Sunday, February 06, 2005

Matthew 17:1-9 - “The Messiah-Christ-King, Suffering Servant, New Moses, Son”

Transfiguration (Year A - LCMS Readings)
Saturday, February 5, and Sunday, February 6, 2005

When the voice from heaven, the voice of God, declares, “This is my Son, whom I love, with Him I am well-pleased,” God the Father is identifying Jesus as the Servant and Savior of the world. And this happened on that day at the Jordan River when John the Baptist baptized Jesus, the Baptism of our Lord.

Oh, wait, that’s the wrong sermon. It’s the right words, “This is My Son,” but the wrong event. Today we’re talking about the Transfiguration of our Lord.

Jesus takes His closest three disciples, Peter, James, and John, up on a mountain where He is transfigured, changed, revealing His divine glory. He’s standing there with Moses and Elijah, and the voice of God the Father declares from heaven, “This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.” The Father is repeating what He said at the Baptism of Jesus.

There aren’t many times when people hear the voice of God speaking from heaven, and so you know that what He said has to be important. To think that God the Father said the same thing twice must mean that this sentence is extremely important.

Yet, at first glance, it looks like kind of a regular, not very awe-inspiring sentence. Jesus is God’s Son; we probably could’ve figured that out in other ways. God the Father loves Jesus; that’s kind of a no-brainer. We know God the Father loves everyone. God the Father is pleased with Jesus; that too isn’t so surprising since Jesus is perfect and holy.

But if we’ll look again, then we’ll discover just how this sentence reveals so much more about Jesus than we might think, how it gives our faith such depth.

When God the Father speaks from heaven and says, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” a biblically-trained ear would’ve heard God the Father saying that Jesus is the Messiah-Christ-King, Suffering Servant, New Moses, Son. That one sentence spoken from heaven gives Jesus four different titles.

I know you might be thinking, “I don’t see the Father saying anything about Messiah, Servant, or Moses.” You might be thinking that, and believe me, before I studied this passage with the help of many books by authors who understand the Bible better than I do, before I studied, I didn’t catch it either. If you’re like me, then, you’re realizing that your biblically-trained ears need a lot more biblical training.

For the biblically-trained ear, though, when God the Father speaks, the allusions, the references to other parts of Scripture are just so clear.

It’d be like me saying that there’s a guy who is the caped-crusader who has spidey-sense and is faster than a speeding bullet.

If I said that, your popular-culture-trained ear may quickly realize that I just declared someone to be Batman, Spider-Man, and Superman combined. Batman, the caped-crusader, Spider-Man, the one with spidey-sense, and Superman, who is faster than a speeding bullet. If you know your superheroes, you’re going to hear those references, allusions to all three superheroes. Just as easily, a biblically-trained ear is going to hear the references to the Old Testament in God the Father’s announcement from heaven.

So let’s get biblically trained. In your bulletin, you’ve got an insert with the sentence spoken by God the Father. We’re going to spend just a little time finding out how that one sentence refers to three places in the Old Testament.

Looking at your insert, let’s take the first phrase, “This is My Son.” Go to the line above it, and for the Scripture, write, “Psalm 2:7.” Psalm 2:7 says, “You are My Son; today I have become Your Father.” This psalm is a royal psalm about the King, but when it declares that the King is the Son of God, you’ve got a psalm about the Messiah which is the Hebrew word for Christ which is the Greek word for Anointed or Promised One. So when God the Father says, “This is My Son,” He’s giving Jesus 2 titles. Write these titles on the lines just above where you wrote Psalm 2:7. One title is “Messiah-Christ-King.” The other title is “Son.” God is saying that Jesus is the Promised One, the Messiah, the Christ who was coming to save God’s people. God is also saying that Jesus is His Son, that Jesus is divine, that Jesus is from eternity. Messiah-Christ-King. Son. Two titles in that one phrase.

Go to the lines below “Whom I love; with Him I am well-pleased.” I hope you’re seeing that this kind of like an answer key to a crossword puzzle. You’re getting the clues, so that you’ll understand the puzzle, and the puzzle you’re going to understand is your spiritual life, your Savior, your God.

OK, “Whom I love; with Him I am well-pleased” is a reference to Isaiah 42:1. Write that on the Scripture line below the phrase. Isaiah 42:1 says, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight.” Do you hear the phrases from Transfiguration? In Isaiah, God says, “Whom I uphold,” which is very similar to Transfiguration where God says, “Whom I love.” “In whom I delight” is very similar to “with Whom I am well-pleased.” The phrases are strikingly similar. Matthew, Luke, and Peter’s first letter all make the connection to Isaiah 42. Therefore, the Father is giving Jesus another title: Suffering Servant. Many places in Isaiah explain that the Suffering Servant is the One whom God will send to serve and save His people, but this servant will do it through suffering for the people.

Finally, the last phrase, “Listen to Him!” For this one, you’ve got to go to Deuteronomy 18:15, that’s your Scripture passage for this phrase. In Deuteronomy 18:15, Moses says, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.” Ah, do you hear it? “Listen to Him!” When God the Father says this, He’s saying that Jesus is the prophet that Moses promised would come. There’s the fourth title from the sentence: Jesus is the New Moses. As Moses appears on the mountain with Jesus, we realize that Jesus is an even greater prophet than Moses. Jesus comes to speak all of the words that we will need to be saved.

Again, like a key to a puzzle, we’ve just made the connections to see how the phrase spoken from heaven at the Transfiguration, how that phrase points to the Old Testament and declares Jesus to be the Messiah-Christ-King, Suffering Servant, New Moses, Son.

