Matthew 17:1-9; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Exodus 34:29-35
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In the wilderness, the fullness of the glory of God filled and abided within a tent made of linen, woven from goat hair, covered with ram skins, constructed by men, all His own creation. Hundreds of years later, the fullness of the glory of God filled and abided within the Holy of Holies, in the temple made of wood and stones, overlaid with gold and jewels, constructed by men, all His own creation. Then, hundreds of years later again, the fullness of the glory of God filled and abided within a tent of human flesh, as the Word of God became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us, first, conceived within the virgin womb of a young woman of His own choosing, and then as a man, born of Mary, in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily. As John the Evangelist has put it, “we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
The fullness of the Godhead dwelling bodily, the glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth, in our midst – in Hebrew the word is shekhinah, in Greek it is pleroma – means that the fullness of the God who has made all things, who still sustains all things, has become and has filled the stuff of His creation to redeem and to save it from destruction in the person of Jesus. This truth was revealed in the Transfiguration of Our Lord as the veil hiding the fullness of the glory of God was lifted from Jesus for a moment, and the glory that was always there, though veiled and hidden, was revealed for His closest disciples to behold. This event was a bookend to what occurred in Jesus’ baptism, which you heard about last week, where the Father anointed Jesus with His Holy Spirit that He might become the sacrificial lamb of His own providence, and He verbally proclaimed Him to be “His beloved Son with whom He is well pleased.” Then, there was the Father’s Word, while the eyes beheld only lowliness and humility, but on the Mount of Transfiguration, the eyes of Jesus’ disciples were stunned by the brilliant light of God’s glory in the man Jesus, along with the witness and testimony of Moses and Elijah, so that they fell down as though dead. That glory had been there all along, veiled, hidden, in, with, and under the human flesh and nature of the man Jesus. He was, and is, and ever shall be nothing less than God in flesh, God as a man, Emmanuel, God with us.
But, why the veil? Why does God mask His glory in human flesh? Why didn’t He, why doesn’t He, simply reveal the fullness of His glory so that everyone would believe without a hint of a doubt? The answer to that question, perhaps surprisingly, is love. No man can bear to behold God’s unveiled glory. No sinful man can behold God and live. Therefore, God has done the unthinkable, He has come to us under a veil of lowliness and humility that we may come to know Him according to His love, His mercy, His grace, and His forgiveness. In Jesus, we have come to know God and His love gradually as He grew from infancy to manhood. In Jesus, we have received God, not as a threat, but as a gift. And, in observing His compassion, His mercy, and His love in action, in word and in deed, we can see, hear, and know God.
Indeed, those closest to Jesus had more than an inkling suspicion of who Jesus was before His Transfiguration. In fact, just eight days earlier, Peter had been brought to the confession that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. In His miraculous deeds, healings, cleansings, casting out demons, and resurrections, men could see that, despite the veil of humility, God was at work in Jesus to save His people from their sins. You see, God does not force Himself on anyone. His will is that you trust in Him because He is good and because He loves you, despite what you see with your eyes and comprehend with your finite reason, the way you trust your earthly fathers who, though they are imperfect and sin, still love you and desire good for you, how much more will your heavenly Father graciously give you all things that are good for you.
Sin is always rooted in idolatry. An idol is anything that gets in between you and God, anything that you put your fear, love, and trust in before and above God. The idol that most of us fashion everyday of our lives is ourselves. You make yourself to be your own god, placing your needs and your desires before and above God’s Word, will, and command. When you feel that you are cast in a bad light, you justify yourself believing that your rule of righteousness is all that matters. Often, your idols are bound up in your false ideas and beliefs about God. Like Peter, you worship glory. You believe that in order for God to be present you must have a glorious experience, your emotions must be worked up into some transcendental ecstasy. And, if they’re not, then all you have is dead, rote ceremonies and the traditions of men. You, like Peter, are all impassioned and excited when you think of the god of your own creation, but then, when He tells you that He must go to the cross and suffer and die in humility and lowliness, and that you, His disciple, must take up your own cross of humility and suffering and sacrifice and follow Him, you shout with Peter “No Lord! This can never happen to you! There’s no glory in suffering and death! You need to build a glorious kingdom here on earth, a big, beautiful church with a fellowship hall, a gymnasium, and a coffee house! Why all this morbidity, all this talk about sin and death? Just show people how to live a better life, how to have a loving marriage, how to raise successful children, and how to be happy, then they will flock to you!” To you, o theologian of glory, as to Peter, your Lord Jesus says, “Get behind me Satan.” Repent.
