Transfiguration Sunday February 1, 1998
27, 135, 349, 496
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb. And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God. These are the Words.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, whose glory we behold during this Epiphany season, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
Have I got your attention?
Good! Because today is Transfiguration Sunday, a day designed specifically to get your attention. On this day God reveals to our eyes the true nature of His Son, and the work His Son came to earth to accomplish. The classic text for today, of course, is the account of Christ’s ‘transfiguration’ before the eyes of His disciples on that mountaintop in Galilee. The Bible says that, on that day, Jesus’ face “shone brighter than the sun,” and His clothes appeared “whiter than any launderer on earth could whiten them.” There His disciples saw Him speaking with Moses and Elijah about the redemption He was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. The disciples, as you can imagine, were thunderstruck at the sight of this blazing apparition. You could say that, after the Transfiguration, Jesus had their complete attention.
What about you? Does Jesus have your attention? Is Christ a burning presence in your life that commands your whole mind and heart? Or is He a flickering candle? Is He, perhaps, a flashlight that you turn on on Sundays and turn off the rest of the week? Well, if your faith-life has seemed somewhat humdrum or routine lately—if you’ve been missing that feeling of awe-struck reverence toward the almighty God—if you’ve forgotten about the Lord, or fear that He has forgotten about you—then the account of our text will wake you right up. For this morning we stand with Moses at the Burning Bush. Today we are being given a unique picture of the Son of God. Our theme is —
At the Burning Bush, We See our Savior—
At the time the events of our text took place, Moses was eighty years old. He was working as a shepherd for his father-in-law, Jethro. On this particular day, he had brought his flock to graze near a mountain that would later become quite famous: Mt. Horeb, which is another name for Mt. Sinai. And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.
In the first place, we need to understand who it was, exactly, who spoke to Moses from the burning bush. He certainly was no ordinary angel. The Hebrew term used is Mal’ach Yahweh: the ‘Angel’ or ‘Messenger’ of Jehovah. So it wasn’t God the Father Himself. And yet later, in verse four, it says it was God who called to him out of the midst of the bush. Moses still wasn’t satisfied, so in verse thirteen he asked Him point blank, ‘What is your name?’ Do you remember what He replied? “And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” Exo 3:14 And if that sounds familiar to you, well, it ought to. For in the New Testament book of John, we hear someone else identifying Himself in precisely the same way: Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I AM. John 8:58.
This was the Son of God speaking to Moses! Long before the shepherds of Bethlehem stood before Christ at the manger, the shepherd Moses stood before Him at the burning bush.
And what did the pre-incarnate Christ have to say to Moses? ‘Take off your shoes!’ God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground… And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God. Moses was afraid. And with good reason, for at the Burning Bush, we see our Savior as a holy flame, properly inspiring the sinner with fear.
There is something about fire that automatically commands respect. At a forest fire in the Black Hills, I once saw a wall of flame two hundred feet high. It was moving through standing timber at the speed of a man running. The sight was absolutely awesome. And let me tell you, that fire had everyone’s attention. No one in the area was concerned with anything but the fire. Everyone was keeping a respectful distance from its dangerous path.
How is it then, I wonder, that people can be so careless and casual about the almighty God? Isn’t it true? Most people pay more attention to a fire burning in their fireplace than they do to Christ. They watch what they’re doing when they’ve got a lighted match in their hand, but they couldn’t care less where they’re going to spend eternity! These are people who can’t be bothered with reading the Bible or going to church. ‘Oh, religion is a fine thing,’ they say, ‘but my life is so busy right now. Maybe I’ll check it out later, when I’m older.’ Or you’ve probably heard this one: ‘At least I believe that there is a God—that must count for something!’ Or, ‘I’ve led a pretty good life. God will accept me if I do the best that I can.’ If only they could see what Moses saw at Mt. Horeb that day! Then maybe they wouldn’t take their situation so lightly. Then, perhaps, they wouldn’t view their sinfulness—or their need for a Savior—quite so casually.
For you see, God doesn’t grade on a curve. He is a burning presence who is Himself absolute holiness, and who demands absolute holiness in His subjects. God’s Law says, Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. Mat 5:48.
