Monday, February 15, 2010

Sermon on Luke 9:28-36 for the Transfiguration of our Lord, "The New Exodus"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. On this day of Transfiguration, we finish the season of Epiphany with one final miracle that reveals Jesus as both God and man. The three Gospels that record the transfiguration, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, each tell us that Moses and Elijah appeared together with Jesus when He was glorified on that mountain. All three tell us that they were talking together while the disciples Peter, James, and John were looking on in dazed awe. But only Luke records for us the topic of their conversation. Today we’ll explore what this holy conversation was about. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

So what occasioned this strange encounter on the mountaintop? Jesus had set this time aside for prayer in seclusion. It’s a lesson we’d do well to follow. If the very Son of God regularly set aside time for prayer, how much more should we? I personally know, and perhaps you do as well, how easy it is to neglect our prayer life, and fall asleep praying like the disciples. But the disciples got more than just a quiet experience of praying alone with Jesus on the mountain. They were witness to such an amazing sight that if there only been one of them present, they might have doubted their own senses as to what they saw. The sight of Jesus’ glorious transfiguration, from an ordinary robed and sandaled Jewish teacher into a glorified, gleaming Lord, clothed in dazzling white clothes, was bewildering enough to keep them quiet about this until well after Jesus’ resurrection. Who would believe or understand them if they told about what they had seen? At least not until Jesus fulfilled His death and resurrection, would anyone believe or understand.
Clearly Jesus arranged this prayer time on the mountain as a “setup” to reveal Himself to the select few of Peter, James, and John. But why didn’t the rest of the disciples get to see this? Why don’t we get such awe-inspiring visions of God in His glory? Wouldn’t it be easier for our faith if God made personal appearances to people all the time? Well, Peter himself, one of the privileged three to see this event, wrote about it later in his letter 1 Peter. He said:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Peter was an eyewitness to the majesty of Jesus, he heard the voice of the Majestic Glory, and was with Jesus on that holy mountain. Undoubtedly a life-changing event for Peter. He could easily claim this as the turning point of his faith, the event that “sealed the deal.”

But amazingly, Peter says that “we have something more sure” than this. We think, “what could be more sure than seeing this miraculous transformation with your own eyes!?” However, as excellent as this experience was, Peter says that what is more sure for them and for us, is the prophetic Word. The Word of God that we would do well to pay attention to, as a lamp shining in a dark place. We don’t have the miraculous visions of God to rely on, but we have something even more certain and worthy of our hope and attention. God’s Word. And really, this was the whole point of the “setup” where Jesus had His disciples witness this holy conversation with Moses and Elijah. For when it was over, God the Father gave the reason for this encounter by saying: “This is my Son, my Chosen One, listen to Him!” This transfiguration identified Jesus as the true Son of God, loud and clear. Pay attention! Listen to Him!

Though we don’t have the miraculous opportunity like Peter did to see Jesus in this glory, we do have the same opportunity that they did to listen to Him. We have the more sure prophetic word; Jesus’ Word recorded in Scripture by the faithful eyewitnesses. So what about the holy conversation that took place between Moses, Elijah, and Jesus? In the original Greek, Luke tells us they were talking about Jesus’ “exodus” which He was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. Not just Jesus’ “departure,” but His exodus. Strange that only Luke tells us what their conversation was, and that he only described it with less than 10 words. But this one word “exodus” is so heavily freighted with meaning, that it speaks volumes in itself. The Exodus was the most significant Old Testament event. So much of ancient Israel’s history is seen through the lens of this event, and so many things are related back to it. The Exodus was when the Israelites were miraculously delivered from their slavery in Egypt under the cruel rod of the Pharoah. Moses, was God’s chosen servant to lead them out of Egypt, and he led them from fear and slavery through the waters of deliverance when God parted the Red Sea. Their Exodus continued through 40 years of wandering in the desert because of their disobedience, before they finally entered the Promised Land of Canaan, their new home.

So what did any of this rich history of the exodus have to do with the “exodus” Jesus was to undertake in Jerusalem? Well, Moses was a spiritual precursor to Jesus. He served as God’s chosen deliverer for his people, as he led them out of slavery in Egypt. Jesus’ new exodus was another divine rescue event, but He was God Himself delivering us from our slavery to sin. Moses led Israel through the parted waters of the Red Sea, which Paul calls their “baptism” (1 Cor. 10:2). Jesus brings the new Israel of believers in Him through the waters of baptism where we’re delivered from our slavery to sin. In that washing the old enemies of God are crucified with Christ and buried with Him in our baptism. Our sinful nature is drowned in the seas of baptism just as Pharaoh’s army was drowned in the Red Sea.

