The Transfiguration of Our Lord

Readings: Exodus 34:29–35 | 2 Peter 1:16–21 | Matthew 17:1-9

Text: Matthew 17:1-9

There was a temptation for Peter, James, John, and the disciples to think of Jesus as merely human.  True, they had seen His miracles, and heard Him call Himself the end-times “Son of Man.”[1]  But they also knew His mother and family, they had seen him eat and drink, get tired, and use the latrine.  Their minds could not conceive of a man who was also God and the Christ.

We have the opposite temptation, to think of Jesus as only God.  It’s true, we just confessed, “He was incarnate by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried.”  But we also sang “Your lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook,”[2] we prayed for Christ to have mercy upon us, and we praise “Thou that sittest at the right hand of God the Father.”[3]  Our minds have trouble conceiving of a God who “increases in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man,”[4] or who doesn’t know the day or the hour,[5] or who cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[6]

            But whether we stumble over His humanity or His divinity, we, together with Peter, James, John, all stumble over the cross.  And that’s what happens on the mount of Transfiguration.  To help us better understand, we have two models: Moses and Elijah on the one hand, and Peter and the 2 disciples on the other.  They’re put side by side, so that we, the saints on earth, can learn to become the saints in heaven.

            In Moses and Elijah, we see those whose sanctification is complete.  They stand in the Lord’s presence forever.  In their earthly lives, they bore witness to the coming Savior—Moses in the Law, and Elijah standing in for all the Prophets.  Both exited this life in an extraordinary way—only God knows where Moses is buried, and Elijah was taken in a flaming chariot to heaven.  Yet the words of St. John’s Revelation, also echo for them: they now “rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.”[7]

            From Moses and Elijah, we learn how to rightly view the passion and death of Jesus.  First, we see it in how they talk with Jesus about it.  Luke’s Gospel adds the detail that they were speaking about Jesus’ “exodus,” about to be accomplished in Jerusalem.[8]  They speak of the passion with thanks and praise, because they are living in what Christ has done for them.  They are standing there in God’s presence because God’s Son has taken their sins away.  He has destroyed death for them, so that they can live with Him forever.  So, they are joyful to be able to see the world’s salvation about to take place.

            Second, we see Moses and Elijah rejoice in God’s will.  They say a glad “Amen” to how God has planned to save the human race.  They acknowledge that, even though His ways are higher than their ways, His will is always good.[9]  They are certain that God has never lied or deceived or forsaken, just as He said.  So, when they hear that the Christ “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,”[10] they praise God for His saving work.

            Finally in Moses and Elijah, we see God’s children at home.  The Son of God has prepared a place for them in what He is about to do on the cross.  These saints in glory have finished their wanderings, they have been taken out of the land of their sojourning, and they have crossed the Jordan into the eternal land of promise.[11]  In other words, God has given them all that He promised during their lives.  “Surely goodness and mercy followed them all their days of their lives,” and now they “dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”[12]

            But in Peter on the mountain, we see the struggle of God’s people in this life.  Moses knew this struggle when he broke faith with God at the waters of Meribah.[13]  Elijah knew it on Mount Horeb, when he was positive that all Israel had gone after Baal.[14]  And it’s our struggle too, as “strangers and pilgrims”[15] in this life.

            First, when Peter sees this blessed sight, he wants to hold onto it tight.  “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’d be happy to have just these six on the mountaintop forever.  If only we could come to worship, be surrounded by the Word of God, and never have to leave!  But this is not God’s will.  Jesus already said what the will of God is: that He “must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things…be killed, and on the third day be raised.”  He can’t stay on the mountain, because then the world would never be saved.  Peter is again filled with satanic thoughts, which delight in the things of man, not the things of God.

            And it’s the same for us, because our sinful flesh fights suffering and death.  When someone we love gets very sick, what do we pray for?  Do we pray that this disease would mean their release from this vale of tears?  We usually pray for them to continue in this life with us.  And when God’s will for us is painful suffering, do we pray, “Not my will, but thine be done”[16]?  No, we pray for God to take away all crosses, so we can get back to our life.

            But actually, the suffering and death of our Lord remind us that our life does not belong to us.  God led His beloved Son to that suffering and death, and raised Him from the dead.  His will is good, because at the Father’s heart is love.  He loves each of us in Christ with the same fervor.  And that means that our life is completely in God’s care.  Should He send or permit us to suffer? He will use it for good: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Pet. 5:10)  Should we get sick, or even die?  Our life and caring for the needs of our loved ones rests in His hands.  “So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Rom. 14:8)

            That brings us to the second thing we see in Peter: He thinks he has a better plan than God.  Say no to suffering and being killed, Jesus.  Forget Good Friday and get straight to Easter.  Surely You can save another way.  Just live forever and keep teaching, healing, and doing miracles.  If you are the Son of God, pray for God to just forgive everyone.

