“Best Picture: The Transfiguration of Our Lord” (Matthew 17:1-9)
Tonight will be the Academy Awards ceremony coming from Los Angeles. Tonight they’ll give out the award for, among other things, Best Picture of the year. I don’t know which one will win, but I want to tell you, this morning here in the church, we get to see a far better “Best Picture,” and it is none other than “The Transfiguration of Our Lord.”
The picture we see at the Transfiguration had its share of special effects–lighting, sound, and so on. And there were a couple of guest stars making a cameo appearance–Moses and Elijah. But clearly the leading man in this story is our Lord Jesus Christ himself. He is the star shining most brightly. Who Jesus is revealed to be and what he’s about to do for us from this point on–that is why Jesus is the one who makes the Transfiguration the Best Picture you’ll see today.
We heard about it in the Holy Gospel for today. Jesus took three of his disciples–Peter, James, and John–up a high mountain. There he was transfigured before them. His appearance was changed–that’s what “transfiguration” means. How so? It says, “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.”
So what is this picture telling us? “His face shone like the sun.” He who created the sun–and the moon and the stars–now shines with the brilliance thereof. Christ is revealed in his divine glory as the very Son of God. “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.” This is a glory which Christ always had from eternity, from before the foundation of the world. But it is a glory which had been hidden once the Son of God became flesh and made his dwelling among us. Jesus did not always or fully manifest his glory during the days of his earthly ministry. But on this day, on this mountain, he did. He pulled back the curtain, so to speak, and his disciples were shown that this is indeed the eternal Son of God. They beheld the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, in his divine majesty. The one “by whom all things were made, who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven”–this man Jesus is here revealed as true God in the presence of his disciples.
“And his clothes became white as light.” This shows the holiness, the purity, of the Son of God come in the flesh. Jesus is without sin, unstained by transgression or misdeed. He is perfect in righteousness. Jesus perfectly kept all the commandments. As a man, he fulfilled God’s law. Jesus loved the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. He fulfilled the law. He loved his neighbor as himself. Righteous, holy, spotless, unblemished–that’s who Jesus is, and his white-as-light clothes here reflect that fact.
But what if we look at our own garments in that light? What do we see? We see that our clothing is soiled, stained with sin. And we cannot get that stain out, no matter how hard we try. The Bible says that all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. “All our righteousnesses!” If even our best deeds, done in the flesh, are considered filthy rags in God’s sight, where does that leave us? Sin is a permanent stain that even our most noble efforts cannot remove.
But the good news is that Jesus kept the law in our place. He did what you and I cannot do. He kept God’s law of love perfectly. Love for God, love for neighbor. We don’t do it as we should. But Jesus did. And he did it for us. His righteousness gets transferred to our account.
So the first picture we see in the Transfiguration is that of Jesus, his face shining like the sun and his clothes as white as light. Jesus Christ, the holy Son of God in the flesh, revealed in his divine glory.
Now what else do we see? “And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.” Moses and Elijah appear. What are they doing here? They haven’t been around for centuries! But now, for this unique occasion, God brings them into the picture. Moses, the great deliverer, who led Israel out of bondage in Egypt, and up to the Promised Land. Moses, the great law-giver, who at Mount Sinai gave Israel the Ten Commandments straight from God. Moses, the greatest of the prophets, but who also told Israel, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers–it is to him you shall listen.” And now, here that prophet is, the one who would be even greater than Moses. That’s why God has Moses standing there next to Jesus. It’s as though God is saying: Here he is, the one Moses was talking about. The one you now must listen to. He will fulfill the law for you. He will bring you out of bondage, the bondage of sin and death. This Jesus will lead you to–and into–the Promised Land of heaven. Yes, here is one greater than Moses.
One greater than Elijah also. Elijah, another great prophet from Israel’s past. In fact, all of God’s dealings with Israel, all of salvation history, finds its goal and fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. He is what it all was pointing ahead to, driving at, moving toward. That’s what the presence of Moses and Elijah here is signaling. All of Israel’s history leads to this man, Jesus. For later, when the disciples look up, they see “no one but Jesus only.”
“No one but Jesus only.” If you want to know where to look for your salvation, look to no one but Jesus only. If you want to know what the focus and the purpose and the point of the whole Bible is, look to Jesus. Look to Jesus, not as a law-giver. We already have Moses for that. Look to Jesus, not as an example, at least not primarily. Look to Jesus for who he is and what he came to do. Who is he? He is your Savior, the Savior of the world. What did he come to do? To do what you and I will never be able to do, and that is, to save us from our sins and to give us his life, his righteousness, forgiveness for our sins, and life with him forever. Who is able to do this? “No one but Jesus only.”
