Blog / Book of the Month / Glory and Vainglory / Luke 9:28–36 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday February 27th 2022 / Transfiguration Sunday / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Glory and Vainglory / Luke 9:28–36 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday February 27th 2022 / Transfiguration Sunday / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Glory and Vainglory / Luke 9:28–36 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday February 27th 2022 / Transfiguration Sunday / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday February 27th 2022: Transfiguration Sunday / Luke 9:28–36 "Glory and Vainglory"

Now about eight days after these sayings [Jesus] took with Him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as He was praying, the appearance of His face was altered, and His clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with Him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His departure, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with Him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him. And as the men were parting from Him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.

Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. How heavy is light? What kind of weight does light have? Is it perceivable? Luke’s Gospel says that as Jesus was praying on the Mount of Transfiguration, “the appearance of His face was altered, and His clothing became dazzling white,” the Gospel of Matthew says that “[Jesus] was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun.”[1] If a light is strong enough, bright enough you shield your eyes, you look away. We like to think of glory as a glowing brightness, a sort of halo of light or maybe in the context of sports we like to think of glory as an aura, an air of confidence that a winner exudes, radiating out, that fans bask in like a sunbather when the sports star enters the room or takes the field. With Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration this is not light without heat, and this is not the Worldly glory of sports. To push the analogy a bit further the moon to Jesus’ shining sun would be the veteran of war who returns as one who has, in a way, come back from the dead, as one who was not expected to live, who was as good as dead, because so many others did die and now as the soldier returns as the veteran there is a weight to their presence the weight of the ones who did not return. A kind of seriousness: a heavy palpable weight, a dread, because on the surface of the flesh there are the scars of battle and they are visible and under the surface of the flesh the scars of battle lurk, the violence, the valour, the hardness.

The Biblical understanding of glory is not the glory of the World. In the hearts, minds and souls of the disciples and the chroniclers of the Gospels the glory of God is understood to be one of weight and gravity. If the appearance of an angel causes fear and dread and they have to say, “be not afraid,’ how much more so the revelation of the living God before your eyes. Think on the Old Testament reading for today and how Moses is described there when it says, “there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.”[2]  And what does our Epistle then say about Jesus Christ the Son of God, who is God, “consider Jesus, the apostle and High Priest of our confession, who was faithful to Him who appointed Him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself.”[3] Moses was sent to lead the Children of Israel in their departure from Egypt, Jesus came to lead us in our departure from our sin, our death, not from Pharaoh’s kingdom but from the kingdom of devil into the Kingdom of God, an exodus from the World, an exodus from yourself.  Not through the parted red sea but through His crucifixion.

Fear and dread and serious grim awe are part of this day of Transfiguration which we recall today: remember what our Gospel reading says after Peter spouts off his mouth, “As [Peter] was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.” Jesus stands before them transfigured, with the prime representative of the Law of God, Moses, and the prophetic Prophets of God, Elijah, and they are enveloped by a supernatural cloud of glory, the same sort of supernatural cloud that filled the Tabernacle Tent of Meeting in the days of Moses,[4] the same sort of supernatural cloud that had filled the Temple in Jerusalem in the days of Elijah,[5] and there in the cloud they find themselves in the presence of the Triune God and they are afraid. Remember a couple weeks ago when I preach on the words of Isaiah and St. Peter “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!,”[6] and “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”[7] Think on your Catechism and the Ten Commandments in the explanations of the Commandments where we confess, “We should fear, love, and trust in God …”[8]

By now the Biblical picture of glory shines through not as a worldly accolade that fades and decays but something more substantial and all together unsettling for its dread and serious nature.[9] The Mount of Transfiguration was not to be a place of shrines or temples or booths rather the Mount of Transfiguration was to be the place where Jesus’ feet began their final path to the cross of His crucifixion. The glory of God in Christ Jesus is seen through suffering and the cross. In his Heidelberg Disputation of 1518 our dear Martin Luther said that a true student of God, and the word of God, is the one who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross. He goes on to say that “a theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.”[10]

