The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
“This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased. Listen to Him.” Listen to Him…. Faith comes through hearing, right? It stands to reason that listening to Jesus is, therefore, pretty important…to put it mildly. For centuries, this has been the focus of pretty much every faithful Transfiguration Sunday sermon ever preached. And I’ll let the cat out of the bag right now—this will be our focus today too. But…we’re going to come at this from a little different perspective.
You see, for centuries upon centuries (including sermons I’ve preached here over the past 8-plus years), this language of listening to Jesus has focused primarily on how even the apostles hadn’t really been listening to Jesus. They had certainly heard the words He spoke over the course of the past three years. That wasn’t the issue. But…like your average teenager, though, the words just kind of passed right through, from ear to ear, without ever really making contact with the gray matter in between. Case in point: Just one chapter earlier (Matt 16) reveals how St. Peter confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God, but then just a few days later Peter hears Jesus proclaim that He must go to Jerusalem for the purpose of suffering and dying and rising again. “Far be it from you, Lord! This will never happen to you…not as long as I have something to say about it!” Peter wasn’t really listening all this time, was he? If Jesus doesn’t die, there is no salvation—period. Peter didn’t hear any of that. He didn’t want to. Peter didn’t even listen to the rest of Christ’s single prophetic sentence. Jesus very clearly states that He will also rise again on the third day after He has been put to death. Peter didn’t hear that. Peter didn’t listen. He was too busy telling God how things were going to be to actually hear what God was saying.
Just six days later Jesus takes Peter and the other two alpha-male leaders, James and John, up the transfiguration mountain so they can behold and receive the great lesson that their Lord and God desired to teach them. “Listen to Him!” Did they listen? No. They beheld the transfigured glory of God before their very eyes; they heard the booming voice of almighty God in that cloud, and then they passed out. They became like dead men, so great was their fear. And the fact that they really weren’t listening to Jesus became all the more painfully apparent when they barely come down off that mountain and make their way to Galilee. Jesus again says to the apostles, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered in the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day.” And then Matthew tells us, “They were greatly distressed.” Again, Jesus proclaims the rest of the story. Again, Jesus proclaims resurrection victory. Again, they don’t listen. They don’t hear it. They have very selective hearing. That’s greatly distressing.
Folks: This is precisely why your God and Lord was transfigured before their eyes that day on that mountaintop. The arrest and persecution and barbaric treatment of Jesus, including the torturous and shameful death on the most-despised instrument of capital punishment, was all just a few weeks away. In just a few weeks the disciples’ world was about to be rocked and turned completely upside down. Things would never seem darker. In just a few short weeks all hell was about to break loose, and it would certainly look like Jesus had lost and evil had won. This is why your God and Lord was transfigured before their eyes. He gave them a glimpse; a very loving and faith-encouraging glimpse for the future. This man was no ordinary man. He was almighty God in the flesh! This was the Lord of Life in the glorious flesh, the light and magnificence of His glory beaming forth, brighter than the sun, brighter than lightning.
And yet…Jesus dies…and that’s it. All hope is lost! “We really thought He was the One, but then He was crucified! Woe is us!” The disciples, who heard Jesus say multiple times that He will die, but rise to life again on the third day because He was the Lord of Life (which He clearly showed them beforehand in the glory of His transfiguration), didn’t listen to or believe a word of it. When they needed to listen the most to that Word and promise of God, they were busy hiding behind locked doors, cowering in sorrow and fear, watching out for what mattered most—their own rear-ends.
And I could easily go on now and turn this into a discussion on how we’re no different than these apostolic yahoos. I wouldn’t be wrong either. It’s sad, but very true. How often we hear and know what God says about things such as bearing crosses and remaining faithful and giving thanks in all circumstances and He is with us always. We know it. We know it all. We can even cite chapter and verse. And yet… the fruits we bear in life often contradict and deny our confident and self-assured profession. The fact is that we hear, but we don’t always listen. We don’t always believe or trust.
But here’s the thing: Rather than try and brow-beat and shame you into change (which never really works, and if it does happen, is short-lived at best), let me point you to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let me point you to the glory of your victorious risen Lord and Savior, who dwells with and abides with you even now in, with, and under the veiled elements of His Word and His holy sacraments. Recognized through saving faith, the glory of the Lord bursts brilliantly through these very ordinary and unassuming things, doesn’t it? Yes…I am pointing you back to His Word and promise. Listen to Him. Re-listen to Him! Just like the angel at the tomb that first Easter Sunday, I say to you the same words he spoke to those women, who were intent on anointing the corpse of Jesus: “He has arisen…just like He told you. Remember what He said? Remember what He has already told you?”