Then there is one more thing we see in the picture at the Transfiguration. A cloud. “Behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them.” Notice that, a “bright” cloud. Not a dark and threatening cloud, like the storm clouds on Mount Sinai when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. No, this is life-giving Gospel, not condemning Law. A bright cloud. The presence of God, but not in a threatening way. In a saving way. The presence of God surrounding us with his love, his protection, his presence to guard and guide us–like the pillar of cloud that led Israel through the wilderness. In Christ we have the presence of God with us, to lead us all the way through the wilderness of this world, all the way home to heaven.
So there is the picture. Jesus shining like the sun, his clothes white as light. Moses and Elijah there, telling us that Christ is the goal and focus of God’s plan of salvation. The bright cloud of God’s presence, his saving presence surrounding us. That’s the picture, that’s what we see.
Now what do we hear? Are there any words? A voice comes from the bright cloud, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” This of course is the voice of the heavenly Father. The Father’s voice, testifying to his Son, approving of this Jesus. “This is my beloved Son.” The Father loves the Son with a perfect love. Always has, always will. But especially does he testify to his love for the Son precisely as Jesus goes forward now with his saving mission, which is to go to the cross, to save sinful mankind. As Christ now sets his face to go to Jerusalem, to suffer and die on our behalf, the Father is saying that he is well pleased with his Son. God’s good pleasure is shown in sending him to do this great work.
God is telling us here to what measure he would go to rescue us. He’s saying he would give his only-begotten Son, his beloved Son, to die for us. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
And so the Father says of Christ, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” Yes, listen to him! Listen, disciples, as Jesus now tells you he must go to Jerusalem, where he will suffer and die. For this journey to Jerusalem, this way to the cross, is how God’s plan of love will be carried out. Yes, sinners, one and all, listen to God’s beloved Son Jesus Christ, when he says to you today, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Yes, church, listen to Jesus. And keep on listening. For he alone has the words of eternal life.
Today we have been with the disciples on the holy mountain for the Transfiguration of Our Lord. What have we seen? Here we have beheld our bright and shining Lord, our beautiful Savior, Jesus Christ. He is the Son of God come in the flesh. He is the goal and focus of all salvation history. In him we are surrounded by the bright cloud of God’s gracious presence. We lift up our eyes and see no one but Jesus only. And what do we hear? We hear the Father’s voice, testifying to his beloved Son. And so we hear how much God loves us, that he would send his Son to suffer and die for us. And God tells us to listen to Jesus, and to keep on listening, for our Lord has more words for us to hear, our whole life long.
Today it is on the Mount of Transfiguration, not in the glitz of Hollywood, that we see what truly is the Best Picture. Pictured for us in the Transfiguration of Our Lord is our glorious Savior, Jesus Christ, showing us exactly who it is who will go to the cross for us. And if it is God’s own Son who suffers and dies and rises again for us, if it’s Jesus who speaks words of life for us to listen to–well, that’s the Best Picture we can see.
a href=”http://www.ruthinstitute.org/ruth-speaks-out/poor-kids-need-their-parents-too” target=”_blank”>Poor Kids Need Their Parents Too
The Sexual Revolution and Its Victims
The Ruth Institute
Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse’s Blog
1 Ashley McGuire, Why Gender Equality Harms Women
2 Clarke Forsythe, The Supreme Court is the National Abortion Control Board
3 Pr. Jonathan Fisk, Will the Church Survive Demographic Winter?
4 Dr. Anthony Esolen on the State of Church Music
Lambs at Pasture for Invocavit (the First Sunday of Lent) and its Answer Key are now available for download.
The repetitive nature of Lambs at Pasture aids familiarity and memorization of key passages. This is especially true when used in conjunction with the Daily Prayer meditation found in the Lutheran Service Book (page 295).
For more information about Lambs at Pasture , please see the introduction blog post .
In Part 1 of this series of articles, we saw that The Shack and its theology arise from two pressures:
These two pressures – pain and the inadequacy of “traditional Christianity” – drive a person in pain to look for something else, or drive those who try to help persons in pain to find something else.
Wm. Paul Young, the author of The Shack experienced the Great Sadness that his main character, Mack, suffers in the novel, as a result of severe abuse in childhood. (See footnote 13 in Part 1)
Parallel to Paul being in his Great Sadness, in the 1980s and 1990s, there was a “renaissance of Trinitarian theology.”  This happened around the world, across denominational lines, and across disciplines and fields of study. Many Lutherans are unaware of this, but it is a pretty big deal. A piece of this would come to provide Paul with his healing, the healing he wants his children and you to have, the gospel of Trinitarian Theology.
