Today we celebrate Jesus’ Transfiguration on the mountain with Peter, James, and John as his witnesses. This is a pivotal Sunday in the church year as we move from Ordinary Time to our observance of Lent. Immediately after Jesus came down from the mountain where he was transfigured, he began his journey to Jerusalem, to the suffering of his betrayal, arrest, and his death on the cross. In our observance of Lent we recall this journey. It is a season of penance, reflection, and fasting which prepares us for celebrating with great joy, Christ’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
So did you notice in our readings this morning, we had two stories about men who went up mountains, and came down shining with God’s glory? And then, in II Corinthians, Paul teaches about what this means for us today.
So let’s look at the Moses’ story first. I need to put it in a larger context: Moses has led God’s people Israel out of their slavery in Egypt, and in their journey to a Promised Land, they have stopped at the base of Mount Sinai, which Moses climbs and stays up at the top for 40 days and 40 nights, talking with God about how God wanted this people to worship him, and receiving from God the Ten Commandments written on two stone tablets. These laws were to help God’s people be the holy people he wanted them to be, an example for the nations around them of the holiness of God himself.
But while Moses was on the mountain, talking to God, some of the people waiting in the valley below got antsy. 40 days is a long time… maybe they thought a wild animal had killed him? Maybe they thought he had gotten lost and was never coming back? At any rate, a bunch of them went to Aaron, Moses’ brother, and said, “So we’re not sure what happened to your brother and his God, but we are going to need some gods to lead us through this wilderness, so make us some gods.” This was, of course, outright rebellion. Not only rebellion against Moses’ leadership, but rebellion against the God who had freed them from slavery. And Aaron did it. He helped them. He said give me your gold jewelry, which he had melted down and formed it into a golden calf. This is rebellion against their God, Yahweh, who had earlier expressly forbidden such worship. In Exodus 20:22-23 we read, Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: you have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven; Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.” So making this golden calf representation of God was an act of outright rebellion, doing exactly what God had forbidden them to do.
God saw this act of rebellion, and was furious with the people. He told Moses he was going to destroy them all, and make Moses’ family a great nation instead of Israel. Moses became a mediator for the people, pleading that God spare their lives. And God relented and said, Okay, I won’t kill them all.
Then Moses went down the mountain, as the people were worshipping the golden calf, completely out of control, riotous in their worship… and Moses called “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.” The Levite tribe came, and Moses had them go through the whole camp killing those people who had participated in this rebellion against God.
The next day, Moses went back to the Lord, seeing if he could find a way to make atonement… to pay the price for the people’s rebellion. He asked God to forgive them for their sins, and to take his life if it would pay the price for their rebellion. God said, “No, I will not take your life.” He sent a plague on the people to punish them. Finally, God said, “Go ahead, move into the Promised Land, I will send my angels to help you take control of the Land, but I will not go with you.” Moses pled with God to send his presence with the people of Israel, and finally God said he would go with Moses and the people of Israel, because he loved Moses. Moses asked to see God’s glory, and God hid him in a cleft of a rock, and just showed his back to Moses, because anyone who saw the face of God would die. Finally Moses went back up the mountain, where God again engraved two tablets with his commandments on them, and Moses was once again up on the mountain communicating with God for 40 days and 40 nights, and when he came down the mountain we have the verses that we read today, that say, Moses face was radiant because he had spoken to the Lord, and Moses had to cover his face, because the people of Israel were still in rebellion against God, and they could not see the glory of the Lord shining from Moses’ face without dying.
Three things I want you to remember about this story: the people of God, Israel, were unfaithful and in rebellion against the God who had delivered them from Egypt. Moses acted as a mediator for them: begging God to spare their lives, and to continue leading them with his presence. And finally, after Moses had spent time talking with God, his face glowed with God’s glory; but the people could not see this glory without dying, because of their continued separation from God.
So now let’s turn to the second man on a mountain story from today’s reading in Mark 9. And that man is Jesus. This story comes in a larger context as well, Jesus has just predicted his death, and his friend Peter says, “Don’t talk like that!” Jesus rebuked Peter, calling him satan, and said “get behind me.” In other words, don’t tempt me to not do what I know God is calling me to do. Jesus goes on to say, “whoever wants to be my disciple will need to take up their cross and follow him.” Not just Jesus is going to need to pay a price for being a mediator between God and the sinful, lost world, but we who follow Jesus also have a price to pay.
Then Jesus takes his three friends: Peter, James and John up a mountain, where he begins to shine with God’s glory. And Elijah and Moses, two Old Testaments leaders are seen with him. And God’s voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him.” Suddenly the light is gone, and Jesus and his three friends walk down the mountain to begin the journey to Jerusalem where Jesus will die on the cross.
What is the significance of this Transfiguration story? In many ways it reminds us of Moses on the mountain. Just as Moses pled that God would let him die for the people’s sins, (an offer that God rejected because Moses was not able to perfectly pay the price for their sins because he himself sinned) Jesus’ ministry of reconciliation, of bringing God’s people back into God’s favor is actually going to lead to his death. His death on the cross. But before that happens, Jesus friends are shown a piece of the glory of God that is waiting for Jesus on the other side of the cross. It is a reminder that in his death, Jesus has not lost God’s favor, but through the obedience of his death will reign glorified in God’s presence forever.
Remember that when Moses came down, and had to cover his face because the people would die if they saw the glory of God radiating from him? This is where all of that changes. It is because of Jesus death, that God’s people will not die when we see God’s glory. Rather than being condemned as we stand face to face with God’s glory, we instead are met with God’s love, which transforms us to be more and more like Jesus.
The Book of Common Prayer puts it this way:
O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
And that brings us to Paul’s teaching about these things: he talks about the glory of God which was shown on Moses’ veiled face when God gave the ten commandments and says this new relationship with God is much more glorious because it results in our lives being changed: Now the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Go down and talk about the painting:
- We start alienated from God
- We have an encounter with Jesus that changes us, we have no glory to reflect on our own, we must spend time with God in order to reflect his glory to others
- As we are transformed from glory to glory, we will be called to act as a mediator for others… to stand between God and others showing them God’s glory
- Part of being transformed from glory to glory will involve suffering, as God’s Spirit lives in us making us more like Jesus, we will begin to put other’s first, we will begin to work for freedom in their lives and in ours, our lives will be spent working for the redemption and restoration that God is doing in the world and in lives around us
End with this quote from Dallas Willard: Life Without Lack
The more we place our minds on God’s greatness and self sufficiency (“beholding…the glory of the Lord”) the more we will be transformed from one degree of glory to another. And because our faces are “unveiled” others will see a difference; we will radiate generosity, peace and contentment. And the reverse is also true; as we associate with others who faces are unveiled and who are growing in their experience of God’s sufficiency, their “glory” enlightens us, encouraging us in our own journeys of faith in the Shepherd. It becomes a matter of one person reminding another of the full sufficiency of God.
I want you to think this week of your life as it is being transformed from glory to glory… where does that bring you comfort? Where are you convicted of your need to seek God’s presence so that he may bring changes in you? If you are God’s child, his Spirit is alive in you, changing you to become more like Jesus:
Now the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.