You don’t know what God’s glory is, what it looks like, even when it’s staring you straight in the face. The fullness of God’s glory was, is, and ever shall be, in the person of Jesus. The fullness of His deity dwelt, dwells, and ever shall dwell bodily in the person of Jesus Christ. When you behold Him, you behold God. Your God reveals His glory, not in the ways in which men count as glorious, but in the humble, the meek, the weak, and the vulnerable things of this world, that the wise, and the strong, and the glorious in men’s eyes might be shamed and be seen to be as nothing. Why does He do this? That all your idols which you have made, and to which you have sold and enslaved yourself, might be exposed for the rock, wood, plastic, and dying flesh that they are, and be destroyed.
Peter’s response to the glory of God revealed in Jesus’ transfiguration was to attempt to preserve that glorious mountain-top experience by constructing tabernacles in which to house God’s glory once again, much as had once occurred in the wilderness long ago. However, the Father’s voice was heard yet again, just as it was at Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased,” and this time the command was spoken, “Listen to Him.” The revelation of the fullness of God’s glory dwelling bodily in Jesus was a foretaste of what will be revealed on the Last Day when Christ returns in glory, and every eye will see Him, and every tongue will confess Him to be God and Lord. But, for now, they are to worship and to follow Jesus, not because of His glory, but because of His Word and promise. Then the glory was veiled once again, and they were alone with Jesus. And the disciples and Jesus went down from the mountain, back into the valley where humble and broken, sin-wrecked and diseased, demon-possessed people clamored for Jesus, and He forgave them and He healed them and He raised the dead by the power of His Word.
Just a few days later, they entered into Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets of God. The disciples considered this to be the complete opposite of the glory they had beheld on the mountain-top. But, Jesus would ascend yet another mountain-top, not the temple mount, for Jesus was the temple of God, in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily, but, rather, a rugged, rocky hill outside of Jerusalem called Golgotha, the place of a skull. There the fullness of God’s glory would be revealed, not in bright light and an awesome worship experience, but in the selfless suffering and sacrificial death of God for you and for all men. For there is no greater love possible than that a man should lay down His life and die for His friends.
Peter and the disciples, indeed, all the world, would be scandalized by Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. No one would see it for the revelation of God’s glory that it truly was. However, after Jesus’ resurrection, after Pentecost, fifty days later, when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Apostles, giving birth to the Church, then Peter understood and could encourage and instruct Christ’s Church with the words of his epistle, “we have something more sure [than the revelation of God’s glory in Jesus’ Transfiguration], the prophetic Word, 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.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we still have that sure and enlightening Word of life which you hear with your ears, read with your eyes, wear in your Baptism, and eat in the Lord’s Supper. And, though it comes to you in lowly and humble forms and means, it is the fullness of the glory of God for you, that you may have light in this darkness, strength in your weakness, life in this world of death, and hope for life that never ends. The Transfiguration of your Lord is a foretaste and a reminder of the glory that has always been with you and for you, that is with you and for you now, and that will be revealed to you in fullness on that day upon which the sun will never set. Until then, hear, read, see, and taste the fullness of God’s glory in the Word of God made flesh for you, Jesus Christ, with whom God the Father is well pleased. Listen to Him.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.