(1 Corinthians 1:3)
“I hear voices.” Maybe not what you’d like to hear a pastor say when he steps into the pulpit…but it’s true. I hear voices, and so do you. Turn on your TV, login to Facebook, listen to the radio, choose one of the countless blogs where people spew their thoughts online, read the comment section under a YouTube video, if you dare, and you’ll hear them – a cacophony of voices clamoring their spin on the truth, their opinion, their solution. It’s exhausting, isn’t it? What makes it exhausting is the fact that you can flip between two channels or two websites and be fed completely contradictory information. One emphasizes what the other tries to hide. One claims to be genuine and calls the other “fake.” You can hear them, can’t you? Voices are all around you – telling you what to think, how to feel, how to behave, how to perceive others – and many times those voices offer you less than clear guidance, and sometimes it’s downright contradictory. Sometimes, it’s laughable, and we wonder if “studies” will ever determine whether coffee, chocolate, and red wine are good for you or bad for you. They seem to go back and forth on those a lot. Once in a while, it’s a little more serious. Don’t you wish you could cut through all the political talk and banter and just get down to what’s really going on? You can hear the voices can’t you? They’re all around you. Sometimes it’s laughable; sometimes it’s a bit more serious; and sometimes it’s a matter of eternal life or death. For all the voices coming from the political world, the healthcare field, or the self-help arena, there seem to be an equal number of voices claiming to speak the truth of God in the name of Jesus. And, you guessed it, many times those voices are just as different as Fox News is from CNN. So how do we know which voices to tune out and which ones to turn up? Who can say what’s right? It’s a legitimate question.
I think Jesus’ disciples were probably asking themselves something similar about Jesus. They had been following him for a while now. They’d listened to the teaching, they’d heard the claims, they’d seen the miracles. All this business about the Messiah was starting to make some sense. The Kingdom was at hand, which meant a powerful Messiah and all things bright and beautiful for the people of Israel. This was a good voice to hear! Peter had boldly confessed it, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God! But then, there came a curveball…about eight days ago, according to Luke’s reckoning. The ministry of Jesus was obviously heading down a very different path. Yes, he is the Messiah, but not the political kind. The war he would fight wouldn’t involve swords and spears, but sin and salvation. The decisive victory Jesus would achieve had nothing to do with running out the Romans, but everything to do with dethroning the devil and his claim on the sinners of the world. And how would Jesus do it? Through his suffering, death, and resurrection. That was a voice that Peter didn’t like so much. Suffering and glory have no business together, do they?
Maybe that’s one of the reasons Jesus took three of his disciples aside, away from the clamoring of the crowds, away from the other nine disciples, away from the distraction, hustle, bustle, and voices of the streets and went up on a mountaintop. Jesus wanted his disciples to see him, really see him, before they really saw him crucified. And he had to take them away to do it. In modern terms, they were roughing it – can you find a spot anymore where there isn’t a screen within arm’s reach? Does there exist a moment in time or space when you’re not inundated with an update, an email, or text? Can you ever get away from the voices? Jesus took three of his disciples to such a place, where there were no other voices to distract (except the ones they brought with them). And then it happened. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. On the top of a mountain, those three disciples got an unhurried look at the divine glory of the Son of God. Peter’s words seemed to ring never truer, this is the Christ, the Son of the living God! Can you imagine the sight? Words hardly seem to do it justice – clothes like lightning, such a radiant face it looked like Jesus swallowed the sun and its radiance was bursting out of his every pore! Now the voices they’d been hearing about the glorious, triumphant Messiah were starting to make some sense. On this mountaintop, there was no talk of rejection, of suffering, of a cross – just glory!
So, can you blame Peter for wanting to stay? “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Just to make sure we know this wasn’t a great idea, Luke adds the comment, He did not know what he was saying. Scared out of his mind at the sight of the glory of God, but Peter still managed to know that he didn’t want anything to do with the message of the cross. Peter wanted to listen to the voice of victory and glory, rather than hearing the dirge of the cross and suffering. Maybe Peter should’ve offered to put up another tent for me, and one for you. Like Peter, we struggle and we think there should be some balance between the voice of the gospel that promises eternal glory with the “less than ideal” conditions we face as Christ’s church in this world. Do you ever find yourself wishing things in your life, or your work, or your church would simply be “better”? Or do you ever think they should be “better” because you’re on the right team? I don’t want things to be difficult. I don’t want to face rejection. I’d like to dismiss the notion of a church militant and jump right to church triumphant. I want to stay on the mountaintop – safe, happy, free from the thought of rejection or suffering. We’d rather stay sing the song of glory on the mountain, trying desperately to grasp at something God has told us to wait for. Instead of going out to live as salt and light in a world of sin and darkness as Jesus commanded, we refuse to leave our little mountaintops. Instead of taking Jesus seriously when he says “First the cross, then the crown,” we want to skip the unpleasant part. God forgive us for our selfishness! And he does. The glory of the Transfiguration reminds us of that.
