Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Transfiguration of Jesus is a bit like one of those movie previews that play before the main attraction, the ones narrated by the guy with the dramatic voice. They reveal just enough of the movie to make you want to see it, without giving away too much of the plot. Coming soon to a theatre near you. A sneak preview of coming attractions. And that’s what the Transfiguration is. A sneak peak, a glimpse of Jesus’ glory as the Son of God and the coming attraction of the kingdom he brings with his dying and rising. This morning, on this Transfiguration Sunday we are going to consider: why did Peter, James, and John need to see this sneak peak of Jesus glory? What benefit does this have for us here and now?
The Impact on the Disciples
Jesus brings Peter, James, and John up to the top of a high mountain. They have a unique privilege, they get to see Jesus in all his glory before his death, resurrection, and ascension. Right before their eyes, Jesus’ appearance was changed. His clothing became dazzling white. What was happening? Jesus’ divinity was shining through his humanity, causing his face and clothing to radiate light with a supernatural brightness. What was the source? It was inside Jesus himself. Every cell of his humanity glowed with the glory of God.
This was the same glory that filled the tabernacle and the temple. This was the same glory seen in the pillar of cloud and fire. This was God himself, present on that very mountain. The Transfiguration proclaims who Jesus is. It was a visual reminder that this Jesus was certainly human but he was no ordinary human. He was also true God. It tells you that even though his divinity may be buried deeply in his humanity, nevertheless the fulness of deity dwells bodily in Jesus. He is fully God and fully human. It was simply hidden from the eye.
There’s another point here though. When they were going down the mountain, Jesus told them not to tell anyone until he was raised from the dead. The Transfiguration is connected with the Resurrection. It might show us who Jesus is, but his death and resurrection tell you what he has done for you. He’s your Lord, your Redeemer, your Savior, God’s sacrificial Lamb who dies for the sin of the world. Jesus appeared transfigured along with Moses and Elijah before three eyewitnesses, and yet we don’t believe on account of that alone. We believe on account of Jesus’ death and his resurrection.
The point of the Transfiguration is to pull back the curtain a bit. The disciples get a glimpse of where this story is going. Why? Why do they need to know this? The transfiguration of Jesus was a sign for Peter, James, and John. It made visible Jesus’ hidden glory as the Son of God. Soon they would see him on a cross, gory and bloody, rejected by the religious leaders, defeated, dead. The same glorious Jesus, only now the glory hidden under the shame of a Roman cross. Seeing Jesus transfigured and talking with Moses and Elijah helped to prepare the disciples for the death of their Master.
It showed them that road to the glory of heaven goes through suffering, death, and the cross. That would help them in the years to come. This experience was always there to cheer them onward towards the end of their own lives. Don’t forget, all of the apostles except John died as martyrs, and John was exiled. As they suffered for the sake of Christ they may have wondered if it was all worth it. Was it true? The Transfiguration was a foretaste of the coming glory. It reminded them that the trials and sufferings of the present would eventually give way to glory. The transfiguration served as a motive to urge them on, so that, laying aside every weight, they could run with patience the race set before them.
The Impact Today
The Transfiguration reassures Jesus’ core disciples but it also reassures us today: Jesus’ predictions of betrayal, death, and resurrection are to be trusted. That means his promises of forgiveness and salvation can be trusted. The struggles we face in this life should in no way diminish our confidence in Christ’s promises. In fact, we should expect struggles in this life. But the transfiguration of Jesus is a glimpse of the glory that will be ours in Jesus. The transfiguration of Jesus is a sneak peak of the resurrection. That’s the Day when Jesus appears gloriously not just to three disciples but to the whole world. That’s when his light will flash like lightening filling the sky from east to west. When all the dead everywhere will rise by the power of his resurrection, and we will be changed, transfigured, to be like him in his glory.
Yet we need to remember that a radiant, transfigured Jesus without a crucified Jesus is of no benefit to you. We often would love to have the glory, the salvation, without all the struggle and the cross. The same Jesus who displayed his unearthly glory in majestic splendour, is the same Jesus who is most glorious when he is beaten and bloodied, when he hangs dead and defeated. Only the Jesus who died can save you. Only the Jesus who was crucified can bear your sin. If all that Jesus ever did was appear shining and radiant on a mountain to three of his disciples, you’d still be chained to Sin and Death.
The way to glory leads through the cross, and that means you and I must first taste death before we may lay our eyes on the kingdom. Before we experience the glories of heaven there will be trouble, and suffering and death. Right now the glory is hidden. Life here and now is life under the cross. First death then resurrection. First the cloud, then the shining. First the darkness, then the light. First the grave, then resurrection. First we must die with Christ, then we will rise with him in glory.
“That’s all well and good, Pastor,” you may say. “But I have not had a mountain-top experience with Jesus. If the sight of a transfigured Jesus helped to encourage the three disciples, how does that help me?” You have had many mountain-top experiences. Just like the Transfiguration of Jesus transformed the apostles, so the writings of the apostles and prophets transform us. In worship, week after week, through the Word of God, we get to see Jesus as our saviour.
Each and every week you encounter the Lord of glory. What you see is water, bread, wine. What you hear are words read and spoken by a fellow sinner. But what’s there, present though hidden, is the power and majesty and glory of God, every bit as glorious as the radiant Jesus on top of the mountain. A glorious Jesus comes to meets us, as we struggle through life. He doesn’t overwhelm us with displays of power, but comes gently and humbly, graciously. The water of your Baptism, the bread and wine of the Supper, the spoken Word of forgiveness, the gathering of two or three in his name — that’s your mountain. That’s the place where Jesus meets you. That’s your little preview of heavenly glory. Right here, in this Church, you get a moment’s break from the wearisome struggles and strivings of earthly life, and much needed light at the end of the tunnel.
Brothers and sisters, today we get the sneak peak of the glory that is yet to come, that glory that is now is by faith. This same Jesus who shined in glory is the One who died in darkness and who rose in power. This same Jesus comes to you with the water, the Word, the bread and wine. You will see shining Jesus one day, soon enough. He’s promised to appear again in glory and to raise you from the dead and give you eternal life. You will see Moses and Elijah and all the saints. And there won’t be any need to build a shrine to preserve the moment, because the moment will be without end. But for now, we descend the mountain of glory and begin our journey to the mountain of the cross. The shining Jesus gives way to crucified Jesus. And the Sunday of the Transfiguration moves toward Ash Wednesday and the somber season of Lent. But it’s always the same Jesus – shining, dead, risen, reigning. It’s always the same Jesus – true God and Man – who comes to save you.
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.