Luke 9:28-36 (The Transfiguration of Our Lord—Series C)
“A New Exodus”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
March 3, 2019
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text for Transfiguration is the Gospel lesson recorded in Luke 9.
28Now about eight days after these sayings, [Jesus] took with him Peter and John and James and went up into the mountain to pray. 29And it happened while he was praying that the appearance of his was different and his clothing was white like lightning. 30And behold! two men were speaking with him. These were Moses and Elijah. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking about his exodus which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. 32Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, and after they had come fully away, they saw his glory and two men who were standing with him. 33And it happened that while they were separating from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here. So let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying). 34As he was saying these things, a cloud overshadowed them. And they were afraid when they entered into the cloud. 35And a voice came from the cloud saying, “This is my Son, the Chosen One, listen to him.” 36And when the voice had spoken, they found Jesus only. And they were silent, and they reported nothing of which they saw to anyone in those days.
So, are you all ready for Lent? It starts this Wednesday! I’ve had my Paczkis from Big Y before they disappear for another year, so I think I’m pretty much all set. But Lent really isn’t about what we can give up for 40 days. It’s a time when we especially consider our sins in light of Jesus’ suffering, Passion, and death in preparation for the great celebration of His Easter resurrection. It’s His resurrection that guarantees us that Jesus’ Passion and death were the once-for-all perfect sacrifice to purchase and win our complete forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
But how can we talk about Lent on this day of such revealed splendor and glory? We just finished singing, “O wondrous type! O vision fair Of glory that the Church may share, where Christ upon the mountain shows, Where brighter than the sun He glows!” (LSB 413:1). Yet, the Transfiguration of our Lord can be seen as a setup for Lent. This Last Sunday after the Epiphany sets us up for the next season of the Church Year, showing us that, at the end of the Lenten road, there is glory for Jesus and for us.
Our text takes place on “the mountain;” exactly which mountain, we don’t know. But Jesus takes Peter, John, and James with him up the mountain for the purpose of prayer. It seems like Jesus prayed for a while because the three disciples were heavy with sleep. Nevertheless, while Jesus was praying, suddenly there was glory! The appearance of His face was different. His clothing was white like lightning. This is Jesus, the Son of God, in His divine glory. This is the Son of Man who, in Daniel 7, came on the clouds of heaven and received from God the Father dominion, glory, and a kingdom. Jesus was joined by Moses and Elijah who also appeared with Him in glory. And these three were having a conversation. And Luke is the only Gospel writer who lets us be a fly on the wall so that we know what it is that they talked about—Jesus’ exodus which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem.
When you hear “exodus,” what do you think about? I hope you’d think about the Israelites as slaves in Egypt; about Pharaoh and harsh task-masters forcing the Israelites to make bricks without straw; of Moses going before Pharaoh saying, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go’” (Exodus 5:1 ESV) and of Pharaoh’s refusal and the hardening of his heart. “Exodus” can evoke images of the plagues that God sent: the Nile turning to blood, frogs, gnats, flies, the death of the Egyptian’s livestock, boils, hail, locusts, and darkness. Finally, there was the death of the firstborn when God established the Passover. When He saw the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts, God would “pass over” and not kill the firstborn of that house. “Exodus” also invites us to think of the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea and the people then gathering at the foot of Mt. Sinai when the Lord appeared in a cloud of fire and smoke and rumblings of thunder and lightning. The people were afraid of the Lord’s presence on the mountain. Yet Moses went up to meet with God and came down with his face shining, reflecting the glory of God Himself. Of course, there is the ultimate destination of the Exodus, the Promised Land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey where the Israelites would be God’s people and He would be their God.
The Exodus event that we remember was the greatest redemptive event in the Old Testament. It was the ultimate saving act of God in rescuing His people Israel from slavery. But it was a forward-pointing prophecy of the perfect and complete rescue from slavery that would come about by another exodus, Jesus’ exodus, which includes His suffering and death, resurrection and ascension. The language of “exodus” reminds us that the mission of Jesus is grounded in the purpose of God to bring people liberation from their bondage to sin, its consequences and effects, and the power of the devil.
