Transfiguration 2021

Exodus 34:29-35

January 24, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID


Moses had been on Mount Sinai for a while now, his second time on top of the mount speaking with God.  After the first time, he had come down with the Ten Commandments only to find God’s people worshipping a golden calf.  In his anger, he had thrown down the two tablets of the Law, breaking them into pieces.  So he had to go up again and get a new pair so that he could speak God’s Word to God’s people. 

So Moses made two new tablets, as God had commanded, and went back up the mount.  As he did so, God descended in a cloud and stood with Moses there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord (Exodus 24:5). As God passed before him, He spoke, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression of sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.”

When Moses heard these words, he bowed down and worshipped the Lord and asked that God would go in the midst of His people, for they are a stiff necked people, and pardon their sin, and reestablish His covenant with them.  Moses probably felt some frustration with the people over their idolatry, and maybe some shame over his anger, and he never liked speaking to large crowds. For another 40 days and 40 nights, Moses stayed on Sinai, and now it was time for him to come down again.

Moses’ descends from Sinai a second time with the two tablets of the testimony. It is a contrast to the first time, when he found the people of God in chaos and rejection and idolatry.   Now, he comes down to awe and fear.  What makes the difference is the reestablishment of Moses and God’s own messenger, and what symbolized that was Moses’ shining face.  As a result of his close communion with God, the skin of his face shown, reflecting the glory of God.  The transformation of his appearance was striking and suggested to them the fearful circumstances of God’s revelation on Sinai, which was of course, exactly what it was supposed to do.  The people of God were supposed to listen to Moses, as he commanded them all that the Lord has spoken with him in Mount Sinai. 

The OT people of God had a hard time listening.  They continuously listened to false ideas which led to false worship. They copied the sins of those from whom they were enslaved and were being freed. They had to constantly be called back to faithfulness, to open their ears and hearts to God’s Word.

Things haven’t changed all that much, have they? We too have a hard time listening to God.  With so much information at our disposal and at our fingertips on phones and computers and internet. How do we know what to believe? Who are we supposed to listen to? So many who call themselves Christians have listened to false prophets and the pagan world rather than God.  Many others have given up, turned it all off.  But it’s not like they have stopped listening, but rather changed who they are listening to.  Instead of the sources out there, it is a turn inward to listen to one’s own thoughts and feeling, to their sinful hearts.   God knows this.  That’s why He has sent prophets and preachers to one thing, to declare: This is the Word of the Lord. 

Whenever Moses came into God’s presence, he removed the veil and God spoke with him. Having absorbed the brightness of God’s presence, Moses’ glowing face as he departed from God to communicated God’s Word to Israel, left no doubt about the authority of the words he spoke. When the entire message had been delivered, Moses would always put the veil once again over his face. The hiding of the glow was the symbol that Moses’ further words were his own, and not be confused with what God had said.  

As incredible as Moses is, God promised a prophet even greater than Moses with his transfigured face.  In Deuteronomy 18 God says, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you, [Moses] from among their brothers. And I will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him.  And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it from Him” (Deuteronomy 18:18-19). As Moses’ face reflected the glory of God, there would be One who would shine even greater, not as a reflection, but as glory personified.

A prophet greater than Moses has arisen, confirmed by Moses himself and the Elijah upon another mount.  Once again God Himself spoke with Moses, but now there is the confirmation of the heavenly Father, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.”   As Jesus is transfigured before three of His disciples, speaking with Moses and Elijah, we get glimpse of the unveiling of God Himself, for we see God when Christ Jesus covered Himself in our flesh and dwells among us.  Because of Christ, we see the Lord and hear His Word.  This is why the author of Hebrews begins his letter, “In many and various ways, God spoke to His people of old by His prophets. But now in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2a).  

As Moses unveiled himself to speak God’s Word, so Jesus unveils Himself in the revelation that He is God (in answer to Moses’ prayer) who has come down to dwell among His people, to pardon their sin, to reestablish His covenant, to speak the Word of God as the Word in the flesh.  In Christ, we can look upon the very face of God and live.  The unmasked face of God is Jesus.  Jesus is the face of God turned upon His creation in grace and mercy to proclaim the saving Word to those who have ears to hear. 

St. Paul would write in 2 Corinthians 3, “Since we have such a hope [in glory], we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gave at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened.  For to this day, when the read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yet, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts.  But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.  … And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed/transfigured into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:12-16, 18).

The intention of the Transfiguration is to demonstrate what Peter confessed in the previous chapter of Matthew: that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  The three disciples here were to bear witness to what they had seen and heard. The revealed Christ, the Son of the living God, who is to be known, believed, and confessed, listened to.  The glory of the old covenant is fleeting compared to the Jesus, the fulfillment of all God’s promises.