February 8, 2016

February 7, 2015 - Romans 12:1-2

Theme: The Transfigured Sign of our Savior
1) Shown first through Jesus to Peter and John
2) Shown endlessly in the lives of all Christians
Dear fellow believers,

It’s been said that people often change the way they look when a life-altering event happens. If a dating couple breaks up, maybe the girl changes the way she does her make-up or she gets a new hairstyle. Someone recently laid off of work may go on a shopping spree and get new clothes. Those who are recently retired might not worry so much about formal dress but figure they’ve earned the right to let it loose. Every New Year we hear countless stories about things people want to change; it’s because the beginning of a new year is a major turning point.

It’s easy to change appearances, but eventually what was once new becomes ordinary again. It’s much harder to change the heart, but doing so can last a lifetime. God has us consider the change of our hearts today and every day through His Word. That’s what repentance and forgiveness are all about; a change of souls and the innermost part of who we are. Although we confess our sins regularly, as we obviously need to because we sin regularly, the blessings of God’s forgiveness are always with us. We don’t shift in and out of God’s grace simply because we sin, rather, we live with the hope of constantly being in the protection of His grace at all times.

Today we consider a special turning point in Jesus’ life which led directly to hope of forgiveness that we have in His name. We call this the Transfiguration, literally, the changing of His appearance or figure. We read the historical account of this event as Luke recorded it in His Gospel. It was a monumental moment in Jesus’ ministry, and certainly a moment well-worth remembering today.

But, we also seek to learn from it today for our lives. In addition to the Father’s approval, and Moses and Elijah’s presence, Jesus’ appearance was transformed. Luke tells us that His robe became “white and glistening.” Mark adds that it was whiter than any launderer on earth could get it. It were probably blinding to the naked eye, much like Moses’ face after He stood in the presence of God on Mount Sinai. This was an important time for Jesus and for His disciples. There’s a reason that we dedicate a Sunday to the Transfiguration. Peter would later write with a defending tone, telling his readers that they did not follow myths about Jesus but were eyewitnesses of His glory during His Transfiguration.

This event represented the Father’s approval. It represented Christ’s fulfillment of the Old Testament. It even represented the transition to the New Testament as Peter, James, and John stood by and watched. But perhaps most important of all the Transfiguration represented that Jesus was the acceptable sacrifice. He was pure and holy as God and man. He was worthy to pay for peoples’ sins because He lived in complete righteousness. Unlike us sinners, Jesus didn’t need to be transformed because of something He lacked. Rather, He was transformed because He completed all of God’s requirements. And that’s what the white robe and the blinding image meant.

The Transfiguration was a major turning point in Jesus’ ministry. His status as the Chosen One of God was now made abundantly clear. After this, His path to the cross began, just our path to the cross begins this Wednesday with the season of Lent.

All those things, in and of themselves, are a lot to handle. We could go on writing and saying much more about those aspects of the Transfiguration. But we also see a special application to our lives. Through Jesus’ transformation and the blessing of the Holy Spirit’s insight through subsequent writers, we are blessed to make a direct link to that magnificent change in our Lord and the change that has taken place in our hearts.

We see this in our text for today, Romans 12:1-2: I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

It’s uncanny how many connections exist to Jesus in these verses. The first is how God encourages His people to present their bodies as living sacrifices. Is that possible? How can something be a sacrifice if it still lives? Isn’t the entire purpose of a sacrifice that its life is taken away? That’s true, for every sacrifice except one. There’s where we see Jesus; the one sacrifice that lives. He was killed. His life was stripped away from Him. He willingly went to the altar of the cross. But He lives. He rose again from the dead. Only Jesus is the acceptable living sacrifice and so only through Jesus do we bear that same honor in our lives.

We see another connection in what we offer to Jesus – our bodies. We know both from the Bible and other historical sources that human sacrifice was a fundamental practice in many false religions. In contrast to that kind of offering, God gave His own Son as the one who died. He did exactly what He initially called Abraham to do with Isaac, thereby picturing what Jesus would be. God Himself chose to offer His own body, so that no other human would have to! He doesn’t require human sacrifice, He gives it! With such a thought on our minds we are impressed at the enormous cost of our sins. The repentant heart asks the same question Micah did: With what shall I come before the LORD, And bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, With calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, Ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul (Micah 6:6-7)?

God wants us to feel the weight and the burden of our sins and so He describes it in His Word. He wants us to be left with that empty feeling in our hearts that cannot be covered by anything other than Christ. The despair of our sin, leading us to question what we could possibly offer in return, even the life of our children, creates the very setting in our hearts in which the simple gospel latches onto securely and grows. Now that we know we don’t have to offer our own bodies or those dearest to us, we understand that we can serve God as offerings of a different kind. Our bodies are now living offerings.

How does this make us consider Jesus? Well, obviously He’s the sacrifice. But the Church is also His spiritual body. Throughout the New Testament, believers are called the body of Christ – both because He is the Head of the Church but also because by faith we are uniquely connected to Jesus. By faith we become part of who He is and what He stands for. We share with Him in the blessings of forgiveness and life, and eventually in heaven itself. And we work together, as different individuals, different members, for the common purpose of the Church – to extend the saving gospel to all people.

