The Metamorphoses of Jesus for You

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“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them” (Mark 9:2).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Last summer, my grandson, Abbott, got a new pet from his Grandma Aimee. Well, actually he kind of begged it from her. One of the teachers at school had found a couple of caterpillars in her herb garden and Aimee had brought one of them home. Seeing this amazingly creepy, crawly creature, Abbott just knew that he had to have this “calupidder.” And Aimee wisely realized that young boys have a much more urgent need for caterpillars than grandmas.
The next day Abbott brought his caterpillar to preschool so that all of his friends could share in this wonder of nature. They put it in a plastic case that Aunt Jessi had once used for hermit crabs, furnished it with a nice branch to which it could attach itself when the time got right, fed it herbs and sugar water and watched and waited for it to change. Abbott’s teacher used the opportunity to teach about the life cycle of these fascinating insects. Abbott came home telling his mom about chrysalises and cocoons, how caterpillars digest themselves, and eventually turn into butterflies. He even learned this process is called metamorphosis.
Metamorphosis: that’s an important word in our text. In fact, this Sunday in the church year gets its name from the Greek word from which we get metamorphosis. In English, we call it “transfiguration.” The dictionary defines metamorphosis as “a striking alteration in appearance, character, or circumstances” or perhaps even more fitting to the context of our text: “a change of physical form, structure, or substance especially by supernatural means.”    
But those of you spelling bee champions may have noticed that the theme for this Transfiguration of Our Lord is “The Metamorphoses of Jesus for You,” spelled with an “e” not an “i.” This is intentional, for today we are going to be talking about not just one metamorphosis, but several. And metamorphoses is the plural form of this word that describes such transfiguration.   
The first metamorphosis of Jesus we speak of is found in our text: “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them” (Mark 9:2). Jesus was transfigured, literally, He “was changed in His outward, visible form.” Jesus did not change into something or become something new. Absolutely nothing about Jesus’ substance was changed. Jesus is and was and will always be the God-Man, God Incarnate, as we confess in the Athanasian Creed: “Begotten of the substance of the Father before all ages… born from the substance of His mother in this age, perfect God and perfect man.
What changed on the mountaintop? Only the outward form of Jesus changed. “He was transfigured before them, and His clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.” It’s the same Jesus, but a different form. For a few moments in this Gospel, Peter and James and John are allowed to see the metamorphosis of Jesus. He is transfigured, that is, Jesus appears in a different form than they normally are allowed to see. Jesus is full of brightness and light, His clothes reflect His divinity as one would expect of the only Son of God. But it is just for a moment. St. Mark stresses the immediacy of this moment by using a word for “suddenly” which is used only here in the New Testament. The Father’s command to “Listen to Him” is reinforced by the instant removal of Moses and Elijah, though Peter would have enjoyed hearing more from them. But their moment and purpose has passed. Only Jesus’ words matter and remain. Only Jesus remains.
And that is a gracious wonder in itself. How easily Jesus could have left the world, escaping death just as Elijah did (though I dare say He would not have even needed the chariot and horses of fire or the whirlwind). Jesus could have simply vanished from their sight, never to be seen again. But Jesus remains, knowing full well that staying will mean His own death. He will save others by not saving Himself. He will do it according to His Father’s good and gracious will and timetable, not by the ways of this world or the wishes of mere mortal man.
And so, this transfiguration on the mountain is not the first or the last of the metamorphoses of Jesus. It happens even before His birth and after His death. The Scriptures declare that when He entered Mary’s womb, Christ set aside His “form of God.” He “made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant.” This is not a hologram or a mask or an impression. The eternal and limitless God confines Himself to the physical form of a human body, the same human body that is nailed to a cross (Philippians 2:6-8). Toward the end of his Gospel, St. Mark explains that after His resurrection, Jesus appears to His disciples “in another form” (16:2). Just what exactly that means is not explained. We do know that the Emmaus disciples are somehow kept from recognizing Jesus as they walk with Him on the road. It is only “in the breaking of the bread” that they recognize Him (Luke 24:31, 35).
The Scriptures indicate that Jesus, the incarnate Son of God approaches His people in various forms. In one, He is a nondescript preacher going from town to town in Galilee as Isaiah had prophesied: “For He grew up before Him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him.” (53:2).
