Sermon: The Voice from the Cloud

Text: Matthew 17:1-9 & 1 Peter 1:16-21
Transfiguration of Our Lord
Listen to the Sermon here.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Many voices clamour for our attention: the voices of the news media, government leaders, bloggers, politicians, and even celebrities. These voices want us to think, feel, behave, and believe in specific ways. Yet remember, it was because Adam and Eve listened to a strange voice we find ourselves in this broken world. With so many different voices speaking do we consider who it is we’re listening to? This morning, consider the scene of Peter, James and John with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. There is much to see: Jesus’ face shone like the sun, his clothes were white as light, and with him were Moses and Elijah. But this morning, we’re going to listen. God the Father speaks during one of the most dazzling visual spectacles that has ever taken place on this planet. This morning we’ll see that the voice identifies the beloved Son, and instructs us to listen to him.

The Voice Instructs us to Listen

Jesus brings Peter, James, and John up to a high mountain. They have the unique privilege of seeing Jesus in all his glory before his death, resurrection, and ascension. Right before their eyes, Jesus’ face had the brilliance of the sun and his clothing was white as if it were light itself. Jesus was letting a glimpse of his Divine majesty shines through. We say it in the Creed: God of God, Light of Light. True God of true God. We confess it, but Peter, James and John saw it with their own eyes.

And then, just as impressive – Moses and Elijah appeared. They were now present and talking with the glorified Christ despite being long gone. Peter wanted to preserve the moment. But as Peter begins babbling, he is suddenly interrupted. All at once, the same cloud that covered Sinai and filled the tabernacle and temple, the same pillar of cloud that guided Israel, covers the entire mountain. God the Father hides own his bright splendour in a cloud. From that cloud came the voice of the Father, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him” (Mt 17:5).

Listen? Listen, and not “Look”? Why go through all this razzle-dazzle, bright-as-the-sun stuff if the whole incident is more about ears than eyes? It’s not what we might have expected to hear the Father say! God says: “Listen to him. He is the one I love. What he’s saying is true–and necessary.”

We don’t get to see a bright-as-the-sun Jesus, so how are we supposed to listen to him today? Jesus comes to us in the Word, and that’s a good Jesus to have. That’s your mountain-top experience. The Jesus we get comes hidden in his Word. That’s who you are supposed to listen to. The glorious Christ meets us in the Word, even as we struggle through life. He doesn’t overwhelm us with displays of power but comes gently and humbly, graciously. We don’t need to experience a bright-as-the-sun Jesus. We need to listen to the Jesus we have.

This is the point that St. Peter himself drew when he thought about this event decades later in our epistle reading. The coming of Jesus the Son fulfilled all the Old Testament prophesies. Peter says that the Transfiguration proved the prophets were right all along. Peter gives us a warning. It is nighttime. The world is covered with the darkness of sin, deceit, and lies. Our only hope to survive the night is to have a lamp going before us. And Peter says God’s Word is that lamp. And he pleads with us: keep your eyes on it; don’t fall asleep; don’t turn away after some other voice. The Word of God is the lamp to our feet and a light to our path in a very dark world. So, all Christians need to pay attention to God’s Word. That includes you. You need to read your Bible every need. It needs to be the air that you breathe, because Jesus speaks to you through its pages.

This morning, God says, “listen to Christ!” Listen to Him and no one else but Him. Many of us may read our Bibles or even come to Church regularly, but we don’t actually listen to Jesus. Sure, we’ll listen to the parts of God’s Word we like but we’ll ignore the parts we dislike. How often when we read the Word, we read it selectively, taking its promises, its hope, its comfort, but ignoring or setting aside its rebuke. God the Father didn’t give us this option. You don’t get to pick and choose. Either the Bible is God’s inspired Word as Peter wrote, or it isn’t. The Words of the Father should be ringing in our ears: Since Jesus is God’s Son, we had better listen to what He says. Even if we don’t like it, especially if we don’t like it. Listen when he tells you to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul. Listen to Christ when he tells you to love your fellow man as yourself. When he rebukes your sins, listen to him! When he tells you that those sins are forgiven because of his innocent suffer and death, listen to him! Lent begins this week, and it’s a time to take inventory of ourselves, and see how well we have been listening.

 The Voice Identifies the Beloved Son

Why should we listen to Jesus? The Father doesn’t just tell us to listen to him, he gave us the reason. “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The Father identifies who Jesus is. This is the same voice that spoke from heaven at Jesus’ baptism. This Jesus was undoubtedly a man, but he was no ordinary man. He was also the only Begotten Son of God. Jesus’ humanity was joined with His divinity. He is True God and true Man all in the same Person. It tells you that even though his divinity may be buried deeply in his humanity, the fullness of deity dwells bodily in Jesus. It was simply hidden from the eye.

The Father reveals his relationship with the Son by saying two things: “I love my son” and “I am pleased with him.” He cherishes his Son. He is well-pleased with his Son. When the Father looks at his Incarnate Son, he enjoys and admires and loves and prizes and relishes what he sees.

But here, we see the very basis of our salvation. The infinite love the Father has for the Son makes it possible for me, a wicked sinner, to be loved and accepted by God. How? God the Father declared his approval for Jesus at his baptism. He did it again at the Transfiguration. By his death, Jesus paid for our sins. God announced his approval again when he raised him from the Dead. God was pleased with Jesus, and because you are united to Jesus by faith, God is pleased with you.

Moses gave us the Law. Elijah was the greatest of the prophets, uniquely honoured by God. But when we listen to the voice from the cloud, it tells us who Jesus is. Who is Jesus?  Jesus is the beloved Son of God. That makes Jesus the mediator between God and Man because He is both God and Man. Moses and Elijah reflected the glory of God, but Jesus is the glory of God. Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus, and only Jesus, God’s own Son, in the flesh, came to die and rise to save the world. Only Jesus, who was crucified, can bear your sin. He is God’s beloved Son.

Hear His words. His are the words of eternal life. Moses can’t save you, but he can point you to the One who can. Elijah can’t save you, but he can point you to the One who can. Yes, sinners, one and all, listen to God’s beloved Son Jesus Christ when he says to you today, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Yes, church, listen to Jesus. And keep on listening, for he alone has the words of eternal life. Listen to him when he says that the bread is his body, and the wine is his blood, given and shed for you. Listen to him when he promises you eternal life. Listen to him when he says that because he lives, you too shall live. Listen to him when he says you will be like Christ in glory. Listen to him. That voice is not for our ears only. Many others around us need to hear what we hear. Bring others so they can listen to the Word of the Lord.

Today we have been with the disciples on the holy mountain for the Transfiguration of Our Lord. What did we hear? We hear the Father’s voice from the cloud, identifying Jesus as his beloved Son. And so we hear how much God loves us, that he would send his Son to suffer and die for us. And God tells us to listen to Jesus and to keep on listening our whole life long. And if it is God’s own Son who suffers and dies and rises again for us, if it’s Jesus who speaks words of life for us to listen to–well, then let’s listen to him.

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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