Transfiguration Sunday Proper B                    
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 9:2-10 Sermon                                               
February 19, 2012

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Hymns (from With One Voice & The Lutheran Hymnal):
WOV 654 "Alleluia!  Song Of Gladness"
TLH 135 "'Tis Good Lord To Be Here"
TLH 352 "O Saviour, Precious Saviour"
-----------  "How Great Thou Art"


TEXT (vs. 2, 3, 7):  And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.  And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, 'This is my beloved Son; listen to him.' 

            This past week, I received an Email with regard to LB239, which is a bill being presented to the Nebraska Legislature.  If this bill passes, people who go to the polls to vote will be required to show a valid government photo identification card with their current address before they are handed a ballot. 

            There is a segment of our society that is outraged at this idea.  They feel that this is an impediment to those who are elderly, low income, or students who wish to vote, but for whatever reason do not possess a photo identification card.  The proponents of the bill are doing this in order to prevent voter fraud, especially those who would be inclined to vote in two or more different precincts.

            Personally, LB239 doesn't surprise me all that much.  We live in a society that requires we show proper identification for a lot of different things.  Starting with the most obvious, we must have a drivers' license in order to operate a motor vehicle, which must include our current address.  If we move, then the law says we have thirty days in which to change it.

            Beyond that, there are an almost unbelievable number of situations that require us to produce proper identification.  There's the "big 3," consisting of alcohol, tobacco, and firearms.  If you purchase anything in those three categories, you have to produce current identification.  You need identification to use any number of services at your local bank.  You need an identification card to rent a motel room, you sometimes need it to use a credit card, you need it to board an airplane, and you even need it to rent a movie at Blockbuster (that is, if you can find a Blockbuster store any more).  If you move and you want to get your electricity, gas, water, telephone, and cable TV started, you have to produce identification as well as additional proof that you live at a particular address.  Many government services also require proper identification.

            The situations requiring current identification are numerous, and I can't even begin to tell you how many times I've had to reach for my wallet and show somebody my drivers' license as proof of my identity.  It's so automatic that I hardly pay it any mind when I have to do it.  So if I'm asked to show my identification before I can vote, it's no big deal to me.  I don't mind showing it to the people at the polls.  In fact, I have trouble even comprehending how people can get along in our society without proper identification.  Even though it's not a law that you have identification, it's still something that is pretty much a necessity of life.

            The subject of identification comes into play in a very big way in our Gospel lesson for this morning.  Today is the festival in the Church Year known as the Transfiguration.  It's here where Jesus is identified with positive proof that he is indeed the Messiah, the only begotten Son of God.

            As we consider this subject today, I'd like to do a bit of back tracking.  God promised to send the Saviour all the way back in Genesis, in a promise made to Adam and Eve.  From that time on, there were various prophecies made in the Old Testament concerning the Messiah.  He would be born of a virgin, he would be born in Bethlehem in the land of Judea, he would be of the house and lineage of David, he would suffer and die, he would rise from the dead, and so forth.  There are at least some 38 prophecies dealing with the Messiah.  In fact, the circumstances of these prophecies are so unique, that there could never be a counterfeit Messiah.  No other creature on this earth could possibly fulfill them all.  Only God's true and only begotten Son could do that.  Those are the prophecies.

            With these prophecies all well in place, we now deal with the identity issue.  Who is this Messiah?  How is he identified?  It's not like he can whip out a piece of plastic from his wallet that we can look at.  We can't say, "Okay, from your photo ID, it looks like you are indeed Jesus, Son of the most high God, and that you dwell in heaven at your Father's right hand.  I guess you're good to go."  No, there has to be other ways to validate his identity.

            So let's look at the New Testament, and see just how Jesus' identity is validated.  Before he was even in the womb, Gabriel visits the Virgin Mary and tells her what is going to happen.  She would be the earthly mother of the Messiah, or the Christ.  Then after the pregnancy begins, the angel appears to Joseph and tells him what is happening.  Then Mary is with her cousin Elizabeth who is pregnant with John the Baptist, and again it is verified. 

            When Jesus is born, the angels appear to the shepherds at Bethlehem to announce the birth.  Then when Jesus is brought to the temple, Simeon and Anna also verify his identity.  The wise men, or magi from the east also certify his identity.  Then Mary and Joseph are told to flee to Egypt because of Herod's murderous plot to kill him.  The magi are also told of this, and go home by a different route.  Again we witness another testimony of his identity.  When Jesus was 12 years old, he is in the temple with his parents.  Yet again, Mary and Joseph are reminded of exactly whom this child is.

            Now we fast-forward about thirty years.  Jesus is beginning his ministry.  He goes to his cousin John the Baptist to be baptized in the Jordan River.  And what happens there?  The heavens open up, the Holy Spirit descends upon him, and the voice from heaven says, "This is my beloved Son, with him I am well pleased."  That's a pretty dramatic verification of identity, wouldn't you say?

            From there on, Jesus' proof of identity just keeps on happening.  We started the Epiphany season with the Baptism of Jesus.  On each successive Sunday after that, we looked at various incidents of Jesus' ministry that verified exactly who he was.

            Jesus began doing things that only God could do.  First he shows his omniscience when he tells Nathaniel he saw him under the fig tree.  Then Jesus heals the man who was possessed by a demon.  Even the demon identified Jesus correctly!  When one's enemy reveals a person's true identity, it is self-verifying.  See how God can use even Satan's tricks for his own purposes?

            The demon possessed man is restored, something that only God could accomplish.  And Jesus continues to heal people with diseases and cast out demons.  Jesus verifies his identity time after time.

