Sermons by Richard French
Matthew 17:1 -9 The Transfiguration
Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord,
The epiphany season gives us a chance to explore some of the times God revealed himself to his people in Bible times. Back in the days of the O.T., God appeared to Moses in a burning bush and identified himself as the great “I Am”. He appeared to Moses again when he received the 10 commandments and to Elijah on Mt. Horeb when the prophet was feeling down at heart. These were big moments, both for the people involved and for the story of salvation.
The transfiguration was also a big moment and a bigger one was about to take place. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, where he would surrender his life on a cross to pay for all our sins and build a bridge between mankind and God. He wanted to give everyone a chance for a rich, meaningful life that would last forever through faith in him. His trip to Jerusalem would have a glorious outcome, for he would rise from the grave there and ascend to heaven, but first he would pass through some dreadful days, and so he withdrew to a mountain with his “A” team disciples, Peter, John, and James, to spend time with his Heavenly Father in prayer.
Stepping away from the text for a moment, we realize that we have big moments, too, birth, baptism, marriage, and the hour that our souls pass from this life to eternity. Other big moments are less obvious, such as when we choose our heroes or when we decide whether life presents us with a lot of closed doors or if it has a plenty of opportunity for us. Jesus’ transfiguration teaches us a lesson. We do not face our big moments on our own. Our Heavenly Father carries us through them. We trust, because of Jesus, that our big moments will turn out well for us, even the ones that come at us with a pretty dreadful appearance.
The Heavenly Father acted promptly to comfort and encourage his Son. He transformed his physical appearance as a reminder of the divine glory that Jesus set aside when he took on human flesh and that he would reclaim when he finished his mission on earth. The Heavenly Father sent him two companions: Moses and Elijah, whose features he also transformed. He chose these two because Moses received God’s law and Elijah was the chief of prophets, who held a small number of people together during a faithless time. These great men showed Jesus a lot of respect by being with him just before his journey to the cross; their presence highlighted that he is the fulfillment of both the law and the prophets and that he surpassed them. He would walk along a path that was especially his; his work would turn out well. His death would work like a seed that produced an enormous harvest.
The Heavenly Father lifts us up, too, as we deal with our big moments. His companionship comforts us. He promises that our sacrifices will produce results. Bad times give way to good days. We sow in tears and reap in joy – one of life’s basic truths, up and down, bad and good. A let-down follows a big moment, then comes deeper understanding, more wisdom. Though he often insists that we wait, the blessed Lord makes sure that everything works out well for his beloved children.
The Heavenly Father did something else for his son; he spoke directly. “This is my Son, whom I love; I am well pleased with him.” The Father used the same words at Jesus baptism. He claimed his son and reassured him that he wouldn’t let him go. He would guide and sustain him during the coming ordeal. The Heavenly Father’s infinite power and love, his wisdom and glory were all focused on Jesus as he directed his thoughts and his will toward the coming crisis in Jerusalem. The Father would uplift his Son; the Savior would make no bad choices during days that would be stressful; he would take no false steps; he would carry out his Father’s plan without a hitch. And then he would return to glory. Moreover, the change in his appearance was a foretaste of the glorious transformation that would take place after he came back from the grave.
The Transfiguration was also a big moment for the three disciples with him. They had seen Jesus’ miracles and heard his preaching and teaching; they had confessed their faith in him and knew that he must die in Jerusalem at the hands of the authorities and be raised again on the third day. Now the cloud, the radiance that shone from their master, the presence of Moses and Elijah and the voice of the Father confirmed for them that God had been working in Jesus and that he was God himself. They had put their trust in the right place. They were present at a revelation of his divine nature that amazed them at first and frightened them but that also worked to strengthen them.
They received a specific command from the Heavenly Father – to listen to Jesus, his chosen one. The world floods us with an abundance of temptations. Thoughts stray easily; wills weaken; hearts drift. If they wanted to worship God faithfully and in truth, they would listen to Jesus. They would learn the meaning of his death and resurrection in Jerusalem. The hidden God is revealed in Jesus; the light of the gospels shines through him. They should look only to him.
The unexpected physical change in the Lord overpowered them. Peter acted in haste. He wanted to make the big moment last longer and offered to build three protective shelters in hopes of persuading Moses and Elijah to stay with them. But since the world is full of change, impermanence, and sin, revelations of heavenly glory don’t last long. Peter and the others would have to wait for the sinless world that is coming and be happy for now with the promises the Heavenly Father made them in Christ. His word was enough to bring them to salvation and keep them there.
The sound of the Heavenly Father’s voice scared the disciples; they fell face down on the ground. You and I would have done the same. Moses once wrote that no one can see God and live. The sight of the living God in his power overwhelmed the A-team. Jesus went to them. He touched them and told them not to be frightened, just the way a parent comforts a child after something frightening and mysterious happens. The Savior cleared a path between mankind and the Almighty God so that anyone may approach him confidently and boldly. When they saw the glory of God in the face of Christ, the three disciples saw a very human face. The light of heaven that unbelievers don’t see reassured them. The light that shone from the savior was a preview of the resurrection. It promised that a day of transfiguration would also come for them, when they would reign in heaven alongside the Lord. Meanwhile, God brought them into his inner circle. He caused the light of the gospel to shine in them. He assured them that the turbulent days ahead would turn out well, that no permanent evil would ever befall them. He makes the same promise to all his people, that everything that happens in our lives will work out for our good and the glory of God.
