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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Listen To Him!

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters - one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Matthew 17:1-9

Jesus has told His disciples that “The Son of Man will come in His glory, and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:26) And now, about a week later, God affirms His Son in the brilliance of the Transfiguration, with Peter, James, and John as witnesses. All of the symbols of God’s glory are there: a high mountain, brilliant clothing, Biblical patriarchs, an enveloping cloud, and a voice from Heaven. Just as God had affirmed Jesus for His servant ministry at the time of His baptism, He now prepares Him for His time of suffering.

We understand the meaning of the Transfiguration for Jesus when we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews, “For the joy set before Him, (Jesus) endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:2) But we relate more with the three disciples. They, too, need preparation for the Passion of Jesus. Jesus hadn’t only told them about His future coming in glory – He’d also told them “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the Law, and He must be killed, and on the third day be raised to life.” (Luke 9:22)

Jesus’ talk of rejection, suffering, and death has them all shook up! They need to see what He means about His power and glory if they’re ever going to endure the cross or scorn the shame that also awaits them. And God gives the three disciples an experience they’ll never forget. They get to see the glory of the transfigured Christ. Listen to how Peter tells about it in his second epistle: “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eye-witnesses of His majesty. “For He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to Him from the majestic glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from Heaven when we were with Him on the sacred mountain.” (2 Peter 1:16-18)

They were eye-witnesses of Jesus’ majesty. They saw Him receive honor and glory from God the Father. What was the glory they saw?

They saw the glory of His sinlessness. “His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.” The brilliance to which Luke refers is any outer splendor created by inner purity. In the glory with which God clothes Jesus, the disciples see His sinlessness. Every other member of the human race can contrast themselves, with the words of Isaiah: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6a) Jesus, and only Jesus, was pure, sinless, and righteous, and could take upon Himself the sins of the world.

What’s the glory the three disciples saw? They saw His glory as the Son of God. “Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.” On Mount Sinai, Moses met with God and brought down the tablets of the Law. On Mount Carmel, Elijah called down the fire of the Lord to consume his sacrifice and bring Israel to its knees before God. (I Kings 17:38,39) And now, on another sacred mountain, Jesus talks with the two most famous men in Jewish history: Moses, the giver of the Law, and Elijah, the greatest of the prophets.

Except for Peter’s tongue, the disciples are speechless. He rushes in where angels fear to tread, blurting out, “Rabbi, it’s good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters; one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Mark tells us, “He didn’t know what to say” and for the second time in a week, Peter is talking when he should be listening. The first time, Jesus cut him off when he rebuked Jesus for telling them of His coming rejection, suffering, and death. Now it was God the Father’s turn to interrupt Peter. Enveloping them in a cloud, He says, “This is my Son, whom I love… Listen to Him!”

God the Father joins the Baptism of Jesus and His Transfiguration as part of their eternal relationship. Never again will the disciples mistake Jesus as merely a man. Firsthand, they are witnesses to the glory of the eternal Son of God. And never again should we forget who He is!

And then the disciples saw the glory of Jesus’ suffering. As long as Jesus was preaching the Good News of the Gospel, His disciples accepted His Word as the Word of God. But when He predicts His rejection, suffering, and death, they balk and become selective hearers of the truth. And isn’t that what we often are?! Selective hearers of the truth.

But never again for the disciples! By the command, “Listen to Him!” God erases any distinction between His revelation and the revelation of Jesus. With that same authority, Jesus proclaims, “Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Mark 13:13) From now on, the disciples will know that every word of Jesus, whether they like it or not, will carry the glory of truth. They will “Listen to Him!”

We need to listen to Him, too. And not just the easy-to-listen-to words either, but the words about His rejection, suffering, and death. Because He endured those things for you and for me. That’s what the Church season of Lent is all about. That’s why liturgical churches have mid-week Lenten services. That’s why the people who devised a church year lectionary – the verses selected for each Sunday and other special days – set the Transfiguration of Our Lord on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.

Luke has written that Moses and Elijah came to speak to Jesus about “His departure, which He was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” “His departure” – the Greek word is “Exodus”. In other words, His exit from this life – His death! That’s what the disciples didn’t want to hear about. And that’s why God said, “Listen to Him!”

Listen to Him, for His death was inevitable – it had to be!

His death was necessary in order to fulfill the Scriptures. Remember what Jesus said to the two men on the road to Emmaus after His resurrection: “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter His glory? And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.” (Luke 24:25-27) So, in the Nicene Creed, we confess that Jesus was crucified, suffered and was buried, and on the third day rose again – “according to the Scriptures.”

His death was totally voluntary. Jesus said, “I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.” (John 10:17,18) Jesus came into this world to die – for us. Death was not an accidental ending to a good life. It was what He was born for.

His death was the Father’s will. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son”. (John 3:16)

His death is God’s judgement. Jesus made this plain when He said things like, “’Now is the time for judgement on this world… But I, when I am lifted up from the Earth, will draw all men to Myself.’ He said this to show the kind of death He was going to die.” (John 12:30,31) Jesus made it very plain that one purpose of His death was to demonstrate God’s judgement on the sinfulness of a rebellious world. And it’s our job to tell the world to “Listen to Him!”

Jesus’ death was a sacrifice. We see this at the Last Supper, when He gives the disciples bread, saying “This is my body,” given for you, and wine saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you for the remission of sins.” (Luke 22:17-20) This was the ultimate Passover, the ultimate Exodus, which He was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:31)

Jesus’ death was a ransom payment for all of us, who are held captive by our sinful nature. We read in Mark’s Gospel that “The Son of Man (came)… to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) He gave His life in place of our lives. How can we not “Listen to Him!”?

There are two other aspects of the cross which Jesus himself speaks about. They complement one another. The one is all darkness, and springs from that uncanny darkness which fell on the world during the crucifixion, out of which came that cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) We can’t imagine the horror of the loneliness and misery and grief of being forsaken by God. It’s literally, Hell!

But the other aspect of the cross is victory! It looks like defeat, but Jesus is the conqueror! The cross is Jesus’ supreme glory! Power is allowed temporarily to earthly rulers, but the “victim” is in charge of events. He even dismisses His spirit when His work is finished!

So, throughout the Lenten Season and Holy Week we will see how Jesus is the conqueror over suffering, over opposition, over the world, over evil, over the Devil, and over death itself.

“I am the First and the Last,” Jesus said in His Revelation to John, “I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive, for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (Rev. 1:17b-18)

Oh, the glory of the sinless Son of God, who suffered and died for us. May God help us to pay attention when He says, “This is my Son, whom I love… Listen to Him!!”


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