Sunday, March 2, 2014

Tell No One the Vision

Sermon on Matthew 17:1-9
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
March 2, 2014 (Transfiguration of our Lord)

“Tell no one the vision until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.”  Now, that’s just startling.  To Peter (especially Peter, who definitely had his own ideas about what Jesus should or shouldn’t do), as well as James and John, it was a startling statement because it implied that Jesus would die.  Of course, Jesus had said this before, and then had to rebuke Peter and even call him “Satan” for refusing to allow it.  But now, after the glorious vision they had seen of just Who and What Jesus is, the implication that He would die was startling, and not in a good way.  From this point on, Jesus’ steps would lead straight toward Jerusalem.  His face would be set toward the cup His Father had given Him to drink, the agony of His death for sinners.  The road down from this mountain led straight up another named Golgotha.  The One identified here as the Father’s beloved Son would cry out in agony, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?  The disciples were not ready to hear that, especially after seeing Jesus as He was and is, with Moses and Elijah representing the company of heaven, shining so brightly that even his clothes couldn’t contain the light.  And so the command to tell the vision to no one until Jesus had risen sounded downright bizarre.  In order to rise one has to die.  And how could the heavenly, glorious Being they had just beheld possibly die?  Why couldn’t they all just stay there with Moses and Elijah and with Jesus allowing His true heavenly glory to shine forth?  Why can’t we just build some tents and stay here forever?

Of course, this isn’t the last time Peter put his foot in his mouth.  Just before Jesus’ betrayal and arrest, Peter had promised that he would never abandon Jesus, and that he would even die for him.  And, just like in today’s Gospel, Peter had no idea what he was talking about.  When Judas betrayed Jesus into the hands of the temple guards, Peter boldly drew his sword and swung it at one of the high priest’s servants, severing his ear.  Peter evidently thought there was going to be a battle when Jesus was arrested, that Jesus would defend Himself and ward off the attackers.  Peter wanted to be part of that battle.  That’s what he was thinking about when he promised to die for Jesus.  He was determined to go down fighting defending his Lord.  But a Jesus who willingly hands Himself over to His enemies, makes no reply to a hostile kangaroo court, and even rebukes Peter for raising his sword in the first place, that sort of Jesus Peter was ashamed of.  If He wasn’t going to defend Himself, Peter had probably better lay low and not let anybody know who he was, even if he had to lie about it.

It wasn’t until after the resurrection that Peter understood what had been going on the whole time.  The pieces didn’t come together for him until Jesus rose from the dead, proclaiming that the world’s sin, and Peter’s sin, was forgiven.  Jesus wasn’t here for power and glory.  He was here to die for the sin of the world.  He was here to take the ugliness and bitterness and unfairness and hatred and pride and greed and all the other things that had ruined this old creation into Himself and draw them down to the grave.  It was only then that His true power and glory could be shown in His resurrection, by which a new world free from Adam and Eve’s pride and disobedience, would come forth.  Only the death of Him who cannot die can do away with the world’s rebellion.  Anything less, any superficial demonstration of His identity and majesty, would be completely futile.  It was only a God who died who could truly raise with Himself His beloved creation and heal it, heal us, of its self-inflicted wounds.

The command to tell no one the vision wasn’t just startling to Peter, James, and John, however.  It’s also startling to us.  We in the Christian Church have now been commanded to go and make disciples of all nations, and so Jesus’ instructions here, as well as the many other places where he tells people not to say anything about His miracles, are downright bewildering.  If telling people about Jesus is how they are brought to believe in Him and be saved, then why would Jesus ever forbid anyone from talking about Him or what He has done?  In fact, these commands from our Lord sound so contrary to what we know as the Great Commission, that some interpreters have said that Jesus was using some sort of reverse psychology when He said these things, knowing that they would disobey His command and thus spread the good news about Him even further.

But I disagree.  Jesus wasn’t using reverse psychology here.  He wasn’t manipulating people into witnessing by ordering them not to do so.  He genuinely didn’t want people blabbing their mouths about Him.  The reason for this is that not everyone who says nice things about Jesus is necessarily giving a genuine witness which will bring someone to faith in Him and eternal life in heaven.  Jesus didn’t just come to earth to do some miracles in people’s lives and show them how to live better.  He came to forgive our sins by His death and resurrection.  Without that, anything else one might say about Jesus is just noise.

The fact is, talking about Jesus the miracle worker, Jesus the great example for life, Jesus the guy who can fix your relationship problems, your financial problems, transform the mediocrity of your everyday life into some great adventure that will accomplish great things for Him and change the world, doesn’t convert anybody.  Yes, it excites a lot of people.  It led thousands of people in first-century Judea to follow Him so that they could see more of His miracles.  It even led them to try to capture Him so that they would always have enough to eat, and thereby have their best lives now.  It leads millions today to listen to any number of preachers who ignore Good Friday and Easter Sunday and preach practical advice using Jesus or other saints as contrived examples of how you, too, can change the world for God.  Any message about Jesus which doesn’t take into account His suffering, death, and resurrection leads, not to Christian faith, but to idolatry.  To use Jesus to fix our own temporal and temporary lives here in this world is to deny His true purpose: to put to death this old world, including our old selves, in order to give us eternal life with Him.

The transfiguration wasn’t witnessed by the crowds; it was seen only by Peter, James, and John.  And even they weren’t supposed to tell anyone about it until they understood the whole picture.  Even the resurrection itself wasn’t witnessed by everybody, but only by those who were already believers.  This is because it is only in the context of the cross and the empty tomb that the Christian message can truly be understood.  It is only knowing that there is nothing short of death that can fix us, and that even our best efforts only make the situation worse, that the death of God Himself can be understood.  Jesus’ shining forth transfigured on the mountain, His victorious resurrection from the dead, and all the wonderful miracles that He performed, mean nothing unless you understand the central meaning and purpose of Jesus’ having become man in the first place.  His true glory is found in His love for us, and His true love for us is found in His death, in His giving His life for His friends.

That’s not exactly good PR, of course.  But it’s what He’s given us to do.  We make disciples, not just by saying nice things about Him, but by death and resurrection.  The Great Commission commands us to bring nothing less than watery death and rebirth to the nations.  It commands us not just to tell people that they’ll generally be better off with Jesus in their life, but to teach them all things He has commanded, especially that they are sinners deserving of death and only His death and resurrection rescues them from that hopeless state.  Jesus’ promise to be with us always doesn’t just mean that He’s generally leading and guiding us along a path that improves our lives, but that His very body and blood, the food of eternity, flows in our veins.  The transfiguration is a view of eternity itself.  But it is an eternity that is only won by His death and resurrection.  Tell no one the vision, unless you also tell them about Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

No comments:

Post a Comment