Transfiguration of Our Lord (Matthew 17:1-9, 2 Peter 1:16-21)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon and Sweet Home, OR

Transfiguration of Our Lord + January 21, 2018

Text: Matthew 17:1-9, 2 Peter 1:16-21

The Transfiguration is vindication for all the Old Testament saints, here represented by Moses and Elijah.  Both of them had moments of vindication during their ministry:

 

Moses when his brother and sister rebelled against him:

 

1Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. 2And they said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the Lord heard it. 3Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth. 4And suddenly the Lord said to Moses and to Aaron and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting.” And the three of them came out. 5And the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the tent and called Aaron and Miriam, and they both came forward. 6And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. 7Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. 8With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” 9And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed. 10When the cloud removed from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, like snow. And Aaron turned toward Miriam, and behold, she was leprous.” (Numbers 12:1–10)

 

Elijah with the prophets of Baal:

21And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. 22Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. 23Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. 24And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.”

36And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. 37Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” 38Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.”” (1 Kings 18:21-24, 36–39)

 

 

They experienced these moments of vindication during their lifetime, that they had proclaimed the true God and He answered them with wondrous signs.  When Moses and Elijah are granted the privilege to stand on the Mount of Transfiguration, it is vindication of their entire ministry. Jesus is the goal of all the Law and Prophets.  As He stands there in the flesh glorified, the Father’s declaration affirms: This is He who would not destroy the Law but fulfill it.[1]  This is He whom prophets spoke of and looked ahead to.[2]

 

But vindication doesn’t always appear.  Not all the prophets were vindicated before men.  Jeremiah exemplifies that:

 

1Now Pashhur the priest, the son of Immer, who was chief officer in the house of the Lord, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things. 2Then Pashhur beat Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks that were in the upper Benjamin Gate of the house of the Lord. 3The next day, when Pashhur released Jeremiah from the stocks, Jeremiah said to him, “The Lord does not call your name Pashhur, but Terror on Every Side. 4For thus says the Lord: Behold, I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends. They shall fall by the sword of their enemies while you look on. And I will give all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon. He shall carry them captive to Babylon, and shall strike them down with the sword.” (Jeremiah 20:1–4)

 

But during his lifetime, Jeremiah did not see this recompense of God.  Rather, he was continually arrested, put in stocks, beaten, and lowered in a cistern.  Finally, he was carried off to Egypt against his will.[3]  All this led Jeremiah to cry out:

 

7O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. 8For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long.” (Jeremiah 20:7–8)

 

The lesson for us is that vindication because we belong to the true God isn’t guaranteed in this life.  We hold fast to the Lord, hold His Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it, and yet we suffer.  As a congregation that remains faithful to the Word of God, our numbers are shrinking.  At the same time, we see the numbers increasing at churches that pick and choose what they want from God’s Word, deny Christ’s Sacraments, and use people’s emotions to make them “feel” like God is among them.

 

Christians in society experience the same disillusionment: they confess with Scripture that abortion is murder and that homosexuality is unnatural and contrary to God’s will.  But we don’t see the fruit of that Word working.  Instead, our state passes the most lenient abortion law in the whole country.  (Measure 101 only backhandedly asks permission to fund this abominable and unjust course of action, couching it in language of healthcare for poor citizens.  Nevermind the disenfranchisement of the babies who will never be born.)  When we take a moral stand against the queer movement, as Concordia Portland did, social media rises up and protests erupt so that the sons of Sodom gloat about how they pressured the administration into getting their way.

 

We do not see the victory and the truth…yet.  Just as the faithful people of Israel did not see the Christ they hoped in, the Transfiguration was a declaration that their faith was well-founded.  They had followed the true God and hoped for His Christ.

 

Now we, like God’s people before Christ, are awaiting the revealing of God’s truth.  But we are not left in the dark and uncertain where to find the true God or to know His will.  Consider the Epistle reading:

 

16For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,” (2 Peter 1:16–19)

 

In the darkness of the present, we can’t see the ending.  We wait for the end of time with eager expectation, and we look for the day when we can rest from our painful labor.  But our one true light in the darkness is the prophetic Word—the Scriptures.  When we hold fast to them, we are indeed on the right track.  Just as the true sons of Israel were faithful to God by keeping His Word, so it is for us until we wait for the Last Day to dawn and Christ to appear.

 

Even though Jeremiah did not see the vindication, he persevered in faith:

11But the Lord is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten. 12O Lord of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause.” (Jeremiah 20:11–12)

 

God be your strength in the weakness of mortal life, your light in the darkness, and your Vindicator in eternity. Amen.

[1] Matthew 5:17-21

[2] Matthew 13:16-17; Luke 1:68-75

[3] Jeremiah 43:1-7

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