As Ephiphany ends, we see revelation: Jesus on the mount; Moses on the mountain; and the revelation of the Lord to us through the ministry of grace.

Luke 9:28-43 Can the preacher focus the sermon on Christ and not on what we must do? The point is not, “listen to him,” in the way that we first think, that it’s about me doing things. Here we see Christ transfigured and it is that which authenticates the necessity of our listening.

Jesus is transfigured NOT transformed. To be transformed is to become something he is not. To be transfigured is to become more of what he is. Peter, James, and John see the true epiphany, Christ as he is: illumined with the glory of God determined to fulfill Law and Prophets through his upcoming passion.

At the outset, the preacher should think about the “so what?” One can relay that Christ communed with Moses and Elijah, shined with the glory of God as witnessed by Peter, James, and John, and a voice said, “This is my Son, listen to him!” So what?

Why does it matter that Elijah and Moses appeared with Christ? Okay, Elijah represents the prophets and Moses the Law. How does that influence me at my next board meeting or when I talk to a neighbor or get my medical news?

Why does it matter that they talked to Jesus about his “exodus”? Perhaps they are coaching and encouraging him as they know through their own stories that often the way of glory is through gritty obedience.

By the way, I believe Peter got it right and was not missing the point. Hospitality was a treasured thing in their culture and time. Peter states, “It is good for us to be here.” And then he offers to help: we can set up a place to rest. In other words, we are here to help you if you need to talk more with them. Jesus, you need rest and we can show hospitality to our guests; just let us know.

This passage uncovers an issue for preachers. What is the take-away? “Listen to Jesus and do what he says.” Well, that is surely one way to do it, but I believe it fundamentally misses the point, which Paul picks up in our New Testament epistle reading. The reason we listen to Christ is that he is the preeminent revelation of God that the Law and the Prophets have been telling us about for thousands of years. Not only that, but he shines with the glory of God because he is the Son of God – revealed in history and in Scripture and will be finally and fully revealed at a date future and certain.

Exodus 34:29-35 I will not preach from this passage as it is difficult to preach standing alone. However, it obviously informs both the gospel and epistle readings. Moses journeys up the mountain and communes with the LORD and during the course of those forty days, he neither eats nor drinks. Do we think this is literally true? If not, why not? Can someone live forty days without water? Is the truth of the passage diminished if we say that is a literary embellishment meant to show us the strength and importance of Moses? Moses wrote on two tablets the Ten Words (devarim), which also means “ten things.” These are commands, “you shall,” God gives to the covenant people. Moses comes down to commune with his people, yet the people are startled because of his shining face. There seems to be a connection with their fear of God at the base of the mountain. He places a veil over his face which is reminiscent of the curtains in the Tabernacle and Temple that obscure the presence of God from onlookers. One wonders why his face changes or glows. Is this the aftermath of dwelling with God in closeness?

2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2 Paul interprets Exodus 34 through the rubric of law and grace. This passage helps us think about the place of the Law in our lives, the necessity of understanding the idea of justification, and how one I think about ongoing sin The place of Law In an almost contradictory way, Paul says the Law was given in glory AND that it condemns. The Law was given in glory, so much so that the people could not look upon Moses’ face out of fear. The Law exposes our inability to fulfill that very Law and insists on our need for grace, reconciliation, and truth. The Law condemns any notion that we can do it.

Paul compares the ministry of the law and the ministry of the gospel of Christ. Paul says, “For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, how much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory!”

Paul is connecting Moses’ receiving the Law and his face subsequently shining, reflecting the glory of God. Paul links that revelation of the Law with the revelation of Jesus Christ as Lord. If the Law, which condemns us, came with that glory, then just imagine how much greater the glory will be when we understand our justification!

So, we have the ministry of the law and the ministry of justification. One is based on what we need to do and the other on what God does for us. The Law teaches us we need God and the ministry of the gospel tells us God wants us. The way of the Law is guilt, shame, and religious burnout or pride and the way of justification is one of humility, dependence, and gratitude, all of which eliminate our boasting. An important idea: with Elijah (representing the prophets) and Moses (representing the Law), God says, “Listen to Jesus.” This is a contrast and directs our focus to the ministry of grace.

The necessity of understanding justification Paul locates his listeners’ hope away from the law and in the ministry of justification. Justification is a legal declaration made by God over us which cannot be changed. Through Christ, we are forgiven for all we’ve done and left undone. We are reconciled to God and united with Christ. We have innocence before God through the mediating work of Jesus. God is our hope and salvation, not our fulfilling the Law.

The Heidelberg Catechism (date written) takes up this topic in Question and Answer 60. Question: How are you righteous before God?

The answer: Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. Although my conscience accuses me that I have grievously sinned against all God’s commandments, have never kept any of them, and am still inclined to all evil, yet God, without any merit of my own, out of mere grace, imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ. He grants these to me as if I had never had nor committed any sin, and as if I myself had accomplished all the obedience which Christ has rendered for me if only I accept this gift with a believing heart.

The teachings of Jesus and the teachings of Law should clearly, continually, and completely dismantle our self-saving schemes. Our salvation is in God – not in certainty, our doing or leaving undone. God is our salvation. It is rooted in Christ first, finally, and foremost. I wonder why we are reluctant to want this type of good news. How important is this topic in differentiating between law and gospel? Paul indicates that any time we read the Law but don’t see Christ in it, we are blind. Paul makes a connection to Moses, where he communed with God and wore a veil over his face because of the glorious revelation of God. However, when people read the Law and don’t see Christ they have a veil that obscuresrevelation. If one turns to the Lord (away from the Law), then the veil of obscurity is removed.

What about my ongoing imperfect life? When we become anxious about our own morality and standing with God we look for assurance. It is easier to trust something tangible like my efforts and my ability to do certain good things. We seek to prove that we are “really Christian,” by demonstrating our ability to bear fruit.

Paul does not see this logic as a way of freedom. He says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” The ministry of grace and justification frees us from the condemnation of the Law and also frees us from the tyranny of our carnal desires.

We are free from condemnation. We are also free from self-imprisonment. Often, a knee-jerk reaction to this is, “Well, if I’m free from the Law then I can do whatever.” Paul teaches that is not true freedom to be a slave to one’s desires. The power of the Spirit helps us walk in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5) and to be free from corrupting behavior. When we know justification, we can also understand sanctification, which is God’s ongoing work in us whereby we are made more and more into the image of Jesus Christ. Justification is a point of action that has ongoing and lingering consequences in our life. When we see the glory of Christ our eyes/minds are unveiled as we see our vital connection with him. Over time, that relationship transforms us by degrees. This change happens over time not overnight and usually over the course of a lifetime.

Comments are closed