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Please turn your attention to our Gospel lesson for today as we learn what it means to look forward to glory.
If I were to ask you if you were looking forward to glory, to seeing the glory of God, to living in the glorious riches of heaven where there is no sickness, pain, death or any kind of evil, I think you would answer, “I sure am!” And that’s great! But, like Peter, I wonder if we really understand what that means.
When the people of Israel camped at Mt. Sinai, they got to see the glory of God. That might sound exciting. Isn’t that what a lot of people want? They want God to show himself, to give them some proof of his existence. But be careful what you ask for. Our first reading reminds us that the appearance of the Glory of the LORD looked like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. When they saw it and when they heard God speak to them from the fiery cloud, they were terrified. They begged Moses to ask God to stop speaking to them directly because it was too frightening for them.
Moses is called the most humble man on earth, but I think we could also say that he was the bravest man on earth. God invited Moses to come up onto the mountain so that he could give him the commandments that he had written in stone. Moses went. He entered into the middle of the cloud and climbed up the mountain.
Fifteen hundred years later, Peter, James and John climbed another mountain with Jesus. They saw Jesus shining in his glory as the Son of God. When a bright cloud enveloped them and the voice of the father spoke, they had the same reaction the people of Israel did. They fell face down and were terrified. And don’t forget the Shepherds on Christmas Eve. When the Glory of the Lord shown around them, they were terrified!
Remember, none of these people saw the full glory of God. His full glory was hidden by a cloud, or a pillar of fire, or the human flesh of Jesus. The Bible makes it clear that no sinful human living on earth can see the full glory of God and live to tell about it.
This gives us some insight into why Peter’s question, though heartfelt, was a foolish one. He asked if Jesus wanted him to make three shelters, literally, tabernacles or tents. It seems that he wanted to be able to bask in the glory as long as possible. Who can blame him! But, as wonderful as it might have seemed to him, it wasn’t the full glory of heaven. He wouldn’t want to exchange this partial, temporary glory for the full, eternal glory of heaven, would he? The Father’s voice brought him to his senses and reminded him that sinful humans can’t have heavenly glory on earth.
The Father indicated that he would continue doing what he agreed to do at Mt. Sinai. Instead of speaking to us directly and terrifying us with even just a glimpse of his glory he would speak to us through prophets. He told Peter, James and John to listen to Jesus. He is the prophet like Moses who had been promised. As the writer to the Hebrews says, In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.
Are you looking for God to show you his glory now, to give you some proof of his existence? Like Peter, you don’t know what you are asking for. In his grace and mercy, God hides his glory so that we are not frightened to death by it. In his grace and mercy, he chose to speak to us through prophets, and to reveal himself to us in a way that we can understand. He chose to take on human flesh and blood and then do the most loving thing any human can think of doing, sacrifice himself so that we might live.
If you are looking for God to reveal his glory to you, listen to Jesus. Read the Scriptures. Peter says this about the Scriptures, we were not following cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the powerful appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father, when the voice came to him from within the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We heard this voice, which came out of heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain… no prophecy ever came by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were being carried along by the Holy Spirit. We see the Glory of God in the Scriptures that point us to Jesus as our Savior.
There are a number of things in the account of Transfiguration that remind us of the true glory to which we look forward.
Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus in glory. Both these prophets had been dead for a long time. Moses died just before Israel crossed into the promised land. Elijah was taken to heaven accompanied by a fiery chariot not long before the Northern Kingdom of Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians. But there they were in glory, talking with Jesus about how he was about to fulfill the prophecies God had given them to speak. There they were, dead, but yet alive. And somehow, Peter, James and John knew who they were even though they had never seen a picture of them.
What a comfort it is to have this assurance, this fulfillment of the words that Jesus spoke to Mary and Martha, that those who believe in him will live even though they die. Later, John would be allowed a glimpse of heaven and he would see the souls of many who had died in faith living in the glory of heaven. We can be assured that our loved ones who have died believing in Jesus are there too, with the martyrs John saw, with Moses and Elijah, and tens of thousands of believers of all time.
Another reminder of the true glory to which we look forward is what Jesus told the three disciples as they came down the mountain. He told them do not tell anyone what you have seen until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.
Did they understand what Jesus was talking about? Not fully any way, until it actually happened, and Jesus opened their minds and enabled them to understand the Scriptures. But Jesus was looking ahead to his resurrection. He was looking forward to glory, to taking back what he had set aside so that he could take on flesh and blood and live and die in our place.
As we enter the Lenten season, we know what it meant that Jesus came down the mount of transfiguration and set his face toward Jerusalem. We know what it meant for these disciples, how they would be severely tested and humbled by what Jesus was about to suffer. It wasn’t going to be glorious. There would be suffering, excruciating pain, paralyzing fear, and agonizing death. But Jesus kept looking forward to glory. The writer to the Hebrews says, Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, …for the joy (the glory) set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Many believe that Jesus took Peter, James and John up the mountain with him to see his glory, to see Moses and Elijah in glory, to help them get through what lay ahead of them in Jerusalem, and the rest of their lives. He wanted what they saw to be burned into their memory so that, whenever they faced a cross, whenever they were called upon to suffer for him and the gospel, they would endure it looking forward to the glory that would be theirs in heaven.
The Holy Spirit had the account of the transfiguration recorded for us for the same reason. Whenever we are called upon to bear the cross, to suffer because of our faith in Jesus, because we stand up for what God says in his word, he wants us to endure it by looking forward to the glory that will be ours. Whenever we face physical or mental suffering, whenever we face sickness or disease, when our last hour draws near and we face death, the Holy Spirit wants us to remember what Peter, James and John saw. Moses and Elijah with Jesus in glory. And later, the resurrected Jesus who appeared to them and spoke peace on them. He wants us to remember, first comes the cross, then the crown, first suffering, then glory.
Do you want to see God’s glory? Read the Scriptures and let them point you to Jesus. Then, because of all Jesus has done for you, you will be able to endure any inglorious thing that happens because you are looking forward to living and reigning with Jesus in his full glory for all eternity. Then we will say with Paul, I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.