2 Peter 1:16-21 To be sure, we were not following cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the powerful appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For he received honor and glory from God the Father, when the voice came to him from within the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18We heard this voice, which came out of heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain. 19We also have the completely reliable prophetic word. You do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the Morning Star rises in your hearts, 20since we know this above all else: No prophecy of Scripture comes about from someone’s own interpretation. 21In fact, no prophecy ever came by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were being carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Peter, James, and John had the awesome privilege of being eyewitnesses of the event that we call the transfiguration of our Lord. On the holy mount, the divine glory of the Christ burst forth. Christ’s face shown like the sun, and His clothes became as white as daylight. Jesus began to glow with the brightness He always had as the only Son of God.
This Majestic Glory made its appearance several times in Scripture. The glory of the Lord appeared to the people of Israel and to the Egyptian army as a pillar of cloud and fire. The glory of the Lord settled on Mt. Sinai and looked like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain. The face of Moses glowed after he returned from His forty-day visit with God on Mt. Sinai, but Moses was only reflecting God’s awesome glory. The glory of the Lord filled the Bethlehem sky upon the birth of the Christ. The glory of the Lord shone around the angel at Jesus’ tomb on Easter dawn.
The Majestic Glory of the Lord appeared once again on the Mount of Transfiguration. The disciples needed this vision of Jesus’ full glory. They had seen glimpses of Jesus’ glory when He healed lepers or drove out demons or calmed the storm. They had heard the faint whisper of the Majestic Glory when Jesus taught and preached. But Jesus looked and sounded and seemed so much like a normal person, it was easy for the disciples to dismiss that He was also the very Son of God.
They would need to remember this vision of Jesus’ full glory because shortly after they walked down the mountain, they would be walking into Jerusalem. They would be eyewitnesses of Jesus’ deep humiliation. They would see their Master arrested, tried, beaten, spat upon, mocked, scourged, crucified, and dead. The disciples would be told that the corpse of their Messiah was laid in the dark tomb. In this time of their Messiah’s humiliation, it would be the responsibility of Peter, James, and John to remind the rest of the disciples about the shining glory upon the mountain top.
The transfiguration on the mountain explains Christ’s person. Many today think that Jesus was a great man and maybe the greatest teacher of morals ever. Many think He was a great man, but nothing more. They miss Jesus’ hidden majesty.
The transfiguration, however, indicates that, though, Jesus was a man, He was also far more than a man. In Him dwells the fullness of the deity in bodily form (Colossians 2:9). He is the only begotten Son of the Father from eternity. Jesus is both God and man in one person (Romans 9:5).
The Transfiguration was a reminder of the full glory that awaited Jesus after His suffering and death. It was as if Jesus lifted the veil and gave humanity a peek of who He truly is. He does this to encourage us when we need it most, for He would go on the face the cross and tomb. He does this to encourage us, for we are called upon to take up our cross and follow Christ unto death.
On this last Sunday in the season of Epiphany, Christ gives us one more revelation of who He really is. It is a glorious Epiphany that Jesus is the majestic God hidden under the ordinary flesh of a man. Jesus is the God who makes His humble majesty visible in lowliness and servitude. He is the God who is so poor that He must borrow a donkey to ride into Jerusalem. He is the God who slaves away at washing His disciples’ dirty feet. He is the God who gives His cheek to the betraying lips of Judas, to the slapping hand of the high priest, and to the spit of the Sanhedrin. He is the God who gives His head to the thorns, His feet to the spikes, His side to the spear. He is the Christ whose Majestic Glory is hidden upon the bloody cross and buried deep within the tomb.
The Most High is incarnate as the Most Low.
All of this hidden glory means that we can so often be like the disciples of old or the unbelievers of present. We forget the true glory of the Christ and, so, look for this glory elsewhere.
We look for glory on the athletic field. And, if we’re too old for that, we live vicariously through our children. Their glory becomes our glory. We look for glory in the workplace. We want everyone to notice us and give us the credit for our hard work. We look for glory on social media. We post pictures of our meals, site our accomplishments, and brag about something or other, hoping for likes, comments, and positive reinforcement.
We look up, but not to God. We look up to the things of this world. We look for money, power, honor, a life of whatever-makes-me-happy. We don’t look down at the depths of our own poverty, helplessness, and dishonor. Or the needs of our neighbors. We are like madmen who make believe they live on a mountaintop paradise while they are in reality dragging their feet through a city slum. The reality of our selfishness and nothingness is too painful to confess, so we pretend we are someone we are not. And to give muscle to the lie, we keep our eyes pointed upward, away from whatever might remind us that dust we are and to dust we shall return.