When sinners are confronted with this Law, their natural reaction is fear. And properly so, for God has a zero tolerance for sin. God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day. Psa 7:11. Even a single sin—one hasty word, one impure thought—is enough to condemn a human being for all eternity. If that doesn’t inspire you to a proper respect for God, then you’d better think about it a little more. For Jesus said, Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Mat 10:28.
If these warnings make you tremble, you’re not alone. Moses was afraid. He no doubt snatched his shoes off as fast as he could. In the final analysis, none of us has shown God the proper fear and respect He deserves. We must all confess, with Luther’s explanation to the Fifth Petition, that ‘we daily sin much, and indeed deserve nothing but punishment.’ But just as the bush burned, without being burned up, so the Lord has not destroyed us. And Scripture supplies the reason: It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. Lam 3:22-23. You see, we have a God who is known not only for His absolute holiness, but also for His great mercy. Which brings us to our second point: At the Burning Bush, we see our Savior as an eternal flame, keeping His promise of redemption.
Before this miracle took place, Moses was probably a little skeptical about God’s promises. As a young man, the Lord had promised him that he would be a mighty leader who would deliver the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt. But an awful long time had passed, and where was he now? For the last forty years, he had worked for his father-in-law as a lowly shepherd. Half his life wasted with a bunch of sheep! Had the Lord forgotten him? Had God reneged on His promise to deliver His people from Egypt? Was the promise of a coming Savior, so often repeated to his ancestors, just so many empty words?
At the burning bush, all these questions were given one blazing answer. No! God had not forgotten! The promise of redemption was real, and the Son of God Himself appeared in the flaming bush to announce it. Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.
What a significant phrase! What a definitive answer! With that one phrase, Christ said it all. He was telling Moses that every single promise He ever made to the patriarchs would be fulfilled to the letter. Yes! He would deliver the people of God from slavery! Yes! He would raise up Moses to be a mighty leader! Yes! The messianic line would continue unbroken until He Himself would appear in the flesh to redeem the world from sin! This was the one of whom King Solomon would later say, Blessed be the LORD, that hath given rest unto his people Israel, according to all that he promised: there hath not failed one word of all his good promise, which he promised by the hand of Moses his servant. 1 Ki 8:56. What Moses really saw in the burning bush that day was just this: a flaming portrait of Christ, the One who keeps His promises forever.
In the National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, an eternal flame burns over the grave of President John F. Kennedy. At least it’s called an eternal flame—actually, the small propane fire has gone out several times in the 34 years since the president was slain. They just light it again, and nobody worries too much about it; it’s the thought that counts. But there is one flame that truly is eternal, a flame which was kindled after man first fell into sin and has never gone out since: the eternal flame of God’s promise to redeem us. A promise that was fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
What does this promise mean for you? It means nothing less than eternal life! For today your Savior speaks to you from the midst of the burning bush. Today He says to you: ‘I am the God of Abraham. Just as I redeemed him, even so have I redeemed you. Just as I forgave the sins of Isaac, even so have I covered your sins with the blood I shed on Calvary’s cross. Just as I delivered Jacob to the doors of heaven, even so will I gather you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.’
Today you too may approach the almighty God. With a proper fear, yes, and with a reverence that ‘removes its shoes’ in the presence of God and His holy Word. But in the Name of Christ, you may approach. You may ask pardon for all the sins that weigh you down, and God will keep His promise to forgive you: Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. Isa 1:18. You may ask wisdom to understand what God’s will is for your life, and God will keep His promise to supply it: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. James 1:5. Do you have a particular problem or sorrow that’s afflicting you in your life right now? Ask for God’s deliverance, and He will keep the promise He made in the fifteenth verse of the Fiftieth Psalm: Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me. Psa 50:15.
By the way—did you catch what Moses said in reply to God’s call? It wasn’t much. Just three words, really; in the Hebrew only one: God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. After forty years of inactivity, the call finally came, and it was time for action. God had work for him to do. Moses’ answer was simple: “Here am I. I’m ready. Do with me what You will.” I was struck by the parallel to Ascension Lutheran Church: after six years of relative inactivity, the Lord may be calling upon us to move ahead, with the building project that we’re currently considering. Today you and I have stood with Moses at the burning bush. We too have seen, in the flames, a portrait of our Savior—the awesome God, and the merciful Redeemer. We too have heard His call to action. So when the time comes, let us answer with simplicity and conviction, “Here am I!” AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.