Where are you on your spiritual exodus? Are you still enslaved to sins, and haven’t put your trust in God, and are left behind in the Egypt of your sinful way of life? Sin is such a powerful slavery that we even crave it, and willingly stay in that slavery even if our cage is opened. The free food of slavery was all it took for the Israelites to wish they were back in slavery after they had set out in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. It seemed better to go back to captivity for free food, than to travel through the wilderness to the real freedom of the Promised Land. Do we shy away from the challenge of living as pilgrims in the spiritual wilderness of life, when we accept that we’re strangers in this world, headed for a new homeland? Have you crossed the seas of your baptismal waters, but turned in rebellion and distrust of God to wander on your own way—with your stomach
lusting for the “free food” of slavery and the earthly pleasures of sin?

Or are you following your Lord and Deliverer Jesus Christ, repentant of your sins and looking ahead with faith and trust to the promised land of heaven? As the Israelites traveled through the wilderness, God fed them with a daily provision of manna. He didn’t give them enough for a week at a time, or a month. You couldn’t go to the Costco and get a 3 month supply of manna. Now why did God do that? Why did He only give them enough for one day, and then a double portion once a week so they wouldn’t collect on the Sabbath day? He did it to teach them a daily trust in His provision for them. Just as He teaches us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” God provided for all your needs yesterday—trust Him to provide for you today. Trust Him one day at a time and every day. Travelling in this spiritual wilderness will mean that we encounter hardship and difficulty, but we have Christ our leader who goes before us.

You could be nearing the end of your spiritual exodus also. Jesus our deliverer has led you safely from the waters of baptism through the wilderness of life so far, and through the trials and temptations of life. You’ve been brought near to the entrance of heaven by the blood of Jesus, and only crossing that final portal of death remains before you enter the promised land of heaven. Anyone at this point in life, hold fast to Jesus, knowing that with Him your approach to God is sure, certain, and unshakeable. The richness of the promised land of Canaan was described to the Israelites as a land “flowing with milk and honey”. The promised land of heaven is far beyond comparison as a place of perfect peace, rest, and joy. This is the final destination for us all on our spiritual exodus, through the various stages in life where we stand.

Moses and Elijah stood on that mount of Transfiguration bearing witness to Jesus, our spiritual guide who completed His exodus in Jerusalem. Christ undertook that New Exodus alone for us. He suffered the agony of death forsaken and alone, so that He could break the chains of sin that held us in slavery. He took the heavy yoke of sin’s slavery on Himself, so that we could carry His light and easy yoke, by faith in Him. To know and believe in Jesus as this deliverer, as this Messiah and Son of God, we don’t need to have a mountaintop vision. We don’t need to have miraculous experiences to confirm it. We have the more sure prophetic word that Peter points us to. We have the Word of Scripture that testifies of the whole of God’s salvation story, that testifies of the whole of Jesus’ exodus of His life, death, and resurrection. The Scripture records that whole record that could not be contained in one or even several persons eyewitness or lifetime. And we’re reminded that no prophecy of Scripture came from man’s own interpretation, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

That’s why it’s so important that God told the disciples, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!” He didn’t command them to linger and prolong this experience of watching Jesus in His glory, He didn’t command them to perpetually meditate in silence on that vision—He told them to Listen! And you and I can listen. We can hear God’s prophetic Word and have that continual reminder and encouragement of our faith. And we take that word of hope and encouragement with us as we travel through the valleys and plains and spiritual wilderness of this life. Marching after our Lord in the great and swelling crowd of His New Exodus—saints journeying home to their Promised Land. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
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1. Read the account of the Transfiguration from Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-9; Luke 9:28-36. What unique information does each Gospel writer add to the account?

2. What can we learn from Jesus’ habit of constantly setting aside time for private prayer? Luke 5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 28; 11:1; 22:31ff. What does it tell us about the need for prayer? When are some times that you can designate for prayer alone?

3. Read 2 Peter 1:16-21. What did God the Father and the Apostle Peter say deserved the greatest attention?

4. Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets, and so figuratively stand for all the Old Testament revelation that points forward to and culminates in Christ. How did the Exodus foreshadow Jesus’ new exodus? 1 Cor. 10

5. Describe where you are on your spiritual exodus. What trials do you face? When have you doubted? When have you seen God’s hand active in your life? Where does your trust lay?

6. What did Jesus accomplish on His New Exodus? How did He achieve it? What is our Promised Land? How are we brought as members into His covenant?

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