March 3, 2019 The Transfiguration
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
Easter is a ‘movable festival’ in the church year. The season of Lent is always 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter = not counting Sundays. Transfiguration Sunday is the turning point between the ‘afterglow of Christmas’ and the start of Lent. Today we are with Peter, James & John on the mountain to see Jesus transfigured, and now we will come down off the mountain to walk thru the valley of Lent; from seeing His glory to seeing His suffering.
Peter was correct when he said, ‘Lord, it’s good for us to be here. Those three would need today’s encouragement in order to hang in there as Jesus suffers the world’s worst indignities, and even heaven’s rejection at the cross. You & I need to see Jesus’ transfiguration so as to be encouraged when we doubt that this faith is enough to see us thru our troubles, and when the world ridicules us & mocks our bible morals & our hope of heaven. What is our encouragement? That we glimpse Jesus = revealed as the very Son of God, who came to humbly serve us in human flesh & blood.
WITH Jesus on that mountain that day were 2 men representing God’s et. Word-of-Life of the Law & the prophets. Our OT reading today reminds us of the power & mercy God demonstrated thru one of those men as his earthly life ends. Deuteronomy chpt.34 is the last chapter & verses of the whole Torah, the 5 Books of Moses.
The transfiguration is about Jesus; but The Son of God shows us those 2 men; let’s talk about one of them. In all the history of God & His world & His servants ~ like David, Isaiah, & Elijah, no one was more important than Moses. As we just heard: “And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt.” (Deut 34:10–11).
This unmatched role of Moses in the history of God’s work in the world is most certainly confirmed by his presence with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. And yet, while Israel mourns his death, God has given them another promise, in Deut 18; God said to Moses:
“I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put My Words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.”
From the death of Moses (1406 BC) until the birth of Jesus, Israel was waiting for that promise to be fulfilled. By faith, WE know the promise of Jesus-the-Messiah, confirmed on the mountain that day. We also know, by Moses’ example, that even tho our body will lie in the grave, we will be with Jesus, face-to-face; while we wait for the day of resurrection.
We have heard that at the moment of death your entire life will flash before your eyes.
I don’t know how that works; our ‘whole’ life would take time & mostly be boring. So, maybe it’s just the best highlights. Because of Scripture, we know Moses’ highlights. His flash-of-life might begin by looking up out of a basket, with the sound of the Nile River around him. Then he is ‘drawn out’ of the water, rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter, & nursed as an infant in his own home. After he’s weened, pharaoh’s daughter adopts him, & for forty years, he lives as a prince in Egypt. No doubt, one of the ‘lower’ highlights was the day he intervened to protect an Israelite slave, and he murders an Egyptian. He buries the man in the desert, but the deed becomes known, and he flees & goes into hiding.
For next 40 years, he is in the wilderness. He is a shepherd for the flocks of Jethro,
he marries Jethro’s daughter Zipporah, and starts a family. It makes a person wonder how much of our work-a-day life will make our highlights-reel. For Moses, I’m sure this next part did. At age 80, Moses is tending his herd among the many hills and he sees that bush burning, without the leaves or branches being consumed. In the midst of the bush is the Angel of the Lord, who speaks to Moses. The Lord reveals His personal, divine name, and then sends Moses as a prophet to rescue his people.
For the next 40 years, there were a lot of potential life-scenes for Moses. His numerous appearances before Pharaoh, which were always emphasized with the Lord’s command:
“Let my people go.” As Moses stands on Mt.Nebo & sees the Promised Land, he thinks back to when: /the staff turned into a snake, /the Nile turned to blood, /the other plagues, /the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, /& the way the people cried out as pharaoh made their lives hard.
The Passover must’ve flashed before his eyes: the lamb’s blood on the door, all the Egyptians mourning the death of their firstborn, and finally the movement of about 2 million men,women,&children out of Egypt. And how could Moses forget how it looked like the exodus was going to quickly come to a dead-end.
There were mountains on the left & the right, the Rea Sea in front, and the armies of Pharaoh behind. But Moses stretched out his hand & staff over the sea, and the people cross over on dry ground; and then Pharaoh & his armies are utterly destroyed in the sea. That was a day of rejoicing & praising Yahweh for that deliverance. If Moses’ life was passing before his eyes on the day of his death, I hope he was sitting down, because there was a lot more to see & remember.
After the Red Sea miracle, the Lord brought them back to the mountain where Moses had seen the burning bush, but now the entire mountain is on fire. The Lord speaks His Holy Commandments from this cloud & fire, and calls Moses up on the burning mountain to stand before the throne, in the council of the Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit. For 40 days&nights, Moses fasts, and receives the instructions about being the covenant people of God so God would dwell with them. Moses comes down off the mountain with two tablets, written by the finger of God himself.
There’s the golden calf, /the intercession of Moses that restrained the wrath of God,/the snakes & the bronze serpent that saved the people, /the construction of the tabernacle,/the anointing of Aaron & his sons to serve as priests, /the fire of God that consumed the sacrifice, /and the glory of God that filled the Holy Place. *Who on earth had a life like Moses?
Every time Moses went to speak with God in the tabernacle, his face would shine = ancient artist made it look like ‘horns’ in their paintings. Moses would wear a veil so as not to spook the people, and because that light would fade.
