We Shall Be Changed Like Him.
The Transfiguration of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 17:1-9
In Christ Jesus, “the bright morning star” (Rev. 22:16), who by His glory reveals the glory that we shall have, dear fellow redeemed:
A number of years back, I bumped into a guy that I probably hadn’t seen for two or three years. Only a short time had passed, but I almost didn’t know who he was. He had lost a lot of weight, and his face had changed so much it was hardly recognizable.
A similar effect happens with those who have a complete makeover. They get their hair done, their teeth fixed, maybe their tummy tucked, and they are outfitted in new clothes. Family and friends are brought in to witness the transformation, and they are amazed at what they see. “She’s like a new person!” they say.
They are right. The individual seems “like” a new person, but she hasn’t changed substantially. She has only changed on the outside; she is still the same on the inside. She may have a bit more confidence than she did before, but she has the same personality, the same abilities, the same opinions and beliefs.
Making changes on the inside is harder than making changes on the outside. Those who make New Year’s resolutions know this well. Perhaps you resolved to exercise more this year or be more patient or look for opportunities to help others or study the Bible more. And maybe you are doing these things. But it is so easy to revert to old habits. How many times have you told yourself that you will never do one thing or another again? You won’t let temptation get the best of you. You will be stronger than before.
You might even tell the people around you that you have changed. They can doubt you, but you will show them! And sometimes that happens. Maybe that really is the last drink, the last binge, the last lie. But such drastic changes are not easily accomplished and hardly ever by the force of one’s own will. As long as we live, we will struggle to do what is good and to maintain good behavior. This is because sin clings to us. We got it from Adam & Eve. Their corruption of God’s holy creation has been passed down generation to generation all the way to us.
We call this corruption in our flesh the “old Adam” or “original sin.” Our Catechism defines this as “the total corruption of our whole human nature, inherited from our first parents, which makes us inclined only to evil and unable and unwilling to do that which is good” (2014 ELS Catechism, p. 77). This explains why it is so hard for us to stop sinning and live holier lives, particularly if we try to accomplish this on our own.
There are many who suggest that if you only keep a positive outlook and focus on your goals and pray harder that you can become a better person. In other words, they say that the power to improve and succeed is found inside you. With this message, self-help gurus with their best-selling books have wormed their way into the church. But they do not belong. God does not tell you to look inside yourself to find the strength for improvement. He says to look to Him. It is only through Him that real and lasting change can happen on the inside.
We see how small the disciples plans’ looked when they were face to face with the glory of the Lord. When they saw Jesus shining with brilliant light, and Moses and Elijah conversing with Him, Peter stammered that he would be glad to build tents for each one to make this moment last. The evangelist Mark tells us that Peter “did not know what to say, for they were terrified” (Mar. 9:6). Then a bright cloud came over them, and the voice of God the Father boomed from the cloud. This caused the frightened disciples to fall to the ground and hide their faces.
Why did they act this way? The disciples were afraid because they were in the presence of the holy God. This made them aware of their unholiness. Think how foolish they would have sounded if they started to tell God all the ways they had tried to improve themselves and all the good things they had done for Him. They knew they were nothing but weak, sinful men, and He was the mighty God, perfectly righteous.
Their only hope in this moment was the Man before them, who was much more than a man. “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” said God the Father; “listen to Him.” Jesus was God in the flesh. But His human nature stood out more than His divine nature. This is because He did not make full use of His divine powers. He produced miracles and signs that no other human could do, and yet He did not show forth His glory in all its brilliance. He did not shine with the kind of light that caused those around Him to cover their faces or hide.
The exception to this was Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain. There, He revealed His glory to Peter, James, and John. They saw Him as they had never seen Him before. They now saw with their eyes what they had confessed Him to be by faith: “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mat. 16:16). What He had come to do was to offer Himself as the sacrifice for sin, “the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1Pe. 3:18). The disciples had not grasped this yet. They could not see why He should have to die and rise again (Mar. 9:10).
The reason was so that the unholy might stand in the presence of the holy God. It was so that the disciples and you and I would no longer have to feel the guilt of sins past or the pressure of trying to prove our worth. “[F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-24). We cannot escape the sin we have inherited, the “old Adam,” which still causes us to commit more sin. We cannot get ourselves right with God.
This is why Jesus took our place. He took the fall for our self-assured attitudes. He suffered for our failed attempts at doing better. He died for us so that we could be transformed from the sinners we are and changed from the inside out. This inner spiritual transformation began in a very unassuming way. It started at our baptism. Through baptism, our heart of sin was cleansed and filled with faith. In those waters, we were claimed as our Lord’s own, we were buried and raised with Him (Rom. 6:4), and we were covered in His righteousness (Gal. 3:27).
But His glory which fills us and covers us is not visible as long as we are in the world. No one can tell by looking at us that we are children of the heavenly Father. There is no special mark on us. There is no glow showing that God abides in us. We get sick and suffer just like unbelievers do. We sin like they do. To unbelievers, it seems that our devotion to God and His Word is a hindrance to life in the world and gives us no advantage over them.
But we do have an advantage. We have hope, a certain hope. We have hope of a better life after this one, when we shall join our Lord in His glorious presence. We have hope that our bodies which are full of sin and imperfection will soon be glorified like Jesus is. We believe this because Jesus did not stay in the grave after His death. He is not simply a Man. He is the true God who rose again and is seated in glory at the right hand of the Father.
From that position of all power and glory, Jesus powerfully works in our hearts through His Word and Sacraments. These are the means by which He strengthens us to forsake sin and to live a godly life. This power to do better does not come from inside us, but from Him. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (1:6).
We grow in sanctification not by relying on ourselves to do better but by keeping our eyes on Him. We grow by leaving our sins every day at the foot of His cross and being absolved of them through His cleansing blood. This is how we walk in the “newness of life” begun at our baptism (Rom. 6:4). We humbly and sincerely confess our sins and rely on Jesus’ righteousness. And then His fruit will be seen in us, the fruits of faith which show our love and thankfulness to God.
We disciples of the Lord do not look so glorious now, but we will on the last day. On the last day, the transformation that happened at our baptism will be evident in our changed appearance. When Jesus comes in all His glory, our transformation will be like His was on that high mountain. As His face shone like the sun, so will ours. As His body beamed with bright light, so will ours.
The apostle John, who was with Jesus on the mountain, confidently writes, “we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1Jo. 3:2). And Paul says, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1Co. 15:51-52).
On the last day, sin will no longer weigh us down, the devil will no longer torment us, and we will feel no more terror or fear. We Shall Be Changed Like Him, and we shall join Him in the bright light of His glorious presence forever.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(painting by Carl Bloch, c. 1865)