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The Transfiguration of Our Lord

Sermon Theme: Look Who’s King of the Hill!

Transfiguration worship transports us to a hill as the Lenten season is about to begin and allows us to peek ahead to another hill, at the end of the Lenten season. It’s the main take-away from the Gospel, the other two readings, the hymns, the prayers, and Psalm 2:1-12, driving us to wide-eyed awe: “Look who’s King of the hill!”

There are many versions of the game. Here are the rules of the classic version. Number one: The first person to get to the top of the hill becomes the king. Number two: If you want to be king, you need to go up the hill and push the other one off. Number three: Whoever is on top at the end is the king of the hill and wins. Not much to it. Who invented that game, and when did it start? I have no idea. If I had to guess, I’m thinking Cain and Abel, but I can’t prove that with a Bible passage. King of the Hill is likely banned from playgrounds nowadays. Too violent. It can easily get out of control. Besides, to be fair, it should be called King or Queen of the Hill.

You may be thinking, “What’s that got to do with me? I never played the game, and, if I had kids, I wouldn’t let them play it.” Or maybe your mind wandered from personal sentiment to the present setting, “What’s that got to do with worship today? What’s that got to do with the Transfiguration of our Lord?” The answer to those questions is … “Everything!” It’s the main take-away from the Gospel, the other two readings, the hymns, the prayers, and – the Psalm of the Day, Psalm Two, driving us to wide-eyed awe: “Look who’s King of the hill!”

 The mighty Jesus

It’s hard to imagine anyone taking potshots at a baby. But that’s what happened two millennia ago to a baby whose first crib was an animal feedbox. Oh, for sure, Mary, Joseph, the Bethlehem shepherds, and many months later star-plotting scientists, who came from a distant land, knew who the baby was, God cloaked in helpless human form, and we join them in singing, “I love you, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky; and stay by my side until morning is nigh.” It’s hard to imagine anyone aiming anger at him.

But there has always been opposition to the Christ, opponents to the Anointed One. Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his anointed. If I asked, “Whoever opposed that child?” even a six-year-old in Kids Club would answer, “King Herod did!” Herod heard about the birth of a possible rival to his throne so he sent troops to murder the little ones of that village. How about the teachers in the temple who heard Jesus teach them when he was only twelve years old? Were any of them jealous? What about the religious leaders during Jesus’ ministry who plotted to rid their land and temple of this teaching and him? What about Caiaphas, the high priest, It is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish” (John 11:50). What about Pontius Pilate who could not and would not grasp the reality that this falsely accused, humble, seemingly harmless, traveling teacher in front of him was a king? What about the Good Friday mob hollering, “Crucify him”? How about the Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, and Greek armies who fought one another to death but had one thing in common, persecuting God’s people? Roman emperors tried to crush Christianity. The papacy suppressed the truth. Communist governments worked to destroy the church in their lands. Critics of Scripture fight like cats and dogs over their theories, but all agree that Bible is not God’s pure word. Evolutionists evince different theories of human origins and fossils, but all agree that Creation is a myth. Religious systems with charm-the-credit-card-from-your-wallet leaders offer a smorgasbord of platters to dip into and earn salvation, but all agree that getting in with God by his doing alone is foolishness. The feelings-trump-biological-facts folks demonstrate despising God’s right-and-wrong and push life patterns which defy divine design. The psalmist puts a wiretap on their conversation, “Let us break their chains,” they say, “and throw off their fetters.”

But so do I when I doubt, when I hunt for happiness down blind alleys of my own choosing, when I plot my own way out of guilt, or when I think my failures aren’t that bad and throw my shoulder out of joint in self-congratulations. By those attitudes and actions, I’m joining the fleeing disciples, “How can he be king of the hill, especially this hill, if he’s dying, and he won’t be around to defend and protect us?” By those opposite-of-what-God-wants attitudes and actions, I’m joining the mockers around the cross, “The sign above your head may say, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,’ but are you the one? You’re on a hill, Jesus, but you’re bleeding out!”

