The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
I’ve often wondered, sometimes from this very pulpit, how different things would be if we could see the full glory of God on full display. How different would Holy Communion be for people if Jesus Christ, in all His glory, stood here for all to behold, giving out His body and blood for the forgiveness of sin? We know that’s exactly what He’s doing here, but we know through faith, don’t we? We don’t see the fully glorified radiance of Christ the Lord. We don’t see the angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven at the heavenly side of our Lord’s feast table. We only see bread and wine. How different would things be if we could see under/behind the veil? The same goes for Holy Baptism. How different would things be if people actually saw the full glory of God at this font, calling everyone, even the littlest of ones to Him, so that He might put His divine name on them, adopting them into His heavenly household, making them His own? Again, that’s exactly what’s going on here at the font, but we know and believe this only through faith. We don’t actually see it. We see only ordinary water.
Indeed, that’s the reality facing all that pertains to “Church.” We only see the plain, the ordinary, the mundane, the not-so-impressive. Surely there has to be more to it than this! Is it really any wonder that people can/do so easily blow all this off; that you can always find something better to do than be in the presence of the Lord, receiving His gifts? I know it sounds so bad to hear it worded that way, but that’s exactly what’s going on. There’s always something better to do than be in the presence of the Lord. Man… if only people could see the full glory of God at work in all these ordinary and unassuming means and places. If only they could see. That would change ‘em!
Well… St. Luke’s Gospel account disagrees with such a hypothesis. In fact, St. Luke Gospel actually disproves the hypothesis. Peter, James, and John all saw the full glory of God, and yet… they didn’t instantly become the greatest Christians to ever walk the face of the earth, did they? In fact, in that instant that they did get to see behind the divine veil and behold the glory of God in Christ, they dropped over like dead men. Their sinfulness could not bear His majestic, holiness and radiance. I guess you say it changed them in the sense that they went from standing and coherent to out-cold and flat on their backs like dead men, but that’s not exactly the change anyone is looking for, is it?
And even when they are able to function (although in a terrified haze), the best they can come up with is to offer to build three tents—one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. I get it. They thought that this was it. It was now time for the revolution to begin! “Let’s set up base camp here, Jesus!” It’s weird when you think about it, but seeing the glory of God (along with Moses and Elijah in their perfected heavenly states) didn’t change those guys at all (at least not for the better). All it did was smoke out the deadly, sinful foolishness in their hearts.
Remember: Luke tells us quite specifically (in the Greek) that Moses and Elijah were talking with Jesus about His impending exodus. They [Jesus, Moses, and Elijah] were talking about God’s plan of salvation; the plan that had been in place from before the foundation of the world; the plan that God Himself first announced in the Garden of Eden, when man fell from glory into sin, death, and damnation. They were talking about all this, and how it was about to go down relatively soon. And yet… Peter and the boys didn’t hear a word of it. They saw the glory of God, and didn’t hear a thing. They were too busy focusing on their plans and notions of what “Messiah” meant; i.e., military/political might.
Keep in mind: This was only about one week after Jesus just got done telling them what God’s plan of salvation included: His betrayal, His arrest, His suffering, His death, and His resurrection from the dead three days later. That’s when mighty Peter (obviously knowing better than Jesus) pulls Jesus aside and begins to rebuke Him. (That’s a very strong word, reserved only for demons.) “Not on my watch! Such terrible things will NEVER happen as long as I’m in charge!” To which Jesus responds with His own rebuke: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a hindrance to Me! You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man!” Eight days had elapsed since then! Eight! “This is My beloved Son. Listen to Him!”
Which leads us to another point. When the disciples beheld the glorified/transfigured Jesus, I understand that He was showing them that He was fully God and fully in charge. All that He had been saying about His impending suffering and death was under His complete control and in His almighty hands. “No one takes My life from Me. I lay it down. I lay it down and I take it up again.” Jesus was giving them a loving glimpse of His almighty divinity and authority. But maybe that’s where the problems arose. The disciples saw all this… and yet their almighty Lord would “lose.”