Moses had sent 12 spies into the Promised Land. Two came back with faith in God; ten came back with fear. When the people listened to the ten, the Lord gave them 40 years of wandering in the wilderness; 40 years of trouble & testing & tasteless manna. But also 40 yrs of protection; & time enough for Moses to write & publish the Torah: Genesis/Exodus/Leviticus/ Numbers/Deuteronomy.
But think of this: it was also 40 years of funerals. None of the 600,000 men who came out of Egypt would go into the Promised Land; & neither their wives, but only their children. Do the math: almost 600 people each week would die. Their time of wandering in the wilderness was a 40 year funeral procession. Because they didn’t trust God, their Deliverer, when it counted.
And now, in Deuteronomy 34, we come to the end of wandering, to the edge of the Jordan River, and there is only one more death & funeral before they cross over: He’s 120 years old, but his eyes were “undimmed, and his vigor unabated.” That means he could’ve kept going, leading the new generation of people. But it’s the Lord who says ‘enough’, & ‘well done, thou good & faithful servant. Come & inherit the kingdom.’ The same Lord will, one day, say ‘enough’ to YOU; *are you being a good & faithful servant?
Scripture tells us a lot about Moses; the Lord made his life remarkable. For Israel, he was the face of God for them; God’s spokesman. He was the Lawgiver = the one human chosen by God to reveal the ‘Big Ten’; the 10 statutes of all human behavior from the Creator Himself. In Moses’ preaching they heard the thundering of God, with holiness & anger over sin, large & small.
But Moses was not all Law; thru Moses also came great grace & mercy upon the earth. Thru Moses, God gave the bronze serpent on the pole to save the people = a direct picture of Jesus lifted up on the cross: so says Jesus in John 3. Moses builds the tabernacle, and puts in place the sacrifices, with the blood of bulls & goats sanctifying the people, so that God could dwell & meet with the people & bless them = that’s mercy, that’s gospel. Thru Moses, God /repeatedly rescues the people by forgiveness, /claims them as His own, /sanctifies them, /brings them to the threshold of the Promised Land, /gives them the liturgy of worship & the divine services & the priesthood, /the ark of the covenant with the Mercy Seat, /the Written Word, /& the promise that another would come, a Prophet like Moses == but better. That’s our gospel, seen today in the Transfiguration.
Deut.34, here’s Moses, 120-yrs-old, still full of life, standing on Mt. Nebo across the Jordan, and his time is done. But none of all his life is flashing before his eyes. His life was very useful, but could never save him. Like all of us, Moses was counting on the Messiah, the Christ. So, the Lord puts before him a vision of the land of promise; Moses is a Christian, and the Lord intends for Moses to die as he lived, with faith & with hope = not in himself, but in God’s Savior.
Of course, Moses could look back on his life, and see in a thousand different ways how the Lord had blessed him, protected & cared for him; that could certainly offer comfort.
But on the edge of death, the Lord does not have him look behind, but ahead. It had not been written yet, but from the top of Mt.Nebo, Moses is looking out at the hill country of Judah; and there’s Bethlehem, where Christ-the-Lord would be born. Flowing below him is the Jordan River, where ‘chosen one’ called Yeshua will be baptized, and another faithful man will preach “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (Jn 1:29).
The wilderness of Judea doesn’t look like much from up there, but that’s where the devil himself will tempt Jesus for 40 days & nights. To the north is Galilee, where God’s Son will teach with authority, & call his disciples; where He will announce the coming of God’s kingdom & the NT Church = to include forgiven sinners like you & me. Moses didn’t know it at the time, but in that area of Galilee is the very mountain that =1400 years later= he will stand on with Elijah, & those 3 apostles, to talk with Jesus about His own exodus/departure.
And there in the hills directly in front of Moses is Mt.Zion, future Jeru-salem, the city of peace, where Jesus will suffer & die, lifted up on the cross. He would take God’s wrath in Moses’ place, & in the place of all sinners. And nearby the cross, there’s where the empty tomb will be, and the Mount of Olives where Jesus will ascend back to the Father, to be His ‘right hand’ to rule & reign over all things for the sake of his Church = His people Israel.
Yes, by the same faith, Moses knew that the best was yet to come. He was not feeling his old age, but it didn’t matter; his death was not the end. The same Lord of the burning bush, & of the Red Sea, & the tabernacle presence, is the same Jesus who is set to return in power & glory; with Him will be a resurrection of the body & an everlasting life for those who belong to him. Even in 1400 BC, Moses is a top example of faith & hope.
Moses past life doesn’t pass before his eyes. Sure, it was a blessed life; but also hard & frustrating, with his own sin, & the sin of those around him. He doesn’t dwell in the past.
At his death, God sets before him the promises of the future; the promises of grace & mercy thru the Deliverer, Jesus Christ.
St.Paul says in Rom.8 that we are always on the edge of death; what, in our life, would we want to flash before our eyes? Like Moses, the Lord drew us out of the waters in our Baptism; He rescued us with the blood of his sacrificial Lamb;
He called us to walk according to his commands =his Word= to love & serve our neighbor, and to give thanks to him on his sabbath day, and with our daily lives. As with Moses, the Lord has been tough with us, and very kind to us; because he is the same God, holy & merciful.
And when our time comes, at our last hour, and we stand on the edge of life and death, our lives will also have many regrets. So with faith, we want Jesus’ life to flash before our eyes; in His life is our strength & comfort. Not in our past, but in His promise-yet-to-come. His promises will carry us forward to the life & place that has no end.
Where, along with Moses, we will finally see the Lord Jesus face-to-face.