“Oh, disciples! Oh, twenty-first century Christians! I will finish this work, this most important work, so the frailty and futility of saving yourselves from the flames of Hades will end. I told my first followers more than once that I’m going up to Jerusalem, up the main hill of the city, up the hill of the temple, not to push Caiaphas or Herod or Pilate from the top, but to go down to hell because if I don’t, you’ll fall into what Satan dangled in front of your first parents, “Try and climb the hill to heaven and push God off his throne.” That’s arrogance. Actually, all sin is arrogance, and such arrogance, you should pay. But I will pay for you. I can do that because of who I am. Do you twenty-first century Christians remember the hill I climbed with Peter, James, and John, the Mount of Transfiguration? What do you think Moses and Elijah were telling me? ‘You’re on the right track, Jesus! Go down this hill and up another outside Jerusalem to rescue rebels! You can do it! You are the Son of God!’ Do you hear even from Psalm Two a millennium before the Transfiguration event echoes of the Father’s booming on that hill, ‘You are my Son.” Six months later, Peter and James ran from the hill called Calvary. John stayed on that hill to watch. But later they could all ask, “Dying, he’s king?” and answer, “Yes! Look who’s King of the hill of the cross! The same one who was King of the hill of Transfiguration! Dying, yes, but Transfiguration’s hill beams out, ‘He is our God!” He can do what he came to do!

It’s easy for us to say, “I would never push Jesus aside.” But what if the Lord allows your health to flitter away? What if you’re on the losing end of a relationship that turns sour? What about when your online bank account is on your screen, vacation approaches, and the electronic fund transfer for church occurs at the same time? Our natural reaction is to say, “Lord, I’m taking over. You’ve done enough to goof up my life. I’ll make the decisions around here!”

I’m sure you know what powerful rulers did to rebels. Conspirators lost their craniums. No one has more power than the Lord Almighty. He sees all who rebel against his Anointed One. He knows when to put a stop to their shenanigans. The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath.” It may look like the forces of evil are winning, but they are not because the Father announced, “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.” That’s got to mean something, dear people of God. That means he has overcome all opposition, even ours, even our wrong priorities. In the end who wins? Herod? Caiaphas? Pilate? Mohammed? Stalin? Hezbollah? Kim Jung Un? You? Me? Transfiguration answers, “Can Jesus do it? He looks so frail in the manger, so young as a twelve-year-old in the temple, so vulnerable asleep in a boat after an exhausting day, so beaten before Pilate, so bloody on the cross.” Yes, he can! Look who’s King of the hill! Our mighty Jesus!

The merciful Jesus

There are lots of kings and rulers mentioned in the Bible: David, Solomon, Nebuchadnezzar, Caesar Augustus, Tiberius Caesar. Solomon pushed the boundaries of Israel down to Egypt and up to the Euphrates. Augustus sent forces all around the Mediterranean and then through France across the English Channel. But all those kings had limits on the extent of their control. Solomon couldn’t protect an Israelite who traveled beyond the Jordan River. Augustus lost legions of soldiers who marched into the Black Forest of Germany. And all those rulers died. None of them ruled for more than forty years. The clock is ticking for every human being who is alive and certainly for every ruler.

But God the Father said to the Anointed One, “Today I have begotten you.” (ESV) The close relationship of love and respect between God the Father and God the Son never ends. Then he adds, “Ask me, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance and the ends of the earth as your own possession. You will break them with an iron scepter. You will smash them to pieces like pottery” (GW). He rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prove the glories of his righteousness and wonder of his love (CW 353:4). That’s got to mean something, dear people of God. That means there’s an answer to: “Will my friends still like me if I say ‘No!’ to their party plans?” “Will I get my homework done well enough not just to pass but to excel and get the degree and job I want?” “Will I find a soul-mate?” “Will my kids withstand temptations?” “Will cancer call my name?” “Will God still love me after I gave in again to that sinful urge?” There is no high mountain, no dark valley, no busy street, no kitchen, no desk where Jesus is not ruling with his mighty power, and there is no week, no day, no hour, no minute, no second when he is not wrapping you in the soft, God-stitched comforter of his pardon. Transfiguration answers, “Can he do it? He looks so frail in the manger, so young as a twelve-year-old in the temple, so vulnerable asleep in a boat after an exhausting day, so beaten before Pilate, so bloody on the cross.” Yes, he can! Look who’s King of the hill!Our merciful Jesus!

Transfiguration worship transports us to a hill as the Lenten season is about to begin (this Wednesday) and allows us to peek ahead to another peak, another hill, at the end of the Lenten season. That’s got to mean something, dear people of God. That means you and I get to bask in the brilliance of the King, our minds and hearts swelling with awe and wonder, joy, and praise. Look who’s King of the Hill, both hills, Transfiguration and Calvary! Our mighty and merciful Jesus! “Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” Amen.

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