This is the kind of thing that causes people in my Bible studies to say, “The average person never would’ve figured that out.” When they say that, I’m very quick to defend the people in biblical times. There’s a tendency to sell them short, thinking that the people way back then could’ve never understood all of this because they didn’t read or write or go to college or have television.

Yet, the people in biblical times, and here specifically Peter, James, and John, would’ve known their Scriptures very, very well. They didn’t just have copies of the Bible laying all around, and so they memorized it. They knew their Scriptures forward and back. And they didn’t know them just to quote them. They knew the Scriptures to see how they fit together, to see how they pointed to our hope. So when Peter, James, and John, average guys, heard the voice of God from heaven, once they had a chance to get over being scared of what just happened, they would’ve heard in that sentence how God the Father was saying Jesus is the Messiah-Christ-King, Suffering Servant, New Moses, Son.

That’s biblical times, though. There’s also the concern that the average Christian today would never catch the deep meaning and connection in a sentence like this one from God the Father. Sometimes the people in my Bible studies kind of imply that studying connections like these are a little beyond them, a little too much, maybe not so important, more than their pastor should expect them to understand.

Well, I’m quick to stop them on this line of thought, and I’ll be quick to stop you today too if that’s what you’re thinking, because you’re selling yourself short. So maybe you didn’t understand the extreme importance of this one sentence; maybe you didn’t see the connections to the Old Testament. Now you do, though. Now you know that Jesus didn’t just appear and make all of this stuff up; Jesus came to fulfill what God had promised in the Old Testament.

Maybe you feel like you could’ve never figured that out on your own. That’s OK. You’re not on your own. God put you in a congregation surrounded by others who are also wanting to understand more about their Savior. You’re a part of a congregation that supports two pastors with salaries so that we can dedicate our full time to studying God’s Word and teaching you about it. So you’re not on your own.

And now you know that Jesus is the Promised Savior, the Anointed King who has come to rule over us with love and compassion. Now you know that Jesus is the Suffering Servant, coming to serve us, His people, by suffering in our place. Now you know that Jesus is the New Moses, the prophet who would be far better than Moses, and that we will never need any other prophet. Now you know that Jesus is God’s Son, that Jesus Himself is divine, that when Jesus died, He had the power to rise from the dead, that Jesus is still divine and still has the power to save us.

So don’t let yourself get hung up on feeling like you’re not smart enough, you don’t know enough to get this stuff. It’s not about being smart enough; it’s about hearing the Word. It’s not about showing up to church already knowing this stuff; it’s about coming to learn. It’s not about reading the Bible completely on your own and figuring out all of this stuff. I had to read and study about 10 different books to make sure I understood all of these connections. It’s not about coming to Bible study already knowing all of these deep connections; it’s about coming to Bible study to learn with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

And again, why? Some people tell me that they just want a simple faith; they just want to know about Jesus and that’s enough. Why am I trying to take you to another level, a deeper level? Because I want you to grow in your faith, I want you to mature in your faith, I want you to go from drinking milk to eating meat, as St. Paul said.

Peter, James, and John could’ve easily said, “No, Jesus, we don’t want to go up on the mountain with you to learn anymore.” They could’ve said afterwards, “Look, Jesus, that’s really nice that you showed us your divine glory, but really we just wanted the simple stuff.” And Jesus could’ve agreed, decided to just give His disciples a very simple, limited message.

But that’s not what Jesus did. He told them the basics: God loves us, God forgives sin. Yet, He also took them to the next level, constantly challenging them to understand how He is everything that the Old Testament had promised. He challenged them to understand how far-reaching the commandments are: it’s not just about literal murder, the fifth commandment is also about getting rid of hatred in your heart. He challenged them to understand that they would never be able to save themselves, make themselves right in God’s sight. He showed them that God forgives us by God’s action not by our actions. If Jesus took His group of disciples to this next level, this deep
level, I am convinced that He meant for us to seek that deep level as well.

Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on that mountain to see something unbelievable, something requiring that they would have to study and think about what it all meant. “Sure,” you say, “but they were the disciples.” Yet, before they were disciples, Peter, James, and John were fishermen. They weren’t scholars; they didn’t already understand of this stuff; they didn’t get to be disciples because they already had passed a test. Jesus called them to be disciples, learners, followers, so that they could learn and discover and grow in their faith.

So what if you didn’t understand all of these deep meanings in the Transfiguration until today? So what if you didn’t even remember or know what Transfiguration is? Jesus calls you to be His disciples, learners, followers, so that you can learn and discover and grow in your faith. Jesus calls you to study His Word, to work with other Christians, to seek out the truth, so that you will understand how God the Father works salvation in your life.

Alright, I think that’s enough said about all of that. I don’t want to hear anything about how you’re not smart enough to know these deep things about God. What I want to hear from you today is that you got an answer key to an important sentence in Scripture. You dug deep to learn that God the Father’s words at the Baptism of Jesus and at the Transfiguration pointed to a whole bunch of promises in the Old Testament. Today God’s Word showed you that Jesus is the Messiah-Christ-King, Suffering Servant, New Moses, Son. Jesus is the Messiah, the Promised One whom God sent to save His people from sin. Jesus is the Suffering Servant, who didn’t save us by some glorious shock-and-awe move; Jesus saved us by suffering and dying in our place. Jesus is the One that Moses said would come to be the great prophet, and that we should listen to Him. Jesus is the Son of God from eternity, divine, having all authority in heaven and on earth.

That’s what I want you to hear you talking about today, because that is what God’s Word has shown you this day. Your Savior isn’t just Jesus. Your Savior is everything that the Old Testament promised He would be. Your Savior is the Messiah-Christ-King, Suffering Servant, New Moses, Son.