            These same kinds of blasphemies come out of our minds when we think about God’s election and evangelism.  We may not despise the cross itself, because by it we are being saved.[17]  But, we don’t like what it means.  When we look at the massive number of people who don’t know or refuse to believe in Jesus, we are tempted to think: If God really loved the world, He could have done something more to make the world believe and have eternal life.  Then, we wouldn’t have to mourn for our grandchildren and friends who renounced their childhood faith.  But, in fact, His Spirit moves where He wills (John 3:8), God calls whom He wills, and He puts His children in the world to show His mercy in word and deed.  The power to change hearts rests with Him.

            Finally, we also see in Peter, a child of God longing to be at home with the Lord.  Even if his way of getting there is misplaced, Peter wants to “dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  He longs to stay on the mountain with the heavenly host, surrounding Jesus.  His heart is in the right place…sort of.  But what Peter wants to hold onto is only the smallest fraction of what God has laid up for His people.  Yes, we will be with the Lord, but there won’t just be five saints around the Lord’s throne.  When the Lord brings His people home, there will be a “great multitude which no one can number.”[18]  It won’t just be on an isolated mountaintop, but there will be “a new heavens and a new earth” and “the dwelling place of God will be with man.”[19]  Then, unlike the fleeting joys we have in this life, it won’t be a passing moment.  The sorrows and tears of this life will be gone, and death will be swallowed up forever.[20]

            The Lord is merciful and gracious toward His people.  He helps us in our longing for the promised life to come.  After Peter had been silenced and terrified, his Heavenly Father spoke these clear words: “This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.”  And the great vision at once disappeared, but Jesus remained.

            “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.”  “Listen to Him,” the words still rang.  He came to Peter and the others—struggling as sinners by birth and saints by faith—and raised them up with His Word.  He strengthened them with the Word they needed to reach where Moses, Elijah, and all the saints rest.

And that’s the same way He cares for us.  When our flesh and the devil lead us into doubt and sin, Jesus raises us.  Rise from the dust, O man, and have no fear.  He speaks to us:

I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.[21]

Take; eat.  This is my Body which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of Me.  Take; drink.  This is my blood which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of Me.[22]

These are the words of God’s beloved Son, here for you today.  Listen to Him.  Amen.


[1] Daniel 7:13-14

[2] Psalm 77:18

[3] Gloria in Excelsis, LSB 188

[4] Luke 2:52

[5] Mark 13:32

[6] Matt. 27:46

[7] Rev. 14:13

[8] Luke 9:31, “departure” is exodus in Greek

[9] Isaiah 55:9, Romans 8:28

[10] Matthew 16:21

[11] Hebrews 11:13; Deuteronomy 10:19, 29:5

[12] Psalm 23:6

[13] Numbers 20:10-13

[14] 1 Kings 19:10

[15] Heb. 11:13

[16] Luke 22:42

[17] 1 Corinthians 1:18

[18] Revelation 7:14

[19] Revelation 21:1-4

[20] Isaiah 25:9

[21] John 20:22-23 & Matthew 28:19

[22] Matthew 26:26-28

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

Readings: 2 Kings 2:1-12 | 2 Corinthians 3:23-18; 4:1-6 | Mark 2:2-9

Text: Mark 9:2-9

Have you ever stared at the sun?  I hope not, because it would burn your corneas and you’d be blind.  Have you ever handled molten rock?  If you did, it would burn your skin irreparably.  Have you ever eaten highly radioactive material?  It would destroy your cells and probably trigger cancer.  In all these cases, there are things which our bodies cannot handle.

There’s one more thing which is too much for us to endure: The glory of God.  The glory of the Triune God outshines the sun and should we find ourselves near it, it would consume us in body and in soul.  This is so serious that even if any of the five senses is exposed, it would destroy us.  Consider these events:

The ears of the Israelites:

18 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” (Exodus 20:18-19)

The eyes of Moses:

18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And [the Lord] said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” (Exodus 33:18-20)

The hands of Uzzah:

5David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacón, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God. (2 Samuel 6:5-7)

All of these examples show us what the hymnwriter captured so well: “Holy! Holy! Holy! Though the darkness hide Thee, Though the eye of sinful man, Thy glory may not see, Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee. Perfect in power, in love, and purity.”[1] 

But while God’s glory shines brighter than we can bear, in the face of Jesus we find His glory to save.  Both of these realities meet on the mount of Transfiguration.

The holy, Triune God does not want us to be consumed by His glory.  He did not want the Israelites to die, so He warned them not to touch Mount Sinai.  He did not want Moses to die, so the Lord covered him with His hand.  He did not want the Levites, like Uzzah, to die, so He gave them certain duties, vestments to wear, and the daily sacrifices.  To sum up His intentions toward us, He says through Ezekiel, “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.”[2]  His desire is not to destroy, but to save.[3]

So since it’s a fact that His glory consumes sinners, God hides Himself.  For Israel, when the glory of the Lord appeared, it was always with a covering:

“God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

“The glory of the LORD dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud.”

“[The high priest shall] put the incense on the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die.”[4] 

In the burning bush, the cloud of fire, and the cloud of incense, God hides Himself so that He is able to dwell among sinners and they are not destroyed.  Actually, out of Scriptures like these, we learn that God dwells among man by two things: covering and sacrifice.

Then comes the Son of God.  He’s no less holy or divine.  His glory is the same as His Father and the Holy Spirit.[5]  And yet, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.”[6]  How can this be?  Through covering and sacrifice.

