Reading Ramblings – March 3, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: The Transfiguration of Our Lord – March 3, 2019

Texts: Deuteronomy 34:1-12; Psalm 99; Hebrews 3:1-6; Luke 9:28-36

Context: Transfiguration Sunday observes the Christ’s transfiguration – a few moments during his Incarnation (also referred to as his humiliation) of transcendent glory. It is Jesus, but not the simple, ordinary, human Jesus. He is that but more. Amplified. Glorified. Why, we might well ask. We have no reliable answer. Is Jesus receiving emotional support from Moses and Elijah, encouragement for the rough road ahead? Is this simply a means of further convincing the disciples of his divinity? Is this a visualization of what the life of prayer is, participating with all the saints in the presence of the glory of God? Is this God the Father’s love bursting forth in pride and joy at his Son’s obedience and faithfulness? Perhaps all of these, and perhaps many more things as well we won’t clearly know now, or perhaps ever. But God the Father’s Word remains instructive – Listen to him!

Deuteronomy 34:1-12 – Moses and the Lord have a rocky relationship, one that ultimately prevents Moses from entering the Promised Land with the people of Israel. But he is afforded a supernatural look at the area God’s people will possess. Then he dies. He has the unique distinction of being buried by God so that nobody knows the place of his burial, and nobody can venerate his tomb. By Jesus’ day, the Samaritans are awaiting the miraculous return of Moses to usher in a new age. For the Jews, Moses remains the greatest of Old Testament prophets. Yet his role only points forward to the greatest and last of the prophets, Jesus. Moses is the tool of God to save God’s people from slavery and genocide. Jesus is God’s Incarnate tool to restore creation from the grip of sin, Satan, and death.

Psalm 99 – This psalm proclaims the majesty and sovereignty of God. He is over all peoples as well as spiritual creatures (cherubim) and creation itself. Cherubim are winged angelic creatures, mentioned repeatedly in Scripture (Genesis 3:24, etc). Beyond their winged nature we don’t have descriptions of them, although some presume that Ezekiel’s vision in 1:4-28 concerned cherubim. Whatever their precise nature, while they would appear fearsome or powerful to mortals, they are inferior in power to God. But earth, humanity and the cherubim are all exhorted to give God praise for his justice and righteousness. We are further exhorted to praise based on others who served and praised him, such as Moses and Aaron and Samuel. They are mentioned for their obedience, for their calling on his name, and for his answering them. Yet they were not perfect (v.8), a reminder to us to strive for obedience while ultimately trusting in his gracious forgiveness. While the last verse would likely be interpreted in later times as referring to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the reference here is non-specific, and might refer to Mt. Gerazim, Mt. Moriah, or Mt. Sinai.

Hebrews 3:1-6 – In addressing his Hebrew audience, Paul (the alleged author) draws on Moses as point of comparison as well as to distinguish Jesus. Jesus was faithful just as Moses was faithful. Yet Jesus’ glory is greater because of Jesus’ identity as the eternal Son of God as well as Jesus of Nazareth. Moses was a faithful servant to God, although imperfectly. Jesus is a faithful Son, and is perfectly faithful. So naturally Jesus should displace Moses as the object of veneration. Jesus should be who we constantly refer to and look to for example as well as strength and forgiveness. Moses’ identity and work foreshadowed the perfect work of Jesus. Frankly, I think it would have made sense to include the following five verses as well, which elaborate on the implications of what Paul has just said. The Israelites rebelled at times against Moses and against God. Moses was just a man, after all. And God was unseen. Their rebellion cost them their lives in the desert. But continuing to rebel against the Son of God will have much graver consequences.

Luke 9:28-36 – Jesus is transfigured, and his inner circle of disciples glimpse him in his heavenly glory, that exceeds even that of two of the greatest figures in the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah. Their discussion focuses not on the past but what is about to happen. Indeed, we might well imagine that all of heaven’s conversation is oriented towards this very same topic! All of salvation history is about to culminate in Jesus’ victory over Satan, sin and death. What else could they possibly want to talk about?! Yet Jesus’ disciples don’t understand this, and Peter, struggling for something to say or do in this amazing moment, offers for them to all stay here, rather than proceeding on towards Jesus’ victory through death and resurrection. Small wonder God the Father speaks to both identify Jesus clearly, and direct his disciples to listen to him.

Since no words of Jesus are recorded in this scene, God the Father’s directive is more general in nature. They are to listen to Jesus constantly. Not to anyone else. Not to each other. Not to their own inner voices. Only to Jesus. He will be the source of truth and clarification. And He will, when his work is done, send the Holy Spirit to speak of him, as directed by God the Father, so that they might better understand and see the scope of Scripture as pointing directly to him.

Note Luke’s use of the word exodus, sometimes translated as departure in verse 31. The choice of that word is likely intentional, drawing his listeners minds back more naturally than ours perhaps to the greatest event of the Old Testament, the Exodus from Egypt. This isn’t manipulation on Luke’s part, but rather part and parcel of the event as Jesus and God the Father orchestrate it. Jesus is on a mountaintop meeting with Moses, similar to how God the Father meets with Moses on Mt. Sinai. The presence of God the Father is indicated both in his speaking as well as in the cloud that envelops the mountain. God used Moses to save his people, a real historical event, but an event that also foreshadows in small what Jesus will accomplish on a universal scale.

Elijah is one of the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, mighty in power just as Moses was and as Jesus is. But again, the signs Elijah was given to use in his ministry pale in comparison with Jesus’. Between Moses and Elijah the entire Old Testament – the Law and the Prophets – are both represented, as both point ultimately forward to Jesus and what He will do.

God the Father’s Word stands today – He points you and I to the Word made flesh, to not just see Jesus in his miraculous glory but to listen to all that He said, all that was recorded from him and passed down to us in the Bible. There is no greater conversation topic than what Jesus accomplished and the blessings of that accomplishment passed down to each and every person.

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