Series C: Deut. 34:1-12; Psalm 99; Hebrews 3:1-6; Luke 9:28-36
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Mountains and clouds. Seems like wherever a mountain and a cloud are together in Scripture, God is up to something.
On Mt. Zion sat the temple, where YHWH dwelled with his people and his glory filled the holy of holies with a cloud. There YHWH provided the sacrifices for sinners to approach his unapproachable holiness in safety and blessing. Those sacrifices pointing to Christ’s sacrifice to come.
Mt. Calvary was also covered with clouds and deep darkness from noon to three on the Good Friday. And YHWH was there too, in the cloud, on the mountain, present with his people and for his people.
Even the throne of Christ in heaven - the everlasting Mt. Zion - is surrounded by clouds of thick smoke and incense.
Today is Transfiguration Sunday as the season of Epiphany ends and Lent begins. Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem, towards the cross.
Luke 9 is a confluence of many saving events – Jesus predicts his death and resurrection twice; the Father speaks from a cloud; Jesus is identified both as the one who speaks for God and is God; Moses and Elijah are there, pointing to Jesus’ glory, talking about his crucifixion. Like a wardrobe into a secret world, there’s more to Jesus’ transfiguration what we see. And it all takes place on a mountain surrounded by a cloud.
Only here – on this mountain, at Jesus’ transfiguration – God comes not with the terror and threats of Sinai. Christ’s manifestation of his glory – this epiphany – isn’t to strike terror and fear upon the disciples, but for their comfort and benefit, and for ours. Jesus both God and man. And his transfiguration shows that in this man, all the fullness of the deity is pleased to dwell.
A Mountain and Jesus – God in human flesh. God is up to something again.
And while they were praying, Jesus’ face changed - every cell of His humanity began to glow with divine radiance. No one ever shined this way. Moses was only a moon, reflecting YHWH’s glory after he came down from Mt. Sinai. Moses’ glory was temporary. Jesus’ glory is eternal. He is the Source, God in the Flesh. Peter, James, and John get to see a sneak preview of Jesus’ glory before his death, resurrection, and ascension.
But Jesus’ glory wasn’t all they saw. Moses and Elijah were also there talking with Jesus. Why are these two OT Hall of Famers called out of retirement? “Moses is the Law and Elijah the Prophets and both testify to Me,” Jesus says. Both saw the glory of YHWH and were hidden in the hollow of a rock. Both men pointed forward to Christ. Both men’s words are fulfilled in Christ.
And only Luke tells us, “They were talking with Jesus about his “departure” which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.” It’s a euphemism for death. But the Greek word is far better: exodus – what a loaded word. And who better to talk about “exodus” than Moses? This new exodus will happen in Jerusalem in Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension.Moses led Israel’s exodus from slavery to freedom. Jesus’ exodus brings the cosmos and our humanity from slavery to sin, death, and the devil to life and eternal freedom.
The first exodus had slavery. A slaughtered lamb. Bloody doorposts. A holy meal. Death passed over. The people fled Egypt. Israel delivered through water. Then the holy mountain and YHWH’s cloud. The same cloud that dwelled with them in the tabernacle.
It’s no coincidence that YHWH’s great saving, redeeming act event of the OT is at the center of this transfiguration summit about the great saving, redeeming acts of Jesus in the NT, indeed in all of history.
For we were enslaved to sin. But there’s only one lamb to be slain this time, the Lamb of God is led to the slaughter to take away the sins of the world, your sin. His blood is shed. Death passes over you and onto Jesus. We flee from death by Jesus’ death. We too are delivered through water. We too eat a holy meal. And in all these things Christ is greater than Moses and Elijah.
But how do Jesus’ disciples react? They’re asleep. Moses and Elijah, two OT biggies, and Jesus shining brighter than the California sun…and they can’t stay awake. Whether it’s a mountain or the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples have trouble staying awake when Jesus is out saving the world. The spirit is willing but the flesh, weighed down with sin, is weak. Droopy eyes, heavy with unbelief.
Our old Adam is lazy, complacent in sin, content to cuddle up with the world and sleep in the arms of death. On their own they would sleep their way to hell, as we would. It takes a shining Jesus to wake us up, to raise us from our sleep, to open our eyes to see Him for who He is.
And if our old sinful nature isn’t busy being lazy; we’re busy being busy – busy building our own idols and kingdoms. We avoid heaven on earth: Divine Service and God’s Word in study, prayer and devotion. We move heaven and earth to attend to our pet gods’ every demands: the cash-god, the bed-god, the emotion-god, the house-god, the retirement god, the fun and games-god, the sports-god.
Peter had that same tendency. Let’s stay on the mountain. Build our kingdom here. It’s good to be here, Jesus. Three tents. Glory. There’s no need to go to Jerusalem. But if Jesus stays on the mountain…that’s right…no cross, no salvation. No death, no resurrection.
Peter’s temptation is still with us. Build the tent. Stay on the mountain. Ignore the cross. Avoid the scandal of Christ crucified – it sells better, is more popular in the media, more attractive to the world. We need something more than Jesus’ Word. Something better. Something glorious and glitzy. Some kind of bait to catch the unbelievers’ eyes. That’s an easy way, broad road to follow – many churches have. There is a way which seemeth right unto man, but it leads to death (Proverbs 14:12).
So there’s the mountain, the cloud, God’s presence. The disciples are afraid. Wouldn’t you be? The stage is set for another Sinai. All the ingredients are there for another Law-throw-down of thunder and lightning that’ll scare the hell out of us sinners.
But then a voice comes from the cloud, “This is my Son, my Chosen One, hear him.” The same words from Jesus’ Baptism. Not judgment, terror and zapping down sinners. No, rather mercy. Grace. A word of hope and promise. Jesus is Chosen by the Father to deal once and for all with your sin.
For God is angry about sin. And serious about it too, dead serious. That’s why Jesus had to be transfigured. To show us exactly who was going to die for Peter, James, and John and you on the cross.
Jesus is God’s only-begotten. God’s chosen one. The One elect from all eternity to save humanity. There’s no one else like Jesus. Moses was great, but Moses cannot save you. His commandments are great, all ten of them. And you should try to keep them. But they cannot save you. Elijah was great, the father of the prophets. But Elijah can’t save you. They only point you to Jesus.
Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Jesus words alone open heaven for us. Jesus’ forgiveness alone takes away your sin. Jesus alone has the power to raise you from the dead.
The light of Jesus’ transfiguration illuminates the His cross. And once again there’s a mountain, YHWH’s presence in human flesh and a cloud. The glory of Jesus’ transfiguration is hidden, buried under the glory of his cross. Darkness not light. Weakness, not power. Silence from heaven. Abandonment, isolation, darkness, death. The same Jesus who shined so gloriously on His mountain, hangs in utter desolation on a cross, and this is His hour of glory.And the glory of Jesus’ cross becomes the glory of his Resurrection! His exodus is accomplished: death, resurrection and ascension. So that one day we’ll see with our own eyes what Peter, John, and James saw with theirs, and you also will appear with Moses and Elijah and all the saints in the endless Day of Jesus’ glory.
So when the devil tries to throw your sins in your face, Hear Him! When you’re tempted to listen to other voices, Hear Him! When your family is in distress or your neighbor needs a word of comfort and hope, Hear Him! When you’re in Divine Service, Bible study or devotions, Hear Him!
Hear him who hides his glorious, crucified and resurrected body in bread and wine for you.
Hear him who brings you into His exodus from death to life through the waters of your Baptism.
A blessed transfiguration day and a happy Lent to you all…
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.