Matthew 17:1-9; 2 Peter 1:16-21

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    The scholars and the cultural elites and the intellectuals of our time think that much of the Bible is merely myth or fable or even fraud.  The virgin birth, the miracles, and the resurrection of Jesus to them are more or less fairy tales. And certainly they would think of today’s Gospel in the same way.  Jesus’ face transfigured and shining?  Ancient Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus on the mountaintop?  A thundering voice from a brilliant cloud of glory?  It’s all just a little too fantastical for them.

    But why would Peter, James, and John ever invent such a story and then stand by it their whole lives?  All it earned for them was persecution, and martyrdom for two of these three.  Well, the so-called scholars would say that perhaps the story was made up later on somehow, and Jesus went from being merely a popular rabbi to the Son of God.  Power-hungry bishops supposedly invented or embellished these stories for the purpose of setting themselves up as the only source of salvation.  Today’s “smart” unbelievers clearly want to put forth the idea that the Bible is mostly a work of fiction, that there were no eyewitnesses of the birth, miracles, or resurrection of Jesus, and that the Christian Church perpetuates lies in order to maintain control over people.  

    And because we are so often like the disciples in the Gospel, spiritually sluggish and lethargic in the faith, not giving proper attention to the Word of God and prayer, even we can begin to be wonder about these things ourselves; doubts can begin to creep in.  Is this for real or just a grand hoax?  I myself wondered that as a teenager. We forget that not only are the Scriptures historically reliable, verifiably and faithfully transmitted to us from the days of the apostles; but even more importantly, the Scriptures are self-authenticating.  They show themselves to be true as the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin and brings us to repentance and faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins.  The Scriptures have the ring of truth, for they give us Him who is the truth, who can only be received in faith or rejected in unbelief.  When it comes right down to it, the real story for those who have turned away from trusting the Bible is that they’ve turned away from repentance and Jesus as Savior.

    It is often the so-called “experts” and “smart” people who are actually the ones promoting falsehoods and fables and frauds, taking 2nd-century religious writings by people who weren’t eyewitnesses and giving them equal respect and weight with the Gospels and the letters of the Apostles who knew Jesus directly.  The New Testament wasn’t concocted after the days of the Apostles.  Documentary evidence of the Gospels and Epistles can be reliably traced back to when they were still alive and facing hardship for proclaiming the Gospel.  And also remember this: Christianity was not a legal religion in the Roman Empire until the 300's A.D.  The bishops at the Council of Nicea in 325 who confessed Jesus to be God in the flesh were not power-hungry monsters but men who in many cases had suffered horribly for what they believed.  A few of them were missing an eye or an arm or a leg or were disfigured because of the torture they endured for being Christian.  Far from being some secretive cover-up or conspiracy, the confession of the Church at Nicea, which produced the Creed that we still confess today, is what has been believed and taught by the Church from the beginning.  If you’re going to doubt someone, be skeptical of those who are skeptical of the Bible.

    The truth is, there were in fact eyewitnesses who recorded what they heard Jesus say and what they saw Him do.  One of those eyewitnesses was Peter.  And He says today very clearly, “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.”  And the Apostle John says in his first epistle, “That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life...” (1 John 1:1).  Those are both statements which everyone must wrestle with: Are they telling the truth? Were Peter, James, and John and the other apostles writing cleverly devised myths?  Or later on, did Paul give up his career as a rising star among the Pharisees for a lifetime of poverty, being hated, stoned, beaten?  Their lives were turned upside-down by their encounters with Jesus, and they shed their blood as testimony that their writings were true and not cleverly devised stories.  Peter, James, and John are telling the truth, that they really were on the mountain with Jesus, that they heard the voice of the Majestic Glory, that they saw something so extraordinary that they could only come to one conclusion, no matter how amazing it seems: Jesus of Nazareth is in fact the Lord, God in the Flesh, the Son of the Living God. “For we were with Him on the holy mountain.”

