Twice in the Gospels God the Father speaks about Jesus. Both times He says, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Each time He makes this decree, the salvation of mankind is firmly in view. The first is at Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan. There Jesus set apart water to be a part of salvation, a lavish washing away of sin, shown as His righteousness flowed into the water and all the world’s sin flowed through that water and onto His innocent shoulders. The second time the Father speaks is at the event we commemorate today, the Transfiguration, as Jesus’ true Nature is revealed and is no longer veiled behind the common frame. There He speaks with Moses and Elijah concerning His impending crucifixion and resurrection. It is then that the Father declares Jesus the one by whom He is well-pleased. God the Father finds all His joy in the person and work of His Son who, out of love for His fallen creation, has taken on flesh and goes uncomplaining forth to His death, bearing the sin of the world, to shed His innocent Blood to pay the price the Law demands for sin.
The time for observing the Transfiguration is different across Christendom. Since the Reformation, a majority of Lutherans have placed the Transfiguration at the close of the Epiphany season. The reason is because the Transfiguration is the culmination of the Season of Epiphany. The whole point of Epiphany is not to be the beginning of “Ordinary Time,” connected with the Sundays after Trinity, as the Roman Church and the Three Year Lectionary have made it. Rather, this season is all about the revelation that Jesus is fully God and fully Man. Remember the refrain of the hymn we sang last week: “God in man made manifest.” Miracles like changing water into wine or calming the storm certainly reveal Jesus to be One who has the power of God. But at His Transfiguration Peter, James, and John see the veil pulled back. They see Jesus for who He truly is, as both God and Man. Unlike Moses whose face shone with a glory not his own, Jesus shines with light brighter than the sun, a glory that is His by nature. And then comes the voice of God the Father declaring Jesus to be His beloved Son. These three disciples are given a glimpse of Jesus that we will not see until we stand in the kingdom of heaven.
The reason Jesus allows this before His suffering, death, and resurrection is so that these three leaders of the disciples understand the events they will soon witness. Though grief and panic may not allow them to understand as the events unfold, they will gather their thoughts afterwards and process everything in light of the Transfiguration. Then they will understand that Jesus was not made a prisoner, condemned, and crucified because He was powerless, but because it pleased Him to suffer for the salvation of the world. Then when they see Jesus risen from the dead they will understand that He was not given glory after His death as a reward, but that in His humility He veiled His glory, a glory that was His from all eternity. (St. Ephraem)
But we mustn’t get too caught up on that word “glory.” We hear glory and think gold and silver, pomp, and royalty. Jesus’ glory is far different. The Transfiguration isn’t about glory in an earthly sense, our misunderstanding of glory. As St. John makes clear in his Gospel, Jesus’ glory is revealed perfectly in His death. There He is seen for who He truly is, God in the flesh come to be the Light that dispels the darkness, the Holy One who does away with sin, the Life who destroys death. As St. Luke writes about the Transfiguration, he says that Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah about all He would accomplish at Jerusalem. Literally, the Greek word there is exodus. Think back to the Old Testament! At the Exodus, God freed the people of Israel from Egyptian slavery. On the cross, God will free His people from slavery to sin and death. Jesus is glorified in His lifting up on the cross as His innocent Blood drowns sin and the devil. The Transfiguration sets us on that path, as Jesus goes to accomplish His ultimate goal. For that, for His taking on the sin of the world, for His death on the cross, for restoring creation to its original goodness, the Father is well-pleased with His beloved Son.
And because the Father is well-pleased in His Savior-Son as He dies to win your salvation, He is also well-pleased with you. You are a son, a daughter, in whom He is well-pleased because all that Jesus accomplished has been made yours by your Baptism. For your sake Jesus has set His face for Jerusalem, for the sham trials, the mockery, the beating, the crucifixion, and His death. And because He is fully God and fully Man, His death is the only death that can save you from sin, death, and the devil. The Law demands death, the shedding of Blood to pay sin’s penalty. But not just any Blood, the blood of an unblemished lamb. The Law demands perfection. And the only Blood that is unstained by sin and every other defect is the Blood that courses through the sacred veins of Jesus Christ. And that same Blood is given to you at the Altar to cleanse you from every sin.
For you, the Transfiguration changes everything. It changes how you face suffering and death. Your Baptism was your own Transfiguration. The Church has historically clothed the newly Baptized in a white garment, a way of confessing that Baptism makes that glory and righteousness of Christ yours. It’s the moment when Jesus took you and made you an heir of His glory. It is there He made you His brother, His sister, one who will share His glory forever.
After Jesus’ brief moment of full revelation as God and Man at His Transfiguration came the suffering and the dying. That’s true for you, as well. The eternal joy promised you at your Baptism is not one that you will possess in this life. Bodies grow old, minds forget things, eyes grow dim. Even though death stares you in the eye, you have the promise of the Transfiguration. Eternity awaits, where you will no longer have to live veiled by sorrow, sin, death, and everything else that is part and parcel of life in this world. Someday, you will live forever in heaven, living as God created you, with a perfectly functioning body, not riddled by sin and death, and you will live in perfect communion with God, just as Adam and Even enjoyed before the Fall into sin.
So hear those same Words Jesus spoke to Peter, James, and John: “Do not be afraid.” Fear not, for sin and death are no more. Jesus has defeated them, and has given that victory to you. You have received an adoption second to none. You are a child of God. Christ is your Brother; you are safe. The Beloved Son, God and Man, has opened heaven to you.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.