Today in our readings for this Transfiguration Sunday, we find ourselves in the company of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus.
The two Old Testament readings tell of Moses and Elijah (Exodus 34:29-35 and 2 Kings 2:1-12). Long before Elijah’s time, God had used Moses to lead the Israelites up out of their captivity in Egypt. And after bringing the people out of Egypt, the Lord gave Moses the two tablets of the Law on Mount Sinai. From merely being in the presence of the Lord on the mountain, Moses’ face began to shine as it reflected some of the glory of the Lord. Moses veiled this shining light from the people, because they were afraid. So, they beheld the glory of the Lord as through a veil.
Until his death, Moses would be the mouth of the Lord to His people and would be the one who would intercede for the people before the Lord. After the Israelites wandered in the deserts of Sinai for 40 years in punishment for their rebellion against the Lord, the Lord finally brought them to the edge of the promised land. Moses, though, would not be allowed to enter.
So, the Lord took Moses up to Mount Nebo, which is across the Jordan from the city of Jericho. From there, high above the land, Moses was allowed to gaze across to the promised land. And then he died. Deuteronomy 34 says, “… Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD, and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day. Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated” (Deuteronomy 34:5-6).
Despite Moses’ great age, he was full of vigor and health, and yet he died. He had brought the people as far as He could with God’s Law, but could not carry them across the Jordan into the promised land. So, the Lord took his life and then the Lord himself buried his body in the valley to await the coming resurrection; the Lord is the “he” spoken of in the verse from Deuteronomy. And then Joshua (i.e. Yeshua) succeeded Moses and led the people into the land of promise across the waters of the Jordan.
Then, much later, Elijah was raised up by the Lord as a prophet to His people. Elijah’s primary purpose was to call the people of Israel to repentance and to bring them back to the Lord. When his time was over, the Lord sent a chariot to take Elijah up into heaven; people looked for him, but never found his body. So, they awaited his return, while his mantle was given over to Elisha, who succeeded him as prophet.
So, both Moses and Elijah went as far as they could, and then the Lord took them to await the coming of the Messiah, or Christ, to whom they had been looking in hopeful anticipation and to whom they had been pointing others.
This all brings us to the reading from Mark about the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-9).
Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up to a high mountain by themselves. It makes me think of how the Lord had once led Moses up to Mount Sinai, so that He could reveal himself to Moses, because when Jesus goes up on the mountain, “he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.” The disciples get a sense of what Moses saw on Mount Sinai when Moses met the Lord. But, unlike Moses, Jesus’ face doesn’t just shine; all his clothing shines radiantly. Moses’ face reflected the glory of the Lord, much as the moon reflects the light of the Sun; but Jesus shines from himself, as of the glory of the Lord and the light of the sun. The disciples behold Jesus as the Lord, as he makes his glory manifest to them.
Then, what do the disciples see? They see Moses and Elijah with Jesus, talking with him. They’re back, and conversing with the Lord in the flesh. They’re beholding the Christ they had long anticipated.
And you gotta love Peter. He seems to speak when he’s nervous. The text says that Peter is terrified, so he interrupts the conversation that Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are having, in order to say: “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” First of all, he interrupts the conversation that the Lord is having with two of his prophets. Secondly, Peter seems to view the three of them – Jesus, Moses, and Elijah – as prophets. There was Moses first, then later Elijah, and now Jesus has come as another prophet; at least, this is what Peter seems to think, as he wishes to keep them all together. He also wants to keep this mountain-top experience alive; he wants them all to dwell together in tents there.
But, then, “… a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to him.’ And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.”
Moses and Elijah have now gone, faded away, leaving just Jesus only.
You see, Jesus is not just another prophet in the line from Moses and Elijah. He is the Son of God, to whom the prophets had been pointing. All the Law and the Prophets had pointed to this Savior, the Christ who was to come. So, when Moses and Elijah behold Jesus on this mountain of transfiguration, it was the fulfillment of all their hopes and dreams. They finally beheld – face to face – the one in whom they had hoped and the one to whom they had been pointing the people of Israel all those long years ago.
And in the persons of Moses and Elijah, we also see the representation of the Old Testament Scriptures.
Moses represents the Law, given to God’s people through Moses on Mount Sinai. The Law was not an end unto itself, though. As you see with the history of the people of Israel, the Law can only lead up to the borders of the promised land, it does not lead into it. Only Joshua (i.e. Yeshua in Hebrew, Jesus in the Greek) can lead you across the waters into the promised land. The Law cannot lead into the promised land, because the end of the Law is death – just as Moses died when his time was done. But, the end of God’s grace is life, a life in the land of promise bestowed by God’s grace. And God’s grace comes through Jesus, Yeshua, across the waters of Baptism.
Elijah represents the Prophets, those who proclaimed God’s Word to His people, calling them to repentance and pointing them to the Savior who was to come. But, the prophets were not an end unto themselves, either. They did not point people to themselves, but used the Word of God to point to the Christ who was to come.
And now, here on the Mount of Transfiguration, this “one who was to come” has now come; he is the fulfillment of all the Law and the Prophets. He is the fulfillment of all the Scriptures. He is the one to whom Moses and Elijah had been pointing and in whom all their hopes and desires lay. The Son of God has come, and God the Father has decreed, “listen to him.”
For Jesus Christ is the one, the only one, who leads into the promised land. He is the one who is the fulfillment of all of God’s promises of salvation. And this promise was sealed with his death and resurrection. For in this “baptism” of his, we have the guarantee that Jesus really is the the Christ, our Savior. Jesus’ death and resurrection confirms the words of the Father, telling us to “listen to him.” “Jesus only” has brought fulfillment to the Law and the Prophets; thus, all the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, testify to him. He is God in the flesh, the seed of the woman first promised to Adam and Eve after their sin corrupted this world and us.
And Jesus Christ came to save you. You are God’s people; He has called you as His people and He has saved you through His Son, leading you into the land of promise across the waters of Baptism; so, “listen to him.” This land today is the Church on earth, God’s in-breaking of His reign within this fallen world; at the resurrection, though, you will inherit all the earth as all the land is fully restored to perfection.
So, “Jesus only.” This is our Gospel, our “Good News.” For all of your salvation depends on Jesus only. Who did anything for your salvation? Jesus only. Whose work merits your salvation? Jesus only. Who died for your sins? Jesus only. Who rose for your justification? Jesus only. Who reconciles you to God? Jesus only. In whom, then, are we to trust to be saved? Jesus only.
You possess “Jesus only” through faith, and the Lord is so loving and so wonderful that Jesus only is all you need. You don’t need any works of your own to be saved, because you have Jesus only and His great work on the cross. You don’t need wonderful merits of your own, because you have Jesus only and His merit of resurrection from the empty tomb. Jesus only is all you need, and you have him through faith, a faith that is worked in you by God Himself.
So, in the battle between sin, death, and the devil on one hand and Jesus on the other, the victor is Jesus only. He is the last man standing. He won his victory on the cross and the empty tomb, and he gives the benefits of this victory to you freely. So, you have all things through Jesus only. And on the day of the resurrection, you will behold his glory with your own eyes.
(Image: By Иконописная мастерская Елеон – Преображение, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52176778 )