    And what they saw could only be likened to something that Moses saw: God’s appearance in the burning bush.  Just as that bush burned but was not consumed, so the divinity of Christ dwelt in His humanity but did not destroy it. You and I are mortal and sinful; if we would come into direct contact with God, we’d be instantly destroyed.  But the divinity, the Godhead, dwelt in Jesus, and He was not destroyed.  The fire burned in Him but He was not consumed.  God came to us in this way, into our humanity, that we may come into contact with God through Him and live.

    But why does this transfiguration happen now, before Jesus is crucified?  Well, when they go down from the mountain, they are going to begin the journey to Jerusalem for the last time. Jesus will be handed over to the chief priests, and will be executed.  By showing Peter, James, and John His divinity, Jesus is showing them that His divinity is not something that comes later, a reward for His crucifixion, but something He always had, from the very moment of His conception.  They will understand then who it is that died for them: not just a man, but God made man, God in the flesh.  This is of the utmost importance for you.  If Jesus were just a man, His death would not save you.  But since it was the blood of God Himself that was shed on the cross, it is sufficient to cover and pay for the sins of the whole world, including yours and mine.  Your sins are forgiven in this Jesus, and in Him alone.

    That’s why they could not stay on the mountain. Peter wanted to build three tabernacles and hold on to the moment and the glory.  But it is only Jesus who is given to build a new tabernacle in Himself, the resurrected body and the new creation. That won’t happen on this mountain, but on another, Mt. Calvary.

    The only way to glory is through the cross.  That’s why it is written in Luke that Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus of His exodus, His departure which He was about to accomplish.  They knew very well what He had come to do.  There is no new creation without first breaking the curse of sin on the old one.  There is no eternal resurrection without there first being suffering and death.  And that’s why Jesus spoke these words to His disciples and also to us just before this event.  He said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.”

    The Transfiguration is a true story.  It is no myth or fable or fraud.  The glory of God shines in the flesh of Jesus for you.  And Peter reminds us what this means: we now have the prophetic word confirmed, the promises of God made all the more sure.  Moses and Elijah testify that this Jesus is the One whom they spoke of; He’s the Messiah and the Savior.  That’s where you are to focus your attention–not on seeking after supernatural signs and spiritual mountaintop experiences, but seeking after the prophetic Word of God, which points us to the Word made flesh.  That is the one sure thing you can rely upon, the one thing that is certain in this world of uncertainty, chaos, and death.  After all, what did the voice of the Father say from the cloud?  “Hear Him!”  Listen and pay attention to His Word.  And what happened at the end of the Gospel?  “When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.”  Jesus only.  Let us fix our eyes on Him.

    For in the end, this story of the Transfiguration is your story.  When you see Jesus on the mountain in glory, you are seeing your own future.  You are baptized into Christ’s body, right?  You are joined to Him by faith.  Therefore what is true for Him is true for you, too.  Though now you must bear the cross and deal with all the troubles and afflictions of this life, that is only a temporary thing, since Jesus bore the cross for you.  You will be like the risen Christ, for you will see Him as He is.  You will behold and reflect His awesome majesty forever.

    And even now, this is already beginning to happen with you.  It is written in 2 Corinthians 3, “We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord–we are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”  After all, we have the presence of Jesus here, don’t we?  We may not have the shining glory–which the non-denominational churches like to try to replicate and replace with their light shows and big screens.  But we do have the very body and blood of the Son of God–the very same Jesus who was on the mountain, now giving Himself to us for our forgiveness, to transfigure us into His likeness through faith.  And we have the Benediction, given by God, which bestows what the words say, “The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you.”  Peter may not have known what to say on the mountain, but he was right about this much–it is good for us to be here with Christ and with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, including Moses and Elijah.  The Lord’s Word is reliable and trustworthy and true.  He will be with you in all the valleys of your life until He comes again to give you to share in His divine and eternal glory.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

(With thanks to Christopher Esget)