Transfiguration Sunday February 18, 2007
2 Corinthians 3:12-18
135, 359, 48, 657
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. I do not receive honor from men. But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God? Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”
Dear fellow-redeemed in Christ Jesus, the focal point of all Scripture:
Today is the day within the church year, that we consider the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ—the event recorded in today’s Gospel reading. It was the original “mountain-top” religious experience with three of Jesus’ disciples there to see and react. The disciples reacted with such awe that Peter even suggested building three tents there, apparently to enshrine these great figures—Moses, Elijah, and Jesus.
Such genuine religious epiphanies are truly rare. What is more common, is what we see here in our text, namely, that people are presented with Jesus and the Bible and are left to either make a connection or ignore that connection. There is no shining face, no thundering heavenly voice, none of the fireworks that some people think religion should provide in their lives. They are just presented with the question: Is Jesus the Savior promised in Scripture, or not?
The issue at hand in our sermon text was the same as that at the Mount of Transfiguration, though without the mountain-top display. The question that needed to be answered was whether or not Jesus was the continuation of everything that Moses had proclaimed. Jesus spoke to the Jews to address the relationship between Himself and Moses. He is challenging them to see the relationship between “Moses and Me”—The Continuity of the Christian Faith.
Many claim to revere Jesus Christ. Many also claim to revere Moses, the leader of Israel. One thing that Jesus shows us is that it is a false faith to believe in Moses for Moses’ sake.
Remember the story of Israel crossing the Red Sea? Pharaoh’s army was bearing down on them from the west. They were trapped against the water when Moses reached out over the sea with his staff and pointed them through the water. He showed them the way, but it was the Lord who opened the way. Had any Israelite refused to go where Moses led he would have been lost.
Later on, by Mount Sinai—the same mountain where the Lord called to Moses out of the burning bush—Moses again showed the Israelites the way to go. In fact, they begged for it. They wouldn’t, couldn’t dare to face the Lord alone. He spoke His law and they were terrified before it. Moses served as the mediator, bringing down from the Mountain the covenant that the Lord was making with this people. This was a body of laws, statutes, ceremonies, and observances that were all designed for a consistent purpose. They all pointed in a certain direction—a direction away from harm and toward safety. They served to expose the sinful inclinations of these people, to show them their helplessness in fulfilling the Law, and drove them to a means of redemption through the offering up of a spotless life. Offering a spotless life was the only means of salvation and true spiritual rest and it was received from God through His word.
Moses was a towering figure in the Jewish imagination. But many people had begun to miss the point and power of Moses’ writings. Among the people missing the point was the sect known as the Pharisees. The Pharisees were also associated with the Scribes who copied and maintained the sacred writings. They had become convinced that Moses had given these laws and statutes as a means to an end—a divine code of practices that would lead to life. They honored Moses for Moses’ sake. They felt they honored Moses more by adding to the laws and enforcing them with exacting scrutiny.
One day, Jesus came along and the Pharisees felt that His treatment of some of their regulations was way too easy and relaxed. He healed a lame man who had been by the Pool of Bethesda, crippled for decades. But the day Jesus healed him happened to be a Sabbath when they were to do no work. In healing his disability, Jesus told the man “Rise, take up your bed and walk” (John 5:8).
The Jews saw the man carrying his bed, confronted him, and learned from the man that Jesus had healed him and told him to take his bed and walk. “For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus and sought to kill Him” (John 5:16). It didn’t matter to the Jews that this was the first time in 38 years the man had been able to carry anything.
Jesus’ enemies were even more outraged when Jesus stated that He was there working for His Father in heaven: “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working” (John 5.17). While they had been somewhat willing, up to this point, to allow for the possibility that Jesus of Nazareth was some kind of prophet from God, now they understood that Jesus was calling God His Father thereby making Himself equal with God. This put Jesus head and shoulders above Moses. It put Jesus way above all the ways that they imagined man should make himself acceptable to God. It took the Law of Moses off the pedestal of being a way of gaining righteousness before God. Jesus and His message of God’s truth was the end of Moses, for Moses’ sake, and that was more than the Pharisees and Scribes could bear.
But if man, who is naturally self-righteous and quick to look for ways to justify himself before God, comes to see that Moses and God’s Law are not an end in themselves, there is hope. There is hope that they will come to know the true faith. The true faith sees a continuity between the Old and New Testament. It is faith which recognizes that Moses is there for Jesus’ sake.
The healing of this lame man turned into a serious debate between Jesus and the Jews. In the course of it, Jesus points out that He doesn’t seek honor for Himself. He’s not looking to them for affirmation. He has affirmation from other sources: John the Baptist, for instance, and from the Father Himself who gave Jesus the works He was doing and the work of redemption which He would accomplish. But the final thrust was that even Moses approved of Jesus, and wrote about Him. “Search the scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life. These are they which testify of Me.” [v.39]
This is the wonderful truth of the Christian faith. It is not a new invention. It is not a recent development in the religious evolution of man. It is the same saving faith that was expressed when man fell under the curse of sin and God gave the promise of salvation—a promise that Moses recorded in Genesis. Jesus is the descendant of Abraham by whom salvation would come to all nations. Jesus was the reason God preserved and protected the nation of Israel for all those generations, so that the Light of righteousness and salvation for the Gentiles could come from Israel as foretold. (cf. Luke 2:32)
Johann Bengel, a Lutheran commentator, made the point: “Nowhere did Moses not write of Jesus!” The Ceremonial Laws—such as forbidding work on the Sabbath, or declaring lepers to be unclean—were designed to show man that he needs true rest and cleansing from sin. The Law was intended to show that sin is something that comes upon us inescapably. The offerings and sacrifices were there to point to a promised redemption from sin. It was silly to think that the act of offering a goat could, of itself, atone for sinning against God. The many ceremonies of the Old Testament worship, the whole nature of the tabernacle, the function of the priesthood—all of this was an elaborate display of the priesthood of Christ. Moses was writing about the Savior to come, a Savior to be received in faith.
There are many religions in the world with even more sacred writings: the Koran, the Bhagavad-Gita of the Hindus, the Book of Mormon, the Watchtower tracts of the Jehovah Witnesses. Some of these even claim to be from Christ or to give Him honor. But only Moses and the prophets whom God sent to Israel spoke truly of Christ and only Christ fulfills all of their prophecy. The image of Moses and Elijah standing and talking with Jesus, confirming that He was about to do the very thing they held up in prophecy to generations of God’s people, shows the continuity of the Christian faith.
Jesus spoke to the Jews about honor. Jesus said He didn’t need any from other people because John, His Father, and Moses had all approved of Him. He contrasted this with the Jews’ pathetic need to pat one another on the back: “How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?” [v.44]
We, who know that Jesus is the Savior, have the honor that comes from God, for He has given us the adoption as sons—legitimate heirs to the Kingdom of heaven. We don’t need to seek the honor of our fellow man by trying to outdo one another in outward deeds. We live with the wonder of having been covered by Christ’s true righteousness. We can live in a joyous readiness to honor our Savior with grateful hearts and daily works of love. The truth of the Christian faith is continued through our lives of faith and love. May the Lord Jesus be clearly alive and active in our hearts. 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.