With Shining Face

Text: Mark 9:2-9
Date: Transfiguration + 2/15/15

Today serves as sort of a bookend to the season of Epiphany. It began at our Lord’s Baptism with a dramatic appearance of the Holy Spirit and the Voice from heaven declaring, “This is my beloved Son.” Today the season ends with the even more dramatic vision of our Lord’s Transfiguration, the Voice from heaven repeating, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” In the first chapter of Mark’s gospel it is interesting to note how the Evangelist, already from the beginning, here and there hints at the heart of the gospel, namely, the resurrection of our Lord. Today we are given a glimpse, a vision, a description of our Lord Jesus Christ in His full heavenly glory.

With the voice of the Father from heaven we are reminded of the all-important doctrine of the two natures of Christ in one person. Jesus is the eternal Son of God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity from eternity, through whom all things were made, being of one substance with the Father, but He is also a real human being born of the blessed virgin Mary, not 50-50 but 100% God and 100% Man, this mystery proclaimed in the Athanasian Creed, “perfect God and perfect man, composed of a rational soul and human flesh,” and “although He is God and man, He is not two, but one Christ…by unity of person.” “And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.” To correctly understand the Savior one must carefully distinguish His two “natures” in a single “person,” both their distinction and their communication of attributes between each. Furthermore it should be said that if one confuses or misunderstands this doctrine he will inevitably confuse and misunderstand also the doctrine of the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper.

Let us first, then, accurately describe the person of Christ and then understand and believe how this teaching influences, motivates, empowers and drives our faith.

The hymn of the day uses what may seem to be an unusual word when we sing, “O Wondrous Type!” What does it mean to speak of a “type”?

In the Bible typology are figures that predict and point to something future, called the antitype. Therefore types function as something more or less prophetic in nature, pointing beyond themselves, describing some aspect of a thing, person or event to come. To speak of our Lord’s Transfiguration as a “wondrous type” it, of course, would be pointing forward to and revealing something of the unique existence of the incarnate, crucified, risen, ascended and ruling Lord Jesus Christ into all eternity.

The first thing we are told is that His transfiguration displayed not only His body and face but even also His clothes shining, “radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.” Light was the first of God’s creation. St. John describes the Lord as “the true light, which gives light to everyone” (John 1:9). And in the book of Revelation St. John says he saw the Lord as “one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire” (Rev 1:13-14). St. Paul speaks about “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:4-6). And St. John says in his first Epistle, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn 1:5). Light is of the very essence of God.

So Jesus took with him Peter, James and John to witness this display, this demonstration of our Lord’s divine nature shining through His human body. We can only imagine. And we should probably also say that even this was not yet the fullest revealing but still had to be shielded to some extent for sinful human eyes to even gaze upon. Hence the bright cloud. Just like Moses once saw.

But there is another issue, that our Lord’s transfiguration was not only a “wondrous type,” a vision fair of the resurrection. The transfiguration is, at the same time, the wondrous antitype of the Old Testament Law and the Prophets as the appearance of Moses and Elijah declare. For Moses said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among  you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen” (Dt 18:15). The appearance of Elijah stands for the testimony of all the prophets of the Old Testament who foretold the coming of the Savior.

So these appear on this mountain with Jesus. In a heavenly way the witnesses knew it was Moses and Elijah without having to be told. It is St. Luke who tells us what the three were talking about, namely, the Lord’s “exodus,” that is, His coming sacrifice, death, resurrection and ascension. Then the cloud. Then the voice. Then “no longer anyone but Jesus only” which, of course, indicates that He is the only way, truth and life, no one comes to the Father but through Him, and anyone who looks at the Son has seen the Father.

“As they were coming down the mountain”—Jesus, Peter, James and John—Jesus “charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead,” until Easter! Can you imagine three of you keeping that secret from the rest of the congregation or your neighbors, from anyone even for an hour? But they did remain silent. Remember that they had not yet fully understood what Jesus really meant by this “rising from the dead” business. So they kept quiet through the remaining days of our Lord’s continued preaching, teaching and healing; and then, of course, through the final week of His arrest, fixed trials, torture, mocking, crucifixion, suffering and death. In those dark hours they must have wondered, these three, what had now happened to their “king of glory.” Or did they even entertain this memory at all?

The true glory, of course, was proclaimed by our Lord’s resurrection from the dead, declaring that all that—His suffering, death and even His resurrection—all of that happened FOR YOU, for the life of the world! Now, when you are connected to our Lord’s death and resurrection by faith through the waters of holy baptism, by faith through remaining in His word, by faith through the continual remembrance of His death in His body and blood given and shed for you, when you are so connected, your sins are forgiven and taken away, you are released from the tyranny and grip of sin and death, you are reborn, given a new heart, and a new eternal life and the promise of your own resurrection in the new heavens and new earth.

Then, along the way, a joyful Peter remembered Jesus saying not to tell anyone “until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” “So this is what He meant!” The Lord is risen! So now he has told the whole world of our Lord’s wondrous glory as the truly “Beautiful Savior, King of creation, Son of God and Son of Man!” to whom all glory and honor, praise, adoration now and forevermore shall be (LSB 537).

So this festival reminds us of what it means when we meet the Lord on this mountain of the Divine Service each Sunday. Here Moses and the Prophets bring us to Jesus and we are given a glimpse of heavenly glory. But we are no longer commanded to tell no one. “Thank the Lord and sing His praise, tell everyone what He has done.” Now the light that enlightens you who receive him, who believe in his name, gives you “the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). Now you are empowered to live and to believe knowing of your eternal destiny as the prophet Daniel put it, “And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Dan 12:3).