Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Cross-ly Glory

Sermon for Transfiguration C, preached by The Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich on Sunday, February 7, 2016.

    All of us like to be in the presence of greatness.  It's exciting to be near people who are on top of the metaphorical mountain.  It's part of our human nature to exalt and praise those who've done great things.  We construct hall-of-fames to immortalize athletes for their feats.  It seems like every month there's some sort of award show to congratulate actors and musicians for their artistic abilities.  We love these things because they give us a sense of being around these people, around their glory.  We get to stand near home-run hitting bats and MVP trophies.  We get to watch glamorous actresses glide on the red carpet and across the stage.  We like to witness glory and exaltation, and so too did Jesus' disciples. 
I.    Peter, John, and James were witness to Jesus' divine glory.  They saw it first hand on top of the Mountain of Transfiguration.  Our Lord took these three disciples with Him up on the mountain in order to pray.  While they were up there, in a foreshadowing of the prayer vigil on the night of Christ's betrayal, these disciples fell asleep as Jesus prayed.  When they awoke, they saw Jesus' glory.  This was no dream.  Luke tells us these men were fully awake.  With clear eyes and conscious heads, Peter, John, and James saw Jesus' divine glory physically manifested.  As Jesus prayed, the appearance of His face was altered and His clothing became dazzling white.  Moses and Elijah, two of the great Old Testament prophets, also appeared with Christ in glory.  They were there with Jesus, conversing with our Lord. 
    When Moses and Elijah began to leave, that's when Peter spoke up.  He said to Jesus, "Master, it is good that we are here.  Let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah" (Lk 9:33).  Peter wanted to stay up on the mountain.  He didn't want this glorious revelation to end.  He wanted Moses and Elijah to stay.  He wanted to continue in Jesus' glory.  Peter was content, he was happy, he was pleased to witness Jesus' glory.  This is how Jesus should always look; He should always display His glory in the way.  And we would be happy with this too. 
     We want to be on the Mountain of Transfiguration.  We would love to be up there with the disciples, seeing Christ's face, seeing His dazzling white clothes, standing in His glory.  This is the Jesus that we want to follow, the glorious one. 
    We want Jesus to always appear in His divine glory, then there would be no doubt that He's God our Savior.  Seeing His face, seeing His dazzling heavenly garments we would be certain.  We could point to Him and say, "See!  That's God.  Look at His greatness, His splendor, His majesty."  This Jesus is easy to follow.  He's easy to see and He's pleasing to our eyes.
     We want Jesus to always perform mighty and glorious works.  The disciples were blessed to witness Christ's glory in His many miracles.  They saw Jesus heal people with physical ailments and all kinds of disease and illness.  They saw Him provide an abundance of food for thousands.  They saw Him calm a storm with just His word.  They even saw Him cast out demons and raise people from the dead.  This is the Jesus we want to see.  We want Him to come into our hospital rooms to heal us and loved ones.  We want Him to provide us with all we need for life, and then also give us all our wants and desires.  We want Him to show us His almighty power.  This Jesus is easy to follow.  He makes our lives easy and free of struggles.
     We want to always feel Jesus' presence.  We want our hearts to always be filled with joy, never feeling the depression and stress of life.  The hurt feelings from broken relationships, the uncertainty of things to come, we want Him to take it all away.  If we never felt these things, then we'd never doubt.  We'd be certain who Jesus was; we'd feel it.  This Jesus is easy to follow.  He makes us feel good and happy all the time. 
     Yes, we want the Jesus clothed in glory, the one the disciples saw on the Mountain of Transfiguration.  We want the Jesus of glory, the one who will give us glory, the one that will lead us to the mountaintop.  But this type of glory isn't Christ's glory.  His glory, His exaltation doesn't come from the Mountain of Transfiguration, it comes from His departure, His exodus, His cross.
II.    When Moses and Elijah appeared and were talking with Jesus, they were talking about His departure which He was about to accomplish in Jerusalem (Lk 9:31).  In the original Greek, it says they were talking about Jesus' exodus.  Moses, the prophet who led the exodus of God's people out of slavery in Egypt, was talking to Jesus, the true Prophet, who was about to accomplish His exodus on the cross.  With this exodus, with His innocent suffering and death, Jesus leads God's people out of the slavery of sin and death.  This is where Christ's exaltation comes from.  His glory is revealed in His work of salvation. 
    On the mountain, a cloud overshadowed the disciples and the voice of God said, "This is my Son, my Chosen One, listen to Him!" (Lk 9:35).  These words recall the Father's words at Jesus' baptism, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased" (Lk 3:22).  God the Father announces His pleasure in His Son, in His Chosen One, whose sole work and purpose is to save God's people, to save you, from sin and death.  And this can only be done with Jesus death on the cross. 
    In this suffering, with this sacrifice, Christ Jesus paid the penalty for your sin.  He took your just punishment of death, and He overcome your death.  He freed you from its slavery and leads you into everlasting life with Him, into the promised land of God's kingdom.  This is where Christ's glory comes from.  If it wasn't for His suffering and dying on the cross, the glory that Peter, John, and James saw would be meaningless.
     These three disciples were blessed to see Jesus' glory manifested that day on the mountain, but they couldn't stay up there.  What they saw was just a glimpse of Jesus' glory.  They had to come down, back to the ordinary everyday world, the world filled with sin, suffering, depression, and death.  This is the world we live in today.  Everywhere we turn, this is all we see.  We see it in others, and we see it in ourselves.  We wish our lives would be filled with Christ's glory that the disciples saw, we wish our lives would be free from suffering.  But Christ never promised us this.  He tells us in His Word that our lives will be filled with suffering.  But even in the midst of all our in-glorious struggles, Jesus still gives us a glimpse of His glory, the glory of His cross.  
     We get to see this glory when He miraculously saves children and adults from sin and Satan in the life-giving waters of Baptism.  We are witnessed to this glory when He speaks the renewing words of His absolution through pastors.  We get to see and taste this glory in His body and blood in the Lord's Supper where He forgives us our sins and strengthens our faith. 
     We aren't left without a glimpse of Christ's glory.  We see it every Sunday in the Divine Service, and every day of our lives.  Every time we hear God's Word, every time we receive forgiveness of sins, every time we forgive others, we are witness to it.  Even in the midst of life's struggles and sufferings, in illness, in depression, in the death of faithful loved ones, we see Jesus glory.  In these, He is with us, sustaining us in our faith and bringing us through them. 
     Peter, John, and James witnessed an amazing thing on the Mountain of Transfiguration.  They were blessed to see Jesus in His divine glory.  But they couldn't stay on the mountain, because that's not why Christ came.  Jesus came, He humbled Himself, so that His glory would shine forth in His cross.  Without the cross, without His sacrificial and saving death, we would never know His glory.  It's in Jesus' suffering that we see His exaltation.  It's His death, and our Baptism into it, that assures us that when He calls us home, or on the Last Day, whichever comes first, we'll see His divine glory in its fullness, forever.  In Jesus' name...Amen. 

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