Judged by human standards, Jesus appears to be the most unlikely agent of a heavenly mission. He comes not like a sturdy deeply rooted tree, but as bare root stock that needs to be cultured and cared for. God lets His Son grow up in vulnerable flesh. He is indeed a shoot from the root of Jesse (Isaiah 11:10).
However, by Jesus’ day, the outward kingdom of David’s house has been in the control of the Roman Empire; there is no prospect of its revival. Nevertheless, the Son of David has come to establish His kingdom. But He has to do so carefully for many people have the wrong idea of what the Messiah will look like or what He will do. Jesus cannot show the fullness of His majesty, for then He might be honored and spared the crucifixion. That’s why He tells His disciples “to tell no one what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (Mark 9:9).
 On the mount of transfiguration, Jesus shines with the glory of His divine nature, which otherwise has been veiled. This is the glory that the disciples might have envisioned in Mark 9:1, the sort of sign that could have been given to set the sneering Pharisees in their place (Mark 8:1). But that is not God’s purpose and it would only hamper Jesus’ real mission. And so it is only momentary.
However, there is a transfiguration that forever transforms the world from death to life. It is when the glorious God takes the form of a servant, ascends a dark mountain, places death upon Himself, and then rises from the grave. St. Paul writes of this metamorphosis “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5-8).
Isaiah also describes this metamorphosis of Jesus: “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:3-5).
The Incarnate Jesus appears to His people in various forms for various reasons: At one place, walking around as a common, ordinary man; in another, shining and radiant in His divine glory; at still another time, bloody and beaten, dying on a cross; and yet still in another form after His resurrection in which He is not recognized until He chooses to reveal Himself “in the breaking of the bread.”
“In the breaking of the bread.” That brings to mind one more metamorphosis of Jesus. In the Lord’s Supper, Christ comes to you in a different form. You see bread and wine, but Christ’s Word assures you it is He Himself coming to you. The bread and the wine are indeed the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, not merely represented or symbolized, but miraculously present for you, delivering to you the benefits of His cross and death: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
Why should all this matter to you? Simply this: It is just another example of the great lengths to which Jesus will go to be your Savior. Jesus allows Himself to be transfigured—He allows Himself to be changed in His visible, outward form for you, for your salvation. Let me give you some examples of how and why:
Jesus takes the form of a servant, born of the Virgin Mary, so that you will have no reason to fear Him or run away from Him. If Jesus had taken the form of a conquering hero or powerful king, your sin and guilt would compel you to run away and hide from Him like Adam and Eve after the fall into sin. Or the people of Israel when they beg Moses to go up on Mt. Sinai by himself because they can’t stand to be in God’s glorious presence. But Jesus takes the form of a newborn baby—because nobody is afraid of a baby! Jesus knows what the world needs and how it is best to bring it to us for our good.
In our text for today, Jesus is transfigured especially for the sake of Peter, James, and John. Why did Jesus allow these three to see how “His clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them”? These same three were also about to witness Jesus suffer and die for you and your salvation. Before going down the mountain to Jerusalem and the cross, Jesus graciously gives His disciples exactly what they need: a glimpse of His glory. He is transfigured before them to strengthen them for what they are about to see and experience. The intense darkness of Jesus’ crucifixion will be made somewhat more bearable for these disciples because of what they see this day on the mountaintop. This account of the metamorphosis of Jesus is certainly beneficial for us; that is why the Holy Spirit sees fit that it be written. But the transfiguration is especially good for Peter, James, and John. That is why Jesus takes them up with Him “up a high mountain.” Jesus knows exactly what these men need.
And why the Lord’s Supper? Why the body and blood of our Lord in, with, and under the forms of bread and wine? Because Jesus know what you need. Jesus knows the form of His presence that is best suited for you and for your salvation. In the same way He takes the form of a servant for you; in the same way that He is transfigured and radiant with light in today’s Gospel, so also our Lord takes the forms of bread and wine for you in Holy Communion.
Jesus knows that you cannot live on bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God. So Jesus inhabits the forms of bread and wine to assure you with these words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.”  No, you don’t get a divine light shining brightly from the altar. There will be no cloud gathering in the chancel. Moses and Elijah don’t make an encore appearance. But you get something much better. As you come to the Lord’s Table, you join with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. You get the very same Jesus that stood on the mountain of transfiguration and hung on the cross. And no matter where you have Jesus, no matter what the promised form, you have everything Jesus earned for you on the cross: forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Indeed, for Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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