Sunday, February 9, 2014
Homily for The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord
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.
“That’s your interpretation.” No doubt you’ve heard someone say that before. Very likely, you’ve said it yourself. But, what does God’s Word plainly say? You heard it just a short moment ago in our Epistle reading: “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Now, to be sure, this passage does not apply to man’s interpretation of Scripture, but, rather, to the Words of Scripture themselves, attesting to their truth and authority. Thus, while this may not provide us a hermeneutic, a rule of interpretation by which to approach the Scriptures, it does provide us with a place to begin, and that is with Scripture itself, which is true in itself and must be apprehended by men. Therefore, the first thing to realize when interpreting Scripture is that the meaning of the text lies in the text itself. You do not devise an interpretation of your own and then force that interpretation upon the text, but you draw the text’s meaning out of the text itself. When someone says to you, “Well, that’s your interpretation,” I would respond, “Then, let us try to get at the objective meaning of the text, beyond our own private prejudices and interpretations.”
If the Modern Era was marked by the presumption that truth can be discovered by observation and testing, then the Post-Modern Era in which we live is marked by the belief that there is no truth to uncover, or that can be uncovered, but that there are only our presuppositions and prejudices, our interpretations, with no objective standard, rule, or truth by which to judge them. The result is a form of radical relativism in which no truth claim is to be considered more valid than another and the primary values are thought to be equality and tolerance. To one who claims “This is right,” or “That is wrong,” the response must necessarily be, “That’s your interpretation.”
While this may be true concerning the words of men, it is not true concerning the Words of God. God has given men His Word in precisely the manner He desired to give it. Moreover, in many cases God’s Word interprets itself. That is to say that, often God’s Word in one place interprets the meaning of God’s Word in another place – Scripture interprets Scripture. This is not a case of men interpreting God’s Word, but of God interpreting God’s Word. Where this occurs, there is no ambiguity or uncertainty in interpretation, whether it be a Word that is easy to apprehend or difficult. We must resist the temptation to rationalize God’s Word, that is, to force it into manmade categories and expectations. But, we must let God’s Word be His Word. He has delivered it to His Prophets and Apostles precisely in the ways He desired – It is what it is. God does not demand that we understand it in every point, but only that we believe in it and trust in it. This is what St. Peter had in mind when He wrote, “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
When Moses met with God on Mount Sinai, He received the Word of God directly. He delivered to the people of Israel, not his interpretation of God’s Word, but what God had actually said, engraved by God on two tablets of stone. And, as a sign and witness of his face-to-face encounter with God, Moses’ face shone forth with God’s radiated glory. When Moses came down from the mountain, the people of Israel saw that his face shone and they knew that He had spoken with the LORD. Only after the people saw his shining face did Moses then veil himself until the next time He met with God on the mountain.
Likewise, when Jesus was transfigured on the mountain, the glory of the LORD shone all around Him and from Him, shining forth from His face and His clothing. The difference between Moses and Jesus, however, was that Moses shone with the radiated glory of God, while Jesus is the fullness of God’s glory in human flesh. Thus, Moses stands with Jesus as witness and testimony to Him, along with Elijah, the Great Prophet of God’s Holy Word. These two men stand in the glory of God, witnessing and testifying to Jesus who is the Word of God made flesh. The Greek word translated as transfiguration is actually a more familiar word, metamorphosis, meaning “to change in form.” Jesus was changed into another form. However, the form that He was changed into was something that was already there, but that was veiled in fleshly humility, much as Moses veiled His shining face. Jesus’ transfiguration was a preview and foretaste of His glory that would be revealed in His glorious resurrection from the dead, and in His even more glorious return on the Last Day. Jesus was about to veil His glory in the most humble and seemingly inglorious ways, in His Passion, crucifixion, and death. Therefore, to strengthen and prepare His disciples, that when all was accomplished they would remember His Words and the Words of God from of old, and believe that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God and go and tell all the world the Good News of what God has done, Jesus permitted three of His disciples to witness a momentary unveiling of His glory.
More than that, God spoke and gave His Word in the hearing of Jesus’ disciples and these heavenly witnesses saying, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” Where God had given His Word by Moses and the Prophets long ago, now He has given His Word by His Son. Jesus stands on the Mount of Transfiguration as the Word of God incarnate – the interpretive key to all the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures. Scripture interprets Scripture, and Jesus is our hermeneutic, our rule for interpretation. After this glorious vision, the disciples rose up and saw no one but Jesus only. Moses and Elijah, all the Scriptures, find their fulfillment in Jesus. He did not abolish the Law and the Prophets, but He fulfilled them with His obedient life and death for the sins of all men. Through faith in Jesus, you are released from captivity to obedience to the Law for justification. Now you may do it freely, as fruit is borne from the tree or vine, out of love and thankfulness for all that God has done in His Son Jesus the Christ.
St. Peter was one of those who witnessed the Lord’s glory with his own eyes and heard the Word of the LORD with his own ears. In response to those who would say, “That’s your interpretation,” St. Peter says, “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. […] We ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain.” And yet, St. Peter also writes, “We have something more sure, 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.” That “morning star” that “rises in your hearts” is faith in Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh, crucified, died, risen, ascended, and reigning. Moses and all the Prophets pointed to Him who is the fulfillment of God’s Law and prophetic Word. All New Testament belief, doctrine, and confession flows out from Him who is the interpretative key to God’s Holy Word – “Listen to Him.” “But, that’s your interpretation.” No. That’s God’s interpretation, in Jesus Christ our Lord.
God’s Word is “a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path.” Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh and the Light of the world. Through faith in Him, you, who once were in darkness, are children of the Light. Now that Light shines through you to lighten others who walk in darkness and in the shadow of death. The Transfiguration of Our Lord was a glorious foreshadowing of your adoption by grace, the benefits of which you reap now in your access to the Father through Him. Though His glory remains veiled, nevertheless, you receive God in Word and Water, Bread and Wine. Though, now, you see through a mirror, dimly, soon you shall see Him face to face. Until then, we have His Word and we have Jesus, His Word made flesh.
However, as glorious as that Transfiguration Mount surely appeared, its glory could not eclipse that of God’s Son upon the cross. For, at the Cross, we see God's justice through the judgment of sin, God's love through the forgiveness of sinners, God's power through his defeat of Satan, and God's wisdom in his upholding of holiness yet making a way for sinners. Christ's death is the ultimate Word of the LORD: It is finished. You are forgiven. Go in His peace. After the Transfiguration, the disciples were prepared by God to interpret the meaning of the cross. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are prepared to interpret it as well. In Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and resurrection God’s Word of promise in Genesis 3:15 is fulfilled: Satan has been defeated, you have been redeemed, God’s sacrificial Lamb stands as though slain, victorious over sin, death, Satan, and the grave. Jesus is the firstfruits of those who rise from the dead. Through baptism and faith in Him, where He lives and reigns there you shall also be. This is God’s interpretation. Believe it, for Jesus’ sake.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.