It won’t be long now. We’ll be there. In the garden where Jesus is captured like a fugitive. In the smoky hall before a mock-court with Jesus on trial. In the sweat of the crowd as soldiers abuse him and spit and mock. Finally at the foot of the cross, in the dark, his life-blood flowing out. We’ll be there in Jesus’ passion and at its end. To be ready for that, we need to see this. To help us when we get there, it is good for us to be here.
to See the Son God Loves
Peter says it, which isn’t a surprise. Peter spoke often. It’s an interesting set of circumstances, obviously – a shining vision of Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah, nobody’s talking to Peter, but literally “Peter replied” anyway, and Mark lets us know he spoke because he didn’t know what to say – they were all afraid. What he ends up saying is sort of telling. In his original language, the emphasis in Peter’s words is actually not so much that “it’s good for us” to be here, but rather, “it’s good that we are here.” Meaning maybe, “Jesus, it’s a good thing Peter, James, and John are here, because we can be of so much help… I’ve got this grand shelter plan in mind, you see. Three little tabernacles we can make and you three holy ones can keep this little conclave going. I haven’t figured out dinner for tomorrow yet, but we’ll manage…” Peter could see it, what he had to do, what the good thing was… And also totally missed what God had intended him to see…
I don’t know that I would have said better if a glory cloud descended before me. I would have been afraid too. And I probably talk too much… And, like Peter, sometimes I have a seeing problem. I see exactly what I think should be, even when God’s clearly shown how it really is. This week Pastor Free shared some online chat room experiences with me – people griping about past church involvement and saying that church was wicked because the message was that they were sinful and needed a Savior. I’m sad if someone had a bad experience with church… but also that is exactly Christ’s message to all. Which the world hates and people in the world hate. Because you’ve seen that sort of thing, you’ve sometimes seen a better way, haven’t you? Perhaps to set aside this cross, even Jesus’ cross, and talk of guilt or sin and to talk instead about community or love or healing? Sometimes I want to set aside my own cross, the struggles of following him or for witnessing him because I see the glorious plans I have and the things I want to do. You can envision how it all should be in your life and what little changes to God’s commands you’d have to make or you can see just how perfect it is that you are here to accomplish this or that… And sometimes, like Peter, our vision gets in the way of the vision…
For all of that in us, it is good that we are here. Jesus obviously wanted those three disciples to be there. He knew they were sinful men. He knew their shifty hearts and double-mindedness and he knows my mind and your heart too and still he gathers us around his Word. And what do we sinners see here? Jesus is transfigured. That’s a special word. Changed in his nature/character to reveal the other nature that he is. There are two natures in Jesus Christ – true man and, here, true God, seen as he radiates glory. Light and white so bright the best laundromat couldn’t compete. And he stands with some of the “greatest lights” in human history. Elijah – steadfast preacher of repentance while wicked King Ahab and his evil wife Jezebel ruled and Israel ran after every kind of idol. He ascended to heaven as you heard on a whirlwind, which probably won’t happen to you. Of course there is Moses, who was friends with God like no human had been since the fall – spoke “face to face”. He brought God’s hand-written law to Israel. His face radiated light after meeting with God. Mine’s never done that. Of course, his faded away each time. And Elijah didn’t ascend himself to heaven, he was taken there. How good then, for sinners to see this Jesus instead. He is the light of the world, in this moment on the mountain he’s actually shining with his heavenly light, because in nature he is truly God, because he is truly holy. And to define this vision, from the glory cloud that comes down, God the Father says, “[See!] this is my Son, whom I love…”
According to God’s wisdom, it is good that we are here to see the Son God loves. Especially before we see his Passion again. Before we see him crucified, we see him glorified. That we might see that by his suffering and death Jesus will bring glory, here we have a glimpse of that glory – he had it beforehand and he put it away to suffer for salvation! Likewise we see, those who longed for the Savior’s glory, Moses & Elijah, are standing alive in that glory before his work is done – because it will be accomplished for his saints. The Savior himself in human flesh and in the sinful world radiates the glory of God in himself, and if he can do that…surely he can glorify all flesh. We see that God loves his Son’s work, which is our salvation. Then these things we see are glimpses of our own glory too – who have sins, who long for him in faith. And they help us see true glory: though we might make wonderful plans, this is the only one that really does anything different. Everything else is human wisdom that often fails and always dies. But here is God’s beloved Savior Son who has glory and promises it to me.
to Listen to the Son God Loves
And, of course, this vision is meant to be one we keep. Which is a question of listening vs. hearing. Hearing is what happens with all the trains in the PeWaukeField area. There are something like 30-40 trains that run through here daily…just off my neighborhood to the West a good number of them. But I don’t hear them anymore, not most often. Listening, on the other hand, that’s an intentional process – like being in a favorite professor’s class, where you hang on every word, and take tons of notes – what she says affects you and you want it to. In that way, it is good for us to be here not just to see, but to listen to the Son God loves.
On Transfiguration we see the glory of Jesus here before he goes there to the cross. God’s glory and love is revealed when the Son he loves hides his glory in order to suffer for our sins. To emphasize that truth God says, “Listen to him…” As later Jesus tells his disciples, “Don’t speak about this thing until I rise from the dead.” That is, when you’ll really begin to understand the implications of all you’ve seen… How my glory here, hidden in suffering there, confirmed in life after, promises glory for you even while you suffer here. It’s like God’s saying, “Listen – and I mean, take this up and understand what it means in a useful way for yourselves…”
I like that emphasis of the 2nd lesson, this morning – as we listen to God’s Son, there is an otherwise unseen reality that is ours. “[W]e, [who in a way far superior to Moses] reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed [same word as Jesus’ transfiguration] into [Jesus’] likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” We, seeing our transfigured Lord, are being transfigured too by faith. Day by day, his Spirit is working that new nature in our hearts to know our sins and that our sins are forgiven by his suffering and death, and that because Jesus rose from death, so will we. That though we might see ourselves in so many seemingly glorious ways and we might see ourselves in all sorts of inglorious difficulties, here is true glory that is ours – we are dead to sin and alive with Christ – growing in Jesus’ likeness – and God loves Jesus.
And, the more we listen to this message, the more we say the same thing. It shows up in us. Paul said, “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry (sharing the good news of salvation), we do not lose heart.” Or, we do not give in to the fear that comes because of all we see. No, we own what God has shown us in Christ. And it fortifies our hearts and brings courageous action: “[W]e have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Cor 3:18-4:2) When we listen to God’s Son, we have everything we need in order to speak about all the things we have seen – the things others need to know. He gives us confidence not to hide, nor to lie, not to bend the truth, but to speak the truth. And we know that we are seen by God every day, but clear-conscience service gives us great joy. It’s good to be here, to listen to God’s Son – because who he is and what he says and what he does – it transfigures us too – ever increasing glory all the way to the end.
It won’t be long now. We’ll be there. In that new creation where no one can hold us captive, but we will be free. In the shining halls of heaven’s court with Jesus as judge. In the great crowd of saints shouting praises everlasting. Finally at the foot of his throne, in the light, washed in the blood of the Lamb. We’ll be there in Jesus’ glory at the end. To be ready for that, as we pass through his Passion,while we’re walking through all this, it is good for us to be here.