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What Luther Says

SERMON: The Real Meaning Of Transfiguration Sunday (Mark 9:1-13)

So today is what the church calls "Transfiguration Sunday" as "The Transfiguration of Jesus Christ" is preached to believers who gather around His Word and Sacraments.

For years, I'm ashamed to say that I had no idea that this was an important moment in Christ's ministry and I also didn't have a proper understanding of what this passage of the text was telling us to believe, teach, and confess.

For instance, contemporary Christianity (a.k.a. "Pop-Churchianity") always presented it in one of two ways -- both are un-Biblical.

Rather than go on-and-on about why both of the above types of sermons would be clear evidence of false teaching at any church regardless of denomination, I just want to cut to the chase and try to help you understand what Transfiguration Sunday is all about and why it's so important using the very same resources that helped me to finally get it.

For starters, I like how Pastor Lewis Polzin introduces this glorious day to us.

This Transfiguration Day, the last day of the season of Epiphany, we begin to prepare ourselves for our journey through Lent. And in this journey, we shall be penitent. If we are not, we do not understand the season well. We shall be penitent, for this time has been set aside for us to look upon the cross and see what our sin has wrought for our Savior. Our sin has put Him to death upon the cursed tree, and we should even yet repent of that. 
But, we do not despair in our penitence. We should not be so introspective and so pious that our sin and the cost of that sin causes us to doubt in our salvation, the very salvation won for us on the cross. Glorious Day! Jesus is dead! There, and only there, and in that way, and only that way, salvation is won for you and for all humanity. Your sin put Jesus on the cross, yes, and so did mine, and so did the whole world’s, but it is only through Christ’s death that payment is made for sin, and only through that death are you welcomed to eternal life. For if there is eternal life, it is found in the resurrection of Christ from the dead, and that promise He has given even to you. 
But what does that have to do with this day?

Great question! You can read (or listen to) the rest of Pastor Polzin's sermon on the Transfiguration for the answer.

On this day, there will be far too many Liberal Progressive Christian churches who will claim that Transfiguration Sunday is ALL ABOUT YOU/US (a.k.a. "YOU/US For Christ!") when nothing could be further from the truth since it's ALL ABOUT JESUS (a.k.a. "JESUS CHRIST For You/Us!").

Don't believe me? Well, all we have to do is look at Peter's ridiculous response to the Transfiguration of Jesus for proof.

Peter decided to open his terrified little mouth and say something that was just idiotic. Imagine saying to a master plumber you called to your house, "No worries, I'll get the pipes and you just chill." Peter says to the Master Carpenter, let us build YOU three tabernacles, three places of dwelling.

Absurd, right?

And yet, how many so-called "Pastors" will preach a message to their parishioners that leaves this out -- or worse -- acknowledges it though it twists the true meaning to suggest that YOU/WE "need to be more like Peter here" and "do something for Jesus!"?

Here's an excerpt from a sermon delivered by Pastor Charles Henrickson who appropriately calls the Transfiguration "the bridge between Epiphany and Lent."

Today is the Festival of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, remembering that day when our Lord Jesus Christ was transfigured, that is, his appearance was changed, up on a mountain. This was a key event in our Lord’s life, and it marked a turning point, a pivot point, in his ministry. So, likewise, does this festival mark a turning point, a pivot point, in the church year calendar. Transfiguration comes at the end of the Epiphany season, just a few days before the beginning of Lent. The church year mirrors the gospel narrative. 
And so today, what I want to say to you is that this Feast of the Transfiguration serves as “The Bridge between Epiphany and Lent,” and perfectly so. You will see how the placement of the Transfiguration event in the context of the gospel narrative, as its pivot point–and therefore also the placement of this Transfiguration festival, in the context of the church year, as the bridge between Epiphany and Lent–how all of this works for you, to strengthen your faith in the Christ who is transfigured. 
First, though, let’s start with the event itself, what happens, what’s going on here. Jesus has been at his ministry for some time now, and he takes three of his disciples, Peter, James, and John, up a high mountain. Suddenly, Jesus’ appearance changes; that is what “transfiguration” means. Jesus starts gleaming, glowing, gloriously bright. His clothes become brilliant, radiant, gloriously white–as white “as no one on earth could bleach them,” our text says. Indeed, this is no mere earthly glory that Jesus is manifesting. This is heavenly glory, the light of divine majesty and purity shining forth. 
Next, there appears, with Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Why Moses and Elijah? These are two figures from Israel’s past, and God brings them back for this special occasion. Moses and Elijah, the two most outstanding prophets from Israel’s history. Moses, from the section of the Hebrew Scriptures called the Law. Elijah, from the section called the Prophets. As Paul says in Romans, “The Law and the Prophets bear witness to the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ.” And here are Moses, from the Law, and Elijah, from the Prophets, bearing witness to God’s righteousness in Christ by appearing at the Transfiguration. 
 Moses and Elijah–each of them had had a mountaintop experience in which they caught a glimpse of God’s glory. Now Peter, James, and John are having that same type of mountaintop experience, as Jesus is transfigured before them. It is in epiphany, a brilliant manifestation of Christ’s glory as the holy Son of God. 
And that’s what happens next, a further attestation to Jesus as God’s Son. A cloud envelops them, the cloud of God’s glory, and a voice comes from the cloud: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” God the Father is bearing witness to his Son. Peter, James, and John are to know, beyond a doubt, that their teacher is none other than the very Son of God: “This is my beloved Son.” They are to know that his words, Jesus’ words, are words to listen to and take to heart: “Listen to him.” And they are to know that Jesus is greater than Moses and Elijah, that he is the fulfillment of all of Israel’s history–that Jesus is the one Moses and Elijah were pointing ahead to. Because when Peter, James, and John open their eyes and lift up their eyes, they no longer see Moses and Elijah, they see Jesus only. As Hebrews says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” 
So that is the Transfiguration event itself. Now how does it fit into the context of the gospel narrative and thus into the context of the church year? And how does that benefit us?