In this case a theology of glory is one that is enamored with Worldly ideas of glory: And an earthly Worldly glory, unhinged from Christ Jesus and His cross and passion, is like unto stolen valour. You are aware of the sad nature of stolen valour? Stolen valour is when a person chooses to put on a uniform and pin ill-gotten medals of honour or rank on their chest to give the outward appearance of military glory in order to receive praise from others; to bask in the adulation of others based on a lie. Now in order to do this a person needs to believe that they in some way are deserving of this or that they are above the law of God regarding honour and false witness, they covet the praise others receive for their service and want to get that praise for themselves without the sacrifice and the suffering. Their ego cares nothing for God and His law, for if it did it would not have placed itself over and against the law of God as judge. This is sin. When the World frames and presents glory as purely based on flash, and dazzle and success without suffering, service and sacrifice and the Church believes such lies seeking Worldly ‘glory’ and success than the Church is guilty of sin as well. That my friends is called a theology of glory, not godly glory with all its weight and seriousness but vainglory turned in on the self focused on looking good in the eyes of the World. As Saint James says, “friendship with the World is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the World makes himself an enemy of God.”[11]

Saint Peter in our Gospel reading today is continuing to learn this lesson: seeing Jesus transfigured with Moses and Elijah at His side Peter blurts out “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah,” but as I said this is not what is to happen, Saint Luke recounts that Peter says this, “not knowing what he said,” Think back to when, “Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. [How it was that on that day Saint] Peter took [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” [The Gospel of Saint Matthew tells us how Jesus] turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a hindrance to Me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”[12] Peter wanted Jesus, and by extension himself, to have the praise and glory of the world without the suffering and sacrifice without the blood sweat and tears of the crucifixion.  

We celebrate Lutherans Transfiguration at the end of Epiphany on the cusp of the season of Lent which moves us to Holy Week and Good Friday for a reason. Think on these connections between today and Good Friday and see how they are like links in a chain. The Transfiguration: Jesus on a mountain top, Good Friday: Jesus at Mount Golgotha. The Transfiguration: Jesus flanked by two heroic men of faith from Scripture Moses and Elijah, Good Friday: Jesus flanked by two criminals crucified with Him. The Transfiguration: Jesus enveloped in a supernatural cloud of holy light, Good Friday: Jesus plunged into darkness at midday when the sun should give its light. The Transfiguration: Jesus’ face is described as ‘altered,’ shining like the sun for brightness, Good Friday: Jesus’ face is beaten, bloodied and disfigured by the hands of the Roman soldiers crowned not in a halo of light but by a crown of thorns.  The Transfiguration: the voice of God the Father from on high says of Jesus “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!,” Good Friday: the voice of a Roman solider, the Centurion, with his feet on the ground says of Jesus hanging dead upon the cross, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”[13] 

And then another link in the chain of events in the life, death and life of Christ is the resurrection where on that first Easter Sunday Jesus’ tomb on Mount Zion very near Mount Golgotha (a short walking distance away) is attended not by Moses and Elijah, not by two criminals but by two angels in dazzling apparel saying, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”[14] After the women see this Saint Peter and Saint John two of the three at the Transfiguration rush to the empty tomb and see that Jesus is no longer there. That night they see Jesus in the flesh. He who has come back from the dead, this Jesus who was dead but stands before them saying, “Peace be to you,”[15] the glory of His resurrection freighted with the serious weight of what it means for them, for you, and for me.  On the surface of Jesus’ flesh shows there are the scars of battle, the scars of His crucifixion visible and under the surface of Jesus’ flesh the scars of battle lurk, the violence, the valour, the hardness, the love. What does Saint John record in the Book of Revelation, “the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”[16]

