Transfiguration of Our Lord
February 9, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
What would you ask God if you could ask Him one question? His is the mind that holds the secrets to life, the universe, and everything. Would you aim for something of cosmic significance—that he would explain the stars and their movements. Or maybe you’d aim smaller, and try to get a grip on sub-atomic particles. Maybe you’re a bit more altruistic, and you’d ask God to explain the nature of love. Or maybe you’re just interested in what the stock market will do tomorrow.
What would you ask God if you could ask Him one question? We love to learn new things—things we didn’t know before. The thrill of new discovery isn’t limited to Bill Nye the Science Guy, who doesn’t believe in God at all. It’s human nature to want to know a secret, to delve into the unknown, to bring hidden things to light.
It’s human nature to pursue the things that are hidden only in the mind of God, but it’s not the human nature that God created. It is, in fact, the corruption of human nature that lusts after the mind of God. Was that not the first sin? God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you’ll be like God and know good and evil (Gen 3:5 AAT). You will know what God knows.
The first sin was to delve into the hidden mind of God, and sinful nature has kept it up every generation since. We are not content that God keeps some things to Himself, that He hides some things within His own divine counsel. These are things that He should share with us. We want God to reveal Himself. All of Himself. Right now.
Peter, James, and John got a taste of that on the mount of Transfiguration. And after six days Jesus took with Him Peter, James, and John his brother, and took them up into a high mountain by themselves. And He was changed before them, and His face shown as the sun, and His garments became bright as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah talking with Him. Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you will, I will make three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (vv 1-4).
It must have been a sight to behold. Not only did the Son of God reveal His glory in a dazzling display, but Moses and Elijah appeared. Moses and Elijah! The Lawgiver and the Prophet who never died! What an opportunity.
Peter’s question, however, starts to show one of the problems presented to man when God reveals His glory. It’s too bright. Instead of asking Elijah to prophecy, or asking Moses to expound the Law, or begging Christ to reveal a secret of the universe, Peter asks if Jesus wants him to set up some tabernacles, some tents. This glory needs to be contained. His eyes are starting to hurt from the brightness of the light.
Moses and Elijah stand with Jesus in His glory not by chance. Moses asked to see God’s glory, but God responded that no man may see His glory and live. He hid Moses in the cleft of the rock and only showed His back, not His face. Elijah was led up into the mountain by the Lord, and he hid in a cave while the great wind, the earthquake, and the fire went on outside. Elijah did not find God in these signs of power and awe, but in the still, small voice.
God keeps Himself hidden for a reason; He keeps Himself hidden for our sake. As He told Moses, A man can’t see My face and live (Ex 33:20b AAT), that is, the full glory and revelation of God would strike sinful man dead. And so, when the glory of the Father’s voice is added to the glory revealed in Christ’s face and clothing, the disciples have no choice but to fall down as dead men, like so many others who beheld even a glimpse of divine glory. While he was yet talking, behold a brilliant cloud enveloped them, and behold, a voice from the cloud said, “This One is My Son, the Beloved; in Him I am pleased. Listen to Him.” And hearing [this], the disciples fell upon their faces and were exceedingly afraid (vv 5-6).
This is the end of all who pursue God’s hidden will, who lust after the mind of God. That’s the rub. If you would delve into the hidden mind of God, you must set yourself up as your own god, place yourself above the divinely ordained means by which God makes Himself known. As St. Paul writes, you make yourself into antichrist, who lifts himself up above everything that is God preached or worshiped (2 Thess 2:4; Luther’s translation from Bondage of the Will). In other words, if you pursue God apart from His Word—preaching and the sacraments, you will never find a God of grace and mercy.
Inside God’s hidden will you will only find His wrath, His anger, His punishment, and your death. And it is His first act of mercy to hide this from you. But there is a flipside to His hidden will, because He does reveal Himself to you. That’s what God’s glory is—His intentional revelation of Himself. When Jesus is on the mountain, He shows His glory. And at the same time He also shows how He reveals Himself in grace.
The revelation of Jesus’ glory is first paired with the two great prophets of the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah. These men are representatives of the Law and the Prophets, that is, God’s Word to His people of old. And they are in conversation with Christ. This tells us first that neither Moses nor Elijah, nor any of the prophets of old, got their ideas from their own heads, but Christ Himself gave them their words to preach and their words to write. And what’s more, these written words all testify to Christ. It is reported that Martin Luther once said, “If you tear a page of Scripture it bleeds the blood of Christ.” This means that every Law of the Old Testament, every commandment, every story, every failure, every redemption, all of it funnels down to the One whose face shone with God’s glory on the mountain. God reveals Himself for you in His Word preached and preserved in Scripture.
Secondly, the topic of this holy conversation shows us how God wishes to be revealed. St. Matthew doesn’t report it, but St. Luke writes that these holy prophets were talking with Jesus about His exodus. The exodus of Israel, which Moses led and wrote about, began with the sacrifice of the Lamb and the Lord’s Passover. It’s was God’s mighty act of deliverance. But this is not the historical exodus of Israel they are speaking of, this is Jesus’ exodus. This is the death of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. This is the blood of the Lamb smeared on the cross beams on Calvary. This is Jesus revealing the will of God for sinful men through the cross. This is God putting Himself under the anger, under the wrath, under the punishments, under everything that is in God’s hidden will. Jesus is the only Man who can plumb the depths of God’s mind, who can explore the hidden things in God’s will without setting Himself above the things of God, because He is the only Man who is also truly God.
To find a merciful God, to find a gracious God, to find a kind and loving God, look not in any place but the cross. For the face that is crowned with thorns is the face of God that you can look upon without fear of death. The face of Christ is the face of God that gives life.
And Jesus came, and touching them, said, “Be risen, and fear not.” They lifted up their eyes and saw no one but Jesus alone. And while they were going down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell no one the vision until the Son of Man is risen from the dead” (vv 7-9). After the show of glory, after the brilliance of His shining face and dazzling clothes, after the ecstatic vision of the great prophets, what raises up the disciples, who have become like dead men, is Jesus alone. He comes to them, plain and simple, and touches them, takes them by the hand, and pulls them up on their feet.
The one who approaches God’s hidden will to discover the mind of God is a theologian of glory. But a theologian of the cross finds God revealed in the cross, he looks for God in the preached prophetic and apostolic Word, he is touched by tangible means in the sacrament. A theologian of the cross finds God’s will revealed in Christ, and ends up a raised man, even as Christ is risen from the dead.
Christ Is Revealed to You as the Risen One Who Raises You from the Dead
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard