TRANSFIGURATION SUNDAY “Tis Good Lord To Be Here”
February 19, 2023 Matthew 17:1-9
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The church season of Epiphany follows after our Christmas celebration, & up to the season of Lent. The word Epiphany means appearing/‘shining.’ Beginning with His miraculous birth, with each event & teaching, Jesus’ shining glory was increasing. He came to show us the glory of God, not an earthly glory, but the glory of perfect obedience & holiness, and mercy for lost sinners. So, Jesus shined with heaven’s glory, even tho He suffered much on earth.
For the 3yrs of Jesus’ ministry, He traveled from town to town, announcing to all people that the Kingdom of God had come. They were to repent of their disobedience against God, and believe the Good News of the Savior. God’s salvation plan was unfolding.
With each passing day, Jesus was shining with the glory of God thru His miracles as He healed the sick & lame, multiplied food, even raised the dead. There was nothing He couldn’t do! Yet, these were only little signs of His true power; because even more important than those miracles, He was proclaiming the greater miracle of God’s forgiveness of sins, with the promise of eternal heavenly life. Why is forgiveness & eternal life the greater miracle?
Well, have you been to the doctor lately? Have you checked your investments? Earthly health & wealth are always changing & they do not last; but our relationship with our Creator lasts eternally. This is why Jesus said in Matt.6, “Seek FIRST His kingdom and His righteousness, and all those things will be given to you as well.”
We must admit that there is much in this life that we cannot control. We control our actions; but not the actions of others. We can desire something but sometimes our own sins force us to alter our plans. We have dreams we want to pursue, but the sins of others can ruin those dreams. Accidents, illness, & natural disasters can force change on us, & so some of our plans are no longer possible. This means that the gift of life God gave us, in many ways, will not go according to what we want or plan. We just can’t know enough in advance how to account for all the various events that will affect us.
We do our best to make choices & decisions so that our plans will work together for a good outcome; but we can’t be sure. But there IS One who knows, and He has a plan that fits us well. The One who gave us life says He can make all things work together for good for those who trust & obey Him. Trusting Him, we can use Peter’s words in vs.4, ‘Lord, it is good that we are here.’
How good for us to BE HERE, in church, each week, & every step of the way, to hear that our Lord Jesus knows. He knows us, and He knows how to take this gift of life He’s given and lead us in the right ways; especially thru various changes or troubles. And most of all, He blesses us with forgiveness, and keeps our hearts fixed on our heavenly goal = not on earthly things that break, rust, disappoint, & cannot last. That’s what our true life is all about; it’s about His eternal plan for us, which begins ‘here’ and has it’s fulfillment ‘up there.’
This is something that Jesus was demonstrating to His disciples. His glory had already been shining brightly, and He was nearer now to His kingly throne than ever before. But as we know, His glory is not with an earthly throne. Peter thought that maybe it was. Peter’s plan was to set up 3 shelters, and preserve the glorious mountain-top moment in an OT way.
But that wasn’t God’s plan. And by the way: How did Peter know that it was Moses & Elijah there with Jesus? They had both died hundreds of years ago; their pictures were not in the current church directory! So, how did he know it was them? We’ll try to answer that Q; but first, let’s talk about God’s plan in Jesus.
Just prior to our lesson, Jesus feeds the 4,000 with 2 loaves & 2 fish, and there were 7 basketfuls left over. Later, He heals a blind man in the town of Bethsaida. He had done these kinds of miracles before. Is that what His power & glory & kingdom were all about?
After those signs, Jesus asks the disciples that important Q: “who do you say I am?” And Peter answered for the 12: “you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” With that answer, Jesus began to teach them that He would suffer many things, be rejected by the temple leaders, & be killed; and be raised on the 3rd day. This was why He came; this suffering, death, & resurrection would bring God’s saving mercy to mankind: that was really what He was all about.
After hearing this, Peter opposes Jesus because suffering was not part of Peter’s plan, either for His own life or the Messiah’s == and we don’t think it’s for our life either. Jesus immediately rebukes Peter by saying, “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” And to all of them, Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me…. What good it is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?”
And now, 6 days later, one final sign was needed to establish the fact that God’s perfect plan for us was focused in Jesus, & that God’s plan was different than man’s ideas. The sign was that Jesus would give them a glimpse to show that He is God – in-the-flesh.
No one less than God himself could change the condemnation of the Law upon sin. Adam & Eve were removed from the presence of God & from the Garden of Eden on the very day they disobeyed God’s command. Likewise, our sin cuts us off from the Holy God.
This creation & our life is ruined by sin; we are the living dead, waiting for God’s eternal judgment. And yet, there was one last hope; a single promise that one Savior would be sent to bridge the gap between God & man. It is Jesus = who is both God and man.
To save us, the Savior would have to conquer our enemies for us = sin & death. So, He substituted for us, taking on Himself our death-penalty for sin on the cross. And because of His resurrection, He is stronger than death for us. Joined with Him thru the Baptismal washing in His name, we have true life now, and our life will continue in heaven with Him later.
How can we be sure that Jesus is that promised Savior, both God and man; and that His cross accomplished all that we needed to bring us back to life with our heavenly Father? We are sure because, thru the eyes of Peter, James & John, we have seen & heard the testimony of heaven itself. Jesus leads them up a high mountain, so that they were alone. He takes just 3 disciples because -in the OT- it was sufficient to have just 2 or 3 witnesses to establish any fact.