So the transfiguration is a big moment for us, too, if we pay attention to it. Jesus looked ahead to sacrifice and suffering in Jerusalem. The Christian life ever since then has involved sacrifice and even, from time to time, suffering. Materialism has captured the souls of many people. Christians sacrifice the fulfillment of many earthly cravings so as to live righteously in the light from heaven. We sometimes give up popularity and esteem because Jesus is more important to us than keeping up with worldly trends. We don’t join in with folks who devote their lives to temporary satisfactions. Like our savior, we put the best interests of others on a par with our own. We help our brothers and sisters in Christ bear their burdens. We don’t rise above ourselves to claim authority that the Lord hasn’t given us. We wait for him to reveal his will.
We’re frail mortals, it’s true. The false gods of the age tempt us, the blows of life weary us. We sometimes look for easy ways, and on down days we may consider giving up on something we’ve worked on for a long time, even though we know it’s God’s wish that we keep on going. But the blood that Christ shed on Calvary washes us clean and gives us strength. The blessed Lord had stronger reasons to quit than we do, but he didn’t lay down his burden. He persisted. Needing strength, he brought his cares to the Heavenly Father in prayer. The Father revived him and prepared his spirit for the tough days ahead. He offers the same comfort and strength to us in our daily prayers and whenever we worship or read the Bible. In bad moments, when it may seem that nothing goes right, we remember that the Lord has claimed us in our baptisms and that he will not let us go. The Father who lifted up Jesus also upholds his adopted daughters and sons. As Paul once wrote, there is no veil between us and God. The heavenly light that never goes out shines clearly for you and me.
The Transfiguration is a big moment for us because it reveals our destiny. The Lord knows that sacrifice and suffering touch our lives. Things happen to us that we don’t like. Opportunities to relax and enjoy life never stay around very long. Peter wrote: “…for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which persists even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” Suffering and sacrifice refine us and purify our faith so that we may be fit to meet the Lord when he comes back to claim us for glory. So hold on, dear friends, abide in faith. A day is coming when the circumstance of life will change completely and we, too, will be transfigured.
The Lord shows us, meanwhile, how to cope with our big moments. We don’t give way to weaknesses. Like Jesus, we lean on our Heavenly Father, who strengthens us to carry on, even though we must sometimes walk along paths that are strewn with difficulties. His light shines in our hearts. His love for us gives us confidence. He will hold us steady and will not let go. He will shape us and refine us. We ask him to keep our faith strong until we reach the fullness of the new life to come. In His name we rejoice. AMEN
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. AMEN…
John 20:1 – 18 Easter Sunday
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
We’ll begin our message this morning with some general comments about the resurrection and then we’ll explore one of heaven’s great gift to us – that after Jesus returned from the dead he called his apostles his brothers, and so all believers are his sisters and brothers by adoption.
First a question: if God intends us to live forever, why didn’t he just make us immortal and spare us the miseries of pain, illness, and death? According to the book of Genesis, that’s what God actually did. He gave our first parents everlasting life, perfect health, and harmony with him, but Adam and Eve fell from grace and into disobedience that had serious consequences. Death came into the world, and everyone who came after them would be subject to it. But that’s not the end of the story. God is loving and merciful. He promised to send a savior who would deliver humanity from sin, death, and the devil, and when the savior came, he died like us, to pay for our sins, and then rose again.
Second, the Bible doesn’t describe the Resurrection directly, but we see the effect it had in the lives of believers like Mary Magdalene and Peter and John. They knew that Jesus would bring immortality back to the human race, but they expected it to come in a different way – that Jesus would return in glory and transfer them to heaven immediately. They didn’t foresee his bodily resurrection from the grave. They were surprised; some of them were frightened at first, and then all were filled with joy. They became witnesses to the great event. They spread the news that God kept his promises. He had overcome sin and evil – everything that brings us to the grave. His return from death would lead to their resurrections and also to ours. His victory applies to us.
Third, something about faith. The first witnesses that Christ is risen testify to us in the biblical accounts. We receive their testimony by faith. Our faith undergoes many challenges; the life of faith is not easy. But the Holy Spirit who raised Christ from the dead is also active in us, reviving us, renewing us, guiding us to live securely and without doubt in the promises God makes to us and that the church celebrates. We pass through many ups and downs, but with the help of the Spirit we cling to God. The resurrection proclaims to us that everything will turn out well – even better than we foresee. We trust in God by faith. We expect good things from him – now and forever.