We want to do more; be more; see more; experience more! We want to be dipped in glory and majesty up to our eyeballs. And we’ll grab for this glory any way we can. We have an insatiable hunger for glory.
We spend so much time on the plain of this depressing, sinful world, that we forget the glory that is present on the mountaintop. That’s why we are so often absent from God’s house of worship. We are looking elsewhere for fulfillment – overtime, athletics, television, sleep, vacation. We discount what we receive here in church because the majesty is so often hidden.
The vision of eternal glory on the holy mount was so dazzling and wonderful that Peter wanted to stay there forever. That’s why he said, “Lord, it’s good for us to be here.” Jesus’ hidden majesty was revealed in the Majestic Glory which enveloped Him.
It is good for us to be here, too. For here in church we see Christ’s hidden majesty.
Look at the baptismal font. It appears to be just an ordinary piece of furniture. Water is poured over a child’s head and the infant becomes wet. But there is a hidden majesty in that water! It is just plain water that is used, no different than bathwater. But, when God’s Word and command are added to it, it becomes a precious, cleansing bath from the filth of sin. The child is rescued from the jaws of the devil, washed clean of sin, and brought into God’s holy family.
Look at the altar. It appears to be an ornate table, set with a plate of plain, thin pieces of bread and a bottle of port wine. But there is a hidden majesty under that white cloth! Right now, they are just wafers of unleavened bread and tiny glasses of grape wine. But, when God’s Word and command are added to them, the paten becomes covered with Christ’s body and the flagon is filled with Christ’s blood. The communicant receives a holy supper that is food for souls, a divine meal that nourishes and strengthens the Christian.
Many non-Lutheran churches have a podium for the pastor right in the middle of the stage. What is that placement telling you? It visually proclaims that this man is important, you should listen to him.
Most of our Lutheran churches have the pulpit on one side of the church, with the lectern on the other side. What is that telling you? It visually proclaims that the altar is important. It is the center of all we say and do – invocation, confession, absolution, prayers, Holy Communion, and blessing.
Notice the clothing that the pastor wears, also. You don’t know if I matched my shirt with my tie or my socks with my pants. Being color-blind, I don’t know, either. That’s why I’m married. The clothing of the pastor is intentionally hidden under the white alb. The man doesn’t matter. What matters is his message. The glory is in that message. For when you hear the pastor speaking, it may sound like the pastor’s voice, but, in reality, it is the words of the Holy Spirit and the voice of the Father saying, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him.”
In many other churches, the pastor is dressed in either a suit or casually in jeans and a shirt. He is center stage. Whether these other churches intentionally or unintentionally mean it, the message they proclaim is that the pastor deserves the glory. The message that the Lutheran church purposefully proclaims by covering the pastor in a gown and placing the pulpit and lectern to the side is that Christ is important. He alone deserves the glory.
We have a replication of the vision of majesty with us in worship in Word and Sacraments. They are the glorious mount we climb every worship service. We receive this vision of hidden majesty so that we are encouraged and strengthened when we return to the barren plains of the present life. Returning week after week to this mount of glory keeps us from searching elsewhere for glory. This Mount of Transfiguration in the Means of Grace gives us daily sustenance on our daily journeys through this present valley of deathly shadows (Psalm 23:4,5).
On that first transfiguration, the divine light of grace enlightened the three disciples from without through their physical eyes. Now, this light of grace is given to the faithful in the Means of Grace, enlightening us from within. If the glorified divine humanity of Christ enlightened the disciples from without on the holy mount, how much more won’t His glorified, life-giving body and blood in the Sacrament illuminate us from within? It enlightens and transforms us, making us more and more Christ-like.
In the hidden majesty found in Word and Sacraments, we have the power to live transformed lives, free from Satan’s tyrannical drudgery. Here is the strength to put away our sins of anger, lust, covetousness, and greed, and allow the light and love of Christ to shine through us. Here on this mount, is the power to live transformed lives in Him, Christ-like lives, which will culminate in the majestic vision of eternal glory in heaven.
Don’t go looking for glory elsewhere. Everything you need for a transformed life in Christ is revealed every single week here at the font, lectern, pulpit, and altar. In the humble means of water, bread, wine, bread, and word are the hidden majesty of Christ’s Word and Sacraments. They reveal the majesty of God’s beloved Son within these Means of Grace. Hear them. Feel them. Taste them. Come to the mount and see their hidden majesty. Amen.