The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Sunday, February 14, 2010
“The Transfiguration Prefigured: A Mountaintop Experience before the Exodus” (Luke 9:28-36)
Sometimes–oftentimes, in fact–the events in the gospels, the events in the life of Jesus, have precedents that occurred in the Old Testament. What I mean is, there were events in the history of Israel that set the stage for, set the pattern for, what Jesus would fulfill and accomplish in his life and ministry. Our gospel account for today is a good example. It is the story of Christ’s Transfiguration. You see, there were events in the Old Testament that prefigured this event, when Christ was transfigured. “The Transfiguration Prefigured” in the Old Testament–that’s what we’ll look at this morning. Now there are many parallels we could draw, but today we’ll zero in on this aspect: In the Transfiguration of Our Lord, just as there was at the time of Moses, there is “A Mountaintop Experience before the Exodus.” And the outcome, the result, has tremendous implications for you.
Moses? Mountaintop? Exodus? Is it legitimate to make these connections? Yes, I think so. I think the language of our text today enables us–indeed, compels us–to make those very connections. First off, Moses himself shows up here at Christ’s Transfiguration, some 1400 years after he died. Obviously, God brought him back for this “guest appearance” for a reason. So our mind naturally reflects back on the life of Moses to see what the significance of his presence here might be. Secondly, that the Transfiguration is a “mountaintop experience” is clear. And when we think back to the life of Moses, yes, Moses likewise had a number of mountaintop experiences of his own. But this third thing, the reference to the Exodus–where do we get that? Well, it’s there. You just don’t see it at first glance. More on that later.
Let’s start with the person of Moses. Moses is, arguably, the most important person in the entire Old Testament. Abraham, David, Elijah–you could make a case for those men, as well. But you would not be far off in saying that Moses is the key figure in Israel’s history: The great deliverer. The great lawgiver. The great prophet. “And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.”
Yet now here is one greater than Moses. Here is Jesus Christ, being transfigured and receiving the greater glory. Our Epistle from Hebrews says as much, doesn’t it? “For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses. . . . Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son.” Moses’ role was to prepare the way for Jesus, to prophesy, in word and deed, of the good things to come in Christ. You know how Moses received the word of God directly from the Lord himself and then spoke it to the people, like he did with the Ten Commandments? Well, Jesus does that in an even greater way, more directly, and with an even greater message. St. John puts it like this: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Yes, Jesus is God himself, the very Son of God, and when you see and hear Jesus, he is making God known in the supreme and ultimate way. All of God’s grace, all of God’s truth is wrapped up in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Moses once had told the people of Israel: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers–it is to him you shall listen.” And now that prophecy of a prophet like Moses is fulfilled in Jesus–fulfilled in such a way that Moses must give place to the greater. The Father’s voice from the cloud echoes this prophecy and tells the disciples why Jesus receives the greater glory: “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And then the disciples look up, and they no longer see Moses and Elijah, they see Jesus alone.
When Moses received the Ten Commandments on stone tablets and came down the mountain, his face was shining from having been talking with God. But Jesus is God himself, the Son of God come in the flesh–hidden in lowliness, but now on the Mount of Transfiguration, revealed in glory–and so now Jesus’ whole appearance is shining with an even more dazzling light. “The appearance of his face was altered,” transfigured, “and his clothing became dazzling white.”
So Moses prefigures Jesus–there are parallels between the two–Moses prefigures Jesus, but in such a way that the prophecy yields to the fulfillment, the lesser gives way to the greater, the servant gladly gives all the glory to the Son.
