I preached the following slightly modified this morning while leading Morning Prayer. Be warned/edified.
Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ. And once again I get the privilege of preaching on a neglected holy day. Last time I preached, it was during Ascension Season, perhaps the most overlooked season of the church year. The holy day of Transfiguration is even more neglected. It falls during the heat of the summer in the midst of the long Trinity season and usually during a weekday. I confess that there have been several years when during my personal prayer times, I completely forgot Transfiguration Day. Providentially, it falls on this Sunday this year. So at least this year, I won’t forget it!
But more than its awkward place on the church calendar, the Transfiguration is difficult to understand. It happened briefly and then everything seemed to be as it was before. This is unlike Good Friday or the first Easter or the Ascension, in which life was very different afterwards. Not so the Transfiguration, at least not outwardly. One can honestly ask what was the point of it? What was the point of the Transfiguration?
I do not presume to know anywhere close to all of God’s purposes in the Transfiguration. But a close reading of Gospel lesson for Transfiguration from Luke 9:28-36 does reveal one purpose I wish to point out this morning.
Now here is the account from Luke that you may find on p. 265 of the Prayer Book.
[Here Luke 9:28-36 was read.]
Jesus’ three years of ministry revealed the Incarnation, that Jesus was, and is forever, completely man and completely God. But the God part of that revelation was veiled and indirect during those years. Jesus revealed himself to be God by signs, such as miracles of healing. These signs are a theme of St. John’s Gospel. Jesus also revealed himself as God by his forgiving sins, by his perfect life, and by his authoritative teaching. But he did not appear to people in his glory . . . until he and Peter, James and John were on the Mount of Transfiguration.
And even then his glory was veiled. And that for the sake of the three disciples. As the Bible repeatedly notes, no mortal can fully see the glory of God and live. It is just too powerful. The full glory of Christ would have been too much for the three to handle. But Jesus did reveal to the three his veiled glory. And even that was dazzling and overwhelming.
For in the Transfiguration, Jesus was revealing more fully the Incarnation, that Jesus is very man of very man and very God of very God. And note that I used the pronoun “is”. Jesus remains very man of very man and very God of very God even now as he intercedes for us before the Father. But that is a subject for another time.
It could be said that the Transfiguration was an audio-visual of the Incarnation. That is reflected not only in his glorious appearance as both God and man, but also in the witnesses.
Moses and Elijah appear, illustrating that the Law, represented by Moses, and the Prophets, represented by Elijah, proclaimed Christ and his Incarnation, that Jesus is indeed the Messiah the Law and Prophets proclaim.
And note that Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus on the subject of his “decrease” or departure from Jerusalem. The Law and the Prophets also foretell and proclaim the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ.
The Apostles, represented by three of them, Peter, James and John, were eyewitnesses to the Incarnation, living with Jesus for three years, then seeing the Risen Christ. The three may also represent the multitude of people who saw Jesus as a man who did things only God can do. We certainly can know this - along with the Law and the Prophets, the Apostles are very important and authoritative witnesses to the Incarnate Christ.
Those witnesses should be quite enough for us. But there is another witness, God the Father himself. “This is my beloved Son. Hear Him!”
That kinda settles it, does it not? Jesus is God the Son Incarnate. With the Father and with the Holy Spirit, he is of the Holy Trinity. The Holy Spirit might be represented by the cloud that came down, but I am not sure of that, particularly since the Holy Spirit is a Person every bit as much as the Father and the Son. But God also gave us a demonstration of the Holy Trinity at Jesus’ baptism when the Spirit descended in the form of a dove and when the Father spoke then as well in similar words: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
And then, after the Transfiguration, it was by outward appearances just the man Jesus again, not in his glory but as a man with no special glory that could be seen. Isaiah prophesied in Isaiah 53 that the Messiah would have “no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.” And the Incarnation was a great humbling of the Son as St. Paul notes in Philippians:
Jesus made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.
Yet Jesus remained very God of very God just as he always was from eternity past and even as that baby in the manger.
Thus we see in the Transfiguration the Incarnation as witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, by the Apostles, and by God the Father Himself.
In addition to that, as if that is not wonderful enough, I think there is a more personal and everyday lesson here. Not long before the Transfiguration, Jesus told the disciples, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” And as if that was not difficult enough to hear, he then said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
That was surely not easy to hear! Then in the same chapter a while after the Transfiguration, Jesus again foretold his Passion and death. In the midst of this, the disciples surely needed encouragement. They surely needed their faith strengthened. And they surely got that strengthening and encouragement in the Transfiguration.
Not only was Peter’s faith strengthened, but he used the experience to strengthen the faith of others near the end of his life in 2 Peter 1:16-18:
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.
I think a lesson here is that God knows our weaknesses and our hardships. And he knows how to encourage and strengthen us.
Our part is faithfully to stay close to Him. Let’s say, when Jesus beckoned him to walk up the mountain with Him, Peter said, “Lord, I’m really tired. And I haven’t gone fishing in a while. I think I’ll just relax and go fishing today.” Then Peter would have missed the Transfiguration and its encouragement. But instead he stayed close to Jesus. Peter had his issues, but he was smart enough to do that!
How do we stay close to Jesus? Certainly a very important part of staying close to Jesus is by listening to Him and talking to Him. And we listen to him primarily by reading and studying the Bible, God’s written word, and we talk to him through prayer.
And in addition to numerous benefits of reading the Bible and seeking to live by it can come a benefit described by my previous Pastor, Tommy Nelson of Denton Bible Church. He has noted that God knows where you are going to be reading in the Bible. And he knows what you are going through in life as you are reading in the Bible. And he can bring the two together to speak right to you in a very personal way.
Now don’t expect that to happen every time you open the Bible. But if you are regular in the Bible, reading it just about every day, I bet sooner or later you will experience God encouraging you in a very personal way. I probably shouldn’t bet during Morning Prayer, but I’m willing to bet on that.
Also, sometimes God answers prayer in ways that are so marvelous that it is a great and very personal encouragement.
Now God is not a Holy Vending Machine, and it is unpredictable just how God may choose to give us the encouragement we need, just like the Transfiguration was very unexpected. Remember that the three disciples were caught napping at the beginning of the Transfiguration! But God is a very personal God who loves us more than we know. And he stands ready to give us the encouragement we need. Reading the Bible and prayer are very important ways to receive that encouragement.
A wonderful quality of God demonstrated in the Incarnation and in the Transfiguration is that though he is high and lifted up and transcendent and infinite, yet he loves and cares for us, for each of us.
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. Amen.
Let us pray.
O God, who on the mount didst reveal to chosen witnesses thine only-begotten Son wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening; Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may be permitted to behold the King in his beauty, who with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Ghost, liveth and reignth, one God, world without end. Amen.