Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sermon -- Last Sunday after Epiphany: Transfiguration (February 26, 2017)

 MATTHEW 17:1-9


In the name + of Jesus.

     St. Peter was right about one thing: “Lord, it is good that we are here.” (Matthew 17:4)  It was, indeed, good to see the glory of Jesus.  It was, indeed, good to be in the presence of the Church Triumphant.  It is the future that we all look forward to.  It is what we pray that God will finally deliver us to.  It is why we come to church, so that God will keep us faithful until he brings us to that glory.  It was, indeed, good to be there.
     Peter's motives, however, were a bit skewed.  Peter had hoped to have glory apart from the cross.  Peter wanted to keep the momentary vision forever.  He had confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16) only about a week before this.  This was a confession of faith.  But on the mountain, at least for the moment, it was not a matter of faith.  For once—for the first time!—Jesus of Nazareth actually looked like the Son of God.  Peter, James, and John got to see what their fellow apostles only believed.  On this mountain, they lived by sight rather than by faith.  Peter preferred that.  Peter wanted to see and feel the blessings and the glory of God.  Faith struggles to believe, but feelings are real!—at least, that's what sinful flesh leads you to believe.  But that was not what the Lord wanted these apostles to take from this vision.  Behold!  The Lord reveals his glory.
     Three times in this gospel, St. Matthew used the word “behold!”  (The ESV editors chose to translate it only twice; but the evangelist wrote it three times.)  What is, perhaps, most remarkable is where Matthew did not write, “Behold!”  St. Matthew wrote, “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.  And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” (Matthew 17:1-2)  When Jesus' appearance changed—when his face shone like the sun and his clothing gleamed like lightning—there is no “Behold!”  You'd think there would be!  Jesus finally let his glory radiate through his lowly, fleshly appearance.  That was amazing.  It was proof positive that Jesus is exactly who he said he is—the Christ, the Son of the living God.  But that is not where St. Matthew wants us to keep our attention.
     Behold!  The Lord reveals his glory.  “Behold!”  Matthew tells us what to pay attention to: Behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him....  He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and [behold,] a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Matthew 17:3,5)  Behold!  The Lord reveals his glory.  St. Matthew would have us pay attention to what we hear rather than what we see.  For, faith does not come by what you see or feel; faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)
     Behold!  The Lord reveals his glory.  That glory is revealed through the Holy Scriptures.  It is the only way we can be sure of God's will, God's promises, and God's salvation.  If you rely on anything besides this, you will be deceived.
     As obvious as that sounds, we still prefer our own senses and feelings to God's word.  We want some kind of visible proof that God approves of us.  While it is true that God blesses us with all we have, it is not true that those blessings are the measure of God's love.  A long life is not proof of God's love.  A large bank account and a pretty house are not evidence of God's favor.  The size of a congregation or how fast it is growing are no guarantee of faithfulness.  These are all things we can see and measure, but they do not prove anything good or bad.  If they did, what do you tell the Christian family who mourns their teen who was killed in a car accident?  What do you tell a Christian family who stresses over unemployment or who loses everything in a house fire?  What do you tell Jesus in John 6 when his sermon drives away the crowds and he is left with a congregation of twelve?  God's love is not something which is measured, it is something which God reveals in his word.
     Behold!  The Lord reveals his glory in his word.  God reveals all he wants us to know in his word.  Therefore, we take that word to heart.  We do not get to overrule God because we feel differently.  Your sinful nature will always crave what is contrary to God's word.  Just because it feels good does not mean God says it is good.  And just because it seems right to you does not mean God says it is right.  God tells you what is good and right, and he does not change is mind for you.  God's mercy never sanctions our sins.  God's grace never overthrows his own word.  If God's word shows that all people are sinners, it is not because God is mean.  It is because all people are sinners.  God is not concerned about your feelings when he reveals this; he is concerned about your salvation.    Repent, and believe the good news.
     Behold!  The Lord reveals his glory.  St. Matthew proclaims his “Behold!” so that we know what to pay attention to.  Behold: The Father appeared in the cloud to declare his word.  His word?  Behold: The voice declared, “This is my Son.  Listen to him.” (Matthew 17:5)  Behold: Moses and Elijah appeared and spoke with Jesus.  What did they discuss?  Jesus' journey to Jerusalem where he would suffer and die for sinners.  Behold!  The Lord reveals his glory through his word, and that word reveals God's love, God's mercy, and God's salvation for sinners.
     Behold!  Jesus of Nazareth is the very Son of God, but he did not come to flaunt his glory.  He came to die a wretched death under God's wrath.  He came to suffer accusations from enemies, rejection from clergy, abandonment by friends, and condemnation from his Father.  None of it looks good.  “As one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3)  Jesus was crucified in utter humility and shame.  Far from glorious, Jesus appeared powerless and pathetic.
     But this is why you cannot trust what you see or feel.  Instead, you listen to the word which reveals the Lord's glory.  Though Jesus hung on the cross in shame, the word of the Lord tells you why he was there: “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)  The Son of God bore our shame and endured our damnation.  The Lord delivered us from death and hell by taking it from us and suffering it in our place.  This was not obvious even to the people who were witnessing it.  Some wept for Jesus because of the torment he wrongly suffered.  Most others mocked him because he had claimed to be the Christ, the Son of the living God.  But only the word of the Lord reveals exactly what was going on that day—that the Son of God was paying for the sins of all mankind.  He died for you so that you are forgiven.  God's favor rests on you—not because you feel it and not because you see something going right in your life that proves it.
     Behold!  The Lord reveals his glory in his word: Jesus Christ has cleansed you by his holy, precious blood and has redeemed you by his innocent sufferings and death.  Now you belong to Jesus Christ and are marked for everlasting life in the glories of heaven.  And that remains true no matter what you might endure on earth.  Feelings come and go.  What you see can deceive you.  But your Lord does not lie to you.  His decree stands firm no matter what.  Behold!  That is what God wants you to pay attention to.  That is where God reveals his glory.
     St. Peter was right about one thing: It was good to be there and to see the glory of the Lord.  But the three apostles were not to talk about it until Jesus rose from the dead.  Then, when Jesus attained the glory of one who has redeemed mankind and conquered death, then they would proclaim the revelation we ponder today.  The transfiguration was a glimpse of the glory to come.  For us, it is a glimpse of the glory that we are waiting to see.  But until we see it, we live by faith, not by sight.  And since faith comes by hearing, we cling to that word.  That is why it is good for us to be here—to have our hearts comforted, our sins forgiven, and our faith strengthened.  For the moment, we hear the word and believe.  Soon, we will see Jesus in his glory and marvel forever.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.