When God requests that we present our bodies as living sacrifices, the only acceptable way is through Jesus. Only that kind of service, done in faith is well-pleasing to God. Ah, another connection to the Transfiguration. Jesus was declared to be well-pleasing to the Father. We, too, through Jesus present ourselves as well-pleasing servants ready to glorify our Lord.      
But there’s even one more connection between our lives and Christ’s Transfiguration, and it’s the most obvious of all. Paul goes on, “And do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed…” literally, transfigured. Same word, same thought, same Savior. And it’s at this point that we think of our focus today in the sixth commandment. There’s a unique aspect about sins against the sixth commandment. All sins are done in the body in some way, but sins of a sexual nature create a particular unity meant only for the marital relationship.

Paul explains: Don't you know that your bodies are a part of Christ's body? So should I take a part of Christ's body and make it part of a prostitute? Absolutely not! 16 Don't you know that anyone joined to a prostitute is one body with her? For Scripture says, The two will become one flesh (1 Corinthians 6:15-16). When one sins by committing adultery he or she literally creates a unity with another body that shouldn’t be there. In other words, he conforms himself, both literally and physically, to sin. Those who sin in a sexual manner are not presenting their bodies as living sacrifices. They are not mirroring the transformed image of Christ and representing His glory as the Church, His body.

When we understand the connection between Christ’s Transfiguration and our transformation of faith, we see why breaking the sixth commandment is so serious. It’s almost as if our bodies are serving as temples for the gods of lust and desire rather than the temple of the True God. Adultery takes what is set apart and dedicated for Christ and unites it with a ploy and temptation from Satan. And on top of it all, adultery leads to a host of other sins which ravage our lives.

Peter also wrote about the danger of sexual desires in his first letter. It sounds very similar to our verses from Romans: As obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct (1 Peter 1:14-15). He goes on to say that these lusts wage war against the Christian’s soul. It’s a constant battle and constant struggle of which we are all involved.   

The Transfiguration of Jesus is an important reminder for us when it comes to how we use our bodies, and especially when guarding against sexual sins. But the best thing to remember is that it is also a source of strength and comfort. The same Jesus whose appearance was radically changed on that mountain is the same Jesus who lives and abides in you. We, as a Church, are His body. He is the same Jesus who comes to you in the Word of God and calls you to faith and righteous living in the gospel. And His bright appearance stands as a testimony of your own forgiveness just as much as it was a measure of His own holiness. Just as He was changed, so you and I are changed too. By faith in Jesus you are not conformed to the world, joining your mortal bodies with sexual sins and lusts or any other deviance. Rather, you are transformed; each of you are transfigured by the grace of Jesus. All because after the turning point of the Transfiguration in His ministry, He didn’t ascend an earthly throne or pursue monetary riches. He didn’t ride off into the sunset living happily ever after. He went the path of the cross in order to earn that transformative power for each of you.

With that victory in our hearts by faith, it moves to our hands and our lips and every other part of our bodies. Instead of being controlled by the lusts of the flesh, we are changed. We now have power to say “no” to the temptation that enters our minds. You have power to live committed lives to your spouse or to wait until the appropriate context of marriage. You can exist and prosper despite the downward trend of the world we live in. And along the way you can help effect the same change in the lives of others. Listen to what Paul told the Romans earlier, because it applies to you just the same: Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. 13 And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace (Romans 6:12-14).

We are living under the power of God’s grace, the Transfiguration power of Jesus. It’s forgiveness that makes the change, not the weight and pressure of the Law. Remember Luther’s words from our confession excerpt: “For harmony is one of the principal points that enkindles love and desire for chastity, so that, where this is found, chastity will follow without any command.” Luther’s describing the harmony of love in a marriage, which is to mirror the love that Christ showed the Church. This is the love of the gospel, the power that transforms your life to serve God and to resist the lusts of the flesh.

Can it really work? Is the gospel really powerful enough to lead you to victory over the lusts of the flesh? Look no further for an answer than the theme for today, the Transfiguration. Can you visualize the splendor and power of Jesus? Can you imagine the brightness of His appearing? It’s a pretty strong sign, and it’s also what He does for all sinners who feel the crushing weight of the Law. He changes them. Transforms them from servants of the burden to victors. Can the gospel work? Absolutely. But, often we block it out because we doubt it even comes to us.

Still question the power of the gospel? Remember the case in Corinth that Paul addressed; a type of sexual immorality so gross that it wasn’t even present among the unbelievers – happening among believers! Paul tells us the reason he was optimistic for change: And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's.

The gospel leads the way because the gospel makes the transformation. Don’t conform to the world by automatically doubting that power. God has used the same gospel from the beginning of the world to change people who went through the same things you and I do. Today, we need to use that power more than ever. God lead us to do that. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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