In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Dear Brothers and Sisters Redeemed in the Blood of the Lamb:
“And after six days.” These four words serve as a clear reminder that this glorious event most commonly referred to as “The Transfiguration of Our Lord” needs to always be understood in light of what happened those six days before Jesus took Peter, James and John up a high mountain.
This morning we are reminded that Christians are called to interpret and understand and believe not simply a verse of Scripture here and a verse of Scripture there, as we see fit. We are called to receive the Scriptures as the Holy Scriptures, as the whole body of the Old and New Testament books reveals God’s gracious plan of salvation through the body of his one and only Son.
It is the Holy Spirit working through his servant Matthew that deigns to begin this account of this mountaintop event with the four little words, “And after six days.” And we do well to note them and look where they point if we are to see clearly the place of Our Lord’s Transfiguration in our redemption and the redemption of the world.
So, let us take a look at what Saint Matthew records in chapter 16 about the days that lead up to the glory revealed to Jesus’ disciples that night.
Two things. First, Jesus warns his own about the infectious disease of unbelief and outright rebellion against God and his anointed — exhibited in the Pharisees and Sadducees.
“We demand that you show us a sign from heaven to authenticate what you are saying and doing. We demand proof that you are the promised Messiah.” they say.
And what is Jesus’ response? “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” (Matthew 16:4 ESV)
Our Lord simply repeats what he had said to the demands of those who would not believe, back in chapter 12:
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered [Jesus], saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:38-40 ESV)
All who demand of Jesus some kind of glorious miracle, some fantastic floorshow before they will consider putting their trust in his Word will only see the sign that appears most un-glorious, the farthest from fantastic: the Son of Man killed, to then be buried in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. — So much for making Jesus one’s own personal entertainment system.
To those who refuse to believe in Jesus as the Son of God, come in human flesh, they will witness the sign of Jonah — but to their judgment, to their condemnation.
Second, Jesus gives more than a few days so that the disciples can hear, mark, learn and take to heart his words about his final journey to Jerusalem. The religious leaders had refused to believe in Jesus as the Messiah because they saw in him none of the glory and majesty and power they had expected of the promised Messiah.
And to the Twelve — to those who would follow him by faith in his Word — Jesus begins to speak clearly about what kind of Messiah he has come to be. How his Sonship will be fulfilled. How their salvation, and the salvation of the entire world will be won. And it won’t look pretty. It won’t look glorious. It will look downright terrifying. Downright un-believeable.
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock [this faith] I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. (Matthew 16:13-20 ESV)
Good old Peter got the title right. Yes, this Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, the Messiah, the Christ of God. And Jesus blesses this confession given through the mouthpiece of the twelve disciples. But now comes the more difficult question only faith can rightly answer: “What kind of Christ is Jesus? What kind of Messiah has he come to be — for Peter and James and John and the Twelve — for you and me?”
Without the revelation of how Jesus would fulfill his unique mission of Messiah, Peter couldn’t even begin to put his faith in the actual Christ heaven had sent.
And so for those six days, Jesus began to show them what lied ahead — for him, and for them as his disciples. How the gift of the forgiveness of sins was actually going to be won. What price was to be paid for the exodus of God’s people from the deadly chains of sin and the seemingly all-powerful Pharaoh of eternal despair and death. Jesus was beginning to reveal to his followers — and each of us through them — what being the Christ was all about.
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:21-24 ESV)
Peter couldn’t stand to hear that Jesus had been called to journey to Jerusalem to — of all things — lay down his very life at the hands of his enemies. The Christ was — seemingly — to be defeated by the unimagineable shame of suffering at the hands of unbelieving religious leaders? How could this be the destiny of the all-glorious Messiah? “I won’t let this happen to you!” Peter says as he tries to save his Lord from such a seemingly inappropriate fate.
But Jesus, oh so gentle Jesus, after six days, takes Peter and James and John up to a high mountain. He does not chase them away. He does not abandon them to their own silly ideas of what the true Messiah should accomplish. He does not find smarter theologians or more pious followers. He takes a deep breath and then takes them to witness what had been hidden in, with and under the thick cloak of his human nature: his heavenly glory. He begins to reveal that his death will be exactly what is needed — for Peter and the world — and you and me.
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” (Matthew 17:1-9 ESV)
In spite of all the eye-popping visuals, the Almighty gives all disciples of Jesus the clearest of instructions: “Listen to my beloved Son. Let true faith lead by what you hear from the mouth of my Christ. Whether you see his glory or don’t see any of his glory, open your ears and listen. For you and for your salvation, listen to him, and him alone.”
This is why Martin Luther called the Church a mouth and ear house. This is why God in Christ through the Holy Spirit creates faith in our heart — through our ears. This is why our sense of hearing is the first to appear in the womb and the last to leave us at our death. “Listen,” God calls to you. “Listen to the words of my beloved, salvation-winning Son. As a sheep knows the true shepherd by the sound of his voice, listen to the word of my life-giving Good Shepherd. My Son, who pleases me — by giving his life as a sacrifice for your many sins.”
And what of that command not to say a word about Jesus as the Christ who will hand himself over to the all but glorious cross?
Christ’s death will not only make atonement for the sins of the entire world, for the sins you believe are too great for anyone to take off your shoulders, for the sins even you are not aware of, for the sins of living life by your eyes on the world and not by your ears under the Word of God made human flesh and blood. It is Christ’s death and the seal of his sacrifice’s acceptance before God in his resurrection that gives sense to what kind of Christ God has sent. Gives sense to what kind of salvation is now offered to all sinful children of Adam and Eve. Gives sense to heaven’s revelation that the grace and mercy and forgiveness and loving-kindness of God found in Christ’s death for sinners — always want to have the final word — for Peter and for James and John and for you and for the person in your life you mistakenly believe God would never save.
The cross of Christ. It made satisfaction for Peter’s upside-down understanding of what kind of Christ stood before him.
The cross of Christ. It gave understanding to Peter of how God’s plan of salvation would actually be fulfilled.
The cross of Christ. It gave Peter the gifts of forgiveness and faith — and the ability to sing the glories of the Lamb who once was slain — to anyone who would listen.
And Christ and his Cross are doing the same with your redeemed ears and mind and heart and mouth — as you hear his Word — through the prophets and apostles, through the water of the font, through the bread and wine from our Lord’s altar.
May Christ and his Word and his Cross be our only glory, now and for eternity.
A blessed Transfiguration of Our Lord.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit