’s Word, in fact, that we better know more at the end of 2017 than we did at the end of 2016!
How should we respond to this? We should fall on our faces, realizing what we deserve from God. We deserve the punishments of hell. We don’t deserve a way out. But Jesus comes to us and says: “Get up and fear not.” God’s not going to condemn you for your sins. For He sent Jesus down this mountain in order to send Him up another mountain: Calvary. There He punished Him for all the sins you have committed against the Third Commandment, the Fifth Commandment, all 10 commandments. That means His punishments for your sins are all used up, there’s none left. Hell is no longer in your future. And since He’s risen and ascended into glory, shining like He did on this mountain, He’s going to raise up you who believe in Him and you’ll shine like stars then too with His glory. This is why The Father loves His Son, St. John says. He loves Him because He laid down His life for His sheep in order to take it up again, in order to give it to you.
So how should you react? Listen to Him. Believe His Word. Do not despise preaching and His Word, but regard it as holy and gladly hear and learn it. So I encourage you, read God’s Word every day. Come to Bible Classes. Read through your Catechism and rememorize the passages you had to memorize back in Confirmation Class. Listen to Jesus. Why? Because that’s how you get His salvation, your salvation. Jesus, and Jesus only, gets you to eternal life. His Word, and His Word alone, delivers it to you. His Word alone makes you co-heir with Him of His glory and brings you to the enjoyment of the same. Listen to Him.