Exodus 33:17-23: Transfiguration: The Cross Before the Glory

Transfiguration (610x350)What is glory?  Whatever glory is, rock stars exude its essence, inspiring many a teenager to pick up a guitar or play the drums.  So also top athletes, with an aura of mystery with its drawing power—as long as they are winning.  Earned by their sacrifices, others also hold such an allure.  Do we not honor our military, firefighters, police, or those in medical fields who save the lives of others?  Of course.

Now, if we can’t pinpoint its exact essence, neither do we let such a minor impediment hinder us.  Dazzled by glory’s greatness, we are sucked in by its power.  Perhaps, the amazingness of the rock star or the athlete will wash over us, if we can touch them.  In the presence of such impressive grandeur, we find ourselves ensnared.  The savor of stardom and the tingle of success, so feeble do we find ourselves next to its attraction.

The prophet, Moses, wanted to gaze on such glory too.  Earlier, with a bush aflame before him, his eyes confront the God of Israel in a fire, with the plant still unscorched.  The impressive deeds of the Almighty against the Egyptians still resonate within him.  So much did the man experience.

Still, Moses sidles up to God, “Please show me Your glory.”  Such an unsafe request he makes!  Perhaps, but God comes in mercy, in a way, which will still preserve Moses’ life.  The Merciful One allows him to delight in His goodness, the goodness of Yahweh.  Are we like Moses, wanting more, to marvel in the glory?

What if Moses, a sinner, stood in the Almighty’s presence, unmasked, holy and righteous?  Instantaneous death, for his frailty caused by sin’s corruption, cannot withstand the full holiness of the Almighty.  So, the Lord responds in mercy, “You cannot glimpse my face, for no one who does will live.”  In the crevice of the rock, God cloisters him, saving Moses from death.  The prophet will only set eyes on God’s “back,” on His passing glory—perhaps, the minimal glance of fading splendor.

The Scriptures say: In many portions and many ways, God spoke to His people of old by the prophets.  In these last days, He did so through His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2).  Yes, God did speak to Moses and the other prophets, but no more.  For God chose to reveal Himself to us—in the form and fashion of a man—in His Son.

So, our Lord’s disciples experience more than a passing glance at God.  Every day, they gaze on God’s presence—not in His majestic wonder, but in breathing, blood-pumping flesh—in Jesus, the Son of the Father.

A follower of Jesus, Philip, once fancied what Moses craved.  “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be content” (John 14:8).  How do you think his Lord responded?  “Don’t you understand me, Philip?  Whoever gazes at me gazes on the Father.”

Still, with more to come, Jesus will surprise them.  The inner circle—Peter, James, and John—climbs with Christ to the top a mountain.  At the top, tired from the climb, their Lord transfigures before them, astounding them in His divine majesty.

The everyday, ordinary appearance of Jesus changes as He reveals His divine splendor.  Aglow like the sun, His face dazzles, His clothing becomes white as pure light.  The Old-Testament prophets, Moses and Elijah, show up, speaking with the Messiah about His death and resurrection, events soon to take place.

A short time elapses.  A bright cloud envelops the disciples, and they fear the voice coming to them from eternity.  “This is my Son, whom I love; listen to him.”  The sound of God pierces their eardrums as they gaze on divine glory.

The three men fall face down, which is Scripture’s word to describe the posture of worship.  To the ground, they fall in holy fear.  The brightness fades, and their Savior comes to them, touching them, raising them up.

What a story to tell to others and anyone else within earshot!  Not so fast relays their Lord.  “Don’t tell anyone about this vision until the Son of Man rises from the dead.”  Now is not the time to call forth the story.

What the three disciples experience is a glimmer, a preview, of Christ in His exaltedness.  Let’s pause for a moment and think about what happened before Jesus returned to His throne in heaven.  For something needs to take place first.  Yes, His execution and death, for our Lord’s glory will come only after going through the cross.

On the night He suffers betrayal, the Son prays to His Heavenly Father.

