Transfiguration

Transfiguration

 

Text: Matthew 17:1-9

 

Have you ever thought about the sermon that transpired on the Mount of Transfiguration? It was not a sermon with words like Jesus’ familiar Sermon on the Mount. This sermon was personified by the three great characters of Biblical history who met and talked together on that sacred mountain. As we look at the passage more carefully we come to realize that indeed it is a sermon that we see as opposed to one that we read.

 

Take a notice of the scene. Each of these men has something important to communicate concerning the saving work of God amongst his people. The three men together summarize the history of God’s redemptive work among the people of the world, first the Israelites and then those who follow Jesus.

 

First of all there is Moses and his message. And you ask what is the significance of Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration? Well God worked through Moses to deliver his people from bondage in Egypt. Then, at Sinai, God used Moses to communicate his law and the demands of his covenant to his people.

 

It was at Sinai that Moses had his own mountaintop experience, as record in the reading from Exodus, with the Lord. For forty days, Moses communed with God on the mountain and receive God’s law on the tablets of stone. When Moses came down from the mountain, the Bible tells us his face was radiant from being in the presence of God. Moses brought to the people God’s law, the requirements of his covenant relationship with them.

 

It is easy for us to be confused about the nature of God’s laws. These are not some random regulations imposed by a God who needs to show his people who is boss. The giving of the law was a gracious act by a God who loves his people and desires only the best for them.

 

For life to be good for all people, there are certain rules which must be followed. Life itself must be protected and respected, thus murder is forbidden. The family is protected with laws about respecting parents and honouring marriage vows.

 

Laws against stealing and covetous attitudes protect one’s property, while regulations concerning the Sabbath help to keep property in proper perspective to one’s own physical and spiritual well-being. Foremost, of course, are the laws concerning the love and respect due God, laws which must be obeyed if life is to be lived at its best.

 

In Judaism, the first five books of the Bible are referred to as the ‘Torah’. ‘Torah’ means ‘instruction, guidance, direction.’ This was the purpose of God’s law in the lives of his people: to provide guidance and instruction for living according to God’s will. The God who redeemed his people from slavery and entered into covenant with them also had a purpose for their lives. To follow God’s will and to keep his commandments would bring life and blessing to the people of Israel. This was God’s promise.

 

So there on the Mount of Transfiguration was Moses, the man who brought God’s law to his people. God designed his law for their good, but he also expected their obedience.

 

The second person we find on this mount is Elijah. As Moses excelled in bringing God’s law to people, Elijah excelled in pointing out where God’s law had been broken. Elijah was a prophet, often regarded as the greatest of all the prophets. It was the prophet’s task to uncover the chasm between the way things were and the way they ought to have been. The Old Testament prophets spoke to people on behalf of God a message they had first received from God.

 

Like Moses before him, Elijah had a well-known mountaintop experience. For Elijah, this took place on Mt. Carmel where he had his encounter with the 450 prophets of Baal. In a day not so unlike our own day and age, when people could not decide which god to follow, Elijah summoned the people to Mt. Carmel and shouted, ‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is god, follow him.” (1 Kings 18:21)

 

If you remember the story you know that Elijah had two sacrificial bulls placed on separate altars, one for Baal, and one for the Lord. He challenged the prophets of Baal to call upon their god to send fire to consume the sacrifice. They did so but the fire did not come.

 

Then Elijah had a trench dug around the Lord’s altar. The sacrifice was doused with water again and again until finally the trench was filled to overflowing. Elijah cried unto the Lord and the fire descended upon the altar, consuming the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, and even the water in the trench.

 

The people of Israel witnessed this and began shouting, “The Lord – He is God! The Lord – He is God!” then, on Elijah’s command, they seized the prophets of Baal and destroyed them.

 

This was the message of the prophets: when God’s law is broken, there is judgment. And if God is forced to execute his judgment upon a person or a people, it will destroy him or them.

 

The prophets had a sense of sin and the separation from God which it brings that we have almost lost sight of in our day. In this Sermon on the Mount of Transfiguration, however, we see the prophet Elijah; and we are reminded of the reality of sin and God’s judgment upon it.

 

Moses reminds us of God’s law. Elijah reminds us of God’s judgment upon those who break his law. And then we see Jesus. As we look again at the scene on the Mount of Transfiguration we see Jesus for this was, after all, his mountaintop experience.

 

Matthew tells us that Moses and Elijah were there so that they could talk with Jesus.

 

Now we may wonder what they said to our Lord on this occasion. Matthew doesn’t tell us; but in Luke’s account of the Transfiguration, we are told that Moses and Elijah “spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:31b)

 

The word translated ‘departure’ is interesting. In Greek, it is the word ‘exodus’, the same word that serves as the title of the second book of the Bible and the word which is always used in reference to the departure of the Hebrew people from Egypt. The exodus is crucial to our understanding of the Old Testament. It is the pivotal redemptive act of God whereby he delivers his people from their bondage. Moses had served as God’s human mediator of this divine deliverance.

 

Now it was Jesus’ turn. He would be the new Mediator of God’s salvation, the great Deliverer from bondage to sin and death. This would be accomplished, however, only by way of an atoning death on a cruel cross.

 

Jesus had tried to explain this to his disciples. Only days before, Peter had made his great confession at Caesarea Philippi: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.´ But when Jesus told his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer and die, then Peter rebuked him, “This shall never happen to you, Lord” (Matthew 16:22)

Jesus, knew, however that it must happen. And he explained to his disciples that anyone who would follow him must also be willing to take up his cross, dying to self in order to live for God.

Moses and Elijah met Jesus there on the mountain and discussed with him his mission of delivering his people from their sin. Perhaps Jesus needed this word of encouragement, but certainly his followers did. They needed to hear the affirmation of the heavenly Father, “this is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (v.5)

Those words from God reminded the disciples, as they remind us, of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. He is God’s Son sent in love to die for the world so that “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

That is the Gospel. It is the good word that completes this Sermon on the Mount of Transfiguration. Moses’ presence reminds us that God has established laws to instruct us in the right living of our lives, and he expects his laws to be obeyed. The presence of the prophet Elijah indicates that we have often chosen to break God’s law and are thus liable to God’s judgment upon sin. Then there is Jesus, and he brings to us the good news that there is forgiveness of sin and eternal life for “whoever believes in him.”