To answer those very important questions, please continue reading his sermon.

Now, if you're still not sure why this is so important for us believers (or you just don't have the time to click through any of the links above to listen to and/or read the sermons yourself), then all you need to know is this...

The Transfiguration fits into the gospel narrative like this. In the first part of the gospels, Jesus is manifesting his glory as the Son of God. After his baptism, Jesus begins his public ministry by going about preaching, teaching, and healing. He calls people to repentance, saying that the kingdom of heaven is now at hand. The kingdom has arrived, because he, Jesus Christ, has arrived on the scene. Jesus teaches and unfolds the true meaning of God’s law, its intent and its extent, that we cannot hide from the law’s accusing finger, and that all of us need a righteousness better than anything we can muster on our own. His words are words of wisdom, and they are words of divine authority. His words have authority to heal the sick, to cast out demons, and to calm storms. Jesus calls men to be his disciples, saying “Come, follow me.” All of this remarkable, singular ministry points to Jesus being the very Son of God come in the flesh, come to do the will of the one who sent him. 
Now at the conclusion of the Epiphany season, at the Transfiguration of Our Lord, the liturgical color once again is white, and once again we hear the Father’s voice, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” Perfect. A perfect inclusio, a brilliant bracketing at the start and the end of the Epiphany season. No question who this Jesus is. He is God’s beloved Son. 
And that is what is so significant, then, for what follows in the church year and in the gospel narrative. For from this point on, Jesus is going to Jerusalem. He is going to Jerusalem, not to take up a throne there in the city of the kings, but rather to take up a cross, in the city that kills the prophets. And that is the shift now that takes place in the church year and in the gospels. Lent begins on Wednesday, a season in which the skies will darken, even as the days lengthen. Jesus is on a journey to Jerusalem, there to suffer and to die. 
Why is he going there? He’s going there to suffer and die for you. For your sins, the holy Son of God will take up that cross. He will die on that cross for you and for me. For all the sinners of the world, and that means all of us, everybody. This is God’s mercy in action, Jesus dying on Calvary’s cross for the sins of the world. For Jesus sheds his holy blood to obtain forgiveness for you, to wash away your sins, the stain of guilt that would accuse you and condemn you as the sinner you are. But Jesus paid the price for all of that. 
You see, that’s the point. That’s why Transfiguration works so well as the bridge between Epiphany and Lent, and why the Transfiguration works so well as the pivot point in the narrative of the gospels. In the first part, in the early chapters of the gospels and in the weeks of the Epiphany season, we see Jesus showing forth his glory as the Son of God. Transfiguration, then, serves as the culmination, the climax, of Jesus manifesting his glory and his identity as the Son of God. 
But at the same time, Transfiguration works as our bridge into the Lenten season. Now we know who it is who will be going to the cross for us. “Listen to him,” the Father says, “listen when this Jesus tells you about how he needs to go up to Jerusalem, to be rejected and to be handed over, to suffer and to be killed at the hands of sinful men.” Yes, listen to him! This is necessary, this is essential to God’s plan to redeem sinful mankind. And there is no Plan B. 
And guess what, beloved? No, don’t guess; know this for certain: You will share in Christ’s resurrection. You too will be with Christ in heaven, to share in eternal life with him. For you are baptized. You believe in Christ. You are trusting in him for your salvation. Jesus only. Nothing else. Nobody else. Jesus only, God’s own Son, his beloved Son. Jesus only, the only Savior for sinners, dying on the cross and rising from the dead. 
Today is Transfiguration, and we get all that on this day. Yes, today is Transfiguration, the perfect bridge between Epiphany and Lent.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, Transfiguration Sunday is all about Jesus Christ and not at all about you...unless you mean that it's about you/us only in so far as it foreshadows His death and resurrection as the beginning of the Kingdom in power since He is the only One sufficient to exchange His life for ours.

In other words, His glory on display during His Transfiguration reminds us that “this is my beloved Son; listen to him” and that He freely chose death and resurrection for our sakes.

NOTE: I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or a Christian, Candy-Making, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this note, I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little over a year ago. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries. I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a dude's diary in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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