Sunday, February 19, 2012

When to Speak and When to Listen

The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Last Sunday after the Epiphany
February 19, 2012
It might be a problem to not know what to say. A bigger problem is not knowing when to speak. What we learn today is that we need to listen before we speak. Ecclesiastes 3 says it well: there is a time to remain silent and a time to speak.

But it’s also important to not get ahead of ourselves. The Transfiguration is amazing, but it’s not the end result. It’s not even the main thing. It’s an event like no other but Jesus tells the disciples something curious on the way back from this event: don’t tell anyone.

Don’t tell anyone, that is, until another event of note has occurred, and that is the resurrection of the Son of Man. When I, the one whom you just saw transfigured before you, have gone to the cross, suffering for the sin of the world, and then have gone through an even more spectacular transformation than what you have seen on this mountain, going from death to life, then you can speak to your heart’s content.

There is a time to speak, but there’s also a time to be silent.

What we learn today from the Transfiguration is that we must speak only after we have first heard. Any telling people without having first remained silent and simply listened is speaking in the way Peter did—he didn’t know what to say and so he babbled. Babbling isn’t going to get the Gospel out, speaking after we have first heard our Lord will.

How were those groups of the prophets speaking in the Old Testament reading? Were they telling Elisha something he needed to know? Were they convinced that he might have a difficult time if suddenly God removed Elijah from him without him knowing it? Who knows? What we do know is that Elisha knew just as the groups of the prophets did. And isn’t it interesting what he kept telling them back? “Keep silent.” Some things are better left unspoken. There is, after all, a time to keep silent. Not every moment of our lives as Christians need to be spent in speaking. There are times where we need to simply hear and take to heart.

What is it that we are to hear? How do we know what we are to listen to? Peter, James, and John found out quickly. Jesus. Listen to Him. Moses and Elijah were up on that mountain and they were talking with Jesus. How much was that of Jesus speaking and them listening and how much was them speaking and Jesus listening? We don’t know; what we do know is that they were speaking as one with their Lord, the same Lord of Peter and James and John. How do we know this? We know it because they are there as representatives of the Word of God, at that time the Bible consisting only of the Old Testament. Moses and Elijah represent what the New Testament sometimes refers to as the Law and the Prophets; Moses representing the Law, Elijah the prophets. These men, as with all those who wrote the Scriptures, were inspired by the Holy Spirit. What they wrote was what God had inspired them to write.

As they stood now on the mountain with Jesus they spoke with Him. Now in a glorified state themselves, they spoke as one with Him. It will be the same for us when we are in heaven. We will not be talking with God about things that are not in line with His good and gracious will. It’s not that we won’t be thinking. It’s that God will restore to us a will that is perfectly in line with His good and gracious will. Peter might have gotten a clue if he had just listened to Moses, Elijah, and Jesus’ conversation. Even if he couldn’t hear what they had been saying, he should have realized that listening to Jesus and responding to Him was where it’s at. After all, what had Moses and Elijah and the rest of the Old Testament writers done? They had pointed people to Jesus. They had shown that Jesus was the one who was to come; the Savior; the one who would fulfill all things. Yes, He would definitely be the one to listen to.

But Peter was terrified. They all were. Peter, being the one who often spoke without thinking, decided to speak on this occasion. This is great! We’ll set up shop. We’ll make three booths. Moses will get one, Elijah will get one, and You, of course, Jesus, will get one. We can just stay up here forever! God the Father was the one who put the kibosh on that plan. Moses and Elijah were gone as quickly as they had appeared. Jesus was there alone, He was all the disciples could see. But that’s all they needed to see. God the Father spoke concerning Him, “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him.”

Don’t speak. Don’t think about what this all means. Don’t make plans. Just listen. Hear the words of your Lord, My only-begotten Son with whom I am well pleased. Even with Peter’s short reaction of how great all this was there was too much talking. Not enough listening. Not enough hearing of the words of his Lord. Notice what the Father says to Peter: Listen to Jesus. He says nothing about speaking. In fact, when Jesus gets around to telling the disciples about speaking it’s to tell them the opposite: do not speak! Don’t tell anyone about this.

See, Elisha wanted to hang around. Elijah knew he was leaving and Elisha wanted to be around him a little longer. Peter, James, and John wanted to hang around. They had not seen a sight like this before, of Jesus transfigured in a spectacular display; they wanted to remain a part of this. But Jesus never intended for this to be the final revelation of His glory. He had intended all along to go back down that mountain in order to ascend another one; one not quite as glorious, one where He would be transfigured before them all right, but into a bloody mess. Instead of rays of light gleaming from His face blood would be pouring down His cheeks. Instead of clothes shining brighter than any bleach could make them, He would be stripped and His clothes would be torn and tattered.

Funny how the disciples didn’t want to be around on that day. It was a solemn day. A tragic day. We who have heard our entire lives the good news that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world have trouble thinking about what that day was really like. It was the opposite of the Transfiguration. It was the antithesis of glory. It was the other extreme of the sentiment we’ll sing in our closing hymn, How Good, Lord, to Be Here. Who of His disciples wanted to be here, seeing their Lord hanging on the cross, His life slowly fading away? Which of them wanted to hear Him cry out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” There’s no way they could have felt worse than Jesus, but they would have traded anything to prevent this from happening.

But there is the problem. They didn’t do what God the Father had said to them: “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him.” Jesus had told them what it was all about. He must be delivered over. He must suffer. He must die on the cross. He must rise from the grave. If they had listened to Him they would have realized that the glory on the Mount of Transfiguration could not compare with the glory before their eyes on the cross. Look in the book of Acts and you will not see one sermon on the Transfiguration from the apostles. Of the suffering, death, and resurrection you will see many. Peter does point out on an occasion the glory of the Transfiguration in his second letter, but mostly what he and the other writers of the New Testament do is proclaim the Christ of the cross and the empty tomb.

The point of this isn’t that the Transfiguration isn’t really that important. It’s of utmost importance. The Bible makes that abundantly clear. The question really is, why is it important? The reason it’s important is because we haven’t learned to listen. We have big trouble hearing our Lord, just as Peter did. We need to listen first, and then we will be able to speak of what our Lord has given us to speak. When we hear Him we will have the words to say back to Him.

Hear the words of your Lord, listen to Him. His words were spoken to you at your Baptism: I Baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. His words are spoken to you at His Table: Take and eat, this is My body, given for you; Take and drink, this is My blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. Listen to Him. If you’re too busy speaking of what you think and what you’d like then you’re missing what your Lord has to say to you. How do you know when to speak? You know to speak after you have listened. You need to hear God the Father’s beloved Son. That’s what God the Father said: “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him.” In Baptism and in the Lord’s Supper that’s exactly what you hear. He speaks to you. He speaks forgiveness to you. And in so hearing the words of the Father to His beloved Son you have the words to say. You speak back to Him what He has spoken. The beloved Son of God is your beloved Lord and Savior.

When it all was over the disciples saw no one but Jesus only. No more Elijah. No more Moses. There was no more talk of booths and hanging around. There was only Jesus. That’s what you get in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, Jesus. When you get Jesus you get it all. Now there’s something to talk about! Amen.


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