Sunday, February 7, 2016

Transfiguration Sunday
Deuteronomy 34:1-12
Psalm 99
Hebrews 3:1-6
Luke 9:28-36

And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my Son, my chosen: hear ye him.

"And there hath not arisen a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses..." Moses was a great man. There is no doubt about the importance Moses has in the story of God's people. After all, Charleton Heston played him in the movie "Ten Commandments." I joke a bit, of course, but we certainly have given a special place in the history of faith to Moses, deservedly so. Moses was a man who trusted God by standing up to those who could destroy him. He led God's people out of Egypt and delivered them to the Promised Land. He received the Law, the Ten Commandments and gave God's people guidance and direction in both civil and religious matters. He stood with God, face to face. We remember Moses for his faith because even when he doubted, he believed God and obeyed. We have placed him on a pedestal; the faithful of the Abrahamic religions call him a great prophet.

But Moses was far from perfect. Moses ultimately became frustrated with the people and did not honor God. In Numbers 20 we hear the story of when Moses smote the rock to get water for the people and the cattle to drink. Moses was commanded to hold up his staff and speak the word of God, but instead Moses hit the rock with the staff twice. "And Jehovah said unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed not in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them." (Numbers 20:12, ASV) By hitting the rock with the staff, Moses usurped the power of God. To those watching, the miracle was in the action, not the Word. This one action, after years of obedient faithfulness, caused Moses to be left behind.

But God is gracious. Even though Moses was faithless at that moment, God still honored Moses, "There has never been a prophet like Moses." The Israelites continued to hold Moses in high regard, almost to the point of putting him above God. Even to the days of Jesus, Moses was seen as more than just the man who led them out of Egypt. He was the deliverer. He was the lawgiver. They knew God was behind it, but they gave the credit to Moses. If God had allowed him to go on, they might have made him like a god, but Moses was just a man. He was a man chosen and gifted by God to do great and wonderful things, but he was just a man.

And so for his faithlessness, Moses was buried on the other side of the Jordan. He was not allowed to enter into the Promised Land. However, God is gracious and merciful: He gave Moses the chance to see it. Moses died with the reality of God's faithfulness in his sight. God did what God promised Abraham He would do. His people were home after four hundred years, after slavery, after forty years of wandering.

There was something else to notice in this story. When Moses died, he laid his hand upon Joshua and gave him the authority to continuing leading God's people into the Promised Land. Moses only went so far and then had to turn the responsibility over to another. This was a foreshadowing of what was to come. Even the name parallels the stories, since Joshua and Jesus are different forms of the same name. While Joshua is not Jesus, Joshua was the one who finished the Exodus; he led God's people home, just as Jesus does for us.

We see Moses again in today's Gospel lesson. Despite his faithlessness at that one moment in time, God still honors the work Moses did in obedience to Godís call. Moses may have failed, but he was also faithful. Isn't that true of all of us? We all respond faithfully to the call of God, but we often fail. Sometimes we even do things that seem to put us ahead of God. Like Moses in the desert, we make a big show of our power and authority and though we mean it to glorify God, it becomes more about the act than the Word.

Jesus took Peter, James and John to the top of a mountain to pray. These three were the center of His ministry, always nearby. Despite their importance to Jesus, they were as human as Moses and us. What were they doing while Jesus prayed? They were sleeping! How often do we find ourselves so exhausted by the journey of life that we end up sleeping through the best parts?

They woke up just in time to see Elijah and Moses were talking to Jesus. What a strange and wonderful vision this must have been for them. Elijah was the greatest of the prophets and it was believed would come again to announce the Messiah. Moses had experienced the presence of God so completely that he was transformed by it, and in those encounters he was given the Law by which God's people were expected to live. They began the work of God, but Jesus finished it. They delivered and redeemed God's people for a season, but Jesus did it forever. Jesus was the one who revealed God's mercy and grace, the true deliverer of the people.

"And behold, there talked with him two men, who were Moses and Elijah; who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem." As I read through the texts for today, I noticed that it said that Jesus, Moses and Elijah spoke about Jesus' "decease." This struck me because the NIV translates that word "departure." I looked up the Greek and discovered that the word here is "exodus," which means "exit, departure; the close of one's career, one's final fate; departure from life, decease." Isn't it interesting that what Jesus does on the cross is all three? He departs this world, He ends His 'career' and He dies. We know, however, that like the first Exodus, the death of Moses was not the end, so too the death of Jesus was not the end of His work. He did leave this world, but He came back transformed and He will return again. His work as Rabbi to the disciples was finished, but He never stopped being Lord to us all. The cross ended His flesh, but not His life. At the end of this exodus, Joshua/Jesus/Yeshua takes us all into the eternal Promised Land.

We see, once again, the human tendency to need to 'do something.' Peter, James and John saw Jesus in His glory; they heard God's voice declare Jesus as the beloved One. But they followed Him to His moment of glory only to discover that the brilliance and magnificence was fleeting. Peter did not want it to end. He did not know what to do with the experience, except perhaps to grasp onto it as a symbol of the hope they had that Jesus was to be the One sent to save them from their earthly troubles. Peter offered to build a permanent structure, tabernacles for Moses, Elijah and Jesus. Peter wanted to take control; for him it became more about the act than the Word.

Peter was interrupted by a voice from heaven. A cloud came down and covered them and they were afraid. "This is my Son, my chosen: hear ye him." The voice does not command the disciples to bow down and worship Jesus, to follow Him or even obey Him. God commanded the disciples to hear Him. They were to listen to Jesus. God's word matters and it is Jesus who speaks God's word with faithfulness. We are to believe and do whatever He says.

The writer of Hebrews says, "For every house is builded by some one; but he that built all things is God." God does not negate the ministry of those who are sent to be like Moses or Elijah; He calls us to continue the work of Christ in this world today. However, He reminds us that something matters more than our action: His Word. Jesus is our hope and our salvation and more worthy of our praise and thanksgiving, for He has built the house.

The psalmist reminds us that God spoke to the Israelites through the pillar of cloud and through His priests. He spoke to them through His Law. "They kept his testimonies, and the statute that he gave them.Ē In later times, God spoke through His prophets. Moses and Elijah represent the people God chose to speak His words to the people. And then God sent His Son. Now, we hear God's words through the stories of Jesus, through the scriptures, through the people who are still called to preach and teach today. God speaks through our priests, pastors, preachers, missionaries, prophets and teachers. He speaks through other Christians. He speaks through us.

We must remember, however, that what is important is not the work we do, but that we remain true and faithful to God's Word. Unfortunately, we often act in response to our circumstances without really listening to God. That's when we show our own faithlessness. Moses hit the rock because he was frustrated by the continued faithlessness of the people, and in doing so showed his own faithlessness. Peter offered to build tabernacles for Jesus, Moses and Elijah because he didnít want the moment to end, and in doing so ignored the true ministry to which he was called.

How often do we act when we should simply listen and obey?

But God is gracious. Even when we are faithless, He is faithful. We may suffer the consequences of misguided trust, but God will let us see the Promised Land. And though Moses did not enter with the people when they finally crossed the Jordan, he was not forgotten by God. He was still honored for his obedience and faith by standing in the glory of the Savior who will take us all into the Promised Land. We, too, will fail but one day we will also stand in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. And when we do, it will be for eternity because by His grace we have been made a part of His house forever.

As God told Peter, James and John on the mountaintop on that day when Jesus was transfigured before them, the most important thing we can do is listen to Jesus because He is God's Son, the Chosen One.

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