Sunday, February 3, 2008

Jesus Alone

The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Last Sunday after the Epiphany
Sunday, February 3, 2008
Matthew 17:1-9

Have you ever needed a lawyer? Has someone ever taken you to court or brought legal matters before you you had to address? Or maybe in your business another party you were dealing with had different ideas than you and you weren’t equipped to address those things on your own. Especially if someone has falsely accused you or even wants you or your company to go in a different direction than you, it is a confidence builder to know that you’re legal counselor will be able to handle matters that you would get buried in. You don’t have to go into it alone.

Have you ever sat there in the hospital room waiting to hear the results of a test or surgery? So many people go through their lives never thinking about their health and even trying to avoid going to the doctor or hospital. But in times where you suffer from serious illness, you’re unable to get through it on your own. It’s scary sitting there in the hospital room. But can’t it be comforting to hear the doctor explaining what exactly is happening to you, what can be done about it, and that everything possible will be done to help you? Someone who has the knowledge and skill to hit your problem head on.

But even in simple things like having a bad day—isn’t it nice to be able to unload your burdens on someone else? It’s hard enough having a bad day. Going through it alone adds even more misery. There’s all kinds of suffering in this world. Being alone is suffering like no other. And that’s why we celebrate the way we do—we get together with others. We eat, we talk, we enjoy each other’s company. We feel good not just because of what we’re celebrating, but because we’re with those we love and who love us. Without that, even being with others can leave us feeling lonely.

Jesus’ Ministry began with celebration. At His Baptism God the Father was there. Glowing down in pride in His only-begotten Son. Speaking words of His pleasure in His Son and exhorting all to listen to Him. The Father making Himself heard, the Holy Spirit also present, making Himself seen, appearing as a dove. And Jesus was there, of course, taking it all in. It’s like the celebration a family has at graduation. The proud father, speaking to all who will hear, “This is my son! The graduate! He’s going to some fancy-schmancy university!” The equally proud mother, expressing her love with an arm around her son. The one at the center of it all, basking in the celebration. Heaven is going to be like that—one big party. We will be in the presence of the Triune God, we’ll take it all in.

At the Baptism of Christ we have this glorious celebration of the Triune God, three Persons in one God and one God in three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the one true God. In His infinite wisdom the one true God chose to become a man. A human being. To step from His eternal throne and become part of His creation.

But God the Father did not walk the earth. God the Holy Spirit did not eat and sleep. Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity, the Son, did. What would this look like? What would it be like? Would the Father and the Spirit say, “Don’t worry there, Jesus, we’ll be with you every step of the way. It’ll be just like all of us doing it together.”? Well, at the beginning of His Ministry there they were. Present. Celebrating. Glorying. Taking it all in. Being together.

But how did it play out? Was Jesus’ Heavenly Father always by His side? Was the Holy Spirit always ready to help Him, ever-present with Him in some form? Let’s jump ahead to the event we celebrate today, the Transfiguration. Who was there? Well, Jesus brought along with Him three disciples. Moses and Elijah showed up. Oh yes, and God the Father was there again, the Proud Papa. Speaking about His Son, glorying in His Son, giving exhortation to listen to His only-begotten Son. And it seems every bit as much of a celebration. Maybe even more.

Except. Except the Holy Spirit. Where was He? No descending as a dove. No manifestation of the glory that God brings. Was this another sign of God’s infinite wisdom, something that we’ll just never know; why the Holy Spirit decided no longer to be involved in the Ministry of God becoming a man?

God’s infinite wisdom, yes. Not having a clue as to what the Triune God, and notably the Holy Spirit, had in mind here, no. And for that we need to jump ahead to one more event and we see exactly what God is up to.

It is the one that is most known to Christians: the crucifixion. Jesus is present at the cross, of course. But this time there’s no celebration. The Holy Spirit is every bit as absent physically as He was at the Transfiguration. But perhaps the most surprising thing is that God the Father is seemingly nowhere to be found, either. He says not a word. At the cross, it’s Jesus alone. At the Baptism, God the Father speaks. The Holy Spirit gives His affirmation, as well, by descending as a dove. At the Transfiguration God the Father speaks again but the Holy Spirit isn’t present. Here at the cross, God is very present, but it’s Jesus alone.

At the cross God speaks once again, but this time we do not hear the Father speaking, only the Son. The Bible records Jesus speaking seven times on the cross. Whereas in His Baptism and Transfiguration His Heavenly Father speaks His pleasure with His Son, when Jesus cries out on the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”, there is only silence. No response from His Heavenly Father. No words of comfort. On the cross Jesus is alone. There is no Father. There is no Spirit. There is only Jesus.

At the Transfiguration, once God the Father speaks and the disciples cower in fear, Jesus tells them to get up. When they look up, they see Jesus only. And that is what the Transfiguration is all about. That is what the Ministry of Christ is all about. That is what God and His salvation are all about. It is about the cross. It is about Jesus. Alone, on the cross, suffering, dying.

At the Transfiguration it was glorious. On the cross it is wretched. At the Transfiguration His face shown brilliantly. On the cross His face was marred more than any man. His appearance was humiliating. There was no celebration, only sorrow, sadness. There was Jesus, alone. All our sorrows, all our infirmities, all our loneliness, was encompassed in the man Jesus Christ as He hung on the cross, giving up His life for the world. Jesus was alone on the cross so that we may not be alone for eternity. He was forsaken of His Father so that we may hear our Heavenly Father say to us, “This is My beloved son, this is My beloved daughter.” He was alone on the cross because it is in Him alone that we have salvation. It is in Jesus only that all our sins, our infirmities, and our loneliness may be forever put to death. He suffered scorn so that we may join in on the eternal celebration of heaven that Moses and Elijah were already enjoying.

If Peter thought it was great to be up there on the mountain, just the three of them with the two prophets and Jesus, he hadn’t seen nothin’ yet! Jesus knew that the true celebration would come only through the cross. And only He alone would suffer to make it happen. He has. And we are never alone for He is always with us. Amen.


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