The LCMS church service this morning celebrated Transfiguration Sunday. The Scriptural texts were Deuteronomy 34:1-12, II Corinthians 4:3-6, and Luke 9:28-36. Deuteronomy 34:1-12 is about the burial of Moses. II Corinthians 4:3-6 interacts with the story in Exodus 33-34 about Moses seeing an aspect of God’s glory and shining as a result of it, so Moses had to wear a veil before the Israelites. Paul relates that to the glory of Christ being hidden from unbelievers by the god of this world, but the light shines in the heart of believers. Luke 9:28-36 is Luke’s version of the Transfiguration story.
Here are some items:
A. One of the hymns that we sang is entitled “How Good, Lord, to Be Here.” It is specifically about the Transfiguration. Some stanzas stood out to me:
Before we taste of death,
we see thy kingdom come;
we fain would hold the vision bright,
and make this hill our home.
Jesus in Luke 9:26-27 states: “For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels. But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God” (KJV). Verses like these trouble some, since they seem to suggest that Jesus was predicting that the Second Coming would occur in the lifetime of at least some of his disciples. One way to get around this is to say that Jesus was speaking here about the Transfiguration. And, sure enough, the next verse says, “And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray” (KJV). The text appears to connect the Transfiguration story with Jesus’s statement that some of his disciples will not taste death before they see the Kingdom of God. That stanza of the hymn goes with that interpretation.
‘Tis good, Lord, to be here,
yet we may not remain;
but since thou bidst us leave the mount,
come with us to the plain.
I have heard sermons about how Christians should not stay on the mountaintop, with their elevated spiritual experiences, but should come down and make a difference in the world below. This stanza is essentially saying that. But I like how it invites Jesus to come down with us to the world below.
B. The sermon drew a parallel between the Exodus 33-34 story and the Transfiguration. Moses’s shining was a sign that God was still present with Israel through the person and work of Moses, even though Israel had just sinned with the Golden Calf. The Transfiguration is about God being with us through the person and work of Jesus. The Transfiguration was a time of glory, as Jesus’s glory was demonstrated to Peter, James, and John, and as Jesus talked with two of the prominent pillars of Israel’s faith, Moses and Eiijah. But what did Jesus, Moses, and Elijah talk about? They discussed Jesus going to Jerusalem, which was where he would suffer, die, and rise from the dead. The pastor referred to how the disciples were excited by the miracles that they did (Luke 10:17-20), but Jesus continually told them that he would go to Jerusalem, die, and rise again on the third day. We could easily be overwhelmed and even destroyed by the glory of God, but God came to our level through the incarnation.
Jesus, Moses, and Elijah discuss Jesus’s departure, or his exodus, in Luke’s account. Jesus’s departure occurs at his resurrection, which is where he is glorified. The pastor said that Jesus’s resurrection effects our eschatological resurrection, but also new life in the here and now.
C. Some items from the Sunday school class:
—-Moses could not enter the Promised Land due to his sin, but Moses got to be in the Promised Land at the Transfiguration. Not only that, but he got to hear about the point of the Promised Land: the death and resurrection of Jesus.
—-Moses set the stage for Joshua, and the law of Moses set the stage for Jesus, whose name is Joshua.
—-Joshua had huge shoes to fill, like young Lutheran pastors in the midwest taking the place of pastors who served a church for decades. But God gave Joshua a spirit of wisdom.
—-The location of Moses’s grace was kept a secret either so people would not worship Moses or his enemies would not desecrate his grave.
—-There was some discussion about why Elijah appeared at the Transfiguration. Elijah represents the prophets, but why Elijah rather than Isaiah or Jeremiah? I think part of the answer is that Elijah’s appearance set the stage for Jesus’s discussion with his disciples about Elijah preparing the way for the Messiah, which occurs right after the Transfiguration in Mark 9:11-13 and Matthew 17:10-13. In a sense, though, Elijah was a prototypical prophet. He was one of the earliest prophets, and quite a bit of narrative is devoted to his proclamation of repentance and his role in restoring Israel to God.
—-Peter, James, and John did not tell anyone about the Transfiguration right after it occurred. The teacher speculated that perhaps they had not digested it, or they thought that people would not believe them. Jesus in Matthew 17:9 and Mark 9:9 explicitly tells them not to tell anyone until he has risen from the dead. The teacher said that it was not yet the right time. Now, we are supposed to tell people and also show people. In the same way that Jesus’s transformation was obvious to the disciples, Christians’ glorification of Christ is to be obvious to the world, through their love and compassion.