And suddenly, Jesus’ appearance changes. Jesus undergoes a metamorphosis, says the Greek word; the glory that is His as God-the-Son shines so that even His clothes are changed to a heavenly white. This is no ‘reflection’ of the sun; this is the glory of God; a divine radiance. This is a preview of the promise in Revelation chapt.21, which says that our heavenly home will need no sun to shine for the day, & no moon for night, because the glory of God will give it light, and the Lamb Himself will be our lamp.
And there, within His glorious presence, is Moses & Elijah. Peter, James, & John needed to witness the fact that, as the Messiah, Jesus would fulfill the Law as given thru Moses = especially in His suffering & death. This was in full accordance with all that God foretold thru the prophets = and Elijah is there to confirm that.
The disciples had been seriously questioning Jesus’ plan of suffering & death. They had other ideas of the Messiah’s work & purpose. But these 2 heavenly witnesses established the fact that Jesus was doing things correctly. And then came the closure — the 3rd witness makes the plan absolutely certain; as the voice of God the father is heard saying, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!”
Even at that moment, Peter does not fully understand that this visible shining glory on the mountain is not the kingdom of God that Jesus was bringing. He forgot that he had been sharply rebuked for trying to avoid the pain & death Jesus said had to come first.
In God’s plan, the cross had to come before the resurrection. It would take some time for them to grasp the theology behind that plan. For a moment, the veil that hid Jesus’ divine glory as God had been pulled back. They had now heard the testimony of heaven itself. They could be fully assured that -whatever Jesus did & said- it had the very power of the Almighty behind it; and in the end, God’s perfect plan of man’s salvation would be done.
In the meantime, Jesus veils himself once again, and orders them to keep this event to themselves. The kingdom of God was having its way, and they should humbly keep their eyes of faith open, listen & learn, and let the Savior do His work.
This humble faith is also good for US to copy. We most certainly spread the good news of God’s Savior Jesus, and the redemption won for all thru the cross & thru the tomb. And we live visibly as God’s holy people, who obey His Word –the Bible – as He commissions us to let our light shine before others, that they would see our good deeds and praise the Father in heaven. Our faith & hope is not silent or private.
And yet, there are still times when we must keep our mouths closed and our eyes & ears of faith open; especially when we are tempted to question God’s plan in our life. We know fully God’s plan of salvation, thru Jesus; but we do not fully know His individual plan for our earthly lives. If we think Peter should’ve kept quiet at times, so should we. Our earthly cross also comes before our heavenly crown. In this world, we will have our troubles & sufferings; but nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus.
So how will we live when we can’t control things that affect us? The answer is: we will make our plans to line-up with the One who knows all things; the One who is able to control things for our ultimate good. James chpt.4 says that we should not just say, “I think I’ll go & do this or that”; instead we should say, “if it is God’s will I will go & do this or that.” God’s plan for our life is always better and more full & blessed than our plans. By our fallen nature, we may not like His plan, but by quiet faith we will see that His plan is best.
Now, let’s go back to that other Q: How did Peter know that it was Moses & Elijah standing there with Jesus? He had no painting or photograph to recognize them. There were no introductions made. It is a mystery, but a comforting one.
Peter knew who they were because God wanted him to know. It is a comfort to realize that when we get to heaven, we will not be among strangers. In the presence of God we will know each other, and we will be known. In fact, since Peter, James & John were not in heaven yet, so heaven is not the source of this ‘knowing’; God’s presence is the source.
In the presence of God, even on earth, there is an amazing understanding of things.
Peter didn’t realized how right he was when he said, “It is good for us to be here.” It is good for us, you & me, to be HERE; here is where God has promised to be present when 2 or 3 are gathered in His name. In Jesus’ name we are in the very presence of the Living God right now. There are many things that cannot be known by earthly minds; but here, in church, in God’s presence, we perceive spiritual & eternal things with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is no university, think-tank, or training facility in the world that can give the kind of wisdom, guidance, & courage for life that we receive here in God’s presence.
Here, in His presence, He speaks to us thru His Scripture, and teaches us what we need to know so that we can live another week in godliness, & according to His plan. When there are things we don’t understand about our life or His plan, here in His presence He will comfort us, and we will learn to quietly trust Him and endure until we can see its purpose. We admit that we don’t know what will happen in our life tomorrow, but here we confess to know the blessed condition of our soul = which is secure in the promise of our Savior Jesus.
We have ideas about how our life should go, but we don’t know if those will happen. Here in God’s presence, we can seek His help to make the wise decisions to do the right things, and by doing His will, step by step, His perfect plan for us will happen. We don’t know what pains we might have to endure, or what things we might suffer for His name, but here in His real presence, we have the forgiveness that heals our souls, and we have His promise of peace that goes beyond the world can give.
We can’t say when we will die: next month, next year, or many years from now. But by His presence, we do know His promise that whenever it happens, we have a share in His heavenly glory, just like the believers before us: like Moses, Elijah, Peter, James, & John.
The Transfiguration of Jesus teaches us a lesson about God’s presence for His disciples, including you & me. In the person & work of Jesus, we are reminded of God’s plan for our salvation and for our daily life. The One who gave us life says He can make all things work together for good for those who trust & obey Him. Trusting Him, we can use Peter’s words in vs.4, ‘Lord, it is good that we are here.’