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.

Listen Up

Sermon for the Transfiguration of Our Lord based on Matthew 17:1-9

Dear people who listen to Jesus: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

When celebrities speak, people listen. When famous actors, singers, or athletes give their opinions, people want to hear what they have to say. Never mind the fact that most of the time these celebrities have no expertise in the matter at hand. Most of the time celebrities have no more knowledge about the subject than the average person. Yet people want to hear what celebrities have to say; what their opinion is on global warming, immigration, the Middle East, or the election. People watch them on TV, read about them in magazines, and follow them on social media so that they can hear their opinions.

However, when it comes to hearing what God has to say, people don’t care. They don’t want to hear it. God knows everything, but people don’t want to hear His expertise. The creator of the universe has given us His Word so that we would know His will, but people don’t want to hear what God says.

In fact, even more than that, they project onto God what they think God should say and what He should be like. They say things like, “I don’t believe God would condemn my actions.” “I don’t feel God would tell anyone not to come for communion.” “I think that God would say this or that is okay.”

However, what we believe, what we feel, and what we think is wrong if it does not line up with what God says. Our feelings can be all over the place. Our thoughts can be all messed up. What we believe is wrong if it is not what God says.

What is it that God the Father says in our Gospel reading as Jesus was transfigured? God the Father says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.”

How many times have you heard someone say that God told them to do something, or that they think God would want them to do something? Such people search for a voice in their heart or in their head that they think must be God’s voice. But God’s voice is not in your head or in your heart. His voice is in His Word, and only in His Word. God points to Jesus and says, “Listen to Him!” Don’t listen to your thoughts, feelings, or beliefs. Listen to Jesus.

Why listen to Jesus? Well, what happened when the three disciples on the mountaintop heard God the Father’s voice? The disciples fell on their faces and were terrified. What happened when God the Father spoke from Mount Sinai to the Israelites? The Israelites were terrified and begged Moses saying, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us lest we die.” (Ex. 20:19)

Moses makes a point in our Old Testament lesson about saying that when the elders of the people of Israel were in the presence of God eating and drinking, God did not lay His hand on them. The fury of His wrath did not consume them because God had made a covenant with them and sprinkled the people with sacrificial blood. This sacrificial blood attested to the people that their lives were protected by virtue of the vicarious atonement of their sins. In other words, someone else’s blood covered their sin so that their blood would not be shed. Someone else was struck dead so that God would not strike them dead.

These Old Testament sacrifices pointed to the one all-atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. They foreshadowed the New Testament in Jesus’ body and blood which gives the forgiveness of sins.

Listen to Him. We listen to Jesus, because He is the Mediator between God and men. He stands between us and death; between us and hell; between us and the wrath of God over our sin. Jesus stands between us and the punishment we deserve because of our sin. He stands there because He paid the punishment our sins deserve. Jesus was struck dead so that God will not strike us dead for eternity in hell.

That is the reason why on the Mount of Transfiguration, God the Father says He is well pleased with Jesus. God the Father is well pleased that God the Son has reconciled us back to Him, because God does not want us to die eternally.

That God is well pleased with Jesus is of great comfort to us. It is of great comfort to us, because we are baptized into Christ Jesus. Our Baptism has put us in Christ. Since we are in Jesus, and God is well pleased with Jesus, that means God is well pleased with us. [This morning, since West was baptized into Jesus, and God is well pleased with Jesus, that means God is well pleased with West.]

How can water do such great things? Here’s a neat connection to the Transfiguration. Jesus looked like a regular man as He walked around teaching and preaching. During the Transfiguration, the disciples saw a glimpse of His eternal glory as the eternal God who has no beginning and no end, who created all things, and is over all things. The disciples fell on their faces terrified. If Jesus would have walked around in His glory as He taught and preached, everyone would have simply been terrified and fallen on their faces. Jesus veiled Himself in human flesh that hid His glory so that He could walk among His people and speak to them without them being terrified. Jesus hid His glory so that He would be crucified for our sins, which could not have happened if He walked around in His glory.

Similarly, Baptism looks just like regular water. If we could actually see sin being washed away, the Holy Spirit descending, and Jesus present in His glory during Baptism, we would fall on our faces in terror. God hides the glory of what He does in Baptism so that we do not have to fear Baptism, so that we do not fall on our faces in terror.

Baptism does such great things because it is not just water, but the Word of God in and with the water. Baptism puts us into Jesus, so that God is well pleased with us. Baptism puts us into Jesus so that we would listen to Him; so that we would listen to His Word rather than our own thoughts or feelings; so that we would listen to Him rather than the opinions of the world, or the opinions of whatever celebrity happens to be tweeting this morning.

Listen to Jesus, because He knows everything. He has created you and you are baptized into Him. He is the Mediator between you and God. He stands between you and death; between you and hell; between you and the wrath of God over your sin. Jesus stands between you and the punishment you deserve because of your sin. He stands there because He paid the punishment your sins deserve. Jesus was struck dead so that you will receive eternal life, because God is well pleased with you. Amen.