One of those good things is that the Risen Christ calls us his brothers and sisters. The gospels tell us something about the feelings of Jesus’ disciples after the crucifixion. It’s easy to put ourselves in Mary’s place as she stood at the tomb. We all know how hard it is to lose someone who’s been special to you. Jesus relieved her grief and the bad feelings of the other disciples. His return to life restored their joy and hope. And he did something more for them. You’ll remember that they ran away during his time of trial. Even Peter denied him three times. The Risen Lord might have looked on them as traitors and deserters. He went out to them instead, and from his gracious and loving heart he made them his brothers and sisters. He pardoned their lack of faith and gave them a new, higher, and permanent relationship with him.
He showed his people when he called himself their brother that they were very dear to him. Along with the highest honor, he gave them his love. A Christian who lived long ago asked this question: what do we lack if Jesus is our brother? We have possessions in common with him – the same Heavenly Father – and an inheritance that will not fade or shrink even when it’s divided. Whoever has one part of our spiritual heritage from God has the whole thing.
Jesus’ resurrection proclaimed that he has authority over heaven and earth; he is the master of truth, power, wisdom, and righteousness. As one Christian put it, he governs and rules everything, hunger and thirst, good fortune and bad, even death and life, and he chose to rise from the grave as the brother of all believers. The emphasis is not on what we do, but what he does. As he enables us to trust him, he shares his abundance with us. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly,” he said. He promised in the Sermon on the Mount, “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him.” He gives us a share in all his spiritual bounty: righteousness, wisdom, strength. We become lords by faith and rule over everything: hunger and thirst will not afflict us, sins will not weigh us down. We won’t fear death or Satan. And though we do not live in mansions, neither will we be in want.
The resurrected Lord brings us freedom from fear and worry. He gives us confidence, both about our lives now and the life to come. Many folks are burdened with heavy cares. We ask big questions. What will happen next? Will things work out for us? Will the weight of our sinfulness crush us? The answer from God is that our brother who lived for us and who suffered and died on our behalf rose again from the dead. Everything will go well for sisters and brothers of Jesus, who demonstrated in the quiet of the first Easter morning that he has the power to turn the worst evil into good, that he defeated even the coldness of the grave.
If the ups and downs of life bring you grief, if the busyness of the world oppresses you. If a guilty conscience troubles you, remember that God became just like you and me. Our brother was subject to the same afflictions that trouble us. Though he never sinned, he was tempted just as we are; he knows what it means to be jostled about; like us, he was dependent on God. His love for us was so great that he took all our sins upon him and died on a cross. Then in the stillness of the morning of the third day, he rose from the dead and confirmed all his promises. Our sins are forgiven; we are saved. A time is coming when storms will pass, fogs will lift, and we will be at peace in the presence of the glorified and resurrected Lord. Our brother will share the blessings of eternal life with us in ways that we now only dimly imagine. His victory over death is our victory. His resurrection means that his Heavenly Father is our Father, and his God is our God. Nothing stands between us and his love.
We’re busy with many things – and that can’t be avoided: taking care of family members, making sure that our resources match our needs, work, recreation, our lives in the world around us. We trust that our brother will take care of our needs. We may safely turn our cares over to him. He lifts us up so that we live in confidence and joy. He assures us that we’ll be able to cope with every situation that comes our way. We’re not afraid of our own shadows. We don’t perpetually doubt that we’re doing the right thing. We don’t bow down to anyone except God. We boldly move ahead with our lives and the good works our brother has planned for us. He will provide for us. He will quiet our anxieties as he did the fears of Mary and the other disciples.
Life will go well for us. Even the bad parts will turn out, guaranteed.
The confidence he gives us – the faith, trust, and hope – work so that we automatically become witnesses to Christ’s victory over death. Our neighbors are made of the same flesh as we. Their deepest fears have to do with the end of life. What’s coming next? Will I be all right? God uses us to bring the good news to them – that Jesus, the brother of all believers, wishes to claim them for his everlasting kingdom. Faith in him is not impossible. The hope the resurrection brings is available to all. Confidence, faith, and trust comes to everyone who clings to Christ, who wishes to be a brother to all.
To digress for a moment, one of the things I learned after I became a pastor is that faith and understanding go together. One of the great thinkers in the early days of the church said that he believed in order to understand. We do well to cultivate our understanding – of God’s Word, of ourselves, and the world around us. For most of us, understanding grows best when we take time to sit still and reflect. Some of us, because of age and infirmity, don’t hurry about as we used to. We have a fair amount of time to ponder and pray. Others of us are knee-deep in active life or just starting out. This is good. Do your best as you run the race. Don’t let the busyness of the world overwhelm you. You’ll help yourself if you set aside time each day, every week for God’s Word, reflection, and prayer.
Jesus will help you. It is he who provides our moments of stillness. The resurrection, we notice, took place in a quiet time – no bustle, no fanfare, no bright lights or TV cameras. Just the quiet work of God as he turned the world around. We’re part of his transformation. He will provide times of quiet for us when we may take into our hearts the meaning of the resurrection and his wonderful work in our lives. In his name we rejoice. AMEN.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. AMEN.