Blog / Book of the Month / "Comfort in the Details" Sermon / Luke 9:28-36 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday March 3rd 2019: Transfiguration Sunday / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

"Comfort in the Details" Sermon / Luke 9:28-36 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday March 3rd 2019: Transfiguration Sunday / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

"Comfort in the Details" Sermon / Luke 9:28-36 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday March 3rd 2019: Transfiguration Sunday / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday March 3rd 2019: Transfiguration Sunday / Luke 9:29-36 "The Living and the Dead"

Now about eight days after these sayings [Jesus] took with Him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as He was praying, the appearance of His face was altered, and His clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with Him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His departure, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with Him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him. And as the men were parting from Him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.

Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. Today we celebrate the Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus. But where do we start? We need to start somewhere. Do we start with Peter, James and John the three disciples Jesus took with Him up the mountainside to pray? Do we start with the voice of God the Father saying, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!”[1] Do we start with Jesus’ appearance transfigured in prayer, His face altered, His clothing dazzling white?[2] Perhaps we start with the Old Testament prophets Moses and Elijah who appear with Jesus to the amazement of Peter, James and John. Yes let’s start there but first a word from Saint Paul first letter to the Thessalonian Christians.  

Writing to them of the coming of The Lord Jesus on the Last Day Saint Paul says, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”[3]

Have you ever heard this song, “Swing low sweet chariot, coming to a carry me home, Swing low sweet chariot coming to a carry me home;” It’s a song for the weary, it was written by Wallace Willis a black slave in Oklahoma who first sang it as he looked out over the cotton field he was tilling and gazed upon the Red River in the distance. The Red River reminded him of the Mississippi River of his youth. The “sweet chariot” that Willis mentions in the song refers to the fiery chariots which accompanied the prophet Elijah as Elijah was taken up into heaven in a whirlwind of fire.[4] The prophet Elijah is one of just two people[5] recorded in Scripture to have left this earth without dying. People have long sung that song as they have longed to be with Jesus, longed to be out of this world and its weariness and death to be with Jesus in His promised heavenly paradise. Saint Paul was torn between his work here on earth and his desire to be with Jesus[6] in that same promised heavenly paradise when Paul said “I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.”[7] Elijah was a prophet whose work on earth was almost over when the day of the Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus came. On that day Elijah had one last task; Elijah was a man out of time, an unexpected man who had not tasted death who stood with the Word of God upon his lips tasked to speak again as a prophet before his work was through.

Moses, who was likewise sent to speak with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, on the other hand was a man who had tasted death. The day that the prophet Moses died he stood on the mountain of Nebo in the land of Moab. He was an old man then, but in good shape for 120 years of age – Scripture tells us that Moses’ eyes had not dimmed and he still could climb a mountain. 40 years earlier when Moses was only 80 years old God had spoken to him from the burning bush as he tended his flocks of sheep. Out of the fiery flames that did not consume the scraggily bush the Lord had commanded Moses to return to the land of Moses’ youth, to Egypt, the place Moses had run from after he had committed murder there.[8] In Egypt Moses did as the Lord commanded and brought the Hebrew people out from Egyptian slavery escaping by the Mighty hand of God amidst the parted waters of the red sea. Then all those years ago on Mount Sinai Moses received the Law, the Ten Commandments from God. With all of that behind him on the last day of Moses’ life he stands on Mount Nebo, right up on the pinnacle, right up on the place called Pisgah. And after 40 years of waiting in the wilderness because the people would not trust in the Lord God who had rescued them from slavery, they were all about to finally cross over the river Jordan into the Promised Land. The Land promised to Abraham, the land Moses was told to bring the children of Israel to. For the first time Moses sees with his eyes that Promised Land the land. This was the fruit of his labors, the long expected fulfillment of everything Moses was working for and he could see it, he could almost taste it.       

Then the voice of the Lord comes to Moses and say, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob … I have let you see it with your own eyes, but you shall not go over there.”[9] And with that Moses died in the land of Moab on that mountain so close and yet so far away.

Have you ever felt that way? Everything seems to be pointing in one direction. You are ready, prepared; you have waited so long – then suddenly the plans seem to change – it seems like God has changed His mind and your plans have changed along with His. Poor Moses, standing there seeing the Promised Land and being told that he would not go over there. Maybe you have been like Wallace Willis longing to be free of your circumstances, free of the weariness of life, longing to be taken away by the “sweet chariot” of God like Elijah into a blessed rest of peace with Jesus in His heavenly paradise. In whichever kind of circumstance you find yourself you are invited to yield up your prayers to God. Saint Paul in that same first letter to the Thessalonians says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”[10] Jesus, with Peter, James and John, on the Mount of Transfiguration was in prayer when Moses and Elijah came to Him.

