Fear and Glory

Sermon for the Transfiguration of Our Lord based on Mark 9:2-9

Dear people in the veiled presence of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

There is only one emotion present when sinners are in the presence of the glory of God. That emotion is fear. In the presence of the glory of God Almighty, man falls on his face in terror.

As Jesus walked around looking like any other man, He was hiding His glory. His glory was veiled so everyone did not fall down in fear around Him. On the mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John got a glimpse of Jesus’ glory and heard God the Father’s voice from heaven and were terrified and did fall on their faces (Matt. 17:6).

Mankind is sinful, so we can have no other reaction to God’s glory than falling on our faces in fear. Scripture tells us that on Judgment Day, every knee will bow to Jesus, the judge of the living and the dead (Rom. 14:11). Whether you’re a believer or an unbeliever, you will bow down to God in His glory because of your sin. Our sin will make us fear.

Right now, we don’t fear. Our sins don’t even seem like such a big deal. God didn’t punish us the first time we fell into sin, and He hasn’t punished us when we returned into that sin. He hasn’t punished us as we keep falling into sin, even as we have gotten others to sin and made our sin their door. God hasn’t punished us for the sin we shunned a year or two, but wallowed in a score. (language in this paragraph paraphrased from ELH 498)

In the presence of the glory of God, however, we will be acutely aware of our sinfulness. We will fall on our faces in fear at the judgment seat of Christ.

Christ will not leave us in fear. As Jesus touched the disciples on the mount of transfiguration and said to them, “Rise, and have no fear” (Matt. 17:7), so He will raise us off our faces and tell us not to be afraid. We do not have to be afraid because Jesus was punished for our sins.

The Almighty God took on human flesh, veiling His glory. He veiled His glory so that He would give His life as a ransom for our lives. Our sins were and are such a big deal that they required God to die in order for them to be covered. It required the life of God in the flesh to pay the price of our sins and thus save us from eternal damnation.

Jesus will raise us up off our faces and tell us, “Rise, and have no fear. I have paid the price of your sins.” His forgiveness is so great and overflowing, that it covers even those sins into which we fall repeatedly; those sins of weakness which we hate and detest. Jesus’ forgiveness covers those sins we have brought into the lives of others.

Jesus doesn’t ask, “How many times must I forgive you?” He is the one who taught unlimited forgiveness when He said, “If [your brother] sins against you seven times in a day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:4) If he demands such forgiveness from you, do you seriously think He will not show such forgiveness to you?

That’s why God the Father says, “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.” Listen to Jesus for forgiveness and eternal life. He is the one foretold by Moses and Elijah. Listen to Him. All the Old Testament points to Jesus. Everything that God said for thousands of years was about the coming of the Christ. Now that He has come, listen to Him.

The book of Hebrews starts with the words, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son.”

The prophets of old searched and inquired carefully to learn about the promised Christ (I Pt. 1:10). They did not have first hand knowledge of the divine mysteries concerning which they prophesied. They simply repeated faithfully what God had told them to say.

Now, in these last days, God has spoken to us by His Son. Not just another prophet bringing the Word of God, but He is Himself God, the eternal Word (Jn 1:1). He speaks as one who has authority, because He has all authority in heaven and on earth (Mt. 28:18).

Jesus is not just one of many topics in the Bible. He is the way, the truth, and the life (Jn 14:6). If you take Him out of the Scriptures, you have nothing left. Thus, when Jesus sent out His apostles, He did not send them to talk about their own views and ideas. He sent them to talk about Him. He is the one to whom we should listen. His voice is the voice we hear on the pages of sacred Scripture. Listen to Him.

Christ Jesus came to you hidden in the waters of Holy Baptism. He comes to you veiled in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. He needs to be hidden and veiled so that you are not overcome by your sinfulness in His glorious presence and fall on your face. We would be afraid of the sacraments if we could see what happens in them.

Jesus knows us. He knows our sins and He knows our fears. Therefore, the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit He veils with water. His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins He veils with bread and wine. He knows you need the forgiveness of your sins, so He gives it to you freely. He knows your frailties, so He gives the forgiveness to you in these veiled ways, so that you will not fear.

There will come a time when we will not fear to see God face to face. It will be when we are raised with perfected and sinless bodies that are spiritual and imperishable (I Cor. 15:42,44), and we will be like God, because we will see Him as He is (I Jn 3:2). Then we will dwell in His presence forever without fear because we will be without sin. Then we will not fall on our faces in God’s glorious presence because we will be glorious in His glorious presence.

Until then, we are in the veiled presence of God. He is here because He has promised us, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Mt. 28:20) He is here because He has promised us, “Take eat, this is my body… drink of it all of you, for this is my blood…” (Mt. 26:26, 28) He is here because He has promised us, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt. 28:20) Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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