"TRANSFORMED INTO HIS IMAGE"
The Transfiguration of Our Lord
February 11, 2018
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church
We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:18 (ESV)
Since the season of Epiphany is all about the manifestation of the glory of the Son of God, it is certainly fitting that this season should come to its glorious conclusion with the celebration of the transfiguration of our Lord. The Savior's divine glory, which was revealed in bits and pieces here and there throughout this season in the various miracles that Jesus performed and in the calling of His disciples, now shines forth as Peter, James, and John--the "inner circle" of Jesus' disciples--"with unveiled face[s, behold] the glory of the Lord." The season that began with the Baptism of our Lord now comes to an end with the same voice of God the Father proclaiming the same truth about Jesus: "This is My beloved Son; listen to Him!" (Mark 9:7). The appearance of Moses and Elijah--ancient heroes of Israel and representatives of the Law and the prophets, respectively--testifies that Jesus is the perfect Obeyer of the Law and the perfect Fulfiller of all of God's promises that were given through the prophets. In all of this the glory of God's One and only Son is manifested.
But this strange event on the mountaintop isn't the final revelation of Jesus' glory. On the contrary, the Lord's greatest glory was yet to be revealed--and it would be revealed on another mountaintop in a most unlikely way: in His suffering and death on the cross as the perfect and complete sacrifice of atonement for the sin of the whole world The effectiveness of this sacrifice was then confirmed in His glorious resurrection from the dead. But perhaps even more amazing than all of this is the fact that His glory is still being revealed today--in us, of all people. Strange as that may sound, the passage before us tells that "We, . . . beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." Let's take a look at each of these expressions to find out what each of them means and how each applies to our spiritual life.
What does it mean to "behold the glory of the Lord?" This is something that can be done in both a passive and an active sense. We behold the Lord's glory passively simply because we are forgiven. Since His glory is the forgiveness of sinners and their reconciliation to the God whom they have offended, we who trust in Jesus are a living testimony to that glory of Christ. The mere fact that we are allowed to survive and are not struck down because of our sin is in itself a statement regarding the mercy and grace of our compassionate God. Add to that the fact that we have been given the assurance that we will live forever in heaven when this life is ended. That's not just wishful thinking on our part or some kind of wild dream that we have concocted in our hearts and minds; that's the promise of the Scriptures--a promise whose assurance is rooted in the death and resurrection of Jesus and not in anything that we have done or hope to do.
But there is also an active side to this business of beholding the Lord's glory. If we truly are forgiven people who have beheld the glory of a forgiving God, we will want to reflect that glory of forgiveness and we will want that reflection to be clear and not clouded over by our words and conduct. What I mean is that if the words that we speak and the way that we act contradict God's statement that we are His forgiven people, we will in effect be not a shiny mirror reflecting the glory of the Lord, but rather a dirty mirror that obscures and distorts that divine glory. Do we live in the glory of God's forgiveness in Christ, or do we still deal with ourselves and with others as if acceptance is based on human merit instead of divine grace? Do we approach God as our loving Father or as an angry Judge? Do we forgive as we have been forgiven in Christ, or do we hold grudges and demand retribution? These are difficult questions for us to struggle with, but we need to struggle with them and to overcome the issues that they expose if we are going to actively reflect the glory of Christ in our lives--the glory of forgiveness that we have beheld.
In addition to "beholding the glory of the Lord," the text also tells us that we "are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." As sinners who have been redeemed with the blood of Christ and made children of God by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are called to a life of holiness. I know that may sound strange to Lutherans, but--yes--you heard it right: We are called to a life of holiness. We Lutherans don't like to talk about holiness very much. It makes us nervous. But I'm not talking here about some kind of super-sanctification or perfection that the Pentecostals or the fundamentalists might preach; I'm talking about holiness as it is revealed in the Scriptures. Real holiness is not a characteristic of the spiritual elite; it is something that defines all of the people of God in Jesus Christ. There is no distinction between the people of God and the "holy" people of God, because the people of God are holy: We have been set apart from the world by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of being the righteous people that God says we are--in the very same world that we have been set apart from.
Holiness is not something that we attain in an instant and then live in perfectly from that time on. It is a gift that has been given to us by the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism--a gift that we use each and every day as the New Man struggles with the old Adam within us--a gift that each day brings us a little closer to what our Savior wants us to be as it "transform[s us] into the same image [of Christ] from one degree of glory to another." This is a process that began in us when the Holy Spirit entered our lives through Baptism or the hearing of the Gospel (whichever happened first) and doesn't end until we close our eyes in death, trusting in the mercy of Christ. Only then will we be perfectly conformed to the image of the Master.
The glory of God is not like the glory of men. It is revealed in things that men don't see as being glorious at all--things like the Son of God suffering and dying in shame and misery--things like sinners receiving forgiveness and responding with imperfect but nevertheless sanctified lives of service. "This comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." That Holy Spirit who has given us the glory and the righteousness of our Savior in Baptism continually blesses us with the motivation, the wisdom, the commitment, and the faith (all of which come to us in the Gospel) that we need to meet the opportunities that He places before us to grow in God's grace and glory even as we share it with others.
May the God who caused light to shine out of darkness cause you to increase and abound in love toward one another and toward all people, as His love abounds for us; and may the glory of His Son be manifested to you and in you, that you may be witnesses to all nations now and until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. Amen.