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Transfiguration of Our Lord – Matthew 17:1-9

by pastorjuhl ~ January 26th, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

            20th century Lutheran theologian Hermann Sasse called walking the way of being faithful to God’s Word amid countless temptations “the lonely way.” It’s so easy to be distracted from walking the narrow way that leads to eternal life. What makes walking the lonely way more lonely is believing that you walk that way totally alone, without Jesus and the holy angels walking alongside you. It’s easy for pastor to say that Christ is with me always. It’s easy to read Jesus say the same thing at the end of Saint Matthew’s Gospel: Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. I believe He is there, sort of. I don’t see His bodily presence. Life would be much better if Jesus were right there, in the flesh, all the time.

How sad it is for you to believe Jesus telling you that He is with you always, even to the end of the age, yet believe at the same time that Jesus is distant and aloof. Last week you heard that Jesus didn’t need to be physically present to heal the centurion’s servant. Two weeks ago, you heard Jesus change water into wine by speaking the Word. Do you see the pattern? Jesus is with you, just as He promised. He is with you in the means He establishes, not in the way you order Him.

Saint Peter writes in today’s Epistle: 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. You more than likely have a Bible in your home. The prophetic Word is at your fingertips, yet you might pick up the Word and read it now and them, inwardly digesting and pondering what you read as your great heritage? You come to Divine Service to hear the Word and receive the Word in the Lord’s Supper. The Word of Absolution is pronounced and the Word of Benediction blesses you as you depart. Perhaps the Word you hear in His house is here today and gone tomorrow. It’s nice to be in the presence of the Lord, but not for too long. It’s nice to be in the presence of the Lord, but only if I can dictate how that presence will be for me.

That’s Peter’s problem in today’s Gospel. His words on the mount of Transfiguration are well intentioned: 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. The worn-out saying is true here: the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Why build a tabernacle for the Savior when He is the fleshly tabernacle that once resides in Mary’s womb? The burning bush in front of which Moses stood without sandals is before Peter, James, and John’s face. The Voice of the One Who would lead the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt into the hope of the Promised Land stands glorified with Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets that prepare the way of the Lord. And all that Peter can come up with is tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah to reside for a while.

Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. There is no rest for the One Who bears the burden of your wickedness in order to declare you innocent of all sin. It is good for Peter, for you, to be here with the Lord for the time being, but you may not remain. The Voice from heaven declares, This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him. Listen to Him tell Peter, James, John, and you, Rise, and have no fear. It is a lonely way that Jesus will walk. He must walk that way for you. Peter, James, John, and the disciples will walk that way with Him. All but John will flee His side. Peter will deny knowing Jesus. You may wish to flee from His side as well, knowing what is coming for Him. Though you don’t want to walk the lonely way with Christ, He will walk the lonely way with our without you, for you.

It is good for you to be here, as it were, on the mountain peak with Peter, James, and John. You should take a good look at the transfigured Christ. Keep this image filed in your mind’s eye once Lent rolls around in a few weeks. You will want to compare the shameful portrait of Christ mocked, flogged, and hanging on a cross with today’s image of the glorified Christ. The thief on the cross declares, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus, who stands before you in His glory, comes into His kingdom extended on the cross. Here is where the King of Kings reigns for sinners.

This decisive moment in history is what Moses and Elijah proclaimed to the children of the Promise many years before. The Anointed One from the Father will come to bear the sin of the world in His Body. He will be the scapegoat. He will be the Passover Lamb. He will be the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire. He will be the Burning Bush. He will be Joshua the High Priest, having His filthy clothes taken away and be clothed with a glimmering white robe. He will be your salvation, both for Jew and Gentile. He will set His people free from sin and death forever. Jesus is your righteousness.

The Lord knows your sufferings. He has heard your cry because of the taskmaster of sin. He comes down to deliver you out of the hand of affliction and bring you up to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey. This land is yours because of Jesus’ innocent suffering and death on your behalf. You will rise as He rose to live with Him in the Promised Land not made with human hands. While this is your inheritance now, it is not yet yours. The time you spend with God in His Word, in His Absolution, and in His Supper prepares you to live with Him for all eternity.

It is good for you to be here. It is good for you to eat His Body and drink His Blood. It is good for you to rejoice in your baptism and in the forgiveness of sins and new life Christ gives you there. It is good for you to savor the Transfiguration for a little while in this little while. Yet you may not remain. Down the mountain you go with Jesus, ready to enter the plain of the “real world.” Walking with Him, living in the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life, you are not walking “the lonely way” alone. Christ goes with you, even if you don’t feel Him right by your side. Jesus is there, as we sang a few weeks ago in this hymn stanza:

Grant us grace to see Thee, Lord,
Present in Thy holy Word –
Grace to imitate Thee now
And be pure, as pure art Thou;
That we might become like Thee
At Thy great epiphany
And may praise Thee, ever blest,
God in man made manifest.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

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