Sermon for the Transfiguration of the Lord
Today we celebrate the Transfiguration of the Lord.
Some people have said to me, “Why do we have the Transfiguration every year?” (Good question!—though no one ever asks why we have Christmas and Easter every year. I suspect that’s got something to do with getting Christmas presents and Easter eggs, and having public holidays! If we got gifts for Transfiguration, or at least a long weekend for the Day of the Transfiguration, we might not ask that question.)
So, why do we have the Transfiguration every year? It’s simple really: We have the Transfiguration of the Lord every year because it is such an important episode in the life of Jesus. It’s more important than we’ve generally allowed it to be. It’s important enough that you’ll find it in each of the first three gospels. It was a time of strengthening for Jesus before he went to Jerusalem to face the cross, which is why we remember it today, the last Sunday before Lent. It is too important for us to forget it.
It’s also one of only two times that the voice of God directly says, “This is my beloved Son.” The other is at Jesus’ baptism.
It’s a strange story. Jesus hand picks three disciples, goes up to a mountain, and then the disciples see him with Moses and Elijah, two of the great heroes of the Old Testament. They see his face shining like the sun, and they hear a voice from heaven which says, “This is my beloved Son.” Not Moses. Not Elijah. Jesus is God’s only Son.
Whatever the disciples expected, it was most certainly not this.
They believed Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the living God. That didn’t yet mean they believed that he was God, God with us, the eternal One in human flesh. Perhaps they wondered how he fitted in with Moses and Elijah. They found out on the Mount of Transfiguration. He was superior to Moses and Elijah.
A lot of people will tell you today that Jesus was a good man, a teacher of wisdom, a compassionate healer. Pity he got himself crucified… But going that extra step—believing that he is God’s eternal Son, God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God—believing that he shares God eternal nature, that’s the step that they baulk at. They’d rather keep Jesus on our level. They’d rather he was just a good bloke than being a good bloke and the good God, perfectly together in one person.
But God says to us, “This is my Son, the Beloved.” Next week, it will be the First Sunday in Lent. We’ll hear how Satan tempted Jesus. Satan began, “If you are the Son of God…” The first thing Satan did was to sow seeds of doubt—and it still happens like that today. If you are a real Christian… If this church stuff is true…
Satan sows doubt; God sows assurance and encouragement. Let me say that again: Satan sows doubt; God sows assurance and encouragement. “This is my beloved Son!” And God says the same to us today, because in Christ we are God’s adopted daughters and sons. God says to each one of us, “You are my beloved son”; “You are my beloved daughter.”
We are God’s children by adoption; Jesus is God’s Son by nature. We read from 2 Peter tonight, another passage of scripture that shows how important the Transfiguration is. Earlier in the first chapter of 2 Peter, we read these words:
“[God] has given us his promises, great beyond all price, so that through them you…may come to share in the very being of God.”
This is one of the hints the Bible gives us about our eternal destiny in Jesus Christ. We will “come to share in the very being of God”. We, the adopted daughters and sons of God, also will shine like the sun. The Transfiguration isn’t just an episode in Jesus’ life; it gives us a glimpse of our destiny.
And coming to share in the very being of God starts here. We are meant here to begin to shine with the glory of Jesus. That doesn’t necessarily just mean looking happy all the time—it’s a much deeper thing. It means that even in the midst of difficulty—or when God asks us to do something hard, as he asked of Jesus—we can really know the deep joy and transforming peace of God.
I’ve met some transfigured people. What do they look like? Let me tell you about one. Last Thursday was the seventeenth anniversary of my dad’s death. He started smoking at the age of fourteen, and died of lung cancer at the age of fifty nine, only five years older than I am now.
Dad wasn’t at all encouraging when I started going to church at the age of fifteen. He was afraid I’d get sucked in to something bad. Over time, his attitude softened. I began to realise that he was proud of the way I knew the Bible, but he never showed any interest in going regularly to church or in following Jesus.
Dad had been brought up in the Methodist Church. We talked as the years went on, and I found out that in his teens he’d wanted to be a minister. Dad hadn’t been able to go to secondary school; he was bright enough, but his own father was dead and he had to go to work to help the family. When he told the minister of his dream, the minister told him he didn’t have enough education and he should think about doing something else. Dad walked away from the church, and never returned.
But a wonderful thing happened. My dad was transfigured. As dad was dying, his childhood faith was renewed. Before my eyes, the resistances he had had throughout his life melted away, and his genuine faith shone through.
While he was losing weight, and becoming too weak to even walk, his eyes shone brightly. He was more alive as he was dying than I had ever known him to be. The Spirit had brought life to him as he died.
That is transfiguration. Dad had been afraid of death, and needed to be strengthened. God gave him that strengthening, and you could see it in my dad’s eyes. He began to be transfigured in Christ. We’re not transfigured while we’re basically just getting by as a Christian. We are transfigured—made to share God’s own nature—as we let go, and let God lead us. We are transfigured for a purpose, and that purpose is to begin to share God’s nature now.
We are not transfigured if we refuse to let go of sin, pride, selfishness, bitterness, resentment…all the usual suspects. We are not transfigured if we decide to go our own way. Or if we try to serve God on our own terms. But God has a destiny for us, and it is to be like Jesus. Can we let go of the things that bind us, and keep us from knowing that deep peace and joy of God? I encourage you to embrace that destiny. Amen.