It might seem like a no-brainer question to ask about the Transfiguration, but I’ll risk it: on the Mount of Transfiguration, where’s the glory? Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Right there in front of your eyes – burning brighter than the sun, talking with Moses and Elijah – there’s the glory! And while all that’s true, I would contend that’s not where the true glory lies in this account. On Transfiguration Sunday, we catch a glimpse of divine glory that surpasses anything we could ever imagine. There it is! Finally! This is the Jesus we follow! But the story doesn’t end there on the mount of Transfiguration – because this isn’t where the true glory of the Son of God is found. Do you see it? Those garments of Jesus that shine brighter than a flash of lightning would soon be gambled over at the foot of his cross. The face that burst from every pore with radiance more dazzling than the sun would soon be the face that caught the fists of injustice and the spit of sinners. The ears that receive encouragement and praise from Moses and Elijah would soon enough be filled with shouts of Crucify him! The head that here was adorned with the shining crown of heaven’s glory, would soon be pressed down with a crown of thorns. The true glory of the Transfiguration of our Lord wasn’t in that he stayed up there on the top of the mountain, but that he came down from the Mount of Transfiguration. Jesus willingly walked down from the mount of glory to ascend the mountain of our sin, the one called Calvary. It’s on that mountain where he took every one of your sins and mine, and paid for them with his own life. There you see the true glory of the Son of God – in what looks like shame, humiliation, and defeat. Jesus left the company of heaven so he could keep a meeting with a Roman death squad – to save you.
And just to make sure we don’t miss it, God the Father himself abandons restraint and shouts down from heaven, This is my son, whom I have chosen; listen to him. Listen! With one word, God cuts off any argument or advice from us. Listen to him! Where is the voice of truth when it comes to my eternal soul? That’s the million dollar question that every religion in the world is trying to answer. So, notice the similar way those faiths attempt to answer that all-important question. Whether it’s the five pillars of Islam or the eight-fold noble path of Buddhism; whether it’s the generic ‘do your best and God will do the rest’ of Mormonism, or whether it’s Hinduism telling you to lose yourself through selfless obedience and meditation, then you’ll get your salvation. Remove Christ from the Old Testament, and you’re left with a Savior-less book of rules to guide your conduct and follow Torah for hope of reward. The creed of every other religion in the world is, “Do this, do that, and then do some more of this to be sure.” That’s the sum and substance of man-made religion, and no matter what you call it, it’s really the same – the focus is on you. But when we’re asking “Where is the voice of truth?” wouldn’t it be helpful to know what God himself has to say about it? Hear the voice of God the Father himself boom down on that mountaintop, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”
What is it that God desires so much? Listen to Jesus! And what does he have to say that’s so important? Through his Word, he brings you the best news of all – he speaks a word of promise fulfilled; that Christ’s death and resurrection have paid for your sins, that Jesus himself is now preparing a place for you in his heavenly mansions, that your sinful flesh, the world, the devil, and even death itself have been defeated forever by this glorious Son of God who speaks to you in his Word. Listen to him! How does that happen? Not by looking inside yourself or to your own innate awareness of the divine. You won’t find it written in the stars or etched on cave walls in some secret, hidden place. Instead you’ll hear it – the gospel – in Word and Sacrament. Do you hear that voice? The voice that speaks with the authority of Christ Jesus himself, I forgive you all your sins. Do you hear that voice? The one that speaks in, with, and under bread and wine, that whispers in your ear, My body, my blood, for you! Do you hear that voice? When you open your Bible for family devotions at home, when you sit in Bible class, when you listen to the Word of God that is taught and preached in this place – the voice of God speaks in the way that he has promised. And what’s even more gracious, when you hear God in his Word, you have more of God’s attention than he has of yours. That’s what God wants to do with you – to speak to you through his Word, to comfort you with his promises, to show you, in no uncertain terms, that you are his very own through Christ.
And then, you’ll see and hear like the disciples saw and heard – When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. With a gentle touch of his hand and a word from his mouth, Jesus told them, “Get up, don’t be afraid.” Seeing and hearing Jesus alone is not to be blind and deaf to everything else, but to see and hear it all through him – even things like suffering, pain, and loss. In a world that’s filled with voices, there is one who speaks above the rest – a voice of promise fulfilled in the gospel, a voice that calls you his own in the waters of Baptism. It’s the voice of Jesus speaking loud and clear in his Word and Sacraments – listen to him!
And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.