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

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

Sermon for the Transfiguration of our Lord based on Luke 9:28-36

Dear people for whom Jesus died: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

It’s the last Sunday before Lent. The paraments are white for the Transfiguration of our Lord and we heard about Jesus appearing with Moses and Elijah in His glory to Peter, James, and John. Unlike the infant in the manger, here Jesus appeared dazzling and glorious. Unlike the youth in the Temple who amazed the teachers of the Law with His wisdom while still just looking like a boy, here Jesus appeared in His splendour. The Transfiguration was an awesome and glorious event.

But there’s something ominous and gloomy in the Transfiguration. Leading up to it, Jesus had just told His disciples that He would have to suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and scribes. He told them that He would be killed and on the third day rise again. He told them that if they want to come after Him, they have to pick up their cross daily and follow Him. Then He talked with Moses and Elijah about His upcoming departure – His exodus – His upcoming suffering and death which was about to be accomplished at Jerusalem. Yes, even while shining in glory, Jesus is talking about His death, and the Transfiguration, in addition to being awesome and glorious, is also ominous and gloomy. Death looms over the Transfiguration.

So also today is ominous, as we celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord. We know what’s coming this Wednesday. The white of transfiguration will be replaced with the somber purple of Lent. The cheerful Alleluias will be replaced with penitential hymns. In some traditions ash crosses are put on foreheads with the words, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We head into forty days of humility and repentance, sombreness and sorrow.

But penitential stuff isn’t really our thing. We prefer the joy of Christmas, the joy of the Epiphany, the joy of the Transfiguration. We’re content with the joy and wouldn’t mind skipping over the dark, gloomy stuff.

So also Peter was quite content on the mountain. He didn’t know what to say, but he knew he wanted to remain there instead of returning back to regular life. He didn’t want to go back to carrying his cross; back to the demanding crowds; back to his failures as a disciple of Jesus. In fact, the first thing that happens when they come down from the mountain is a crowd meeting them and wondering why Jesus’ disciples failed to cast out an evil spirit from a little boy. No, forget that stuff. Let’s stay on the mountain away from it all. Let’s build three tents here, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. Forget the cross. Forget death.

We can relate. We don’t want a cross either. We don’t want to pick up our cross daily and follow Jesus. But God wants to teach us. After all, on the Mount of Transfiguration, God the Father said concerning Jesus, “Listen to Him.” Listen to Him tell you about His death and resurrection. Listen to Him tell you that His death is for you.

But our sinful flesh doesn’t want to hear Him, so God gives us crosses to bear. Crosses that make us stop relying on ourselves and turn in repentance to Jesus, to listen to Him. God gives us crosses that make us listen to Him teach us those things that we would not listen to when everything is going our way, when our crosses aren’t so heavy. He teaches us that when we are weak, He is strong. It is always He who gets us through everything in our lives, but when things are going well we tend to think that it is because of us and what we have done. The hardships of our crosses remind us that we are always weak and that God is always our strength.

And remember that without the cross of Jesus, there is no joy of Easter. Without death, there is no life. Without Jesus dying to defeat death, we would be doomed to eternal death. That’s why Jesus is talking about His death when He is shining in glory. Because when He’s talking about His death, He is talking about your life.

And this life that He gives to you isn’t just floating around somewhere out there for you to find. It is not to be found in nature, in feelings, in experiences, or in feel-good novels or movies. Life is not to be found in ourselves, our plans to turn away from sin, or our desires to do better. Jesus gives life to you specifically and undeniably in the waters of Holy Baptism. He gives it to specifically and undeniably in Holy Absolution. And He gives it to you specifically and undeniably in His Holy Supper. Jesus gives you life in these sure and certain ways so that you know where life is to be found.

And Jesus doesn’t leave you on your own to bear your cross. Your cross is His cross as surely as His death is your life. He strengthens you in your weakness when you rely on Him instead of yourself.

Listen to Jesus. If He sends you a cross to bear, listen to Him. Bearing our crosses teaches us our real need. It teaches us that we are dust and to dust we will return and that there is no power that can deliver us from death but the power of the crucifixion of the Son of God where he faced our death and destroyed it. Because of Jesus’ death, our death is the gateway to heaven. Because of Jesus’ death, our death is the portal to eternal joy.

We need the Lenten time of humility and repentance, sombreness and sorrow.

We need to hear the dark, gloomy retelling of the exodus of our Saviour – His suffering and death on our behalf. This is what Moses and Elijah spoke about with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, and it is what they preach in their writings in the Old Testament. We need the time of Lent since none of us is able to escape the ashes of this life. None of us is able to escape death and suffering. None of us is able to escape sin.

The time of Lent is a time of listening to Jesus. We add midweek services to provide additional opportunities to listen to Jesus. It is a time of hearing that we were made from dust and to dust we shall return – but also of hearing that we will be raised from the dust to eternal life. It is a time of hearing of the suffering and death of Jesus – but also a time of being in great anticipation of His resurrection.

We see joy and sorrow are not always mutually exclusive. We can have both. We can have joy in sorrow. We can have sorrow in the crosses we need to bear and yet have joy that Jesus has saved us eternally from all of them. We can mourn our sin yet rejoice in the forgiveness of sins in Jesus. We can mourn over the death of Jesus while rejoicing in the life He has given to us. Because His death is our life, and we will receive the glory of His transfiguration because of His death which was accomplished at Jerusalem. Amen.

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