One more link in this chain, forty days after Jesus’ resurrection Saint Luke tells us in the Acts of the Apostles how it was that, “[as the remaining disciples Peter, James and John included in that number] were looking on, [Jesus] was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as [Jesus] went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.”[17] Dear ones the very last link in this chain of salvation events will come on The Day of Jesus’ Return. The World will be wrapped in fear, in dread and alarm because it has clothed itself in vainglory and such glory, the kind that the World gives, will not save the World; you dear ones on That Day will stand in the fear of the Lord clothed in the true glory of God the righteousness of Christ Jesus. Therefore you will not fear for your life, because your life is hidden away in Christ Jesus, seeing your true Life appear before your eyes on That Day, seeing Jesus come to you as He departed, you will not want to build a tents to pitch there on That Day.[18] No, on That Day you will follow where Jesus leads, you will hear His voice, you will listen to Him and you will go with Him and He will lead you into eternal life with Him.

It was a hard lesson for St. Peter to learn to cast off the things that this World counts for glory, but by the grace of God in Christ Jesus St. Peter learned his lesson. He learned to take up his cross and follow Jesus, to understand and know suffering, beatings and plots against his life, to even die a martyr’s death crucified for preaching in the name of Christ Jesus. Dear ones set your eyes on Jesus, remember the glory of His cross and passion, His crucifixion, and do not be beguiled by the false vainglory of the World, a false hope in which there is no salvation. When you find yourself falling to the temptation to measure your life, or the life of the Church, by the standards of the World and not by the standards of God repent and return to the Lord your God for forgiveness, if Saint Peter can learn this lesson in his Christian life you can can learn this lesson in your Christian life also.  

The fulcrum of history, the centre of it, the most important moment in all the World is not your birthday, it is not your most glorious moment by the standards of the World, it is not your most shining achievement, it is Christ Jesus in total humility hung dead upon His cross. Without that moment there is no victory, without that moment there is no glory, without that moment there is no resurrection from the dead, without that moment there is no salvation; this is what Moses and Elijah were talking with Jesus about on the Mount of Transfiguration, “His departure, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem,” the crucifixion, His exodus, a greater exodus than the one Moses lead through the Red Sea, Jesus’ exodus leads through His cross and passion and in it He leads a host of captives free from there sin, free from death, from the World, from the devil into heaven, into eternal life,[19] this gift is yours, this gift is yours in your baptism, a gift of glory beyond compare. Thinking on the Biblical understanding of godly glory hear what Saint Peter later writes in his first Epistle “when the chief Shepherd appears [that is Christ Jesus], you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”[20]

Let us pray:

Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1] Matthew 17:2
[2] Deuteronomy 34:10-12
[3] Hebrews 3:1b-3
[4] Exodus 40:34-35
[5] The prophet Elijah lived after the kingdom split into Israel in the north and Judah in the south. King Solomon the son of King David previously completed the Temple in Jerusalem 2 Chronicles 7:1-16 includes the account of the glory of the LORD filling the Temple at its dedication. Previously this cloud of the glory of the presence of the LORD had appeared in the Tabernacle Tent of Meeting.     
[6] Isaiah 6:5
[7] Luke 5:8
[8] The Ten Commandments, Luther's Small Catechism, Concordia Publishing House 2017, Pg 13-14.
[9] Matthew 6:19–21
[10] Heidelberg Disputation of 1518 April 26th theses 20 & 21.
[11] James 4:4
[12] Matthew 16:21–23
[13] Mark 15:39
[14] Luke 24:4–6
[15] John 20:19
[16] Revelation 5:11–12
[17] Acts 1:9–11
[18] Colossians 3:3–4, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”
[19] Ephesians 4:8
[20] 1 Peter 5:4

Photo Credits: Main Photo Transfigurazione by Raffaello from Wikimedia Commons; Light Through Window from pexels; Water from pexels; Light with Hand from pexels; Uniform With Gold Medals from pexels; Detail of Soldiers Boarding Airplane from pexels; Jesus Crucified from unsplash; Empty Tomb from unsplash; Jesus Christ from unsplash; Clock from pexels; Detail of Stain Glass Christ Crucified from pexels.