Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

Last Sunday after the Epiphany/ Transfiguration of Our Lord (A)
February 3, 2008
Text: Matthew 17:1-9

No one can see the holy God and live. When Moses asked to see the Lord’s glory, the Lord hid him in the cleft of a rock and covered him while the divine glory passed by, and only allowed Moses to see His back, because, the Lord declared, “you cannot see my face and live” (Ex. 33:20; ESV). The problem is that sin and holiness do not mix. Poor, miserable sinners cannot survive unmediated divine holiness. So when the prophet Isaiah “saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up” (Is. 6:1), he cried out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (v. 5). Isaiah knew that a sinner could not see the face of God and live. He would have died had an angel not cleansed him with a burning coal: “Behold, this [burning coal] has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (Is. 6:7). Yet in our Old Testament lesson (Ex. 24:12-18), “Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank” (vv. 9-11). God is present on the mountain in His glory. The men see Him, they eat, and drink, and God does not lay a hand on them. What is it that allows these men, these sinful men, to eat and drink in the presence of the holy God and not perish immediately? They are covered in blood. “And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words’” (v. 8).

By now the phrase, “blood of the covenant,” should be ringing some bells. It could also be translated, “blood of the testament,” the same word in Hebrew and Greek, and, of course, you know where I’m going with this. What allows us, as sinful men and women, to eat and drink in the presence of the holy God and not perish immediately? We are covered in blood. We are covered in the very blood we are given to drink every time we gather for the Lord’s Supper. We are not just covered in the blood of bulls and goats. Those sacrifices pointed forward to another, greater, once-for-all sacrifice. We are covered with the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is the blood of the covenant. That is the New Testament. The blood shed on Calvary’s cross for the forgiveness of your sins and mine. The blood that is given to us along with the very body of the Son of God for us poor sinners to eat and to drink. “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22). St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7).

The blood of the Old Testament sacrifices had power to cleanse because of its connection with the blood of Jesus Christ. But what gives the blood of Jesus Christ its power? Because we dare not be deceived on this point: If Jesus’ blood is only that of another man, we are still in our sins. Jesus of Nazareth is fully man, but He must be more than that. He must also be fully God. This is why the article of doctrine commonly called the Two Natures in Christ is so important. Jesus must be man if He is to be our representative, our vicarious substitute before God, be tempted in every way as we are, fulfill the Law in our place, and be punished in our place. But if He is just a man, and even a perfect man at that, His righteousness and sin-atoning death cannot be credited to us. He would only have died for Himself. He must also be God, so that He can bear the load of the whole world’s sin, fulfill the Law perfectly, give us His perfect righteousness, defeat Satan, and finally defeat death in His resurrection. The God-man alone can serve as the one mediator between God and men because He is both God and man.

Well, what does all this have to do with the Transfiguration? When Peter, James, and John ascend the holy mountain with Jesus, they know full well that He is a man. But in case they missed it, Jesus is going to make it absolutely clear that He is not just any man. He is also God. The Transfiguration is the epiphany, the manifestation, of Jesus’ divine nature. God is present on the mountain in His glory. “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shown like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Matt. 17:2). Moses and Elijah represent the testimony of the whole Old Testament, the Law and the Prophets, as they appear with God the Son. Jesus is the Messiah to whom they had always pointed. The three apostles are bewildered by all of this. They know something great is going on, but they’re not quite sure what. Peter does not even know what he is saying when he declares, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” (v. 4). Peter is right in that it is indeed good for them to be there, but it is not good for them to stay. It is also good for them to descend the mountain so that Jesus can continue on the way to the cross for the salvation of the world.

The Father also testifies to Jesus’ divinity, just as He did at Jesus’ baptism. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (v. 5). The disciples are terrified. They, too, know that sinners cannot be in the presence of the righteous and holy God and live. But like Moses and the priests and the elders in the Old Testament lesson, they don’t die. Why are they safe? They are safe, because God has come to them in human flesh. God has come to them in Jesus. “Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’ And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only” (vv. 7-8).

The three apostles, Peter, James, and John, behold all of this for a reason. Later, after Jesus’ resurrection, they are to declare this event to the entire world, so that all may know that they are covered in the righteous blood of none other than the Son of God. He is not just some Tom, Dick, or Harry off the street. He is God in human flesh, Emmanuel, God with us. It is His blood that covers the apostles and you and me so that we can come before a righteous and holy God without fear, without punishment, without God’s wrath. In Christ, God is covered in our flesh, and our flesh is covered in God’s blood. So we stand before God righteous and pure with the righteousness and purity of Christ. And we eat and drink before Him as children at His Table, a Table He Himself has set for us with His Son’s body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins.

But how can we be sure? We don’t have the benefit of beholding the Transfiguration with our own eyes. How can we know for sure that the blood shed for us, the blood with which we are covered, the blood we drink in the Lord’s Supper, is the blood of the Son of God Himself? We can be sure because the Word of God says so. We have to take God at His Word as He speaks through His holy prophets and apostles. St. Peter actually says the Word is more sure than his own human experience of the Transfiguration. Remember, Peter was on that mountain. He wanted to stay and build three tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah: “we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain” (1 Peter 1:18). But he writes, “we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place” (v. 19). In other words, Peter is saying the same thing the Father said of Jesus at the Transfiguration: “This Jesus is God’s own Son. Listen to Him. Listen to Him as He speaks to you in His Word. Listen to Him as He calls you to repentance for all your sins, as He speaks His forgiveness over you and bespeaks you righteous. Listen to Him as He calls you to holiness and eternal life. Listen to Him as one day He will call you forth from the grave to live anew and forever in a new heavens and a new earth.” The Scriptures are the very voice of Jesus, and so the voice of Almighty God. “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (v. 21). So you can be sure that this Word is for you. God is covered in your flesh and you are covered in His blood. So you come into His presence here in this place this morning as His children, washed in Holy Baptism, to hear His Word and feast before Him on His Son’s body and blood. You do so with no fear of death. For you are covered in blood. Your sin stained robes are washed white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:14). And you are called by His Name, the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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