Transfiguration Is for Preaching

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Behind the preacher stands Christ Jesus. Preachers listen to Jesus so that, in turn, they may preach Him, and their congregations may hear the voice of the Good Shepherd from the mouths of their pastors.

The Epiphany of Jesus is anchored in His Baptism in the Jordan. There the Father speaks from Heaven: “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased” The telos of Epiphany is Jesus’ Transfiguration. At Epiphany’s end, as at its beginning, we hear again the Father’s voice from the cloud: “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him” (Mark 9:7). Like His Baptism, the Lord’s Transfiguration is a revelation of the triune God.

Some liturgical traditions classify the Epiphany season as part of “Ordinary Time,” making it “fly over” territory in the Church Year in between Christmas and Lent. There is, however, nothing ordinary about this season as God is making Himself manifest in His Son as the Savior of the world. In the year of Mark, the Gospel readings for the Sundays after Epiphany focus on Jesus, who exercises His authority in preaching which delivers the Kingdom of God, silences Satan, and brings healing to the sick. Now, on the Last Sunday after Epiphany, Transfiguration Sunday, the Father once again reveals His Son and bids us listen to Him.

There is much a preacher might draw from the Transfiguration for preaching. Fleming Rutledge provides an illuminating discussion of the Transfiguration from the perspective of God’s glory in the person of Jesus.[1] In the novel by Bo Giertz, The Hammer of God, there is a chapter entitled “Transfiguration Day,” where a young and uncertain preacher is brought to joy in the report that the disciples who were on the holy mountain with the Lord “no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only” (Mark 9:8). Transfiguration is the festival which brings together the “solus Christus” with the “sola fide.” The novice preacher learned that both he and his congregation needed not more of Moses, but only Jesus![2]

Transfiguration is the festival which brings together the “solus Christus” with the “sola fide.”

Gordon Jensen points out how Luther had the printer set the words “LISTEN TO HIM” in capital letters on the printing press as a way of accenting the Gospel in his 1534 Bible translation.[3] In numerous places, Luther underscores the need to hear Christ. In his lectures on Isaiah (1527), he writes:

“Indeed, no God will avail for you except the God of Him who sucked the virgin’s breast. On Him, fix your eyes. For you cannot grasp God in Himself, unless perchance you want a consuming fire. But in Christ you see nothing but all sweetness, humanity, gentleness, clemency; in short, the forgiveness of sins and every mercy, etc. When you have Him, then good for you; you are a tower of defense with God the Father. Cling to Christ, otherwise, you will hear the Father Himself speaking against you when He says (Matthew 17:5): ‘Listen to Him.’” (AE 66:55).

In Luther’s last sermon in Eisleben, Germany, preached on February 15, 1546 (just days before his death), Luther proclaimed:

“The same thing should happen here in the Christian Church; none other should be preached or taught except the Son of God alone. Of Him alone it is said, ‘This is My beloved Son; listen to Him’ [Matthew 17:5] and no other, be he emperor, pope, or cardinal. Therefore, this is what I say: I grant that emperor, pope, cardinals, princes, and nobles are wise and understanding, but I shall believe in Christ. He is my Lord. He is the one God bids me to listen to. From Him He bids me to learn what real, divine wisdom and understanding are” (AE 51:388).

In his John sermons (1530-1532), Luther notes the uniqueness of the Christ of whom the Father says, “Listen to Him”:

“It was Christ ‘s exclusive prerogative to proclaim: ‘If anyone thirst, let him come to Me and drink.’ No other person is entitled to say this. For any other preaching it is befitting to do no more than point others to Christ, leading them to hear His words. He must leave himself out of account and proclaim only Christ. None but Christ can declare: ‘I have been sent that you hear Me.’ Thus, the heavenly Father says of Him (Matthew 17:5): ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.’ And in Psalm 2:7: “Thou are My Son; today I have begotten Thee.’ You must not rivet your attention on us preachers. No, look to Him and hear Him; for I am unable to accomplish what He has accomplished” (AE 23:280-281).

The preacher himself is not the focus. He is but the mouthpiece of the Lord’s speaking and he can only speak what he has been given to say from the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures. Behind the preacher stands Christ Jesus. Preachers listen to Jesus so that, in turn, they may preach Him, and their congregations may hear the voice of the Good Shepherd from the mouths of their pastors. So, Transfiguration is also a call to preachers to “Listen to Him.” It is a call to preachers to live in and breathe in the Holy Scriptures: “The Holy Scripture is the ‘breathing space’ of the Holy Spirit... ‘Just look’ says Luther, ‘that you heed God’s Word and stay there like a child in a cradle.’”[4]

The Transfiguration is something of a bridge between Christmas and Calvary, between Epiphany and Easter. On the mountain, Jesus’ humanity is transparent to the glory that is rightfully His from all eternity. It is the glory which will be permanently manifested in His resurrection from the grave, His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and His open return on the Last Day. As the Church waits on that final and unparalleled Epiphany when every eye will see Him, we heed the voice of His Father: “This is My beloved Son. Listen to Him.”


[1] See Rutledge, Fleming. Epiphany: The Season of Glory. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2023. 119-131. As Rutledge observes: “This is the glory of the Epiphany season, and a charge to preachers and teachers of the Christian faith. Telling stories about Jesus, what He said and what He did, is an essential part of spreading the Gospel. But without the “doxa,” the only Son from the Father, it is an incomplete gospel” (129).

[2] Here, also see Luther’s annotations on Matthew (1534-35/1538): “It is not the Law that is being discussed here, but rather that highest article of human salvation, without the Law, without traditions, without our works; that is the revealed Christ, the Son of the living God, who is to be listened to, known, believed, and confessed” (AE 67:311-312).

[3] Here, see Jensen, Gordon. Experiencing Gospel: The History and Creativity of Martin Luther’s 1534 Bible Project. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2023. I am indebted to Jensen’s sixth chapter, “Luther’s Emphasis on ‘Listen to Him’” (pages 95-114) as an inspiration for my own thinking on how to preach the Transfiguration.

[4] Oswald Bayer, Oswald. “Theology as Askesis” Logia 27. Holy Trinity, 2018. 37.