            That brings us to our Gospel lesson for today, which is the account of the Transfiguration.  What this means, is that Jesus had completely changed form.  Listen again to what happened to him, as we read verses 3 and 4 of our Gospel lesson:  "and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus."

            Here is another verification of his identity, and it is one that is sort of passed by in light of the more dramatic one spoken about in this text.  Moses and Elijah are with him.  Now how the three disciples with Jesus knew their identity, we have no idea.  But there was no question in their mind as to who they were.

            Moses is the great law-giver, and Elijah is the great prophet.  To understand their significance, let's have a look at what Luke writes about the Apostle Paul in Acts chapter 28, verse 23:  "From morning till evening [Paul] expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets."  Here was both the law-giver and prophet giving physical, visual testimony as to Jesus' identity as the Christ!

            Then of course we have the ultimate testimony.  In much the same way as in Jesus' Baptism, God the Father speaks those resounding words of assurance recorded in verse 7 of our Gospel lesson:  "And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, 'This is my beloved Son; listen to him!'"        

            You couldn't ask for any better proof than that.  Consider also who Jesus took with him on that mountain.  He had Peter, James, and John.  Jewish law only required two witnesses to establish a matter as factual; and here Jesus had three witnesses.  That set the matter in cement.  And to top it off, Jesus saw fit to take with him three of the most loud-mouthed and "in your face" disciples he had.  Nobody could ever doubt their testimony.

            I look at all of this and I really wonder how people can come to the conclusion that Jesus wasn't true God.  Over and over again, the testimony is overwhelming.  And of course there is the final testimony as well.  Jesus was sentenced to death because he claimed to be true God!  If that wasn't true, he would have simply denied the charges, and he would have gone free.  But instead, he went to the cross where he suffered and died.

            One reason that the identity of Jesus is so important, is because of what was about to happen.  We celebrate Transfiguration because of what is about to come, which is the season of Lent.  It's here where we focus upon the work Jesus did to secure our salvation.  We need to know that our faith is well-placed. 

            Over the course of the time ahead, the disciples would doubt.  They would forget who Jesus was.  The sheer magnitude of what would happen to Jesus would be enough for them to see only the grim picture of the present, instead of the glorious picture of the future.

            Isn't that what happens to us too?  When our present picture looks grim, and there seems to be nothing but heartache and misery in the road ahead, we often lose sight of any glorious picture of the future.  We can become so wrapped up in what's happening in our own lives, that nothing else really seems to matter.  We breathe sighs of hopelessness and helplessness, and resign ourselves to a short-sighted outlook. 

            That's when we need to remember who Jesus really is.  He is our Lord and Saviour.  He's the one who trudged through the valley of doom, and suffered at the hands of sinful men.  He took the punishment that we by our sins deserve, and willingly carried it all to the cross.  He did it because he loves us and he is our Saviour.  He paid the debt that sin left in our lives.

            When we know exactly who Jesus is and what he can do, then we have assurance of our faith.  Because Jesus is true God, we can be assured that we are forgiven through nothing more than faith alone.  All the good works we can muster cannot come close to what Jesus did on our behalf.

            When we come to him with nothing in our hands but faith alone, we can look at what he did and get a glimpse of a glorious future.  When our sins are forgiven, we are guaranteed an eternity in heaven.  Christ's Transfiguration gives us a vision of that eternal glory that awaits us.

            Listen to the picture that the Apostle Paul paints for us in his letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verses 20-21: "20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself."

            That picture we have of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, standing there with Moses and Elijah, is our picture too!  We can see ourselves standing right there in the future!  We are promised a body that will be like his glorious body.  This is what that positive identification of Jesus is showing us today.  That's what awaits us, his saints.  That's what we have to look forward to.

            We don't have to ask Jesus for his identification card, because he gives it to us without our asking.  Time after time he verifies his identity, because he wants us to be sure of our salvation, even when the way looks grim.  The Holy Spirit gives us the faith we need to accept Jesus and what he did on our behalf.  Through faith alone, all that he has to offer us is ours, and it is guaranteed.

            Back on that mountain, Peter, James, and John were totally awe-struck at what happened there.  It was something great, and they didn't want it to end.  They even offered to erect three tents, or temporary shelters, just to make the moment last.  But that wasn't the point at all.

            Life didn't end up there on that mountain.  There was a real world out there, and that world would be lost without Jesus.  The Gospel had to be preached.  And even though the three men were told to keep silent about this event until after Jesus rose from the dead, there was still work that needed to be done. 

            Perhaps we can identify with this as we sit here in church.  Or if you are watching us on television or the Internet, you know how comfortable your chair is.  We can get all nice and cozy in our favorite spot, whether it is in a padded pew, or in our recliner.  But we know that there's a whole world outside of our homes and our church building.

            Just before the sermon, we sang the hymn, "'Tis Good Lord To Be Here."  My friend, Pastor James Irwin wrote some different lyrics to the first verse.  Here's what he wrote:  "'Tis good Lord to be here, here in my favorite spot; and from this spot, dear Lord, I pray, that thou wouldst send me not." 

            We have a Saviour who has been identified without a doubt.  We have a Saviour who bled and died to pay for the sins of the world.  We have a Saviour who has guaranteed eternal life for all who believe.  As comfortable as we are in our spot, knowing our salvation is secure, we need to get down out of the mountain, up off of our favorite spot, and bring the hope of this glorious future to a world lost in sin. 

            The Transfiguration means that something has changed, and that change has happened within us through faith in Christ our Saviour.  The hope is real.  The message is love and forgiveness.  And the glory is the eternity we will all share forever in heaven, which is the world without end.