As it relates to The Shack , the British setting of this renaissance is significant, where the revival of interest in the Trinity was much influenced by the Study Commission of the British Council of Churches on “Trinitarian Doctrine Today,” which met between November 1983 and May 1988. The seminal paper John Zizioulas presented to the commission delineated its task and defined its agenda.  Zizioulas agreed with the view of Karl Barth and Karle Rahner that the doctrine of the Trinity has become marginalized in the church, both East and West, not only in matters of doctrine, but also with regard to the devotional life of Christians.  With Costa Carras and James B. Torrance as their joint chairs, the study commission published their report titled The Forgotten Trinity ,  a selection of papers with the same title, and a study guide for local churches. The study guide related the Trinity to worship, Scripture, tradition, our relationship with God, human relationships, and society.
Torrance, his brother Thomas, Zizioulas, and theologians like them become some of the prime influences on Paul and others in the Perichoresis movement, such as the author of the The Shack Revisited , F. Baxter Kruger. Paul himself writes the foreword for The Shack Revisited , saying, “If you want to understand better the perspectives and theology that frame The Shack , this book is for you.”  He describes Kruger as “A Mississippi theologian who cut his intellectual teeth in Aberdeen, Scotland with the Torrance brothers.” 
This school of thought, this type of Trinitarian Theology, is not easy to summarize briefly. It draws from many sources in church history including the Cappadocian Fathers, Irenaeus, Athanasius, Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonheoffer, Robert Farrar Cappon, Geroge MacDonald, James Torrance, Thomas Torrance, Kallistos Ware, Richard Rohr, and John Zizioulas, to name a few.
In this theology, the Trinity becomes a theory-of-everything.  All other doctrines are affected by it, to the extent of being conditioned by it. The Trinity becomes a hermeneutical principle that governs how Scripture is interpreted. What we are to believe about creation, law, fall, sin, wrath, promise, faith, repentance, conversion, justification, atonement, sanctification, adoption, testament, new covenant, reconciliation, eschatology, holiness, and more is subject to what fits with the perichoretic Trinity.
The doctrine of the Trinity is not to be regarded as a specialized subsection of the Christian doctrine of God, but it functions as the framework for doing Christian theology. It is the point from where the whole of Christian teaching finds its integration. 
In Paul’s own words:
Eventually Baxter and I would like to deal, among other things, with history to help us understand how we got so far off-course, with theology that asks the hardest and best questions, and with the implications that must necessarily arise out of such conversations. If what we are trying to unveil and communicate is true, how does this affect our thinking about heaven, hell, evangelism, homosexuality, work, the role of women, politics, religion, science, the sacred-secular divide, commerce, education, the nature of the Church, the process of transformation, healing, and everything else? We would then like to see this reality worked out in the flesh of everyday experience. We hope to gather together people who can communicate with us what this vision looks like in their own spheres of interest and passion: astrophysics, mothering, arts, media, music, plumbing, farming, fathering, business leadership, pastoring, caring for the planet, medicine, day laboring, teaching, dance, you name it. 
Kruger says, and rightly, “it would take twenty volumes to set out the details and nuances of these ideas.” 
Paul’s larger vision is rooted in “the evangelical theology of the ancient Catholic Church,” to borrow a phrase from theologian Thomas F. Torrance. This vision involves you, me, and everyone else on the planet in a breathtaking relationship with Jesus’ Father – the Papa we always wanted. It is trinitarian, incarnational, relational, thoroughly biblical, Christ-centered, and cosmic. 
Streamlining this to the issue of the chief article: First, there is a perichoresis of the persons of God, then a perichoresis of the two natures in Christ, and then a perichoresis of fallen sinners in God through Christ, which is our salvation. 
I agree that the Trinity was marginalized. I agree that the Trinity should be dusted off from the shelf of academia and technicality and made the lay person’s bread, breath, prayer, and song. I am on board with that part of the agenda of the Trinitarian renaissance. Nine of my catechetical evangelism articles published in my local newspaper are about the Trinity.  Those articles seek to show how the Trinity is a vital, personal concern for the lay person, a matter close to heart, and an indispensable part of the evangelical appeal of the Gospel.
Trinitarian Theology’s theologians, pastors, teachers, and writers have created beautiful, flourishing, and inspirational expressions of many true things about the Trinity and many true implications of the Trinity for family, church, and society. Up to that point, Trinitarian Theology is a journey from pain to truth.
That is why it is tragic, so tragic, that many in the movement have fallen into error in ways that depart from the chief article on which the church stands or falls, justification and the redemption we have in Jesus. Trinitarian Theology, when it goes beyond what is revealed in Scripture, becomes a springboard for speculation. It becomes yet another Enthusiasm that bases beliefs on intra nos sources aside from the external Word and Sacrament. It becomes a sola trinitas that overrules sola scriptura , thereby changing the doctrines of law, sin, wrath, atonement, and justification, which loses the Gospel.
Part 3 will explore that tragedy. It will explore how the journey from pain to truth got carried away, how it overshot, and led to error. As a foreshadowing, one way of describing the problem is that a vicarious humanity of Christ subsumes and eclipses the vicarious sacrifice of Christ.
