The Transfiguration of Our Lord - Matthew 17:1-9
Can you imagine Moses' surprise to walk by that bush roaring in flames and yet not being turned into ashes? You don't see that everyday! There, in the burning bush, the Lord spoke to Moses. People today wish they could see a burning bush. “Oh, if only God would speak like that today, then we'd believe and we'd know what He wants for us.” People wish they could see some miraculous sign or wonder because then they'd really know what God is saying. Even today there are churches who teach you to listen for God's voice in your head to tell you what to think and do, to have some sort of “Holy Ghost experience” so you know God's real. But when Jesus was on the mountain being transfigured in His glory, shining like the sun, with Moses and Elijah and the three apostles there—the Father spoke from the shining cloud not about burning bushes and thundering mountains. He says of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” Hear Jesus. Since the Son of God has come in the flesh, there's no more looking for burning bushes. We listen to one thing: to Jesus. And Jesus doesn't come to us to hear in burning bushes and on mountaintops but where Christ's Word is heard. That is the Word given in the Holy Scriptures and preached in Christ's church.
God speaks to us in Christ. Since Christ is true God and true man, whatever Christ says is what we need to hear. The burning bush is a picture of how God will speak to the world in Christ. The flames did not destroy the bush. Just so, by being true God and true man, the divine glory of God can be seen in Christ, without destroying His human flesh. Just as the fire and the bush were joined together without the bush being turned into ashes, the Son of God takes on flesh and does not destroy it but uses His human nature to speak to us, to show us God's glory and to save us by His death and resurrection. We see that this is so on the mount of Transfiguration. There, the glory of the Son of God shines forth and yet Jesus' human nature is not destroyed. And in this way, He speaks to Moses and Elijah and the disciples. If you think that something as amazing as a burning bush is the way the Lord should speak, then look no further than Christ Himself who unites God and Man in one person and speaks to us, tells us not to be afraid, and then takes our place as the ultimate sinner on the cross to conquer sin and death and rise again victorious.
So maybe now we say, “Well if I could just see Jesus shining on the mountain like Peter, James and John did, then I'd believe; then I'd know God's will for sure.” But Jesus has already been on the mountain. And He was seen by those eyewitnesses who later wrote it down in the Holy Scriptures. It's as Peter says in His epistle: “We were there! We saw the whole thing! We heard the voice!” And now, it's been given to the world in the Holy Scriptures. Right there in the Bible, we have all we need of Christ's Word which tells us Who He is and what He has done for us. In the Scriptures we hear God on Mt. Sinai giving the Law, Christ on the mountain of Transfiguration fulfilling the Law and the Prophets (the Old Testament) and Christ on the mountain of Calvary, dying for our sins, shedding His blood to take them away. When the Father tells us to listen to Christ, He is telling us to hear Christ in all of the Scriptures. And what does Christ say? He says to us, “You can never be holy enough for God. Your sins condemn you. Therefore I have come to stand under that judgment for your. To take your place on the cross and shed my blood for your sins. To defeat sin and death and give you life everlasting.” That is Christ's Word and Promise to us which is all what the Scriptures are about.
Our problem is we don't believe it. Even if we saw a burning bush, or Christ Himself on the mountain being transfigured, we wouldn't believe it. Even now we have the Holy Scriptures but we don't believe them. We don't think they are a big deal. How many of us don't read the Scriptures every day? How many of us don't come to Bible class regularly? How many of us know the original languages and still spend little time learning God's Word (that one's mine, brothers and sisters!) We have learned to treat the Word of God, the Bible, like the world and the devil do. It's an old book. It doesn't matter for today. Sure, it's got all those stories in it, but those are for Sunday School kids so they learn how to live right and behave. The Bible, says the world, is a book of myths, no better nor worse than any other religious book but hardly worth studying when we have so much better things out there like science and reason! Do we not read and study God's Word because we know it all? Do we not read it and study it and learn it inside and out because it's boring? Do we not read it and study it and learn it inside out because our pastor is supposed to know that stuff? Do we not read and hear and learn the Scriptures because people will laugh at us? There are lots of reasons but they all come form one place: our unbelief. The truth is, God Himself speaks to us through Christ in the Holy Scriptures and we just don't care. We like to say that we would listen if God was lighting our shrubbery on fire, but we just say that because we're avoiding the way He actually does speak to us! There's our repentance today, brothers and sisters: let's recognize that we are sinners who can't and don't want to hear and learn what Christ is saying to us.
And hear again the Word which Christ speaks. It's the Word He tells His disciples. “Don't be afraid.” Why does He say that? Because Jesus knows that we can't hear and pay attention to Him. And the Transfiguration doesn't even really happen to get our attention. It's to remind us that the One who goes to the cross is the same One who has all eternal glory and power and might. The One who shines on the mountain is the One who will bleed on the mountain of the cross. The One who speaks with Moses and Elijah on the mountain is the One who fulfills the Law of Moses and the preaching of the Prophets in His death on the mountain of the Skull. The One who has the Father speak of Him from the bright cloud on the mountain is the One who will be surrounded by darkness and the absence of the Father on the Good Friday mountain. The One that Peter wants to stay with on the mountain, is the One Peter runs away from on the mountain where He is crucified. The One who shines forth on the mountain so that we can know that He is true God, is the One who goes to the mountain of judgment to take away our sins. Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus goes form the mountain of the Transfiguration to the mountain of Calvary for you. To wash away your every sin. Your every despising of His Word. Your every instance of not paying attention and not caring about His Word. And that same Christ, by His Word, washes you and makes you His at the holy font, absolves and preaches to you in His holy church, and feeds you with His holy body and blood. God DOES speak. And He speaks through Christ. And he speaks your forgiveness, life and salvation.
You don't need to wish there was a burning bush you could see. That was just something that pointed to Christ. You don't need to wish that you were on the mountain with the bright, shiny Jesus. Peter, James and John were there and wrote all about it. For you, dear Christians, God has spoken by His Son and the Spirit has written it down through pens of the apostles and prophets. In the Holy Scriptures, you have set before you the very Jesus who was transfigured on the mountain and foretold by the burning bush. In the Holy Supper you have the very Jesus who was nailed to the cross and rose from the dead speaking to you: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” There's no rocket science needed here. It's all there in Christ. And He's all there in His Word. You can be certain that His Word is true because it points us to Him who takes away the sin of the world. Christ is the Father's beloved Son. Hear Him! What does He say? You too are God's beloved in Jesus Christ, for the sake of Jesus Christ. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.