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Sermon for the Transfiguration of Our Lord


Augustana, 2013

Note: I had several positive comments about this sermon.  I’m not entirely sure why.  There was a common theme throughout, the mountains which acted like a structure to hang the rest of the sermon on, but other than that, there was nothing ground-breaking in it, or so I thought.  Anyway, lots of people liked it and said so, which is nice.  As always, it’s probably better to listen to the audio which can be found by clicking here 16 Sermon for the Transfiguration.mp3

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

Today is really about mountains, three of them actually.  The first is Moses’ mountain, Sinai, the mountain of the Lord.  This is not the mountain mentioned in the OT reading today, that’s where Moses dies.  No, Mount Sinai is where the Lord led the people of Israel after He rescued them out of slavery in the land of Egypt and rescued them from the Pharaoh’s chariots when He led them through the Red Sea on dry ground.  After He rescued them, He brought them to the foot of Mount Sinai and there all Israel encamped at the base of the mountain in the desert and the Lord dwelt in His glory atop the mountain.  He dwelled in fire and smoke and cloud for forty days when Moses went up on the mountain to receive the Law of the Lord.  On that mountain there was no doubt that it was the Lord who dwelled there.  And when He gave His Law to His people He meant to give them the Law so that they would be His people and He would be their God.  Remember how the Ten Commandments begin.  They don’t begin with, “Thou shalt not…”  They begin with “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.  You shall have no other gods.”  (Ex 20:2-3)  What do we call this rescue of God for His people?  What is the name of the book that records this great rescue of the people of Israel from Pharaoh in Egypt?  Exodus.  Exodus is not just leaving one place to go to another, it’s not even a divinely directed migration plan.  The Exodus is God’s rescue of His people from bondage to an evil Pharaoh.

I think we miss too much in the Old Testament today and because of it we miss too much in the New Testament too.  The transfiguration doesn’t make as much sense without understanding the first mountain, Mount Sinai.  By the way, that’s why it makes so much sense that when Jesus is transfigured, when His appearance changes and His glory shines through, on top of the mountain with Him stand Moses and Elijah.  Moses lived in the presence of Yahweh Most High God on Sinai, for forty days.  The only other Biblical person we meet who has a similar experience is Elijah, who as we know, never tasted physical death but was carried into heaven in a fiery chariot.  It makes sense that Elijah, too, is here on the mountain with Jesus’s heavenly glory revealed.

The second mountain then, for the sake of the sermon today is the transfiguration mount, probably Mount Tabor in southern region around Galilee.  The connections now should be obvious.  On this mountain Jesus fully revealed Himself as divine.  The appearance of His face was changed and His clothes became dazzling white.  He was changed into a vision of heavenly radiance and glory.  Luke doesn’t tell us any more than this.  Matthew tells us that Jesus face shone like the sun.  Mark tells us Jesus clothes became intensely white.  Jesus revealed Himself in glory, in the same kind of brightness and glory by which the Lord revealed Himself in the Old Testament.  In fact, the connections just get stronger as we keep reading.  Before long, there is a cloud.  And this isn’t like driving though the Smokey Mountains where the clouds come up and block enshroud the road.  This isn’t just any cloud.  Go back through the OT and pay attention to where clouds appear and there you’ll almost always find the presence of the Lord God.  Out of this cloud comes the voice of the Lord.  These two mountains, Sinai and the Transfiguration Mount are linked together by the presence Moses and Elijah, the presence of God in glory and cloud, and one last thing.

Luke tells us, “And behold, two men were talking with [Jesus], Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure.”  Moses and Elijah were speaking with Jesus about Jesus’s departure, the departure which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.  Now at first glance it might appear that Moses and Elijah were speaking with Jesus about His upcoming travel plans.  But that’s not entirely what happening here.  If you look under this English word, departure, you’ll find a very interesting Greek word that’s very familiar to us all, “exodus.”  So hear this line again now, “Moses and Elijah were speaking with Jesus about Jesus’s exodus, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”  Did you hear the difference?  Jesus and Moses and Elijah are not talking about travel plans; they are talking about rescue plans.  They are talking about what Jesus is going to do on the next mountain He climbs, Mount Calvary.

I said this sermon was really about three mountains.  If Sinai and the transfiguration mount are the first two, Mount Calvary is the third because Jesus leaves this mountain and begins to head to Jerusalem, to bring about the exodus, the rescue of God’s people from slavery to sin, and evil and death.  The next time we see Jesus climb a mountain it is Good Friday and He is climbing up to Mount Calvary carrying the cross on which He will be nailed for the sins of the world.

Now you may be thinking that this doesn’t quite match up.  On Sinai, the Lord revealed Himself in fire and smoke and glory and on the transfiguration mount, Jesus revealed Himself to be the Lord in bright light and cloud.  Where is the fire and the smoke on Good Friday?  Where is the glory of the Lord on Mount Calvary?  As Jesus prayed in the presence of His disciples what we call the High priestly prayer,

he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.  (Jn 17:15)

At the cross of Jesus, the glory of the Lord was revealed.  Take a minute and let that sink in.  It was at the cross of Jesus on Mount Calvary that the whole plan of God for the salvation of His people came to fruition.  Mount Calvary is the greater exodus.  The rescue of the people of Israel from Egypt to Sinai was but a precursor and foreshadowing of the rescue that God would provide through the death of His Son on the cross on Mount Calvary.  It is on Mount Calvary that Jesus dies in your place to sin.  It is on Mount Calvary that Jesus’ dying to death cancels out and nullifies death itself and gives you victory over death.  It is on Mount Calvary that Jesus’ cross trumps the power of the devil and binds him forever so you never need fear his roaring and insults.

And where are we today?  We are somewhere on the transfiguration mount, basking in the glory of the Lord.  We are here on the hill today but we will suffer through the valley of another week.  And today the image is even clearer for us because today we leave the mount of transfiguration in the South of Galilee and begin on Wednesday the 40 day journey through the valley of Lent up to the next mountain outside Jerusalem, Mount Calvary.  We have made this journey now many times, not just annually but weekly.  We walk through another week until we can return to this hill where the Lord’s presence is here for us, where the benefits of His cross are given and shared with us, where He forgives sin, where He grants life and salvation by hearing His Word and receiving His true body and blood given and shed for us.  It’s here.  It is here that we participate in His exodus for us.  It is here already now that we begin our pilgrimage toward heaven.  It is here, already now, that Jesus gathers us in to show us what He has accomplished on His cross for us, for our salvation.

Dear friends, as head into the Lenten season, I know we will travel down Mount Tabor and through deep and dark valleys.  Many of you travel these valleys but you do not travel them alone.  The Lord your God travels with you.  We just gathered this week to say goodbye to our sister in faith, Linda Ritchie.  And we prayed that very familiar psalm together, Psalm 23.  “Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for Thou art with me.”  The Lord is with us.  And we will sing together today,

“Tis good Lord to be here,”

And as he bids us leave the mount,

He’ll come with us to the plain,

through the valleys of this life to gather us at the next mountain, the mountain of His eternal glory.  Hear the Word of Lord for you.  Hear His victory over sin, death and devil for you.  For He has done it on Mount Calvary for you.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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