Reading Ramblings – February 23, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: The Transfiguration of Our Lord – February 23, 2020

Texts: Exodus 24:8-18; Psalm 2; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9

Context: Meeting with God. Perhaps there is no greater fear or desire. To stand in the presence of the Creator of the Universe, of our maker, tangibly and palpably is something people have run from or run towards since the Sixth Day. Some might look forward to having their questions answered, their hurts healed, their losses restored. Some might imagine themselves standing there defiantly before God demanding answers and explanations, furious for his allegedly mysterious ways of working. Scripture emphasizes that when God meets with his broken creation, what is more noticeable is the power of God’s presence. It is unmistakable and unlike any other experience in this world. And when God does choose to meet with his creation here and now, while we are still broken and sinful, we are in no way in any position to make demands, only to accept what He has to offer, or to reject it after He leaves.

Exodus 24:8-18 – Perhaps one of the most perplexing theophanies in Scripture. That these men could sit and eat with God?! How to explain this in light of God’s clear words in Exodus 33:20 that nobody (in their sinful state) can see God and live? Some maintain that those who dined with God never dared to look higher than the ground, and therefore the account in today’s reading only describes the ground and his feet. But I hold with those who interpret this not as God the Father, but God the Son. Only the Incarnate Son of God has feet that we could describe as standing upon a glorified ground. God the Father and God the Holy Spirit are never described in this fashion. Having entered into proper relationship with God through his offered covenant and been literally marked with blood (v.8), God reveals himself. Note the emphasis in the second half of this reading on how the presence of God is described, chiefly in terms of a cloud wherein dwells the glorious presence of God. This mountaintop meeting with God in the cloud is clearly the precursor to Jesus’ Transfiguration.

Psalm 2 – The assigned reading omits the first two verses of this psalm, but the psalm is so short, and the thrust of it so unified, that there seems little need to skip those first two verses. So I’m not :-) Frankly, we need those first two verses. Otherwise, we’re inclined to nod our heads in agreement with the rest of the psalm without recognizing that we are all too often part of the nations that rage in vain, taking counsel against the Lord and his anointed. Though the Gospel reconciles us to God the Father through his anointed, the Incarnate Son of God Jesus the Christ, we would be wise to remember there is an alternative to reconciliation. However that is not another form of righteousness, but outright rebellion. There are only two conditions – reconciled or rebellious. And unless we receive the gift of God in his Anointed, there is no way for us to achieve or reach reconciliation on our own. We will remain in rebellion, which has very definite and eternal consequences. Yet the psalm ends on that positive, gospel note – we who have been reconciled are blessed! We need not fear the King’s anger or wrath because we have been delivered from it!

2 Peter 1:16-21 – In the opening of his letter Peter directs his hearers to cultivate God-pleasing qualities on top of their faith in Jesus Christ. Failure to earnestly seek this out demonstrates a spiritual blindness that risks forgetting the new lives they have received in Christ. His exhortations are not based in some supposed spiritual superiority, or from the fact that he has already perfected these qualities himself. Rather, he exhorts them because he is a direct witness to the Lord Jesus Christ. His exhortations to them are based in his experience with Jesus, and in particular in the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God during his Transfiguration. This is Peter’s only basis for exhorting others, as it is the only and ultimate rationale for calling a quality good and seeking to cultivate it. Peter recognizes – by the power of the Holy Spirit – that Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament Scripture and prophecy, and understands that such prophecies were given for this specific purpose – that the Christ might be known when He came, rather than expecting people to trust simply the word of someone claiming to be the Messiah.

Matthew 17:1-9 – In order to fully appreciate this scene, we need to train ourselves to focus on the full scene and not just on Jesus’ personal transfiguration. Reading this in light of the reading from Exodus 24 helps with that. Note the similarities in setting – in both cases followers of God are led up onto a mountain. In both cases the mountain is covered in a cloud. In both cases only a select few followers are invited up the mountaintop. In both cases the voice of God is heard. The parallels between Moses and Jesus would not be lost on Jesus’ disciples. Yet nowhere does God call Moses his Son. Clearly what is happening with Jesus is on a much larger scale than what happened with Moses. Jesus’ disciples are not invited to a meal but rather offer to build shelters. But Peter’s well-intentioned offer is rejected, and God the Father redirects Peter to what he is being given – the Son, to whom they should listen. Many years later Peter writing in 1 Peter recalls that event, recalls that experience on the mountaintop, that disclosure of Jesus as the divine Son of God and the Father’s directive to listen to him as authoritative not just for Peter but for everyone. Who could invent such a tale? Who could invent such a tale and expect others to believe him? But if there was any doubt about the full significance of the Transfiguration, the Resurrection would help to clarify further, and Pentecost would finally fully reveal not just the identity or the significance of Jesus as the Incarnate Son of God, but the intent for this Son of God for all humanity.

We should not take the witness of the apostles piecemeal, just as we shouldn’t take the incidents and teachings in the Gospels piecemeal, Sunday by Sunday, out of context and in no relationship to one another. Rather, they are part of a whole, an accumulation of words and miracles and revelations culminating in death and resurrection and ascension, and in the as-yet-unfulfilled promise of his return. The Transfiguration is not just an oddity, but part of this whole tapestry or garment, and one that, like Jesus’ clothes on that mountaintop, is filled with the very glory of the Son of God, and speaks of the eternal pleasure of God the Father in his obedient Son, by the power of God the Holy Spirit.

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