I know this may sound radical or “Pollyanna” to some of you, but the Word of God really does work! It works, creates, and accomplishes great and mighty and miraculous things, chief of which is a profound peace that surpasses all human understanding. This Word creates and bestows God’s grace and peace! I think back to Moses, who after conversing with God and listening to His Word, had to wear a veil because his facial appearance had been transfigured. His face was shining brilliantly…and it scared the you-know-what out of the people, so much so that they demanded that he wear a veil to cover up that brilliance. It bothered them. It frightened them. And make no mistake: Moses’ face didn’t shine so brilliantly because of anything inherently good within himself. That wasn’t Moses’ goodness and awesomeness beaming through. No! Moses was no different than any of us. He was a sinful man who wore the same sinful flesh as any and all of us.
Think of Moses as the moon in this account. The moon is lifeless, in and of itself. It doesn’t radiate anything on its own. The whole reason the full moon shines so brilliantly at night is because it is reflecting the brilliance of the sun. So it is with Moses. Moses wasn’t emanating and broadcasting his own brilliant goodness. No! He was simply reflecting and showing forth the brilliance of the Son; the brilliance of the Light and Life that is almighty God; the magnificent brilliance of the Word of God; the same Word that would become flesh and dwell among us; the same Word of God in the flesh that stood atop that Transfiguration mountain and peeled back the veneer of humiliation for a moment in time to reveal and emit and make manifest to His disciples the brilliance that was and is God in the flesh.
Now, ask yourself: What of your countenance? What do you reflect and show forth in your life? We can talk all day long about being great Christians and loving Jesus. We can talk all day long about the peace of Jesus Christ that we claim to have. But…what does the world see? Do you veil yourself? Do you veil the peace of Christ? Think about that before you answer! Worries concerning wealth and retirement and work and daily bread all have a way of covering over and all but hiding the peace that comes with trusting in God above all things. It sounds strange, but more often than not, our sinful darkness and doubt shines brighter than the light of Christ that we claim fills us.
Ask yourself: Does the peace of Christ—the very countenance of God—the very glory of His light, His life, His grace, mercy, and peace—come shining through in your daily life? Are you in the Word of God? Do you not just talk at God, but have conversation with God? Do you listen to Him? He speaks! He speaks, first and foremost, in His Holy Word. Are you in His Word? He speaks His peace and mercy to you in the words of absolution. He bespeaks His grace and peace and love to you through the words of the sermon and in the words of our hymns, and in the water and words of Holy Baptism. He physically nourishes you with His own precious body and blood, placing them in your mouth, bidding you to eat and drink FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF ALL YOUR SIN. As Luther says in his Small Catechism, “where there is forgiveness of sin, there is life and salvation.” There is peace—Christ’s peace. He physically nourishes you and bespeaks this peace to you, telling you exactly what He is doing with these holy sacramental elements. You hear it in the words, “This true body and blood strengthen and preserve you…depart now in peace.”
Folks: You’re going to hear your Lord bespeak His very peace to you at the end of this worship service, right before you pack up and head back out into a world that is dark and covered over in a heavy pall of sin and despair. “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord look upon you with His favor and give you His peace.” There’s NOTHING new under the sun! God still desires to shine His brilliant, life-giving, peace-bestowing face upon you! He still desires to give you His peace; a peace that is known only in faith and trust in Him alone. Yes, you will have crosses to bear. Yes, life will still be rough. Yes, “bad things” will still happen to you. You’re not immune from such heartaches and tragedies and pains and suffering simply because you have your name on a congregation’s roster. But…as a baptized child of God; as one who bears His holy and victorious name upon your head and your heart, marking you as one redeemed by Christ the Lord, you have nothing to fear. In fact, you have every reason to rejoice and be at peace…even as you bear your respective crosses and suffer for righteousness’ sake.
The glory of God—the victory of Christ crucified and resurrected for you—shines upon you. My prayer is that this glorified Christocentric reality shines not only on you, but is witnessed in you and through you—unveiled, unvarnished, and on full glorious display for all to see and behold. Look to Christ. Listen to Christ. Hold fast to Christ…ever and always. And may your life—your words, thoughts, and deeds—ever and always be a glorious reflection and manifestation of the life-giving Son who calls you, leads you, protects you, provides for you, and even dwells within you. Basically, when people look to and listen to you, may they see and hear Christ, who dwells within you. May the brilliance of Christ’s glory and life and peace be witnessed through you…and never in spite of you.
To Him alone be all glory, praise, and honor…AMEN.
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