Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet
+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.
The text for our meditation this Transfiguration weekend is, unsurprisingly, our Gospel lesson, specifically where Mark records, And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…
If your family is anything like mine, family gatherings revolved around bigger events – certain holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, events like that. Every Thanksgiving, for example, a majority of my mom’s family would gather at her sister’s house for food, football, sharing of memories, and of course, the obligatory family pictures. As a little kid, I didn’t appreciate them as much as I do now – like any child, I would fidget and squirm, preferring the fun of playing with my cousins than sitting still for a picture. Those of you with children certainly know the struggle that comes with having an energetic kid sit still for a picture. Now imagine having a gaggle of them sit in a coordinated way, according to the various family clans, all radiating out from the central figures, the familial patriarchs and matriarchs. I know it’s probably a circus to deal with, but I also know, as do you, how worth it the struggle is, as you look back at these photos, years later, and remember with fondness those times.
Those pictures are snapshots of time, a gathering of the different generations of your heritage, your family, who you are based on who and where you’ve come from and the people who have had an influence in your life. These are important to consider, as my dad is often wont to remind me, “Never forget who you are and where you’ve come from.”
With words, Mark paints us a similar portrait on the Mount of Transfiguration, only it is hardly a static portrait with kids sitting perfectly still for the microsecond necessary for the picture to be taken. No, the portrait that Mark paints for us is dynamic and alive. You see the select few apostles – Peter, James, and John – who have been brought up this mountain to witness an incredible moment. You also have, incredibly, two powerhouse figures of ancient Israel – Moses and Elijah –making an appearance, albeit in a mysterious, unknowable way, since the two of them had long since been removed from this earth.
Speaking of appearance, we come to the central figure in the portrait, the One commanding all the attention: Jesus Himself. Only … He doesn’t quite look the way that the disciples were used to seeing Him. They were, more likely, used to Him looking like an average Joe (or Jacob), perhaps with a sense of something extraordinary about Him, something one couldn’t quite put one’s finger on, but one knew when one is in His presence. No, here, on this mountain, Jesus isn’t just the teacher that they knew and loved. There, the disciples got to see Jesus in a raw display of His glory.
To say that this was a sight to behold is an incredible understatement, on par with Peter’s response to this extraordinary event, Rabbi, it is good that we are here! We are getting a rare glimpse at Jesus’s divine nature, the unadulterated majesty, holiness, and grandeur that is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. It’s almost an aside that Moses and Elijah are there. Their presence is certainly impressive, puzzling, and wondrous, but certainly not the focus. The focus here, as always, is Jesus, and Who He really is.
That’s what we see here in this family snapshot that Mark describes: the family is there, and they’re important, but of more importance is the central figure, Jesus. Peter’s desire to make three tents – one for Him, one for Moses, and one for Elijah – indicates Peter’s ignorance of Who Jesus really is in spite of the magnificence he has just been made privy to. This is undoubtedly one of the reasons why the cloud envelops the disciples and they hear the voice of the Father say, This is My beloved Son; listen to Him. The focus of this monumental moment, of this dynamic snapshot, is Jesus.
Awe-inspiring as this image of Jesus is, as majestic and powerful and glorious as we see Him in this moment of transfiguration, even then we are not seeing His divine nature most fully. That’s right, even this incredible spectacle on a mountain is not the complete display of Jesus as God. We see His glory, to be sure, but the true nature of divinity in Jesus is best beheld at another snapshot, one which we will begin contemplating in a matter of days with the coming of Lent. Yes, one sees Jesus most fully as God as He is suspended between heaven and earth, lifted up as the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world. There isn’t glory to behold, but rather gore as the blood of the Lamb is shed for the people. We don’t see His splendorous majesty, but we see the humble love of the Creator for His creatures as He lays His life down for them. We don’t hear the booming proclamation from the Father, but rather His deafening silence, as Jesus breathes His last and says, “Father, into Your hands, I commit My spirit.” We see Jesus doing the impossible, what only God can do: making atonement for sin by taking all sin upon Himself, and killing it in His own physical death. We see Jesus’ divine nature most clearly as He becomes the physical embodiment of love in His self-sacrifice upon the cross. We see Jesus as God most clearly as He dies out of love.
That’s not where the disciples are at, though. Right then and there, as Jesus is standing before them, resplendent and regal on the mountain, in this picture, we see a snapshot of the family of faith, those who trust in what and Who He is as the Messiah. As Jesus displays His glory, He is the bridge between the Old and New Testaments, bridging the gap between ancient Israel and those who see the promises given to Israel fulfilled.
While you may not see it, as we read these words and believe them to be true, we are likewise privy to this private, majestic display. That’s because we likewise are members of this family of faith. We are of the same family as Moses and Elijah, all the Old Testament believers who clung to the promise of the Messiah. We’re in the same family as Peter, James, and John, those first apostles who not only witnessed Jesus holy life, death, and resurrection, but also were sent out to bear this Gospel message to our forebears! The same family as Constantine, as Augustine, Luther, Walther, Pieper, all those who have gone before us, as well as those who will come after us who trust in Christ our Lord!
With Him at the center of the picture – both true God and true man – we have nothing to fear! When the focus of our teaching and faith is nothing by Christ, and Him crucified, resurrected, and returning, we know from where we come, and to Whom we belong! We gaze upon Christ as we partake of His body and blood, broken and shed for us! We hear His forgiving voice in absolution pronounced to us! And we shall see Him most truly and fully when He returns in a glory and majesty that is sure to outshine even what the disciples saw on that mountain! Yes, dear Christian friends! The best is yet to come!
+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.