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“The Hidden Glory”
Matthew 17:1-9


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
The Transfiguration of Our Lord—March 6, 2011

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

In science fiction movies the alien from out of this world often appears in human form here on earth.  At some point in the story, there’s often a scene where he begins to glow, suddenly displaying all his true splendor, and revealing who he really is. 

Today’s Gospel Reading is not fiction.  It is a true story, about an alien from out of this world who appeared here on earth in human form.  Suddenly he displays all his true splendor, and reveals who he really is.  “[He] led them up a high mountain . . .  There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. . .  a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!’”

We confess in the Nicene Creed: “I believe . . . in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.”  It is an important point of Christian theology that Jesus, according to his eternal, divine nature, is not a creature, not a part of the created order, but an alien from out of this world, even out of this cosmos.  For, before the cosmos came into being, he existed from eternity.  As he says in Revelation: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End . . . who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

He is God the Son, who, together with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, is the creator of the cosmos.  The Gospel of John uses the phrase “the Word” to describe his divine nature before he became human: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. . .  All things were made through him.”  Colossians puts it this way: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.”

“I believe . . . in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made . . . who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man.”

The most familiar verse in the Bible tells us why he “came down from heaven . . . and was man”: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned.”

Our sin separated humanity from God.  In his love, God sent his own Son into our world to do for us what we could not do.  He lived a perfect, holy life on your behalf; he suffered and died in your place to pay the penalty for your sins; he rose from the dead to bring you everlasting life.  In the less-familiar verse before the famous John 3:16, Jesus expresses his mission on earth this way, in John 3:15: “The Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”  God’s Son was lifted up for you upon the cross; on account of his life, death, and resurrection, your sins are all forgiven; believe in him and you have eternal life.

Based on what they see in stained-glass windows and other works of art, young children often think that Christ, and his mother the Virgin Mary, and his disciples, and the other saints of old, really did walk around with halos hovering over their heads.  Actually, the halo was originally a Buddhist religious symbol, which was later borrowed by Christian artists.

Far from having a halo hovering above his head, the book of Isaiah actually says about Jesus: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men.” 

For most of his life here on earth, Jesus appeared to people as a regular, normal human.  Philippians puts it this way: “Though he was in the form of God . . . [he] made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself.”

This is why the Gospel of Mark reports, “Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?’ they asked. ‘Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary? . . . Where then did this man get all these things?’  And they took offense at him.”  They took offense because for most of his life, before he began his ministry at age 30, he lived in Nazareth a human life like yours: eating, sleeping, working, laughing, playing.  Most his family and friends and the people he grew up with could not accept him as the divine Son of God, because they knew him as the local carpenter, the son of Mary, and stepson of Joseph. 

After he began his public ministry there were occasions when he gave glimpses of his true, divine nature.  We call those occasions miracles.  In the Wizard of Oz they pull back the curtain to reveal that the Great Oz is really only a humble human.  Jesus’ miracles were the opposite. In his miracles, Jesus was pulling back the curtain of his humble humanity to reveal that he was really the divine Son of God.  After he turns water into wine, John reports: “This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.”

The all-important difference between Jesus and those aliens in science fiction who are just pretending to be human is that Jesus wasn’t pretending.  “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man.”  At his conception in the womb of his mother, his eternal, divine nature took on a real human nature, and yet remained fully divine.  Paul says in 1st Timothy, “Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body.”  Paul expresses this mystery of Christ’s incarnation this way in Colossians: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things . . . by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. . .  For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”

 Jesus of Nazareth was a unique person in the history of the cosmos, divine and human, true God and true man, in one person.  Martin Luther expresses this mystery in the Small Catechism: “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord.”

He had to be true God so that he would be a worthy, perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world.  As a hymn says, “There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin, he only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in.” 

He had to be true man so that he could offer up his real, human life, and shed his real, human blood, for our salvation.  As Hebrews says, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”

And he also had to come into our world as a man because humanity, in our fallen, sinful state, cannot survive direct contact with God’s perfect holiness.  As Ezra says, “O Lord . . . you are righteous! . . . in our guilt no one can stand before You.” 

Also from science fiction, our sin and God’s holiness are like matter and anti-matter.  If we in our sinfulness have direct contact with the divine we would be destroyed.  As the Lord told Moses, “No man can see me and live.”

John’s Gospel says, “No one has ever seen God, but God the only-begotten Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.”  The God-man Jesus was the go-between between God and man.  As Paul says in 1st Timothy, “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

 Jesus’ eternal, divine nature is called the “Word” of God.  In order to communicate this “Word” to us, he had to come to us in a form that we could comprehend.  He had to become one of us, still true God, but also true man.  “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man.”

So, in his earthly life Christ’s heavenly glory was hidden.  But, for a few moments on the Mount of Transfiguration he revealed to Peter, James, and John who he really is, his true, divine nature.

Just as Christ’s heavenly nature was hidden during his earthly life, it is the same for the followers of Christ.  John puts it this way in his First Epistle: “Beloved, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been revealed.  But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

Like Christ himself, here on earth we, his followers, appear to live an ordinary human life.  But, our Lord promises, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”  Eternal life is not just a hope for you somewhere out in the future.  You have eternal life right now; you have already crossed over from death to life.

What God the Father declared about Jesus at his Baptism, and again at his Transfiguration, also applies to you: “This is my beloved Son.”  Through Holy Baptism you are right now “born again” as God’s child.  But, as long as you remain in this world your status as God’s child remains hidden, like Christ himself, behind the veil of an ordinary human life. 

In one of the “Chronicles of Narnia” books and films, the children, who in Narnia are royal kings and queens, are lamenting being back for a time in their ordinary human lives, until they are taken away once again to Narnia to resume their glorious existence there.  That was a parable by C.S. Lewis, about us and our lives in this world while we wait for the glories of the world to come.  “Beloved, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been revealed.  But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

Peter says in his First Epistle, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.”  Like the children in the “Chronicles of Narnia,” we who rightfully are royal heirs of eternal life and glory often lament our struggles and lowly status in this world.  Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms . . . I am going there to prepare a place for you.”  Paul puts it this way in 2nd Corinthians: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are preparing us for an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

The word Christian means “to be like Christ.”  Just as the true heavenly glory of Christ was hidden in this life under the veil of his humanity, in this life your true heavenly glory as a Christian remains hidden under the veil of your human struggles and sufferings in this present world. But, just as Christ’s true, heavenly nature as God’s beloved Son was revealed for a few moments on the Mount of Transfiguration, in heaven your true nature as God’s beloved child will be revealed for all eternity. As Paul says in Colossians, “Your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Amen.

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