As a typical American, I was an individualist. I had always believed that Jesus was the Son of God and that he became a human being, but I thought of him as an individual who did something for us . I had not seen – even though Professor Torrance was telling us so fifty times a day, in his great phrase “the vicarious humanity of Christ”— that in Jesus something happened not only for us , but to us and with us .
Kruger, C. Baxter. The Shack Revisited: There Is More Going On Here than You Ever Dared to Dream (p. 144). FaithWords. Kindle Edition.
 Christopher Schwöbel, ‘The Renaissance of Trinitarian Theology: Reasons, Problems and Tasks,’ in idem, ed., Trinitarian Theology Today: Essays on Divine Being and Act (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1995), 1–30.
 John Zizioulas, ‘The Doctrine of the Trinity Today: Suggestions for an Ecumenical Study,’ in Heron, ed., The Forgotten Trinity , 19–32.
 Rahner said that if it were announced that the dogma of the Trinity had been a mistake and was to be erased from official Christianity, nobody would be too bothered, neither the ordinary believing Christians nor the authors of theological textbooks. Karl Rahner, The Trinity , Trans. Joseph Donceel (NY: Crossroad, 1997) pp. 10-11.
 The Forgotten Trinity: 1. The Report of the BCC Study Commission on Trinitarian Doctrine Today (London: British Council of Churches [BCC], 1989); The Forgotten Trinity: 2. A Study Guide on Issues Contained in the Report of the BCC Study Commission on Trinitarian Doctrine Today (London: BCC, 1989); Alasdair I. C. Heron, ed., The Forgotten Trinity: A Selection of Papers Presented to the BCC Study Commission on Trinitarian Doctrine Today (London: BCC/CCBI, 1991).
 Young, Wm. P., Foreword, Kruger, C. Baxter. The Shack Revisited: There Is More Going On Here than You Ever Dared to Dream (p. ix). FaithWords. Kindle Edition.
 Young, Wm. P., Foreword, Kruger, C. Baxter. The Shack Revisited: There Is More Going On Here than You Ever Dared to Dream (p. ix). FaithWords. Kindle Edition.
 The Trinity as a theory-of-everything has merits. The Renaissance sought the theory of the unified field, giving to the university its name, and while making headway, never found it. The Reformation, without making that its project, serendipitously happened upon it (by grace!), in the Trinity. The Trinity shows something that deserves to be called much more than a harmony of the one-and-many, unity-and-diversity, and community-and-individuality. This harmony solves problems across fields, and thus can be a unified field theory. For example, we see it in the seven simple machines from which all the manifold machinery of the world is composed. Because of the Trinity, I can say that ‘On my farm, I have only seven machines, because there are only seven machines in the world, from which all the thousands of kinds of machin ery are composed.’ We see it in e pluribus unum underlying the constitutions of Great Britain, Canada, and the United States. We see it in the field of accountancy with its seven elements. We see it in art, architecture, astronomy, mathematics, economics, and so on. A Reformed treatment of the Trinity and the impact of the One-and-Many worth your time to read is Rousas John Rushdoony, The One and Many: Studies in the Philosophy of Order and Ultimacy (Fairfax, VA: Thoburn Press, 1978). The trouble comes when we speculate beyond what is revealed, and use speculative notions about the Trinity as intra nos Enthusiasm that supplants the revelation of Scripture. Because, ‘No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him,’ (John 1:18), theology centers better in the Incarnation, in Christology. In Christ, God is declared, not in speculations about God that go past what Christ has declared.
 Christopher Schwöbel, ‘Where Do We Stand in Trinitarian Theology?’ in Christophe Chalamet and Marc Vial, eds., Recent Developments in Trinitarian Theology: An International Symposium (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014), p. 16. Downloadable at Project Muse .
 Wm. P. Young in Foreword, Kruger, C. Baxter. The Shack Revisited: There Is More Going On Here than You Ever Dared to Dream (p. xii). FaithWords. Kindle Edition.
 Kruger, C. Baxter. The Shack Revisited: There Is More Going On Here than You Ever Dared to Dream (p. 64). FaithWords. Kindle Edition.
 Kruger, C. Baxter. The Shack Revisited: There Is More Going On Here than You Ever Dared to Dream (p. 62). FaithWords. Kindle Edition.
 “This means that the mutual indwelling of the blessed Trinity now includes us! In Jesus, the human race has been gathered into the Holy Spirit’s world. Adam’s fallen race has been embraced by Jesus’ Father and made his children forever. In Jesus, the love and joy, the fellowship and shared life, the staggering oneness of the blessed Trinity, have found us in our shacks – us: you, me, all of us – forever. In Jesus, ‘Papa has crawled inside of your world to be with you.’” Kruger, C. Baxter. The Shack Revisited: There Is More Going On Here than You Ever Dared to Dream (p. 141). FaithWords. Kindle Edition.