One of those parallels that we see today in the Transfiguration is this matter of the mountaintop experience. Moses had a lot of those, didn’t he? It seems he spends half his time on top of mountains, meeting with God. Our Old Testament reading today has Moses on top of Mount Nebo, looking out over to the Promised Land before he dies. Before that, of course, Moses met with God on Mount Sinai when he received the Ten Commandments. But recall also that Moses had a mountaintop experience when the Lord called him to go and lead the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt. It was the incident of the burning bush, remember–that too took place on a mountain. The Lord God spoke to Moses out of the burning bush and said: “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey. . . . And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”
You see, God’s people, the children of Israel, had become trapped down in Egypt, groaning under the burden of bondage and slavery. The Egyptians were harsh taskmasters, and the Israelites were suffering there in a foreign land. But the Lord had made a promise, a covenant with their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to settle the people of Israel in their own land, in freedom, in a good land, flowing with milk and honey. And the Lord always remembers his promises. Now he is making good on that promise, and that would mean there must be an exodus from out of Egypt. There must be an “exodus”–literally, a “way out,” a “departure.” They have to escape Egypt and be brought up to the Promised Land. And Moses will be the one to do it–or I should say, the Lord will do it through Moses. That’s what the Lord tells Moses at the burning bush on the mountain. That was Moses’ mountaintop experience before the Exodus.
And now God is doing it again, in an even greater way, with Jesus, on the Mount of Transfiguration. This too is a mountaintop experience before the exodus–the exodus Jesus is about to accomplish. Remember, earlier I said that there was a reference to the Exodus in our text today, only you don’t see it at first glance. So now let’s give it a second glance, and we will see it.
There is a reference to the Exodus here–we just don’t see it in English. But you do see it in the original Greek. And only Luke has this, this mention of the Exodus in describing the content of what Moses and Elijah and Jesus were discussing. Specifically in this verse, where it says: “And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” Where it says, “they spoke of his departure,” the Greek word there for “departure” is–you guessed it–“exodus.” Moses and Elijah and Jesus talked about Jesus’ “exodus,” which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. From here on the Mount of Transfiguration, from this point on in the story, Jesus will set his face to go to Jerusalem, and there he will accomplish a new and even greater exodus for God’s people, the greatest exodus of all. And this is where the story has tremendous implications for you and me.
You see, you and I were groaning under the bondage of slavery, slavery to sin and Satan. Satan, that old Pharaoh, is a harsh taskmaster. Afflictions are the chains that bind us. Oppression is the whip that lashes our back. Guilt and death are the heavy loads that weigh us down and drag us to the ground. And there is no way we could free ourselves from that state of slavery. There was no way out.
But Jesus comes to break that oppression. He is the leader of the New Exodus, escape from sin and death and grave. Jesus tells our old Pharaoh, “Let my people go!” But how Jesus will accomplish this exodus, at Jerusalem–this is where the story will take an interesting twist.
Remember, which event led directly to the Exodus from Egypt? It was the plague of the death of the firstborn. The angel of death would come over every household in Egypt and strike down the firstborn there. And that plague would have struck the homes of the Israelites, too, if not for the protection that the Lord provided in the Passover lamb. The Israelites were instructed to sacrifice a lamb without spot or blemish and to spread its blood on the doorposts of their house. The angel of death would see the blood and pass over that house, and their home would be spared. And at the same time, the death of the firstborn in Egypt would be the tipping point that would finally let the people of Israel go, and they would make their escape out of bondage and start heading toward the Promised Land.
That all is what is fulfilled in the New Exodus that Jesus will accomplish at Jerusalem for you and me. He himself is the perfect Passover Lamb, by whose blood we are spared death. God sees his blood, the holy precious blood he shed on the cross on our behalf, and death passes over us, even as it fell on his own beloved Son. Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, your sin and mine.
And as a result, we are free. Satan, the old Pharaoh, is defeated. He no longer has any hold on us. Christ is our way of escape, in his person, in his flesh. He leads us out of our bondage. He brings us out, and he is leading us through the wilderness of this world, and we are on our way to the Promised Land of heaven–resurrection from the dead, eternal life with God and his people in joy and blessing forevermore.
My friends, all of this is being shown us here in this great event of the Transfiguration of Our Lord. The Transfiguration was prefigured in Moses and the Exodus he accomplished. But that deliverance is fulfilled in an even greater way in the New Exodus that Jesus has accomplished. Today this Transfiguration is the mountaintop experience before Jesus’ exodus. His glory is shining forth, as the Son of God is about to go to Jerusalem, to a cross, for you.