February 23, 2020 You Were There
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In my Jr.High Social Studies class, we would sometimes see films about the history of our country. Some of them were not just narrated documentaries, they were ‘reenactments.’ I remember these for 2 REASONS: #one ~ because some of the historical characters would talk to the camera as if talking to a reporter who was ‘live-on-the-scene.’ #two ~ I remember because at the beginning & the end of the film there would be a loud, booming voice which said: “You are there!”
Transfiguration Sunday celebrates that unique Epiphany-event which peeks behind the veil, & shows the true nature of Jesus of Nazareth. The Greek word ‘epiphania’ means ‘appearing/ /manifestation.’ Our Epiphany season begins with that magnificent star leading the Magi to Jesus, & then shows the shining-out of God’s mercy as Jesus heals the sick & teaches about the Kingdom. Yet, these things were only pointing to the real thing.
The true Epiphany is the fact of the deity of Jesus Christ as the promise of salvation in-the-flesh. God-the-Son came to earth; Immanuel. He stooped down to our low level,
so that by His grace & mercy, He could then lift us up into His glory. The big dividing line between Christianity and all false religions is the answer to this Q: *Is Jesus God in the flesh? God is 3-in-1, & Jesus is fully God. And IF Jesus is God, in Him alone is true salvation & life; so….we must listen to Him; to trust & obey Him.
God knew that we would not be able to handle seeing The Christ in all His glory, like those 3 disciples could barely handle a glimpse that day. Instead, Jesus would remain veiled and draw us to Himself when He was at the top of a different mountain, on Calvary, on a cross. +There He would embrace us with forgiveness; not dazzle us with His bright glory.
+He would invite us to come close in shared humility; not frighten us with majestic power.
His majesty as God is too much for our sinful condition. In the NT, every time He showed glory & power, He had to follow it up with “don’t be afraid.” They were afraid when He walked on water; when He calmed the storm, & when He raised the dead.
When Jesus did large miracles, people were afraid He was too holy for them.
So mostly, instead of mighty miracles, Jesus focused on teaching & caring & helping; He identified with us, & first befriended us in earthly weakness, suffering & death.
We understand those things, because it fits with the fallen world we live in; So, He comes as one of us. And, as we are drawn to His cross, now we can grasp His true glory as our strong Savior. This is part of the mystery of the Gospel. Only when we see His mercy as a man do we then come to Him, unafraid of His power as God.
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Not all the Twelve were there to see His unveiled glory; He chose only Peter, James & John. Peter verifies this in His Epistle today. He says, ‘We were there!’ “We were eye-witnesses of His majesty. We were ear-witnesses of the Father’s voice.”
Today, by the miracle of God’s Spirit-filled Word, WE have a similar privilege.
Even tho it’s been about 2000 years, & we are halfway around the world, time & space don’t affect God. The Living Word of God takes us back -spiritually- to the Mount of Transfiguration. You are HERE, but thru God’s Word, it’s as good as being THERE. God brings us ‘there’ …for 3 things: 1) to BEHOLD His glory; 2) to LISTEN to the message; 3) & to RESPOND = = to get up & live with Him when we go out from here.
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So, FIRST, today you are there to Behold His Glory.
For those 3 disciples, at first they were just ‘amazed.’ They knew they were there with Jesus; but He became ‘metamorphosed’ =that’s the Greek word= which means ‘His form changed.’ This is similar to what Moses & the people of Israel saw when they witnessed the glory of God; it looked like fire on Mt. Sinai, but it was God’s glory. And that fire was just a prelude of this. This is God’s true glory = the glory of His Only Son; the Savior for the whole world. And therefore, this event was not just for the sake of these 3 disciples = it’s for ALL believers, for ALL time; so that there would be no question of Jesus’ divine glory as God-in-the-flesh, and no question about His Messianic purpose.
To this day, there are those who believe this is just another cleverly invented story by the early Christian Church. Those skeptics say ‘they had a need to believe in spectacular things; so they made this up.’ But *what is our faith in if God can’t do a simple thing like this?
This fits perfectly with who Jesus is & what He came to do. For IF Jesus was NOT God-in-the-flesh, then there is NO salvation; because then a holy sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins has not been made = it was just some guy dying on a cross long ago. Then we are still in our sins, & we remain condemned. But with his eye-witness, Peter verifies both the Gospel account, and the Prophet’s words that foretold His coming. For us, that means that today, with the words of the Gospel lesson, ‘we were there, too.’
