Sinners, God’s Glory, and Jesus
Sermon read by David LIng, Elder
Matthew 17:1-9
February 23, 2020

I invite you to draw your attention to the Gospel reading from Matthew 17:1-9.

In Jesus’s Name. Amen.Jesus takes Peter, James, and John on a hike up a high mountain, alone.

At some point, Jesus is transfigured before their eyes. His form and appearance changed. His face shined like the sun. His clothing become gleaming white, as white as light itself. And then Moses and Elijah appear. And then the cloud comes and the booming voice from the cloud. What is going on?

Well, actually, we want to ask three questions. We want to ask about what is going on so that we get the purpose of it. We also want to look at the reaction of Peter, James, and John to see how they felt in the glory of God. Then we want to look at the importance of how the episode ends: “Jesus came to them and touched them saying, ‘Arise and do not be afraid.’ And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus only” (Mat. 17:7-8).

With respect to what is going on, we are being given a clear picture of the divine nature of Jesus. His glory as Son of God is shining through. Most of the time, He hid this glory, covering it by His human nature; concealing it by His human flesh and blood. The end of our story shows us that this is a good thing; a necessary thing for us in relation to God.

Most of the time, when it came to Jesus, what the disciples saw, along with everyone else, was a regular human being. So if they had not seen Jesus’s glory on this mountain, they would have only known—we the church could only know—that it was a mere man who died on Good Friday.

Such a death could be viewed as heroic. We could admire Jesus to some extent for remaining faithful to God in the face of the tyrants, and then for dying the heroic martyr’s death. Then we could place this kind of Jesus in front of our eyes as example, as inspiration for us to do the same.

But His death wouldn’t get us any farther than that. Something huge would be missing from such a picture.

What would be missing? Redemption. Jesus’s dying a martyr’s death as a mere man would not redeem us from the lostness of sin and God’s judgment against it. It would also be missing the possibility of God opening up an entirely other reality where sin and death are no more. If Jesus died as a mere man, dying only a martyrs death, then we could not say: “By His death, He has destroyed death.”

But praise God. We see today who did go to that cross on Good Friday. It was not merely a man. It was God the Son. We see His glory shining through a little bit today, so that we can know our Savior, and see to what lengths He has gone to redeem us.

Seeing this reality may break our hearts. “Oh, how could it be that the Son of God has died for Me. It is not a fate that He deserved.”

But this reality fills our hearts with humble and thankful joy that will never die: “Oh, thank You my dear Lord, for undertaking for me what I could not undertake for myself. Thank you for the pardon full and free you have won for me, and opening up an entirely new life in peace and joy in God.”

And the voice confirms the glory that we see. God the Father Himself testifies about the Son. And we hear today His testimony, because Peter, James, and John heard that testimony on the Holy Mountain.

Thanks be to God that He condescended to cause sound as human speech to enter their ears so they could hear, even if they did not then fully understand. And thanks be to God that by this condescension, Peter, James, and John, at Christ’s command after His resurrection, could tell us in the same human speech what the Father said.

We hear the Father testify to the Son. We hear the Father directing us to listen to the Son. For this Son is the One He sent to bring us back to Him. This Son is Jesus. He is the true man from Nazareth, the Son of King David. He is the true Son of the Father. And He has come to redeem us.

We see how important this redemption is as we turn to see the reaction of Peter, James, and John. Matthew tells us that they were overwhelmed by this experience and terrified. The Greek says that they were exceedingly afraid (Mat. 17:6).

What does this teach us? It teaches us that the unveiled glory of God is terror to human beings. This is an illustration of what the Apostle Paul says: “Flesh and blood will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 15:50). Paul means sinful flesh and blood.

We realize, as we see Peter, James, and John trembling in abject fear, that the glory of God is no friend of sinners.

So we have a bit of an irony here. Jesus glory as Son of God shines through so we see who went to the cross for us. But the sight of His glory is terror. This is why there can be no building of tents on the Mountain to retain the glory. Sinners cannot dwell with that glory. Jesus cannot remain on the mountain in the shining through of His glory, not if He is going to redeem us. He must hide His glory and not exercise it, so He can make atoning sacrifice on the cross in atoning death.

So, the story moves on. There are Peter, James, and John, trembling and cowering in the glory. Peter doesn’t know what he is doing or saying. They are on the ground, trying to hide themselves, trying to get away from the glory.

Then as suddenly as it came, it is gone. The next thing they know is Jesus touching them: “It’s okay. You can get up now.”

They lift their eyes. Imagine Peter, James, and John, on the ground, covering their heads. Now imagine that they open one eye, to catch a glimpse, to see if the glory and terror is still there. Then they open the other eye, realizing in hopefulness that the glory has passed. They see no one else. Moses and Elijah are gone. The cloud is gone. The voice is gone. They see only Jesus. They see Jesus as they had seen Him before. His face is not shining like the sun. His clothing is not gleaming what as light. They see the man.

They can live with the man. They can now stand on their feet. The man does not make them afraid. They know who He also is. But it is pure grace and mercy that God has arranged it in Jesus that we grasp God by grasping the man; that He has comes to us quite personally, yet, hiding His glory behind human flesh. This way we are not afraid and are not killed by God’s glory. This is pure grace because it is the way God can approach us and talk to us and be with us and redeem us, so we can live in His presence, and have peace and joy with Him.

And so this is the Gospel today. They lift up their eyes and see Jesus only; Jesus in the humility of a man, not in the overwhelming glory of the Son. And so we too see Jesus only. Seeing Jesus the man, yet knowing who He is as Son, we have God in peace and joy.



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