+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Matthew 17:1-9
Theme: A Glimpse Into The Future
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
The season of Epiphany appropriately concludes with Christ’s transfiguration on the mount. It was a surreal event to say the least. It was proof that the divine attributes were fully communicated to the man Jesus. To accurately portray it presses the limits of human language. On a high mountain Jesus’ appearance dramatically changes before Peter, James, and John. Jesus radiates with divine light and Moses and Elijah appear conversing with Him. The reason for the presence of these two Old Testament figures is not given. But they certainly represent two of the most faithful servants of God from ages past.
Here is powerful proof that God is the God of the living and not the dead. Jesus summons those whom only God can command. To be in Jesus’ presence is to stand at the very portal of heaven. There the earthbound creatures- Peter, James and John- get a glimpse of the celestial future. There, before the agony and despair of His passion and death, Jesus reassures His disciples. There the Father verifies His Son as the “way and the truth and the life.”1
The scene advances as God the Father speaks from a bright cloud. The cloud was not of the meteorological variety. It was evidence of the divine presence. It was consistent with the pattern of God’s visitation and dwelling across the centuries. Regarding the movements during the exodus from Egypt the Scripture says, “By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light.”2 And of the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem it says, “When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled His temple.”3
It’s a stretch to think that Peter, James and John were fully in touch with reality. The experience had overcome them. But, then, we’re not always in touch with reality either. It’s like the story of the three elderly gentlemen who were talking about what their grandchildren would be saying about them fifty years in the future. "I would like my grandchildren to say, 'He was successful in business'," declared the first man. "Fifty years from now," said the second, "I want them to say, 'He was a loyal family man'." Turning to the third gent, the first gent asked, "So what do you want them to say about you in fifty years?" "Me?" the third man replied. "I want them all to say, 'He certainly looks good for his age'!" Our vanity certainly doesn’t fool God.
Yet later Peter would say in his first epistle, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.’”4 There were many witnesses to Christ’s miracles and resurrection. They form a body of evidence recorded in Holy Scripture. But only the Holy Spirit can use this good news of salvation to foster faith in the heart.
The mission of the church involves correctly handling the word of truth5 through which the Holy Spirit works. The world is full of unaware unbelievers. The sick person who doesn’t believe he is ill will not seek medical attention. Such a person might carry on until his illness incapacitates him or life comes to an end. The same thing happens spiritually. People blindly, or defiantly, or naively push through life without giving a thought to what kind of spiritual state they are in. The faith they once had weakens or perishes. Or, perhaps, never having had faith at all, their conscience becomes seared and their heart hardened. Maybe they even carry on in a quite contented manner until tragedy strikes.
Then, too frequently, the reality of sin is treated too lightly: a few cosmetic touch-up’s and we’re back in the fray. But hearts are still broken, battered, and bruised. You can put a band-aide on a limb that needs amputating, but it won’t do much. True repentance acknowledges sin causes a terminal condition. Our Saviour doesn’t treat it lightly. Christ cleanses the infected soul by dragging the sinful nature through His own crucifixion and then raising it to new life. Then He prunes His vineyard so that it will be even more fruitful. Every day we bear the cross.
Dear friends, the simplicity of what God has done in Christ is not an excuse for simple-mindedness among Christians. Hollow is the claim to be a believer when this entails little more than a safety-net or social identity. God cannot be used in that way not because He lacks compassion, but because true faith cannot pursue such an agenda. It doesn’t think and act in this way. In other words, to seek such false security- a God who caters to our every whim but with whom we have no real relationship or desire to please- is evidence not of faith in action but of the selfish nature having its way.
This is much different than having a fragile faith or a wounded conscience. Indeed, “a bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.”6 God is gentle beyond our comprehension. But we should not mistake His gentleness for leniency. God is not an easy target. He is not obligated to indulge our selfishness and He even warns about withdrawing His Spirit from the persistently disobedient. Of course we cannot easily discern which state of spiritual being a person is in. Often we can’t tell at all. Maybe their faith is weak and they are struggling or maybe they’re just falsely salving their own conscience. God alone reads the heart. Still, faith is recognized by its fruits.
Christianity demands a worldview that is different than secular, evolutionary theory. Strict materialism tries to make sense of the world by synthesizing what are believed to be random collections of facts and events. It cannot see past the measureable horizon of time and space. Meaning in people’s lives is mostly limited to their context and circumstance. There is no coherency.
Conversely, the biblical worldview encompasses all humanity. It considers not only temporal matters, but also eternal realities. A higher order invests life with meaning. A pre-ordained place awaits believers ordered by God in and through Christ. We can only properly serve the world by understanding better how Christ serves us. Understanding how Christ continues to intercede for, serve and bless us is the privilege and opportunity of Christian life.
Jesus’ transfiguration was a one-off event but the truth that it points to is an unchanging reality. We have entrance into His divine presence, not in the dramatic fashion of the transfiguration but in the sacred waters of Holy Baptism. We partake of Christ, our sacrificial Lamb. At the altar we dine in the very Holy of Holies. We ingest the body and blood of Him who was born in a manger, transfigured on the mount, crucified on Calvary, and rose from the grave. We hear His forgiving voice each time the absolution is proclaimed. He doesn’t expect us to climb to heaven, He comes down to earth to rescue all who call on His name. He promises an end to all the burdens of sin. That which we already possess in faith we will one day enjoy in full experience. Amen.
+ in nomine Jesu +
Transfiguration of our Lord
6 March 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 John 14:6 2 Exodus 13:21
3 1 Kings 8:10-11 4 1 Peter 1:16-17
5 See 2 Timothy 2:15 6 Isaiah 42:3