Tied up in the exodus of Jesus, then, is the release of all people from slavery, not to Pharaoh, but a far worse owner and task master. Jesus tells us that everyone who does sin is a slave of sin (John 8:34). Surely, we don’t like the idea, but we are slaves! We sin. There’s a new Pharaoh in town—Satan! There are new taskmasters—the world and our sinful flesh—keeping us bound to sin and its consequences of corruption and death. Satan himself oppresses us, driving us further from God. The world draws us deeper and deeper into bondage, enticing us with its fleeting and perishable goods. Our sinful flesh constantly tempts us to put ourselves first and to have unhealthy desire for those things that cannot ultimately satisfy and that soon fade away. Our reality is that we are held fast in the chains of our sin, bound in our slavery to our own evil inclinations, and under the curse of God’s Law which we cannot keep.
The people of Israel needed a deliverer to set them free from their slavery to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. So, too, all people need an even greater deliverer to set us free from our bondage and captivity to sin and Satan. It was promised by the Lord through Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.” Who is a prophet like Moses, yet is greater than Moses, to whom we should listen? The very One whom God anointed to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at release those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. God the Father identifies this One today in His Transfiguration, “This is my Son, the Chosen One, listen to Him.”
Jesus Christ is “the one greater than Moses.” He is the greater Deliverer, anointed at His baptism with the Spirit in order to bring rescue and release from the slavery of sin and Satan to all people. As God saved the children of Israel through the Old Testament Exodus, the Lord has saved all people with Jesus’ exodus. This exodus was accomplished by Jesus who passed through the waters of the Jordan River, even as Old Testament Israel passed through the waters of the Red Sea. In Jesus’ baptism, He identified with the sinners whom He came to save as He was anointed for the task of being the One to bring all people release from sin, its effects, and from the devil’s lordship over us. This exodus was accomplished by Jesus who entered the wilderness, not for forty years as did Israel, but for forty days and forty nights, being tempted by Satan. Where Israel failed, yielding to temptation in the wilderness, Jesus did not. He overcame Satan with the power of His own divine Word, a foreshadowing of the devil’s ultimate undoing as throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry He healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised those claimed by death.
Yet Jesus’ exodus was not complete without the shedding of blood. God didn’t spare His firstborn Son, but let Him die, shedding His own blood so that God might “pass over” our sins with a decree of “Forgiven!” Jesus, the Lamb of God, took away the sins of the world by dying a sacrificial death in our place on a cross. Jesus’ exodus took Him to the cross and the grave, in order that, having borne our sins in His body on the tree, having died in the place of all sinners, He might rise again from the dead in His glorious resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection assures us that the sacrifice of the Lamb of God was totally effective in releasing us from our sins, from sins effects, and from Satan’s power. Jesus’ Transfiguration glory gives us a glimpse of what our future holds when our Lord Christ brings us ultimately into the promised land of eternal life and eternal glory.
Transfiguration Sunday, then, is not just a setup or a glimpse into Lent. It is also a preview of our future glory with Christ in the new heaven and the new earth, the home of righteousness that will follow our own resurrection from the dead on the Last Day. As Moses and Elijah appeared in glory with the Lord, so shall we. One day, we will be with the Lord in resurrected body and soul in glory. We will be with Christ at His eternal banqueting table, celebrating the release He won for us through the cross and the grave. With St. John in Revelation, look at the glory that awaits you with Christ:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, . . . And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” . . . Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; . . . the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever (Rev 21:1-5; 22:1-5 ESV).
Sisters and brothers, we are now ready for Lent! We have seen the glory that awaits Jesus following His Passion and death—the glory of Easter. We have glimpsed the preview of the glory that awaits us who stand in Jesus’ forgiveness and release from sin and Satan—the glory of Easter. There is Transfiguration brilliance and glory at the end of the Lenten road—forgiveness, everlasting life, resurrection, new heaven and earth, Jesus’ glory forever and ever. Amen.