Longing to See the Lord
Text: Luke 9:28-36
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Truly I say to you,” Jesus said, “Many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see…” And it was true. Moses longed to see what those who were standing before Jesus saw. As Moses struggled through the length and burden of leading Israel through the Exodus, he need a sign that the Lord would go with him. So he requested, “Please show me your glory.” Then, before his death, knowing that he would not enter the Promised Land, Moses was granted a glimpse of what God’s people would inherit, but only from a distance. Many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see.
The prophet Elijah, after being hunted and threatened for speaking the truth about the Lord and His Word, grew discouraged. Those in authority hated him. It seemed like all Israel had gone after Baal. “I have been very jealous for the Lord, God of hosts,” the prophet told God. He wanted to see God’s glory, as a sign that he was on the right track, on the winning side. Many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see.
And the Apostles, those who walked with Jesus for years and learned directly from Him, also wanted to see the Lord in all His glory. Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough.” He wanted some token that what Jesus was saying was true, that He was the Messiah, the Son of the Father. Surely the full glory of God would prove that. Many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see.
And we—how often do we long to see God’s glory? We want to see some token that we’re right, that we’re doings things the right way. We want some warm comfortable glow of light, some blinding sign to announce that we’re fine, that we’re good, that we’re better. We want to be reassured that what we’re suffering is a fluke, an error that will soon be corrected. We want to bask in power, to have it surround us. We want God in all His splendor, the power, the glory, and the kingdom, to be close enough to touch, to see with our eyes, to be a beacon to us and all the world that we are God’s favored.
Why? Why is this the sign that Moses, Elijah, the disciples, and even we long to see? Why is it always glory that we want to observe? In short, it’s because of our fallen flesh. Our fallen nature walks by sight, and not by faith. Our fearful hearts doubt whenever challenges and troubles arise. When there are wars and rumors of wars, we forget that our Lord said that these things must happen, and instead trust what our eyes see rather than what our God has told us. We want to see big numbers, big money, big influence. We want easy paths of least resistance, public and popular approval, to be on the winning side. When we see things like death, decline, disease, and disappointment, we think that God must be angry at us, that we must atone for ourselves, that all those things will go away if just get that magic formula, if we just get it right. Our fallen nature tells us that there must be a solution to this rather than taking up our cross and bearing it, as we’ve been told to do by our Savior. Our minds, shaped by that knowledge of good and evil from the Garden of Eden, still want us to be like gods, surrounded by glory. Anything less than that is simply too uncertain, too scary, too mortal. If we could only see God’s glory, then that would be enough.
Moses longed to see God’s glory—but he only got to see God’s back after the Lord had walked past him. Anything else would have destroyed Moses. Elijah longed to see the Lord’s glory—but even after a great wind that tore apart mountains, and an earthquake, and a fire, none of which the Lord was in, powerful as they were—Elijah had to be satisfied with God coming to him in the sound of a low whisper. And when Philip asked Jesus to show them the Father and it would be enough, Jesus said, “Have I been with you so long and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” The disciples would not see the glory they thought they wanted. They would see Jesus, a man from Galilee, nothing about His appearance to inspire worship or awe. Just Jesus.
Except for one time. Jesus took Peter, James, and John to a mountain to pray. And as Jesus was praying, they got a glimpse of the glory that had always been His from before creation began. His face was different, transfigured from glory to glory. Even His clothes became dazzling white, purest light. This was not His full glory—that would have burned them to ash—but the veil was lowered some. They could see Him as God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.
But even then, seeing Jesus transfigured didn’t do what they thought it would. They saw what Moses and Elijah and all the prophets and righteous had longed to see, but pay close attention to the details here at Jesu’s Transfiguration. Jesus had told them, “Many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and to hear what you hear.” And when Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus, they weren’t simply taking in the sights of Jesus’ light and glory. They were talking with Him, hearing Him. And the voice that came out of the shining cloud said, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” Not “Look at Him.” Listen to Him.
It’s the same with us. We, though we have seen what the prophets and righteous people of old longed to see and heard what they longed to hear, we still need our eyes opened to it. Or, perhaps more precisely said, we need our ears opened to it. “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!” So just as when the Apostles looked up and saw Jesus alone after the voice had spoken from the cloud, so we also must learn to look not for glory, not for power, not for security, but to look at Jesus alone; to listen to Him. When the voice of God the Father tells us so clearly to do something, we would do well to do it.
We will always be tempted to look for glory. We’ll want the glory and comforts of the world, the security that worldly minds find in things like money and popularity and widespread support. We’ll look for the glory of having God pat us on the back in front of others, letting us and everyone know that we’re doing things right by making life a little easier, a little more glorious for us. But we are coming doing from the mountain, fellow believers. Moses, after he was on the heights of Mount Sinai where God was wrapped in cloud and fire, he came down to find the people of Israel worshiping the golden calf, rejecting him and the God he loved and trusted. When Elijah came away from where he had encountered God in the low quiet whisper, he found hostility from the king and only a remnant of God’s people preserved from worshiping Baal. So we, who are coming down the Mount of Transfiguration today, can expect to find things not-so-glorious by our fallen standards. But if we have been told on the mountain today to listen to Jesus, we should.
And what is it that Jesus will say? What should we be listening to from Him? Only a few verses after the Transfiguration, Jesus speaks: “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of sinful men.” He speaks—constantly and consistently—about His cross, His holy innocent bitter suffering and death.
We’re heading into Lent. Our eyes must be focused on Jesus. There will be lots of distractions. The world will not clear its calendars because we’re coming down from the Mount of Transfiguration. The devil will not stop trying to deceive us into thinking that God owes us something other than what He’s given us. There will be a lot of forms of glory that will try to call away our attention. But we listen to Jesus. We see Jesus alone. We hear what He’s done for us: how He conquered temptation in the wilderness, how He bore our sins, how He suffered for us under Pontius Pilate, how He died for us on the cross. We’ll fill our ears with this for the next six weeks. There will be more opportunities than usual in the coming weeks to listen to Jesus, so I invite you to come to those. Then on Good Friday, listen to Him cry out from the cross in victory. It won’t look like victory to our eyes. It won’t look like glory. But it will be. Then, on the third day, we’ll hear Him speak again when He rises from the dead.
During His Transfiguration, Jesus talks with Moses and Elijah about His departure. More accurately, He talks about His exodus, how His journey through this sin-fallen world will reach its conclusion as He redeems it and ushers us, His people, into the greater Promised Land. That’s what He talked about with Moses and Elijah on the mountain. So if it’s good enough for those prophets and righteous people to talk about, to focus on, even when there’s all that glory—the light, the cloud—that they could be talking about; if it’s good enough for them, then it’s good enough for us to focus on too. It’s good to be here, not because it’s glorious, but because it’s with Jesus. It’s good to be here on the way to His cross and resurrection. And so now we turn our hearts, eyes, and ears to those things. In the name of Jesus, our only Glory. Amen.