A sermon preached by the Rev. Justin Clemente, Transfiguration Sunday, March 3, 2019 at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD.
The Glory Before the Glory
The Transfiguration is, without a doubt, one of my favorite episodes to meditate on from the life of our Lord. It is a rich mine for preaching, teaching, meditation, feeding and direction in the Christian life. But what does it mean? If you want to know it’s meaning, you have to understand what comes before it, and what comes after it. Look up the page a bit in Luke, and you will find that Peter has just confessed that Jesus is the Christ – the Messiah. That is, the Messiah who must die. After this, Jesus will set his face toward Jerusalem. We too, by the way, will set our face toward his cross with him as we begin the journey of Lent.
I think one of the reasons God gives us this moment in the life of Jesus is so that when we see Jesus hanging on the cross for the sins of the world, we will not doubt that this is the salvation of God. The Transfiguration is the glory before the greater glory of the cross. Here, the divinity and person of Jesus, the God-man, are shown in bright and clear lines. But, at the cross, he will be forsaken – made sin for our sake and he will be regarded as nothing. The Transfiguration prepares us to see the glory of cross for what it is – the greatest outpouring of the glory of God that the world has ever seen.
I think there is a parallel here for us as church, too. This is our last Sunday here at Cornerstone. We’re getting ready to move into a time that may mean greater prominence for us. Greater attention to our mission. Greater opportunity. Only let us be sure that, above all, we treasure the glory of God in the cross. Let us treasure the Gospel of the cross as we grow and move into the center of our community.
Let me also take a moment to speak to those who are new to the season of Lent we’re about to begin. Don’t be afraid to come with us, for we are only going to the cross. Lent is about knowing again the true depth of our need for Jesus and his cross. Embrace the journey. Do it with us. Do not be afraid.
We continue on: let’s see how the Transfiguration shows us “a glory before the glory.” We see this in three ways in the passage: the characters, the conversation, and the call.
The Characters (vs. 29-30)
“And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah.”
To understand how the Transfiguration points to the cross, we have to look at some of the other characters in this passage, especially Moses and Elijah. Moses and Elijah were Old Testament heavyweights – hugely important figures! You have Moses on the one hand – leading God’s people out of Egypt, receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, and shepherding Israel toward the Promised Land – huge respect was reserved for Moses by God’s people. But even the glory that he had was simply reflected and fading, as our Exodus reading showed us this morning. Then you have Elijah on the other hand – He was considered the premier example of the prophets in the Old Testament – he stood up for God when it seemed no one else would, he was zealous for God and his ways and tried to keep God’s people in line with God’s purposes. Then there’s Jesus.
As Darrell Bock says in his commentary on Luke, “In the face of the presence of Jesus, [Moses and Elijah] are mere witnesses. In the Hall of Fame that is made up of great figures of the Bible, no one occupies a space alongside Jesus, he is unique.” (p.273) And isn’t it interesting – though Moses never entered the Promised Land, here, in glory, he sees every promise given to Israel fulfilled in Jesus. In fact, these two figures longed to see Jesus’ day – they longed for the salvation he would bring. All that they said and did pointed to him and to his cross. Even now, as they meet him in this moment of glory, that is what they are concerned with.
The Conversation (v. 31)
“[Moses and Elijah] appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”
I’d like to know how your translation has rendered verse 31. (Get volunteers). The Greek here literally reads, “they spoke about his exodus.” Ring any bells? Moses, again, was the one that led God’s people out of slavery and bondage to Egypt. What’s being said here is that something big is about to happen – something even bigger than what God did for his people in the book of Exodus. Right here, in all the glory of the mountain top, they’re talking about the cross, about what “he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” The Transfiguration acts like a hinge in Jesus’ life, and now he will begin to set his face to Jerusalem, to the cross. Everything up to this point has been but a prelude to what’s about to happen. J.C. Ryle says here, “If saints in glory see in Christ’s death so much beauty, that they must needs talk of it, how much more ought sinners on earth!” (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Luke 9:28-36)
So what do we learn here? One of the crucial things we’re taught here is that suffering always precedes glory in the Christian life. If you understand that, you will be empowered persevere in the Christian life and fight the good fight of the faith. If you reject that, you are on unstable and precarious ground. All glory belongs to Jesus, and yet he suffered more than we can imagine for us and our salvation. Just as we are to trust this Jesus on the mountain-top, how much more must we trust him in the valley – for we will know valleys in this life. In Transfiguration, we see not only the cross of our salvation, but the shape of our own life in Christ – death and resurrection.
The Call (vs. 35 and 36)
“And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!’ And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.”
Here, the voice of the Father doesn’t point to Moses, doesn’t point to Elijah, but only to Jesus. That’s why Peter’s words are so ridiculously inappropriate here. The Father makes it absolutely clear to these three disciples that they (and we) must listen to Jesus. They must “get” we has been telling them about the necessity of his cross. N.T. Wright says:
Here, on a mountain, is Jesus, revealed in glory; there on a hill outside Jerusalem, is Jesus, revealed in shame. Here his clothes are shining white; there, they have been stripped off, and soldiers have gambled for them. Here he is flanked by Moses and Elijah, two of Israel’s greatest heroes, representing the law and the prophets; there he is flanked by two brigands, representing the level to which Israel had sunk in rebellion against God. Here, a bright cloud overshadows the scene; there, darkness comes upon the land. Here Peter blurts out how wonderful it all is; there, he is hiding in shame after denying he even knows Jesus. Here a voice from God himself declares that this is his wonderful son; there a pagan soldier declares, in surprise, that this really was God’s son. The mountain-top explains the hill-top – and vice versa. Perhaps we only really understand either of them when we see it side by side with the other. Learn to see the glory in the cross; learn to see the cross in the glory.” (MTE, Wright, pgs. 14-15)
What the disciples could not understand at this point is that the glory of the mount of Transfiguration pointed to the glory of another mountain – Mt. Calvary. This moment, this mountain-top, would utterly reveal the person, message, and mission of Jesus, and we thank God for it. Moreover, as move into Lent and, into a new season of life together as New Creation, let us continue to glory in the cross and help others to do the same. Amen.