Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Matthew 17:1-8 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. 3 And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5 He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” 8 And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. 9 And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”
This Gospel gives us the full assurance that Jesus is true God, and that He rules over our sufferings and afflictions. It says that after six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him up a high mountain. You ask, “Six days after what?” Answer: six days after Jesus announced to his disciples that he must go up to Jerusalem and there he would suffer many things, be killed and on the third day rise again.
This caused great alarm among the disciples. So much so that Peter rebuked Jesus and said this could never happen, and Jesus responded to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” These were sharp, scolding words. But, Satan is the one behind and the source of all weakness of faith, false doctrine, spiritual confusion, and divisions among men.
When Jesus told them he would die, their human reason saw only failure in Jesus. To the man without faith, Jesus is merely a man who lives, suffers, and dies like any other man. Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, but to our human reason He was apparently mistaken about his identity. He turned out to be a failure, a fraud, a liar. His mission that was so glorious at first, healing the sick, cleansing the lepers, casting out demons and raising people from the dead, has now failed. “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross,” they mocked. To those without faith, Jesus is no savior, no comfort, no help in time of distress. He is just another man who lived and died like all of us.
The disciples were about to enter their darkest and most dangerous days. What they saw when they looked at Jesus was just a plain, ordinary man. “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised (Is 53).” They too, saw only weakness, failure, and death. Their confidence shaken. Their faith weak. Their trust feeble. Jesus was a weak and dying man heading for a cross, the instrument of the executioner.
To many today, Jesus is an offense. In our culture of success, power, strength, and affluence, people don’t want a God who dies on a cross. They want a god of might and victory who will give them success. People run today from a church that preaches the cross of Jesus. The cross is a scandal, death is defeat, and no one tolerates a weak and dying Jesus.
Up to now, everything had been going great. Jesus had great popularity among the people, and it was easy for the disciples to trust in Jesus. It is easy for us to trust Jesus when all is calm, when everything is going well in our lives, when we are experiencing health, prosperity, success, and are secure in our jobs and at peace in our family. The disciples had no fear then, for he protected them from the wind and waves, from the turbulent seas, from certain death in a sinking ship. But now, peace and safety were gone. They had nothing to cling to. Fear gripped their own hearts as they saw only failure. Their lives turned to gloom. There was now nothing in which to trust, no one from whom to seek help. Their personal problems, their sicknesses, their sorrows, their pains and disappointments all flashed back before their eyes. What would they do? How could they survive? They lost their faith. They doubted that he was the Christ. They were afraid and ready to run. Such is the man without faith in Jesus. That man only sees evil and the trials and dangers of life. The man without faith is a man without hope.
That is why Jesus took his disciples up a mountain to comfort them; to strengthen their faith. To assure them that they were still in his hands and care. And by assuring them, he assures us that we too are in his hands and care. We are under his protection, especially in our hours of darkness and danger. For there on that mountain they comprehended what reason could not understand. They see what only faith can see. They see Jesus in his glory. His appearance changed, his face shone like the sun, his clothing became white as light. They saw Jesus as Lord and ruler of all things in heaven and on earth. They saw that Jesus was Lord over all that afflicted and worried them. The Words of our gospel show us that Jesus is the one who has the power and glory; who is seated on the throne of power in the heavens. He has power and control over all that afflicts us. He is mightier than our strongest enemy. He rules over Satan and his demons. He restores us from sin and renews his righteousness within us. He heals us from sickness. He conquered death and rules over the darkness of sin and evil for us. He keeps us safe. He protects us with his mighty arm. He gives himself to us and becomes ours to trust and cling to in times of grief and sorrow and assures us of resurrection and life. By the word revealed to us in this text, God strengthens our faith and comforts us so that we do not fear, even in our darkest and most dangerous days. Just as the apostles were strengthened as they were entering into their darkest and most dangerous days.
And there, too, were Moses and Elijah, prophets of the Lord. Prophets who had spoken about Him and proclaimed the coming of the Son of God. Their presence proclaims that this Jesus is the one they had foretold. He is the Seed who would crush Satan; defeat death, and undo the works of Satan. By the words of Moses and Elijah the disciples believed in the Christ. They were waiting for his coming. Though the eyes behold only a man, faith in the words of these prophets saw Him to be the Savior they were waiting for. That in spite of what their eyes see, He is the one who would free the world from sin and Satan; release man from the power of death; give sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. This man was Jesus whom they had trusted and believed. Just as today, our faith comes from the word of the prophets and apostles. For apart from the word, God has not chosen to reveal himself to us.
That is why God spoke from heaven. God spoke and he said, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” They heard and believed the word of God, and their faith was renewed and strengthened. They heard God declare that this Jesus was no ordinary man, but the beloved Son of God. They heard and believed, for faith comes by hearing. They heard! They believed! Their faith was strengthened for the dark and dangerous days ahead. When we hear and believe, our faith is strengthened for the dark and dangerous days ahead. We are comforted by the pure grace and mercy of Jesus who pays no attention to what we deserve or merit, but who freely and without cost helps us all, protects us all, and strengthens us all in times of weakness and peril. God speaks to us in the preaching of His word and in the Sacraments. In the Divine Service God’s word is placed both into our ear and into our mouth.
Then God adds his final word to the disciples: “Hear Him.” Take note! This is a command. It is an imperative verb, just as binding upon you as the Ten Commandments. Indeed, it is the Third Commandment. Not to obey this commandment is sin, just as much as murder, stealing or adultery. It brings condemnation upon you. It is rebellion against God and deserves his wrath and judgment. Hear him! This is a commend. It is not just a suggestion. Not just a recommendation. It is a command. He commands us to hear His word. He commands us to gather around his word and sacrament on Sundays. This is the Third Commandment. To do otherwise is disobedience and sin. He exhorts us to get out of bed on Sunday mornings and gather as a family to hear the preaching of the Word each week. He commands us to receive his Word into our ears by the preaching and into our mouths at the Table of Holy Communion. He expects this of each and every believer, and to disobey his command brings wrath and judgment. Take heed, those of you who are unrepentant, lazy, scoffers, who think that the Divine Service each Sunday is optional, who come only to appear holy or to visit with friends and family or to find time to nap or let your mind wander.
Repent! those who come only when it is convenient, as if to say, the cares of this world are more important than obeying God. There are those who prefer to rest and sleep in, or say, “I’ll just turn on the radio and listen to the service.” The radio broadcast is for those who are physically unable to come, which itself is an act of God, not your choice. It is not there so you can become lazy and avoid this command. God directs you not to forsake the gathering together of the saints, but to come together to receive the word and the sacrament. Luther explains the Third Commandment: We should fear and love God so that we may not despise preaching and His Word but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
This describes the believer. The believer gladly learns and hears the Word, and he longs to receive Christ in the Lord’s Supper. The believer is never satisfied but always hungers and thirsts for more. For those who hear him and who believe on account of his word, there is nothing but pure joy and salvation. Even in time of dire need, in time of sickness and pain, and in time of death, for though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, he is with you in His word and in the Sacrament. Through his Word He comforts you, he fills your cup to overflowing, and in goodness and mercy you shall dwell forever in the house of the Lord. This is most certainly true! Amen.