Father, the hour is here.  Glorify your Son so he can give glory back to you.  For You gave him authority over all people, so he can give eternal life to all those you gave to him.   Now, this is eternal life: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent.  On earth, I glorified you by completing the work you gave me to do.  Now, Father, bring me into the glory we shared before the world began.  [John 17:1-5]

The hour arrives.  So, the Father glorifies the Son through His work of salvation.

The prophet of old wants to bask in the Almighty’s blazing brilliance.  Such foolishness, for in such a meeting, death will come to slay him.  So, the Merciful One allows a hidden sliver to come before Moses.  Later, God will also hide His magnificence and power, displayed to the world in the weakness and shame of the cross.

In Christ’s suffering and death, our Creator restores the world to Himself.  The Son honors the Father through His willing sacrifice, who offers Himself for the sins of the world, for your sins.  On the third day, after His death, the Father sends the Spirit to raise His Son, Jesus, back to life.  With His redeeming work complete, the crucified and risen Lord returns to heaven, exalted to reign at the right hand of the Father.

Peter describes his mountaintop encounter of his Savior blazing before him in full opulence.  In a letter he wrote, “We witnessed his majestic glory and listened to a voice from heaven on the sacred mountain” (2 Peter 1:16, 18).  Now, our eyes never took in Jesus as a man living among us.  An Apostle’s eyes who did, Peter, directs us to another witness—the prophetic Word—so we may learn what our eyes did not capture.

So, we should heed the Word “like a lamp shining in a gloomy place.”  Through the witness of the Word, we gaze on our Savior, but can only do so with believing eyes.  So, we too can rejoice in the story of our Lord’s life, crucifixion, and rise from death.  In His Supper, as His people, we also eat and drink of His glory, where He forgives our sins and nourishes our faith.

The disciples receive instructions.  Don’t talk about your experience on the mountain until I rise from the dead.  After the empty tomb, oh what a story, an account, to tell, for they are eyewitnesses!

To witness something requires two actions.  First, you need to be watching some event—if you don’t, you aren’t a witness.  Second, you tell someone else what your eyes earlier took in.  In other words, you describe what took place to another.

One problem: Does Jesus walk and talk among us, like He did with His first followers?  No, for He rose from death and is now in heaven.  So, you and I can’t be witnesses.  To do so, we must be watching something, in real time, with our own eyes, and later tell someone else what happened.

Does not being able to witness Jesus now mute our mouths and silence our tongues?  No, for the Almighty Word still comes to us to grace our lives in the proclaimed Word.  This changes who we are, changing us from witnesses to confessors.

Such a change also takes place in the language of the New Testament.  To first-generation Christians, whose eyes gazed on Christ in human flesh and form, Scripture uses “witness” and “testify.”  To the second generation, Scripture switches to confess—confessing the Christian faith, the Christian hope, and the Gospel (1 Tim 6:12, Heb 10:23, 2 Cor 9:13).

Today, we do not witness about what Jesus did.  For we did not catch sight of His death and resurrection.  No, we “confess.”  To confess also consists of two parts.  First, confessing involves hearing something.  The second part of confessing is repeating the Word you received, saying the same.

The Scriptures tell us, “Faith comes by hearing, hearing the spoken word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).  No wonder God calls us to “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7), which is trusting what He calls you to believe, not following your experiences or feelings.

In the proclaimed Word coming to us this day, the glory of eternity, revealed in Christ, graces our ears.  The story of our salvation comes to us anew, entering our hearts.

On the Last Day, however, what we believe will become sight.  For our Redeemer will return, and we will bask in His blazing brilliance.

The Apostle John reveals: “Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be is yet to come.  Not so when he appears, for we will be like him because we will see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).  Glory!  One day, believing in our risen Lord, we will delight and share in the unmasked, eternal splendor of God.

Today, however, is different.  A story lingers on our lips and tongue, awaiting our retelling.  This story to be told, is greater than any in human history, the story of salvation!  For what your ears receive, your mouths can speak.  Amen.


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