"GOOD TO STAY, BUT BETTER TO GO"
The Transfiguration of Our Lord
March 3, 2019
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church
As the men were parting from Him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah"--not knowing what he said.
Luke 9:33 (ESV)
It must have been quite an experience for those three disciples when Jesus took them with Him up on the mountain. They had seen Jesus do miraculous things before, but this was something altogether different. This wasn't just some subtle hint of His glory that they had to figure out; this was a clear shining forth of the divine glory of the Son of God. It was a miraculous revelation that connected Jesus' disciples with their past and prepared them for their future. The transfiguration was much more dramatic, to be sure, but the experience of Peter, James, and John on that mountain with their Lord isn't unlike our experience as Jesus comes to us in Word and Sacrament. There are three similarities in particular that I'd like us to focus on this morning in the hope that we might better understand and appreciate where we have been in our spiritual life, where we are now, and where we are going. Today, as at the transfiguration, the glory of Christ is manifested, the followers of Christ are reassured in their faith, and those same followers are commissioned anew to the task of glorifying their Savior by sharing His Gospel.
The glory of Christ is manifested here today. No, we don't see Him visibly transfigured before us, with “the appearance of His face . . . altered and His clothing [becoming] dazzling white” (Luke 9:29), but His glory is manifested whenever and wherever His people gather in His name around His means of grace. Maybe there aren't a lot of visible things here that appear to be glorious or miraculous but rest assured that a glorious miracle is taking place among us this morning--the same glorious miracle that takes place whenever we come together around Word and Sacrament as a family of Christians. "Where two or three are gathered in My name," promises our Savior, "there am I among them" (Matthew 18:20). That is the miracle of His glory today--that He who has been with us in the past continues to be with us now. That glorious presence of the Divine Son of God is what we are celebrating when we come together for public worship.
Like those disciples of Jesus in today’s Gospel, we are being reassured in our faith this morning. And that's why the Gospel of Christ must always occupy a place of the greatest prominence in the life of God's children. The Word of God serves as a checkpoint--a place to mark our bearings. Even in a world that is constantly changing, the Gospel message of God's redeeming love in His Son is always the same. It may be presented in a different fashion or it may be applied to different aspect of life, but every time you come to worship here the message that you hear is always centered on sin and grace--Law and Gospel--our need of forgiveness and how God has met that need in Christ. And as long as I'm around here it always will be that way, because that’s the only message that we have been given to proclaim. We need that reassurance of the Gospel constantly. Like a child going somewhere alone for the first time, we keep looking back to be reassured that the One in whom we trust is still watching over us. That's the kind of reassurance that Peter, James, and John received from seeing Moses and Elijah--links with their past as God's ancient people.
We’re looking back for that same reassurance every time that we go out of our way to come into contact with God's Word. It might be here at worship or at a Bible Class or in our own private Bible study and prayer. And what do we find there that reassures us? We find the Creator who made us out of nothing--who gave us life and sustains that life by providing for our needs. We find the Redeemer who in His perfect life and innocent suffering and death has met all of the Law’s demands, thereby making us acceptable in the sight of God in spite of our sin. We find the Holy Spirit who has called us to faith and discipleship through Word and Sacrament, enabling us to do what we could never do on our own. We find the God who works in us and through us, making it possible for us to reach out to others with the Gospel of Christ--to make God-pleasing decisions in our personal and congregational lives--to encourage one another in our service to the One who bought us from sin and death with His own precious blood. All of this is the reassurance that He gives us in His Word.
But there was more than just reassurance given to those witnesses of the transfiguration and there is more than just reassurance that is given to us as we meet to hear God speaking to us through His Word. There is also a recommissioning--a renewal in our commitment to carry out the proclamation of the Gospel in our lives. Why is it that Christians need to be recommissioned and renewed? Just listen to what Peter said as he witnessed the glory and received the reassurance of the Lord: "Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah." The "tents" that Peter was talking about were dwelling places. For many people of that time and place they were their homes. Peter is trying to do what you and I are so often tempted to do: He wants to stay forever where the glory and the reassurance are--to be frozen in time, as it were, so that he might contemplate the glory forever.
I suppose that desire is only human but the Lord says that that simply cannot be--at least not in this life. "This is My Son, My chosen One," said the Voice from the cloud. "Listen to Him!" (Luke 9:35). Nothing in the life of a Christian can ever take a higher priority than listening to Jesus Christ. And what He says when we listen to Him is that His glory--the glory that reassures us--is also to be revealed in us as we “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that [He has] commanded[us]” (Matthew 28:19). We, who are to be about His business, ought to be so busy proclaiming the love of the Savior that we have no time to spend sitting around daydreaming about the glory and the reassurance. We have a Savior to trust in right now--a Lord to serve right now--a Gospel to preach right now. Anything that stands in our way, preventing us from doing this, is something that needs to be overcome.
"Master, it is good that we are here." There is always reason to rejoice when we come together as a congregation of Christ's people to worship Him. We glory in His glory and we are reassured with His reassurance. But we must never forget the purpose for which we have been called and strengthened by the Holy Spirit through the means of grace. We cannot live up to that purpose on our own, but He who went to the cross and the grave for us and has assured us of His victory with His resurrection assures us also that He is "with [us] always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).
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.