Preached: February 3, 2008

Jesus Shines as Your Beacon of Hope
Matthew 17:1-9

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who pours out his Holy Spirit on us through his Word and Sacraments. That word from God for us to take to heart and put into practice is today's lesson from Matthew.

After six days, Jesus takes along Peter, James, and his brother, John, and brings them up onto a high mountain by themselves. He was transfigured before them. His face shown as the sun, and his clothes became white as light. Behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them talking together with him. Peter reacted and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be hear! If you want, I will set up here three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice was speaking from the cloud, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their face and were terrified. Jesus came to them and said as he touched them, “Get up and don't be afraid.” Looking up, they saw no one except Jesus alone. As they went down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Do not talk about what you saw with anyone until the Son of man has risen from the dead.” (Matthew 17:1-9)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow baptized saints of God:

Tough days were ahead for the disciples -- confusing, fearful days. Jesus had started talking about his suffering and being killed and rising to life. How could that be! Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God. How could he suffer and die? What did he mean by this rising from the dead? And later, as those events of the first Maundy Thursday and Good Friday unfolded, what fear, doubt, and despair must have fogged their hearts! For the next six Wednesday, we too will walk with them and see our Savior suffer.

But on this unnamed mountain in Galilee, Jesus gives three disciples a glimpse of his divine glory. Like a lighthouse shining out with hope to ships caught in the gloomy darkness and storm, so Jesus shines out from this mountaintop with his resurrection glory. He is your beacon of hope through the stormy fears and foggy doubts
f earthly life. Keep that theme in mind. Jesus shines as your beacon of hope. He is your lighthouse.

A. The storms of life expose our doubt

1)What storms of life make you afraid?

What storms make you afraid? If we took a survey of everyone here, we would have a variety on the list. What would be on your list? Consider that for a moment. What makes your life feel stormy? What makes you afraid? Health issues, money struggles. Family fights, relationship problems. Accidents, natural disasters. Loneliness, temptations, anxiety, worry. Pain, exhaustion, sleeplessness. Our lists go on.

Now consider what struck terror in the hearts of the three disciples on that mountain. “A bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son . . . When the disciples heard this, they fell faced down, terrified” (Matthew 17:5, 6 NIV).

Even though hidden by the cloud, the glory of the Lord God struck terror into the hearts of these disciples. For they were sinners. Consider Peter. A few days earlier he had been Satan's pawn trying to talk Jesus out of going to the cross. And you know what he's going to do after Jesus is arrested. He's going to deny him three times, stabbing in the back. What a sinner! And consider the arrogance of James and John. In the near future, along with their mother, they would ask to have the positions of prestige at Jesus' right and left when he enters his kingdom. What arrogance! And consider how all three of these, even though they've seen Jesus transfigured, will run away in doubt and fear when he's arrested and crucified. What doubters! They better tremble in fear when the holy God speaks to them!

And what hypocrites we are for looking down our nose at these disciples. For we're every inch a sinner like them. Let's focus on a sin that infects all of us. Doubt. Doubt is like a cloud or fog. It blurs our vision. We don't see Jesus and his promises clearly.

2) What doubt fogs your heart?

Only two kinds of people do not struggle with doubt: Those with perfect faith and those with no faith. Those with no faith don't care about doubts so that don't struggle with whether they have them or not. Now no one on this side of heaven has perfect faith in Jesus. So if you never struggle with doubt, you either have perfect faith in something else or no faith at all. Either way you are lost and condemned, for you do not have Jesus. That ought to terrify you.

And for us who struggle with doubts, how dare we look down on these disciples! Often we might not be fully aware of those doubts lurking in us. For example, when times are good, it's easy to imagine that we have no doubts about God's goodness and mercy. But what happens if you loose your house, your children are killed, or the doctor says you have cancer and face a very painful death? Or on much smaller scale. A couple years ago one night my stomach felt so bad that I just wanted to die. It was rather a foolish thought. The pain passed in an hour or so. But it exposed the doubt in my heart. Yes, I knew that God, my heavenly Father, was taking care of me and that since I'm still here, obviously it wasn't his will to take me to heaven at that time. But my doubt blocked what I knew from fully controlling what I felt, thought, and wanted at that moment. It was fogging up my heart.

