The Transfiguration of our Lord – March 1 & 2, 2014
This weekend is the end “Epiphany” – the end of Advent / Christmas / Epiphany in the church year – Epiphany is the “show and tell” time. On this last weekend after the Epiphany, we read in the Old Testament about “The Cloud and the glory of the LORD” on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 24); as well as “The glory of Jesus and the Cloud” on the Mt. of Transfiguration (Matthew 17).
There is a wonderful connection throughout Scripture with clouds. In Exodus 13 & 14, remember, how God led the Israelites out of Egypt and through the Wilderness, and protected them, by a Pillar of Cloud by day and a Pillar of Fire by night? In today’s Old Testament reading, Exodus 24, on Mt. Sinai, God revealed His great power and justice by a cloud that looked like “a consuming fire on top of Mt. Sinai.” (Exodus 24:17) Earlier, in chapter 19, we read, “the LORD descended in fire; and the smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln… and the whole mountain quaked greatly… and God spoke in thunder.” (Exodus 19:18-19) Again, God revealed His presence when “the glory of the Lord filled the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle / and later, the Temple.” (see Exodus 40 and 1 Kings 8)
In the New Testament, as we read today, God the Father, revealed His presence in a cloud as Peter offered to built three shelters for Moses, Elijah and Jesus and “behold, a bright cloud (interestingly, how this is different from the dark, threatening cloud of the Old Testament!) enveloped them, and behold a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!'” (Matthew 17:5) Later on, 40 days after Jesus’ death and resurrection, as Jesus bodily ascended into heaven, “a cloud hid Jesus from the sight of His disciples,” and while His disciples “were looking intently up into the sky… suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them (promising) This same Jesus… will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9, 11) And as John writes in Revelation, “Look, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him.” (1:7)
Both on Mt. Sinai, and on the Mt. of Transfiguration, when “the cloud” appeared, the people were filled with fear and their unworthiness before God! Do we have this same “holy respect” for God and His Word? Sadly, isn’t it rather, that we as a church and especially as a society, we have lost the “holy fear of God’s wrath!” In our society and world and even within the church there is a growing attitude of apathy and indifference concerning Jesus and his Word. There seems to be no “fear” of disobeying God or living against His will. There are those who demand what they call “their right” to “alternative life-styles” and are quick to mock and ridicule Christians who “take a stand” on God’s clear Word. Even many Christians show little reverence and a lack of fear, love and trust in God, by treating the preaching and teaching of God’s Word as an occasional “Sunday duty to perform;” seldom coming to receive the true body and blood of Jesus in the Sacrament of the Altar; and living no differently than the unbelievers of this self-centered world; seeking first the worldly pleasures and possessions rather than “seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” (Matthew 6:33)
God’s holy presence among us is also sorely abused as rather than the COMMANDS of God to be obeyed – the 10 Commandments – which God wrote with His finger on tablets of stone (indicating their permanence! Exodus 31:18); are treated by many as 10 suggestions – as if the commandments are subject to our editing and interpretation influenced by what the majority in society decides. It’s as if we just ignore the cloud of God’s revealed will and wait for it to blow away!
God revealed Himself in the dark and threatening cloud on Mt. Sinai as the visual reminder of His great power and might. It is a serious reminder that those who disobey His Law will be punished! God revealed Himself as a “consuming fire,” threatening to “punish the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him!” (Exodus 20:5) If our nation continues to disregard God’s Commandments we should not at all be surprised that our nation (and world) is in the state of moral and spiritual depravity that it is! Three times in Romans 1, God’s Word states that when mankind “suppress the truth of” God and His Word, “God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another… God gave them over to shameful lusts; God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.” (v.24, 26, 28) The writer of Hebrews also reminds us: “Our God is a consuming fire” and “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 12:29; 10:31)
No wonder, that when Peter, James and John saw Jesus’ “face shine like the sun, and His clothes as white as the light…(and) when a bright cloud enveloped them, and God’s voice from the cloud said, ‘This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!’ (of course) they fell face down to the ground, terrified. But (what good news as) Jesus came and touched them. ‘Get up,’ He said. ‘Stop being afraid.’ When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.” (Matthew 17:2-8) – “When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.” Listen to Jesus.
Listen to Jesus – as He “touches us” again today through His Word of forgiveness and assures us: “Stop being afraid,” I died and rose again so that you might live the new life in Me. Listen to Jesus – as again we are reminded also of our baptism when God the Father said of Jesus: “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased” and be reminded that because of Jesus’ blood and righteousness, through Holy Baptism God has made us His “beloved sons and daughters” through saving faith. Listen to Jesus, as His Word is read and proclaimed, preached and taught; read in daily devotions and shared by Christians. Come at Jesus’ invitation to receive His true body and blood for the forgiveness of all of your sins and the strengthening of your faith.
On this final “Show and Tell” Sunday for this Church year – “What’s behind the Cloud?” Because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection – it is no longer God’s fierce, consuming punishment toward sinners, but our crucified and risen Savior, Jesus!
This week, Ash Wednesday, the Lord offers us His Holy Supper – Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior – who comes through bread / wine and His Word to give us His True Body and Blood to “strengthen and preserve us in the true faith until life everlasting.” Come to receive God’s most precious gifts! Come to “Listen to Jesus!”