A Glimpse Of Heaven
Matthew 17:1-9 (1/25/15)
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
St. Matthew 17:5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!”
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… A general run-through of Scripture will reveal to you that all who want to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution, will have frustration, will have trouble. What that means is that if you desire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for temptation.
Therefore, one of the realities of being a baptized child of God is that suffering will come, despair will set in, bad things will happen to good people. And as those things occur you will feel as though you are continually being crushed, beaten, and ignored by God. And don’t be surprised when you get real mad at God! Of course, this is no surprise, for the devil is a hungry lion who wants to shake your hope and confidence until it crumbles into dust. The devil urges you to throw up your hands in defeat. He continually entices you away from our Father in heaven, away from the help that God promises.
If you are at all uncomfortable with that picture, or if your mind argues by racing to the times when our Lord shows His power and might, then you can imagine how Peter, James, and John felt before our Lord was transfigured.
The verses just prior to our text this morning inform us that before Jesus went up the mountain, He told His disciples two things. First, He told them that His life would soon end in a violent way. And in this Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must “go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day” (Mt. 16:21).
The second thing Jesus told the disciples is that they must suffer together with Him. He told them, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mt. 16:24).
This talk by Jesus – this information that He must suffer and die, and that the disciples also must suffer and die because they trust in Him – this talk completely destroys any picture the disciples have of Jesus. Think of it: they thought that with Jesus around there would be no more suffering; with Jesus around there would be no more death; with Jesus around there would be no more heartache. Oh, it might happen to others, but with Jesus in their midst it would certainly not happen to them.
In fact, dear friends, they thought like we do – that believing in Jesus means not the beginning of a life of suffering, but the beginning of a more glorious life. And, by the way, you know that you’re NOT going to hear that kind of a message here, but people do hear that drivel in many other churches!
And so the confidence of the disciples begins to waver. They thought that sticking with Jesus meant that life would get better and that their problems would go away. We, too, think that as long as we live right and go to church and believe in God, nothing bad should happen to us.
The disciples thought that things could only get better. We think that life should not get harder and more complex, but easier and more manageable, and make more sense. We think that whatever current challenge or hardship or heartache we are experiencing should all just go away and not bother us anymore. And when it does not go that way, it is then that we are tempted to ignore God’s promises, doubt His Word and promises to us, get mad at Him and take matters into our own hands and play God.
So, in order that the disciples do not get discouraged, in order that the message of a life of suffering does not undo them or us, and so that He might encourage us in patience and trust, our blessed Lord Jesus transfigures Himself before Peter, James, and John. His face shone like the sun. His clothes became as white as the light. And in this way, the disciples saw that hidden within the skin and bones of Jesus was nothing less than God Himself.
In Jesus is the God who made all things, the God who alone is the true help. In Jesus is the God who is stronger than death and hell and the grave and every other crummy thing that can happen to them. In Jesus is the God who will drag them through their suffering, drag them through their hard times, drag them through their misery, drag them through their hell to the heaven and the rest and the glory that He has made ready for them.
This, by the way, is what Moses and Elijah not only believed, but lived through. You remember that Moses ran from God and from His people, only to be restored as God’s ambassador to lead the people safely through slavery to freedom, through the Wilderness of Sin to the promised land.
Elijah, too, ran and hid, for you will recall that he was certain that he was the only one left. But in spite of all of his worrying he was fed by God, renewed in his strength and zeal, and finally was taken up by a chariot into heaven.
This also is what the disciples must learn to believe, and it is what we must pin our hopes to. For often it feels as if we are left to our own devices. All too often it feels as if we must work things out for ourselves. All too often it feels as if God has left us to do exactly that – fend for ourselves.
And yet, dear fellow redeemed, our suffering is not useless; it is not meaningless. Our suffering is not some cruel trick God is playing on us to watch us writhe and wiggle like a worm on a dry sidewalk on a hot day. For our suffering is the very thing our Father in heaven uses to lead us to Himself and to His heavenly kingdom. This is the way of our Lord.
So that we might know and believe this all the more firmly, we are given a taste and glimpse of heaven. With the disciples, we get to see the glorious end of Our Lord’s death. We get to see a foretaste of the eternal glory to come for us all as the final outcome of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection for our sins. And just when our eyes are dazzled and we begin to get caught up in the glory of the moment, a voice speaks: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well please. Listen to Him.”
Yes, dear fellow redeemed, listen to Him. Listen to Him who, from the cross, cried out, “It is finished” thereby declaring once and for all that payment for your sins and mine and those of all of mankind is accomplished, as well as the eternal punishment we deserve for those sins. Listen to God the Father who speaks these words about His Son Jesus.
And know also that those words apply to all who are made sons of God by the waters of Holy Baptism. For in Christ, you also are the beloved son of the Father. For the Lord’s way is the way of suffering and death. And surely you know that whoever has been baptized into Him has been united with Him in His suffering and death, where Christ’s death to sin becomes your death to sin, and where Christ’s resurrection becomes your resurrection. And since our Lord Jesus is beloved and well-pleasing to His Father in heaven because He takes on your suffering and death, then know that you also are beloved, well-pleasing sons of God since this Jesus has united you to Himself in His suffering and death as well as in His life and resurrection.
And now you see that this taste of heaven, this glimpse of the resurrection, is that which sustains and strengthens you when the time of suffering comes. You can hear this story and say with confident faith, “Since my Jesus is the God who can do that, then surely He is also the God who will see me through this time and sustain me even though I can’t see through it myself!”
But our taste and glimpse of heaven does not simply end in a story we can only imagine. For in order that our Lord may strengthen and sustain us in true faith, He gives us yet another taste of heaven. Yet this taste is not quite as dazzling as the transfiguration. Instead, it is hidden – hidden in the absolving words of the pastor, hidden in the power of baptismal water and words, and hidden in the bread and wine of Holy Communion.
And herein is our help from God. Here is the way God sees you through your suffering. And in this Gospel and these Sacraments, the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness is the God who shines in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
So instead of listening to everyone and everything else that promises escape from all trials and crosses, instead of focusing on what you think God should do in your current situation and insisting that God deliver you from it right away, listen to Jesus who knows the way of the cross. Listen to Jesus who knows the way through death to life, the way through hell to heaven, and who promises to lead you safely through.
For this is the Jesus whose transfigured flesh you are again about to receive into your mouths, and whose transfigured blood enlivens your hearts. And in that, dear friends, there is nothing to fear.
In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.