Sermon for February 23, 2020 Transfiguration Sunday

Ex.24:12-18 • Psalm 99:1-9 • 2 Peter 1:16-21 • Matthew 17:1-9

The theme this week is the Lordship of Jesus. Throughout Scripture, we see the power and majesty of the Son of God. In Exodus 24, we read of Moses returning to the mountain to receive the tablets of stone upon which God had written the law and the commandments. There “the glory of the Lord settled,” and it was “like a devouring fire.” The Psalmist writes about the Lord being king and sitting among the cherubim. Moses, Aaron and Samuel called upon him and he answers—speaking to them in the “pillar of cloud.” In Peter’s letter, he talks about being an eyewitness of Jesus’ majesty and the Father acknowledging Jesus as the “Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew shares the story of the Transfiguration, showing Jesus is the one to be listened over Moses and Elijah.

The Unified Opposites of Wholeness

Matthew 17:1-9

How many of you like chocolate-covered pretzels? Why do you like them? That’s right—it’s the combination of sweet and salty that makes them so tasty. Or you might like the softness of the chocolate over the crunchiness of the pretzel. You find the same pairing of opposites with a good margarita—sweet with a salty rim—or with salted caramels. Many like sweet and sour sauce that comes with some Asian dishes.

There are also words that can mean opposite ideas. Consider the noun “dust” and the verb “dust.” In one case, we’re talking about dirt lying around and in the other we mean the removal of that dirt. “Left” can mean leaving or it can mean remaining, like this sentence: I left to go shopping, and my husband was left behind. In these words, two opposite ideas are held, and depending on the context or situation, we define them accordingly.

Even commonly held ideas have a truthful opposite. For example, in any relationship, communication or talking is important. But at the same time, we yearn for the comfort of a relationship where we can just sit together in silence and not feel like we always have to talk.

Likewise, we might pride ourselves on our willingness and ability to help others as a sign of our strength, but we can consider that it is also a sign of strength to reach out and ask for help when we need it or to be a willing recipient when someone wants to help us.

In our Christian walk, we feel weak in our brokenness, but it is that very brokenness that leads us to finding strength in Christ. Jesus tells us in order to find him, we need to deny ourselves. To gain life, we need to take up the symbol of death—the cross. In order to save our lives, we need to lose our lives. When we lose our lives for Christ, we find our lives.

Six days after making these points to his disciples, Matthew tells us the story of the Transfiguration. I believe God uses this to reveal how humanity, with all its brokenness and weaknesses, is made whole and complete in Jesus. This is symbolized by the appearance of Moses and Elijah in this vision. Let’s read the story:

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (NRSV)

What does this vision mean for us?

  • We see more clearly that our wholeness is found in Jesus, not in our own efforts. In the first three verses of the passage, the main point is the word “transfigured,” which is the Greek word metamorphoo (pronounced—meta-mor-phaw-o—and the root of our word “metamorphosis”). This same word is used by Paul in Romans 12:1-2, where we are told to “be transformed by the renewing” of our minds. The word indicates a great change, and in Jesus’s case, the Transfiguration showed his glory as part of the Triune God. In the same way that Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the Law and the hope of the prophets by revealing his glory as God the Son, so he also instills confidence in his ability to transform broken humanity. We are not saved or transformed by the law or the prophets (Moses and Elijah)—we are saved and transformed in Jesus. We are to listen to him; follow him; be transformed by his presence.
  • The transfiguration shows us that death has no powerit has no power over Jesus, and if it has no power over Jesus, then it has no power over us. The Transfiguration revealed Jesus’s true nature, the Son of God. By Moses and Elijah being present, it also showed they were not bound by the power of death. This had to have given the disciples some measure of comfort when they later watched Jesus go through the crucifixion. At the very least, they could reflect on the experience after Jesus’s resurrection and put the pieces together. We can view this experience as a glimpse of the hope of glory we share in Jesus where death has no power over us.

Application:

  • We don’t beat ourselves up when negative emotions or habits raise their ugly heads. While we don’t want to excuse behaviors that hurt ourselves or others, and we acknowledge that such patterns sometimes require professional help or counseling, it does us good to see that in Jesus, any dichotomies we experience are brought together and transformed. As Paul tells us in his letter to Corinth, in Christ we are new—a new creation. The old has gone and the new has come.
  • Our lives are hidden in Christ. We can communicate his unconditional love and acceptance by the way we do not hold grudges against others when they offend us. While we do not subject ourselves to abusive treatment from others, we operate from the perspective that people are a mix of strengths and weaknesses and that extending grace is always the best option.
  • We are quick to comfort and encourage when others fear they are too broken. Jesus comforted the disciples with his words and his touch when they were overcome with fear at God’s voice from the cloud (v. 7). We, too, can comfort one another when we and others are overwhelmed by life’s struggles and constant changes and face-to-face with our limited ability to cope. We can use our own experiences and shortcomings to show others they are not alone in their troubles, and we can point them to the Comforter who resides in their hearts, the Holy Spirit.

The Transfiguration is a revelation of wholeness that is only found through Jesus, who transforms us by taking our brokenness and our strengths into himself and making a new creation. Opposites are brought together in Jesus, and just as he fulfilled the expectations of the Law and the laments of the Prophets, he takes pieces of our lives and repurposes them in glory.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • When you hear the phrase “opposites attract,” what comes to mind?
  • Explain the phrase in terms of your spiritual life. (Think Paul’s words, “What I want to do, I don’t do. What I don’t want to do, that is what I do.”

From the Sermon

  • In your own life, can you think of a situation where a commonly held idea also has a truthful opposite? For example, saving money is usually a commendable practice, but so is generosity. How does it look to approach such opposites with a unified wholeness?
  • In verse 4, Peter offered to create dwellings for Moses, Jesus, and Elijah. Though we don’t know his motivation, we could assume that he wanted to honor Moses, Jesus, and Elijah, and maybe he thought this vision was going to stick around for a while. Yet in the blink of an eye, a voice came from the bright cloud, and the vision was gone. Can you think of a time when you thought God wanted you to follow a particular path and then it changed? How did you handle your shock and/or disappointment?
  • How does Jesus’s glorified state (v. 2) give us confidence in his ability to unify and transform us? How does remembering the Transfiguration help us encourage one another when we stumble?
  • Sometimes we find it difficult to extend grace to others. What ideas do you have to help work through hurt feelings and other negative emotions so that you can extend grace to others?

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