“The Vision and the Voice of the Transfiguration” (Luke 9:28-36)
Today is the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, the day we observe the Transfiguration of Our Lord. The Transfiguration is that event when our Lord Jesus Christ was transformed in his appearance. His glory was made manifest before he set out on his way to the cross. Thus the Transfiguration serves as a fitting bridge between Epiphany and Lent: It’s the climax of the Epiphany season, when Christ’s glory is manifested, and it sets the stage for the season of Lent, when Jesus heads to Jerusalem to suffer and die.
Our text today is the Holy Gospel, from Luke 9. In this text, we will encounter “The Vision and the Voice of the Transfiguration.”
First, the vision. What do we see? As we go up the mountain with our fellow disciples, Peter, John, and James, we see our teacher, Jesus. Only he doesn’t look like what we’re used to. The appearance of his face has changed. His face is glorious and radiant! His clothes have become as bright as a flash of lightning. Dazzling white! The sight is spectacular, awesome! We’re catching a glimpse here of Christ’s glory as the Son of God, the glory he always had from eternity, but which he has kept largely hidden during the days of his earthly ministry.
Our Lord transfigured. What else do we see? Two men with him, Moses and Elijah. Two of the greatest figures from Israel’s past. Moses, the deliverer out of Egypt, the lawgiver at Mount Sinai, the leader to the Promised Land. Moses, the great prophet of God, “whom the Lord knew face to face.” Moses, who said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.” And then there is Elijah, the greatest prophet to have come after Moses up to that point. But now they are standing there with one who is greater than Moses, one greater than Elijah. Jesus alone is the one we end up seeing. Moses and Elijah have served their purpose. They pointed ahead to the Christ to come. Now he is here, and they gladly fade from sight, yielding the spotlight to him for whom it was designed.
But before they go, we hear their voice. Moses and Elijah are having a conversation with Jesus. They’re speaking, our text says, “of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” The word choice here is significant. The Greek word that’s translated as “departure” is a term you’re already familiar with. It’s the word “exodus.” In other words, Jesus was about to accomplish his “departure,” his “exodus,” by going to Jerusalem.
What does that mean for you? Well, think back to the first exodus, the one led by Moses. What was the situation? God’s people were in slavery, in bondage in Egypt, under the oppression of the Pharaoh. They were trapped, with no way out. The burden was heavy, the labor was hard. They were crying out in distress and were unable to save themselves. That, my friends, was a picture of our life in the slavery of sin under the dominion of Satan. That was our condition, a state of distress and death, a heavy burden and a hard labor.
But then for Israel, God sent a deliverer, Moses. Moses led Israel out of Egypt, out of slavery. That was the first exodus, the departure, the way out. The Lord told Moses to have the Israelites offer up the Passover lamb, by whose blood their homes were spared. Moses then led the people on the way out to freedom and forward to the Promised Land. Moses didn’t quite get there himself. He wasn’t able to cross over and lead the people in. That would be left to his successor.
But the real successor to Moses, the true leader out of bondage and into the Promised Land–that would be Jesus, the one transfigured here on the mountain next to Moses. Jesus leads the ultimate exodus. Jesus brings us out of the hard labor of sin, and he says, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Jesus leads us through the wilderness of this world on our journey to the promised land of heaven. And he will lead us all the way in. He’s gone there ahead of us–through death, and back to life again, life everlasting.
So here at the Transfiguration, we see Moses and Elijah and Jesus, and they’re speaking of Jesus’ “departure,” his exodus, “which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” By going to Jerusalem to die on the cross as our Passover Lamb, and then rise from the dead and return to his Father, Jesus would bring about the ultimate exodus for God’s people. For through his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, Christ Jesus has brought us out of our bondage to sin and death and has led us into the promised land of eternal life.
Now we see something new come into our vision. A bright cloud appears. It is the glorious presence of God the Father. And from the cloud we hear the Father’s voice. That voice has spoken before in Jesus’ ministry. At Jesus’ baptism there were these words, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Now similar words here, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him.” The Father is emphasizing and underscoring the mission of the Son. The Father’s voice calls us to listen to his Son’s voice. He bids us listen to this Jesus.
“Listen to him!” How we need this encouragement to listen to our Lord! For about a week earlier, Jesus said something his disciples did not want to hear. He said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Talk of a suffering Messiah–a dead, executed Messiah–this does not sound good to our glory-loving ears. We do not want to listen to Jesus when he’s talking like this! But God says: “Listen to him. He is the one I have chosen. What he’s saying is true–and necessary.”
It is necessary for Jesus to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die. There’s no other way. It would take nothing less than the death of God’s own Son to pay for your sins. You couldn’t do it yourself. All your good works are not enough to blot out the dark record of your sins. Only Jesus can do that. All your good intentions cannot save you from death. Only Jesus can. No one else. This is why you need to listen to him. Jesus Christ is your only hope. He is the one and only Savior God has provided for all people. Your life, your salvation–it all depends entirely on this man Jesus, the God-man Savior. That is why the Father says, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And we look, and we see Jesus alone.
And so the Father, by the vision and by the voice, is calling our attention once again to his Son. “Oh, come, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” See him, this glorious Son of God–see him as he is about to walk the Lenten road of opposition, suffering, and shame, for you. See him go all the way to the cross, there to purchase your redemption. See him risen from the dead, your living Lord. Oh, come, let us open our ears to this Jesus, the one whose voice speaks words of life. Listen to him when he says, “Your sins are forgiven you. You have life, eternal life, in my name. Follow me.”
By the vision and the voice of the Transfiguration, the Father would have us cling all the more closely to our Savior. We will have ample opportunity to do just that during the upcoming season of Lent, which starts this week with Ash Wednesday and the Divine Service. And then on the following Wednesdays, we will have midweek Lenten services. Through these special opportunities, our eyes and our ears will be focused on the vision and the voice of our Lord.
The vision and the voice of the Savior–Jesus alone, the only Savior we need. But that vision and that voice are not for our eyes and ears only. There are many others around us who need to see what we see and hear what we hear. So let this upcoming Lenten season be a time for reaching out to others. Invite your friends and neighbors to join you here–here where the action is, here where the gifts of God are being given out. Bring others so that they too can see with the eyes of faith and hear the word of the Lord.
Today we have seen the vision and heard the voice of the Transfiguration of Our Lord. We see Jesus shining forth in his glory as the Son of God. We see Moses and Elijah, and we hear them adding their testimony to the great “exodus” that Jesus would fulfill. We see the bright cloud of the Father’s presence, and we hear the clear message of the Father’s voice: “This is my Son, my Chosen One. This is my Son, about to go the way of the cross for your salvation. This is my Son, Jesus, the Savior of the world. See him alone, the only Savior you need. Listen to him. His voice is the living voice of the gospel, speaking forgiveness and life and peace to you.”