Transfiguration of Our Lord
January 17, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
With Jesus, there’s much more than meets the eye. On the high mountain He shows a glimpse of the hidden glory that lies beneath the surface. 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 (vv 1-2). This doesn’t happen to regular people.
What is it that Jesus is showing about Himself on the mount of Transfiguration? By this miraculous metamorphosis, Jesus is showing His two natures—the divine and the human—and the relationship between the two.
The voice that comes from heaven is the same voice that we heard last week at Jesus’ baptism and it says virtually the same thing: This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Only now the invitation is added: Listen to Him (v 5). The voice of the Father from heaven confirms for us that the man who stands on the mountain, who walked with His disciples, who as a boy was separated from His parents, who was born of Mary, is also God’s Son. This One, right here. When the glorious vision is completed, They lifted up their eyes and saw no one but Jesus alone (v 8).
Liberal theology has made much of a distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, as if they were two different people. The idea is that there was a man in history named Jesus, who said some revolutionary things and had a small following, but that the idea that He is the Christ, the Son of God is a creation of faith. It’s similar to an old Christian heresy called adoptionism, which is the belief that Jesus was just a man like everybody else, but then at His baptism, He was in a sense possessed by the divine spirit for a time. But the human man and the divine Son of God, they believed, were two entirely different things.
The Transfiguration shows us first, that the one person Jesus is at the same time Son of Man (the title He prefers for Himself) and Son of God (the title that others give to Him). These two natures—human and divine—are so indivisibly united in the one person that what can be said about the divine or human nature can be said of the person of Jesus, and what can be said about the person of Jesus can be said of either nature. When Jesus gave up His Spirit on the cross, God died. And Mary can rightly be called the Mother of God, because she is the Mother of Jesus.
The second thing that the Transfiguration of Jesus shows us is that the majesty of the divine nature is received by the human nature. So the very human face of Jesus shines with the glory of God. For a time, Jesus hides this majesty beneath the form of a servant, that is, He doesn’t make full use of His divine power. He suffers as a Servant of all. This is what theologians have called the State of Humiliation. But after His resurrection from the dead, Jesus makes full use of His divine majesty in His body—what theologians call the State of Exaltation. This is why Jesus instructs His disciples to tell no one of their vision until after He is risen from the dead. But now Christ is risen and the divine majesty hidden under the human flesh and blood of Jesus has been made known. And so we boldly confess that the true body and blood of Jesus is miraculously given with the bread and the wine on account of this divine majesty.
The final thing that we can learn from the Transfiguration is that the divine and human natures are united also in the works of Jesus. When Jesus walks on the water, it’s not just the divine nature, but also the human. This is most important because of the holy conversation between Jesus and Moses and Elijah on the mountain, though we have to turn to Luke’s Gospel to find the topic of their conversation. And behold, two men where speaking with Him, who were Moses and Elijah. The appeared in glory, speaking of His Exodus, which was about to be completed in Jerusalem (Luke 9:30-31). His Exodus, which would be completed in Jerusalem, is His sacrifice as Lamb of God, who bears the sins of the world. This is the work in which both human and divine nature are united for the life of the world.
So there is a hidden majesty in the person of Jesus. The Son of God has become also the Son of Man. The two natures—divine and human—are united in the one person and work of Jesus, the majesty of the divine communicated to the human. This is who is revealed on the mountain first to Peter, James, and John, and now also to you, your beautiful Savior.
With you, there’s much more than meets the eye. You have been united with Jesus in your baptism, and because of this you have become a partaker of His divine glory. St. Peter writes, His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness through knowing Him Who called us to His own glory and excellence. Thus He has given us His precious and very great promises, so that after you have escaped the corruption that lust brought into the world, you might by these promises share in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-4 AAT).
There is an analogy from the person of Jesus to the person of you, though it’s not a one-to-one correspondence. Just as the divine majesty of Jesus was hidden for a time under the lowly form of a servant, so also is the divine work of God hidden under the outward form of sin in you. St. Paul thoroughly discusses this in a number of His epistles, calling this dichotomy the Old Man/New Man; the Outward Man/Inner Man; the Flesh/Spirit; sometimes Lutherans call it the Sinner/Saint. A new creation has begun in you—rather a renewal of your human nature. This was begun at your baptism, which St. Paul calls a washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. It’s not a washing like washing dirt from the body, as if your sinful nature was stripped from you—that only happens when your body goes into its grave. It’s a washing that seals you with the Holy Spirit.
A seal was an old way to ensure that the contents of a letter were actually the intentions of the person who wrote them and were to be preserved for the intended recipient. Today we seal most of our letters by licking the glue on pre-prepared envelopes, but in days past the seal was a bit of wax holding the envelope together. The one who sealed the letter would stamp his unique symbol into the wax, and the recipient would know that if the seal was still intact, no one had read his private letter. In this sense, the seal kept hidden what was meant to be revealed at a later time and for specific company.
Baptism is a seal of the Holy Spirit. It’s the pledge and promise that though you are a sinner, your sins are not counted against you, that there is a new creation of the divine majesty hidden within you. You are sealed with the cross of Christ, as St. Paul writes to the Galatians, I bear in my body the marks of Jesus (Gal 6:17b). The cross marks you as one redeemed by Christ, the crucified.
Just as Jesus instructed His disciples to tell no one of His Transfiguration until after His resurrection from the dead, so also the seal of Baptism cannot be broken until your own resurrection. Baptism reveals the present, hidden reality of the new creation of God hidden inside of you, but it also ensures your own resurrection from the dead and glorification. As St. John writes, Beloved, we are now God’s children, and what we will be has not yet appeared (1 John 3:2).
That is for the day of the resurrection, when the hidden glory of God will be manifest for all to see. The vision of the three on the high mountain will be the vision of the whole world. This is the blessing of our Lord’s Transfiguration for you:
The Glory of God, Revealed in Jesus, Is Hidden also in You
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard
Featured image: Close up of Church of Transfiguration – Mosaic by Flickr user Israeltourism