By faith in these words, we receive everything that those 3 disciples had; we have the AWE, the holy FEAR, & the HOPE. Because -with God- it doesn’t matter when it happened, but that it happened. God’s Word is beyond time. Thru the Holy Spirit, with Peter, James & John, our eyes of faith have seen His majesty, and our ears of faith have also heard the Father’s voice. Now we believe that Jesus is the only Son from the Father, full of grace & truth.
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Next, ‘we are there’ to Listen to The Message.
The changed face & clothes the disciples saw was not the only sign of Jesus’ glory; it was also seen in the presence of (long dead) Moses & Elijah = the two foremost agents of God’s salvation in the OT Law & Prophets. Not only did their presence confirm the OT Scriptures as true, but their presence confirmed the importance of Jesus. HE was the One that all prophecy pointed to, and on Jesus alone was entrusted the hope of the world.
Yes, it would’ve been nice, as Peter suggests, for Moses & Elijah to stay on earth and join Jesus to rally the people of Israel into another mighty earthly nation. But God’s plan was bigger & better. It later became clear that God had invested His whole promise of salvation solely in Jesus. Because when the disciples looked up again, Jesus was the only one who remained. As Peter learned, there was no reason to put up tents, for even Jesus would not be staying long. Neither His Kingdom nor His people are a permanent part of this fallen & passing world.
In Luke’s Gospel we’re told that Moses & Elijah talked with Jesus about His upcoming ‘departure’ at Jerusalem; the word means ‘exodus’. This would be a greater Exodus than the one Moses led, because Jesus would lead ALL people out of sin’s bondage, & into a glorious life in an eternal promised land. Moses & Elijah ‘were there’ because of Jesus; & they were seen in order to focus our attention …on Jesus. And IF that were not enough, the Father makes it crystal clear -with His own voice- & gave them the ultimate command: “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!”
At times, we don’t appreciate the gift that is God’s Spirit-filled Word. Yes, Peter, James & John had a brief, one-time, thundering ‘mountain-top experience’; but we have something better. We have the daily unending blessing of listening to the message of Jesus, & seeing His glory over & over again, just by turning to Matt.17. Our faith & hope are renewed each time these words are read, preached, taught, & believed .
In times of our weakness, trouble, & doubt the Son of God is with us thru His Word; by His Spirit we receive His assurance, forgiveness, & the faith to live another day.
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FINALLY, today ‘you are there’ at the transfiguration so that you might hear & respond to those words: “Get up – don’t be afraid.”
Now that we have seen His Transfiguration, & we have seen & heard that He is God & Lord, He has our attention. And as He teaches us truths for life, we will respond as hope-filled & loyal disciples. Jesus told these 3 disciples that He would suffer; but now they knew what power was behind it. It was a hidden glory which would be their strength & their hope thru His time of false arrest, conviction & crucifixion & death, as He atoned for our sin.
And then after Jesus’ resurrection & ascension, when they faced their own temptations, sufferings, and deaths, they lived by faith in His glory & promises.
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Your life is also now hidden with Christ in God. You were there & have seen His glory; and now wherever you are, you have His assurance. So Jesus says to you & me: “Get up, and don’t be afraid.” His cross-work is finished and He is Risen from the dead; He lives & reigns! And now it’s time for you to live for Him, to obey His word, and serve His kingdom.
Late one afternoon, a 5-yr-old climbed an oak tree in the yard. As he scrambled up almost to the top, he looked down to see how far he had come, …and he panicked! He grabbed the nearest limb & hugged it for dear life. Paralyzed with fear, he couldn’t move to climb back down. For 30 minutes he clung to the branch. When the fire truck arrived, a fireman climbed up to the boy. “Don’t look down,” he said. “Look at ME. Just keep looking at my face.” As the boy’s eyes focused on the face of his rescuer, he was able to relax enough so he could be brought safely to the ground.
This is why we remember & celebrate the Transfiguration. God takes the eyes of our faith, to focus them on our powerful Rescuer; Jesus is God, with a human face. His Transfiguration brings us into Lent = 40 days of viewing His suffering for us. But, we know the big finale is coming = the empty tomb & Easter rejoicing. This is a picture of our earthly life. We live our days in humble repentance, surrounded by troubles, & facing death. But we have a heavenly finale. Therefore, with God’s Living Word, & thru faith, we live each day with confidence: “We have seen His glory! Jesus is God; in Him is our salvation; we will listen to & live in Him. Amen.