And isn't doubt really behind all of our sins? If we had no doubts at all about his love for us, why would ever worry? He'll take of us. Why would we ever fail to be kind to others? He has shown us the greatest kindness of all. Why would we ever arrogantly look down on others? He has loved them, even as he has loved us. Why would we fail to speak up for our Savior? He will protect us. Why would we not cheerfully, generously give him our all? His love will sustain us. Our every sin exposes our doubt.

And so like Peter, James, and John we can do nothing but fall on our face and tremble in terror at the presence of the holy God. For we too our sinners. Our doubt earns us death, damnation, torture, and hell.

B. Jesus' shining glory brings hope

1)How does Jesus drive away our doubts?

But what does Jesus do for these trembling sinners? What does he do for you and me? “But Jesus came and touched them, ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘Don't be afraid.’” (Matthew 17:7 NIV).

Only his word of promise can drive out doubt and fear. “Don't be afraid,” he says to you. Why not? Why shouldn't I, a sinner, tremble in terror? “Because I have taken away your sin,” Jesus says. “For as the divine sacrifice I have died for you and risen from the dead to drive out your doubt. See my resurrection glory. See my face shine like the sun. Believe I am your God, who takes away your sin. Believe and do not doubt. For I have risen from the dead.”

Believe Jesus' word of promise. For his word of promises touches you as well. In the Lord's Supper his promise touches your tongue with the bread and wine as he says to you, “Eat my body. Drink my blood. Believe that these were sacrificed on the cross once and for all, for you. You are forgiven.”

See Jesus resurrection glory shining from his Word and Sacraments. Just as surely at it shown on that mountaintop for the disciples, it shines for you in the Word and Sacraments. For you see, your Savior's great glory is the salvation he brings to you. His glory is the cross and the blood. His glory is the empty tomb and your forgiveness. See his glory shining as a beacon, like a lighthouse shining with hope through the fog of doubt.

2) How does the hope of our own resurrection give us strength in life's storms?

And in the light of the glory of his resurrection, see your own resurrection. “Because I life, you also will live” (John 14:19 NIV). And Jesus transfiguration as well points us to the resurrection of the dead. Notice how Moses and Elijah are alive and there. They are the visible proof of the words that Jesus would speak to Martha at the death of her brother Lazarus. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25 NIV).

Peter is overwhelmed by this foretaste of the resurrection in heaven. He wants it to continue. He wants to stay there. He offers to put up three shelters in order to prolong this foretaste.

Before we too quickly criticize Peter for imagining that he could keep heaven on earth, let's complement for wanting to be there. How often our longing for heaven falls short of what Peter had here! When life is good, we so often don't even think about heaven, much less long for it. And when life is bad, how much of our longing for heaven is the desire to be in the glorious presence of our God and Savior or how much of it is simply being tired with life and wanting to escape its pains and troubles?

For you see, when our longing for heaven flows from that desire to be with our Savior-God and to praise his grace and mercy for all eternity, then we have strength to face even the darkest days. For we know that the eternal glory far out-weighs our temporal troubles. Then we have confidence to show gentleness, patience, kindness, love, and forgiveness even to those who our are ungrateful and unkind toward us. For we have riches in heaven that no one can steal from us. For the promise that Jesus will raise you from the dead shines as a beacon of hope for you. This is not a uncertain, wishful hope. But the sure and certain hope that will not prove false, for it is built on Jesus and his resurrection.

So no matter what is on that stormy list we started with today, keep your eyes focused on the lighthouse. Jesus shines as your beacon of hope. On the mount of transfiguration see his resurrection glory shine out. His resurrection drives away the fog of doubt that brings all those storms. His resurrection brings you the sure and certain hope of your own resurrection. Your Savior shines as your beacon of hope. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313