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Keep Listening to Him! (St. Matthew 17.1-9)

The Transfiguration of Our Lord


“Keep Listening to Him!”
Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus    

St. Matthew 17.1-9

29 January 2023



Our reading begins by telling us that “And after six days Jesus took Peter and James, and John his brother” to a high mountain. Six days after what? Six days after Jesus had asked his disciples at Caesarea Philippi who the people thought Jesus was. After John the Baptist or Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the other prophets were given in answer, he asked his disciples directly,

“But who do you say that I am?”

It was then that Peter confessed for the Twelve,

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus followed by giving the Twelve the power of the Keys, the authority to forgiven and retain sins. He would repeat this after his resurrection from the dead.

What Jesus said next was sobering—he foretold his suffering and death, to which Peter strenuously objected, earning him the name of Satan, adversary. Immediately Jesus told his disciples that they must bear the cross as well. That is the context of our Lord’s Transfiguration.

The Greek word [μεταμορφόω] which is translated as transfigured comes to us in English through the Latin. It simply means,

“to change in a manner visible to others” [BDAG]

Jesus’ body took on the form of his heavenly glory, the glory he had set aside when he was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary. That heavenly glory was hidden in his earthly flesh so that, to all human eyes, he was a true man, just as we confess in the creeds.

There was also a bright cloud which overshadowed them. This signals the presence of God. Think of the wilderness wanderings of God’s people as they came out of Egypt. At the front of the march there was a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night [Exodus 13.21]. Then remember the thick cloud, thunder, and lightning at Mt. Sinai where God descended to meet with Moses and deliver the Ten Commandments. God’s presence filled the Israelites with fear.

Jesus is God in the flesh, the second Person of the Holy Trinity. At the birth of John the Baptist Zechariah, John’s father, prophesied about the Christ:

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,

for he has visited and redeemed his people. [Luke 1.68]

Here on this mountain God has another word for us, quite different from the word given in the cloud on Mt. Sinai. He has a word of fulfillment, a word of grace, a word of hope.

Jesus appeared to them in a splendor never before seen by the eyes of man:

his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.

Moses and Elijah were engaged in conversation with Jesus. According to Luke’s account, they were discussing his pending death at Jerusalem. Peter was eager to make this last. This is what the disciples all wanted—see the glory of God. Peter quickly forgot about what Jesus had said just six days earlier about Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. Peter wanted to erect three tents so they could keep this vision alive, but it was not to be.

While the conversation went on there was a voice which came from this bright cloud. It was the voice of the Father, addressed to the three disciples:

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

A word is spoken which caused the three to fall on their faces terrified! Now they had heard the Father in heaven speak. It was a simple word. Jesus is God’s beloved Son. What he was about to do pleased the Father. And then to the three disciples this simple exhortation, “Listen to him.”

Peter was always getting things wrong. He was impetuous. His mouth was engaged before his brain was in gear. It wasn’t the first time and it wouldn’t be the last. Yet, in our Epistle reading today we have the words of the Apostle Peter, who this time, got it completely right. Peter recounted the visual and physical scene on the mountain but that was not the most important thing. The glory wasn’t what he wants us to remember, but this:

And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

It was the Word of God. All of the promises of the centuries before are fulfilled in Jesus. All the Law and the promises are fulfilled. In Jesus. Peter wants us to know first of all that the Word of God was not the product of men, but of God. Nothing that was said in the Old Testament was produced by men who thought it would be a good thing to do. No, the impetus for the Word came from God the Holy Spirit who caused it to be spoken by men whom God selected. That alone is the only sure thing in this world.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. [Matt. 24.35] said Jesus.

When I was in high school our German teacher would play German folk songs and some military songs—which are certainly politically incorrect these days! There was one folk song called die Lorelei, a poem by Heinrich Heine, about a mermaid-like beautiful woman who perched on a large rock on the Rhein River. There were shoals and her siren song would lure sailors to their deaths. The song spoke of the temptation to get to this beautiful creature so strong that experienced sailors forgot their skills and ended up dying on the jagged rock because they could not resist her beauty. It’s a folk legend but a picture of the voices which tempt us to lose our hearing for God’s Word.

This is the exhortation for us: “Listen to him.” The verb is present active indicative, which means continuing action. “Keep Listening to Him!” The Father in heaven is insistent, “Don’t stop listening to Him.” Why? Because these myriad voices will cause our ears to be stopped up. We will be so enamored by what many in the world say that we no longer listen to Jesus. If you are a young person most of the voices you listen to are your peers. It’s part of adolescence that what others say about you can cause you great suffering and pain. The pressure to be accepted by others who may not be deserving of your attention is great. Conform or be canceled, ruined socially! Sadly, many young people end up like the sailor in die Lorelei. But these are voices which cannot bring you life or happiness. They certainly cannot bring you to eternal life. Only Jesus has the words of eternal life [John 6.68-69].

Adults, too, can fall under the spell of listening to others. It takes courage to stand up for and speak out for the right. This past week Tony Dungy, past coach of the Colts and TV football analyst, spoke at the Right to Life March in Washington D.C. He endorsed ending abortion. He’s an outspoken Christian. Within 24 hours shrill voices called for NBC to fire him for his words and actions. He may well lose his job if cowards in the media give in to the hate. Or the Russian National Hockey League player, Ivan Povorov, who refused to wear the Pride Night jersey in warmups saying,

“My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.”

He is a practicing Christian in the Russian Orthodox Church. National Women’s Soccer League player Jaelene Daniels also created headlines last summer when she refused to wear a Pride-themed jersey and subsequently had to sit out an entire game. [Washington Examiner, January 18, 2023]

Being faithful to the word of Jesus may bring difficult choices, but remember that he alone is the One who went to the cross for you to redeem you and bring you to eternal life. There in Jerusalem he suffered and died for the sins of the world. He did it also for you, The One who did this for you is the One to whom you are to listen. Listen to the Word of God proclaimed and distributed in the blessed Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. Listen when you read the Scriptures. God speaks clearly in these words.

And listen to Peter’s injunction in our epistle reading, “ . . . you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

There is glory ahead for those who keep trusting this Word. Our Lord promises it. He will bring us to that glorious place of which the Transfiguration is only a tantalizing taste—heaven—where we shall see him as he is. “Keep Listening to Him!”

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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