Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the Transfiguration of Our Lord 1/24/2021. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Transfiguration Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the Transfiguration of Our Lord, click here.
The Transfiguration of our Lord is recorded or referenced by all the Evangelists. Mark likely received his account of the event from Peter, and it’s possible that Matthew did as well; though he could also have heard about it from James or John. The same goes for Luke, who himself provides details that the others don’t. Ironically, John only references the Transfiguration, even though he was actually there.
I mention all these accounts because we use them to form a mental picture of the event. That’s just the way God put us together. It finds its expression whenever we ask someone “Do you see what I’m saying?”
You can hardly hear about the Transfiguration without trying to see it. Matthew says that Jesus’ face shone like the Sun, that blinding star your parents warned you not to look straight into. Mark mentions that even Jesus’ clothes were glistening, shiny, and whiter than you can possibly imagine. The white vestments I’m wearing now are a dull imitation. They cannot compare with the brightness of this light, even when the Sun shines through that south window.
But for all the brilliance, the Transfiguration isn’t an altogether happy experience; at least not to begin with. Peter interjects that it is in fact good for them to be there. But this seems to be at least halfway through the episode, as Luke tells us that Peter doesn’t speak up until Moses and Elijah are departing.
The sight of Jesus shining like the Sun, and the appearance of Moses an Elijah with Him, have one indisputable effect: Mark writes, “They were exceedingly afraid.”
Quite simply, because this is scary and startling. There’s nothing normal about this. But that’s only one reason they’re afraid. They’re also afraid because, strange as this is, it is not unheard of.
Peter, James, and John were good men who read their Bibles. They knew that something like this happened to Moses on Sinai.
Even if you are not as immersed in Scripture as they were, you heard the event I’m referencing just a few minutes ago.
When Moses came down from Sinai after speaking with God, his face was shining with that reflected glory, that transfiguring light, and everyone was afraid to come near him.
Jesus is now shining even more brightly than Moses, and the fear is that, like Moses, He comes with the stone tablets of the Law. This fear is not completely misplaced. Jesus has not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. And so, it’s fitting that He be there with the prophet to whom He first gave the Law.
But the disciples cannot see beyond this. Even light as bright as the Sun cannot reveal what is most necessary. This is why the miracles of Jesus, in and of themselves, are not sufficient to show forth that Jesus is the Christ. What is seen with the eye, marvelous as it may be, is not enough.
Plenty of people saw Jesus alive one day, crucified, dead, and buried the next, and fully alive and well three days later. Plenty of people saw that and still did not believe in Him.
It is still popular to put Jesus right there next to Moses, as a sort of prophet or leader. It is popular to put Jesus next to teachers, spiritualists, and gurus. It is popular to put Jesus next to revolutionaries and politicians, or other great and noble leaders who met unfortunate ends.
The Transfiguration denies us this. Moses and Elijah have no glory of their own. They shine in the reflected glory of Christ. And whatever in this world is beautiful and true, whatever is holy, whatever is good, enjoys such a status only insofar as it reflects and points to Christ.
To understand this, we need more than the Sun and white robes. The intervening event in the Transfiguration, the thing that removes fear and illuminates men, is the Word of God.
From the cloud, God the Father speaks:
This is My Beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased; listen to Him. verse 5
The Word of God alone is what epiphanies Jesus’ true glory and sonship. The Word of God alone is what reveals and saves. This is exactly what God taught Peter, which you heard him pass along in the Epistle:
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,”
we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.
And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.
For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man,
but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. verses 16-21
From the lips of Christ’s Apostle, one who saw Him transfigured with his own eyes, we are instructed to cling to that thing which is even more sure than dazzling lights: the Word of God.
God Himself gave this Word to His people of Old by the prophets, but now in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son. This is why the Father’s voice tells us: “Listen to Him.”
Peter, James, and John listened to Jesus. At the start of the sermon, I said it was ironic that among the evangelists, the only one who was there didn’t record the Transfiguration in his Gospel. But he did show us what he learned when He listened to Jesus, to the Word of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory,
glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
(John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John 1:14-17
John shows forth what God intended the disciples to see: Jesus only.
There is great comfort in this for the Christian. You will not be tricked. You will not be fooled. You will not be deceived. However dazzling, however bright, however brilliant, however seemingly noble and virtuous, just and right, however bright and beautiful something appears, you have something more sure than this:
The prophetic Word of Jesus Christ, the living and resurrected One, through his own sent ones, preserved for you.
Seeing Jesus rightly, you can see everything else rightly. Seeing Jesus rightly, you can discern what the world cannot. You know the difference between Truth and a lie; you know the difference between the Law and the Gospel; you know the difference between sin and grace, man and woman, dark and light. You know the difference between Christ and everyone else.
He was crucified for your transgressions, and raised for your justification. He is the Living One. He has been raised from the dead. Which means that the prohibition of telling others this vision has expired.
Jesus’ glory, which was manifested on the mountain-peak, was fully manifested on the cross, and from the empty tomb. All this was done for you, that you would see Jesus only, and listen to Him.