He covers Himself with human flesh.  “In Him, the fullness of deity dwells bodily.”[7]  Most of the time, we hear how Jesus walked among the people, touched the sick, spoke to them in parables, and embraced little children.  But at the Transfiguration, we’re reminded that Jesus is indeed the same God of the Old Testament.  He is the God who “dwells in inapproachable light” and is “a consuming fire”[8] for those who hate Him.  The Son of God revealed His glory, veiled as it was within human flesh.  At this, Peter, James, and John hit the floor like the Prophet Isaiah.  But like Isaiah, whose lips were cleansed by what was taken from the altar, the three Apostles do not die.[9]

And that’s because of the sacrifice.  “This is My beloved Son,” the Father’s voice declared out of the cloud.  The fulfillment of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, God the Father will sacrifice His Son, His only Son, Jesus, on the mount of Calvary.[10]  The flogging, the thorns, and the spear will not be held back at the last minute, but God will offer up His beloved Son for the sins of the world—for all of your sins.  There on that mountain, the Lord provided salvation.

In Jesus Christ, God dwells among us through a new and perfect covering and sacrifice.  More than veiling His glory through a passing mist or smoke of incense, the covering Jesus brings lasts for eternity: All who believe in Him are covered with His perfect and pure life: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ.”[11]  This is the better and perfect covering!  And He has made a better sacrifice—one that doesn’t need to be offered day after day and year after year.  The holy and precious blood of God’s Son is shed for you and for all, and it washes away every impurity.[12]

And through this, the Triune God has made His dwelling more intimately than even the Garden of Eden when He walked among His people.[13]  Our Lord promises, “Where two or three are gathered in My Name there I am among them” and “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”[14]—not based on your obedience but upon His calling you to believe, and because He dwells not just next to us, but shares human flesh with us!

So we gather here in His Name and God is with us—Immanuel.  While we are gathered here, we hear, see, and touch His glory.  We hear God speak from the Scriptures through which He creates and strengthens faith.  We hear the absolution, but it’s not merely the pastor’s forgiveness; but God’s.   We see and touch—and even taste—His glory in His Supper.  “Take, eat; This is My Body…take, drink; This is My blood.”  Make no mistake, the bread we take is God’s body and the wine we drink is God’s blood.  Far from being consumed in wrath, He says, “This is for you, for the forgiveness of sins.”  So the Scripture is fulfilled which says, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.”

So Christians are covered in Christ, cleansed from all impurity before God.  That brings up a question in our modern context.  Since the last part of the 20th century, there has been a push toward making worship more casual.  “Worship with a relaxed fit” is the motto of one Baptist church I’ve seen.[15]  Now let me make it clear that there is nothing condemnable about orders of worship or what congregants decide to wear.  Christ our Lord has fulfilled the time of divinely mandated details for worship, and He has saved us from being consumed and condemned by Law and sin.  Having fulfilled them, He has changed the approach to festivals, seasons, and types of clothing, from condemnation for getting it wrong to freedom to bask in Christ’s all-sufficient work.[16]  Through Him and what He has done, we are freed to worship the Father in the Holy Spirit and truth.[17]

Now, that also means that we are freed to fully appreciate our great God and Savior.  The God in whose presence no wicked person may dwell, has given Himself for us.  His Son, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”[18]  So those who worship are opened to acknowledge Him with reverent awe and holy joy. 

That’s why we stand at the Name of the Holy Trinity at the beginning of service and on hymn stanzas marked with the triangle.  We are delight in the Triune God who has redeemed us and mark ourselves with the sign of the precious mark of salvation—the cross and His Name.  Filled with awe at our heavenly King who has come to dwell in our lowly midst, when He speaks to us in the Gospel, we stand and sing Hallelujah and confidently speak our faith in what our God has done.  We are free to stand or kneel as we choose during the prayers, and free to kneel or stand when our Lord uses His servant to give us His holy Body and Blood.  We are free to joyfully sing the Scriptures and songs of praise to the Lord.

And all of this is pleasing to God not because of our voices or our clothes, or anything in us.  It is pleasing to Him through a faith which believes in God’s beloved Son and listens to Him.  Through Him, God has made His glory to shine brighter than anything in this creation ever could.  In Christ Jesus, we have the hope of glory,[19] not mediated by a covering, but seeing Him face-to-face, free from sin and freed from death.  To God alone be the glory: In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


[1] “Holy, Holy, Holy” (LSB 507:3)

[2] Ezekiel 33:11

[3] see John 3:17

[4] Exodus 3:4-5; Exodus 24:16; Leviticus 16:13

[5] John 17:5

[6] John 1:14

[7] Colossians 2:9

[8] 1 Timothy 6:16, Hebrews 12:29

[9] Isaiah 6:1-6

[10] Genesis 22

[11] Galatians 3:27

[12] Hebrews 10:1-14

[13] Genesis 3:8

[14] Matthew 18:20, 28:20

[15] Highland Baptist Church, Clovis, NM

[16] Colossians 2:16-23

[17] John 4:23-24

[18] Philippians 2:6-8

[19] Colossians 1:26-27