Look at that cross. Does that look like almighty God crushing the devil’s head and putting the death-sentence of sin to death? Does that look like God winning the war? Nope. I understand (I don’t condone, but I do understand) why all the disciples tucked tail and ran for the hills and hid behind locked doors in the immediate wake of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. Peter and the boys saw the full glory of God, and yet… here is that same God, vanquished and dying a humiliating death. “This is My beloved Son. LISTEN to Him.”
And we know what He says from that cross, don’t we? “It is finished!” We know what that means. We know what they didn’t know at the time. It is finished. All sin has been put to death in Him. Because of this all-redeeming death, we are saved; delivered from the bondage of death. The greater exodus is brought to fulfillment in Him. He took on flesh and came into our bondage of sin. By the blood of this perfect Passover Lamb we are saved, delivered from the bonds of sin, death, and the devil. It is finished, once and for all.
And yet… we don’t always believe it, do we? We know what we hear, but our eyes tell us a very different story. Things look miserable. Things look like God is angry at us or punishing us or He’s abandoned us. We look around and wonder what we need to do to get back into God’s good graces. “This is My beloved Son. LISTEN to Him!” “Yeah, but God… You don’t understand!”
What else was Jesus showing these guys on that mountaintop when He transfigured before their eyes? As I said, I understand the fact that He was showing them that He was in charge. But… there’s also the fact that He was showing them the rest of the story. He was showing them (and us) the victory of the resurrection. That vision didn’t make sense to Peter before the crucifixion/resurrection. However… after the working of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, where the knowledge/understanding of faith was given in overflowing measure, Peter finally gets it. The transfiguration now makes sense. The betrayal and bitter sufferings all make sense. The crucifixion makes sense. Peter finally sees clearly through the eyes/ears of faith. Why do you think Peter can speak the way he does in his second epistle? He’s seen the full glory of God. He’s seen the resurrected God, in the flesh. Peter knows how the story ends! What are you going to do to him?
Again, I want you to take a look at your own life; your own circumstances. We get terrified and act all kinds of stupid when we let our eyes and our hearts do the talking/guiding. Things don’t look or feel the way we think they should, and we either get angry with God, or we become Chicken Little, running around in a panic because CLEARLY the sky is falling! Like a drowning man, we panic and gasp and reach out for ANYTHING that might give us what we’re so desperately searching for. Not surprisingly, such running and fretting and panicked grasping almost always leads one away from the outstretched arms of their loving and gracious Lord, in their very midst, holding out to them His gifts of victory, life, and peace that surpasses all understanding. Folks: No matter how bad things may look/seem, you belong to Christ. Listen to His Word and Promises, first made to you at the font, where He put His name on you and made you His own. The gates of hell cannot prevail against this! Through the eyes/ears of faith, all this [Word and Sacrament] is so beautiful, so powerful, so simple.
Yes, we only see bread and wine. We only see water. We only see the not-so-impressive. There are certainly far more impressive and entertaining things going on today all around town. There might even be what many deem “more desirable” things going on, be it worshipping the mattress god or worshipping the fishing god, the golfing god, the kids’ sports god, or the lazy not-get-out-of-the-pajamas-and-simply-Facebook livestream god (while also checking the email god, the Instagram god and the Twitter god). But… when viewed through the eyes of faith—eyes that are opened by the Holy Spirit through the hearing of the Holy Gospel—we see our Lord and Savior, right where He promises to be; right where He tells us to look. When viewed through the eyes of faith, nothing else compares. Through the hearing of faith, it is all so clear, so powerful, so simple and beautiful. “Alleluia! Lord, to whom shall we go? Where else would we be?”
My fellow redeemed: Here is Christ the Lord, the fullness of God’s glory and power dwelling in Him. Here [Word and Sacrament] is the full glory of God, on full display, right before your very eyes, right under your nose… all for you. How very different from what everyone else sees, isn’t it? Here is your past, your future, and –yes— your very present glory of God. By His grace, may you see and rejoice and ever hold fast to this glory.
Now… go and tell all that your Lord has done for you, all that He will do for you in the resurrection, and all that He does for you even now as you journey through this veil of tears and shadowy valley of death. Go… and let His light shine.
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