When we talk about prayer, how is it that we say God answers prayer? He always answers but the answer is one of three things, “Yes,” “No,” or “Not Yet.” How do we feel when God the Father answers “No” or “Not Yet?” The devil would like us to feel abandoned. He would like us to feel as though God has given us over to Satan and abandoned us. But is that so? Here is some remarkable comfort: When the great prophet Moses died three things happened right afterward;

1) First, even though it seemed like God the Father had abandoned poor Moses – taking him right to the edge of the Promised Land, then leaving Moses there to die this was not the case. Unlike Elijah Moses was not physically taken up into heaven in his body – there was no fiery chariot to take Moses away, even still we are told from Scripture what happened next, and it is remarkable. Saint Jude in his little letter which you can find it right before the book of Revelation at the end of your Bibles tells us that the Archangel Michael fought with the devil, contended with Satan for the physical body of Moses.[11]

2) Second, God did not abandon Moses on that Mountaintop, even though Moses died there. In fact our Old Testament reading from Deuteronomy tells us that God Himself Buried Moses in the valley of Moab.[12] The devil was driven away and Moses was taken down from the mountain top and laid to rest by God the Father.

The God that Moses served and believed in, the one that we worship here today, the one and only true God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit: He took a special personal interest in the life of Moses and He takes a special and personal interest in you and your life. He extends to you the same grace and love and concern that He extended to Moses. When you pray in The LORD’S Prayer, “deliver us from evil,” The LORD sends His Holy angels to protect you in the same way He sent the Archangel Michael to protect Moses even in death.

You might be asking yourself how this all fits into the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus.  Well I think it will come clear with our third point.

3) And third thing our Triune God does something greatly miraculous and comforting for Moses something He will in The End do for you too. You see, even though Deuteronomy says that there had not arisen a prophet like Moses since his death in Israel, Moses did not receive special treatment in this next part. Moses received the same promise that all who believe and are baptized in Christ Jesus receive; the promise that all the Old Testament people who waited for the coming messiah receive because of their faith. Moses received his promised resurrection.   

How can we say that? Clearly Moses is dead in our Old Testament reading and clearly Moses is alive in our Gospel reading. And by contrast Moses stands with one who was taken to heaven without death. Picture it, our Lord Jesus as He stand on the Mount of Transfiguration, with His face and clothing dazzling like lightning filled with heavenly glory, is flanked by Elijah who did not taste death and a dead man, Moses, made alive in Jesus’ promised resurrection. Even more fascinating is that this all happens before Jesus goes to the cross.

It is after this experience on the mountaintop that Jesus turns toward Jerusalem where He knows that He will be going to His death. After this transfiguration Jesus sets His face like flint[13] and goes forward into danger for us, so that we like Moses can be raised from the dead to new life with Jesus in heaven. Jesus forgave every sin that Moses ever committed; even the murder Moses had initially ran away from facing when he ran away from Egypt as a young man, Jesus forgave it all when Jesus hung dead on the cross. Every sin that you have ever committed is forgiven along with Moses’ sins and Elijah’s sins as Jesus hung on that Good Friday cross. Saint Luke in his Gospel writes, “And behold two men were talking with [Jesus], Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of [Jesus’] departure, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”[14] Moses and Elijah were there to talk to Jesus about the Cross, about His death and Resurrection.

I find this fascinating and comforting, it is a mind-boggling truth. Jesus who Saint Paul explains is the first fruit of the dead[15] – the first to be resurrected – the source of all resurrection stands with Moses who is to be counted amongst the Resurrected.[16] Moses like Elijah is a man out of time. Elijah in his way is a man of the past and present and Moses in his way then, in the resurrection, is a man of the future and the present. As Jesus stands with Moses Jesus is encouraged and reminded of the fruits of His cross and passion, of what it will accomplish for Moses, what it does accomplish for Moses, what it accomplishes for all those whose resurrection in Christ is promised. From this you can take great comfort that when you die, you like Moses, will have your resurrected body and it will be glorious. Moses didn’t come back as a ghost at the Mount of Transfiguration Moses had his resurrected body. You don’t suggest making a tent for a ghost. Peter suggests tents because Jesus, Moses and Elijah all have physical bodies.

Have you ever worried or heard someone voice their concerns that they might not be able to recognize their loved ones in heaven once they get there, if everyone is so changed from their old selves when their earthly bodies are transformed to be like Jesus’ glorious body?[17] Today’s Gospel reading gives you a very comforting answer to this question: Like we’ve heard Peter, James and John are with Jesus when Moses and Elijah show up. And what does Peter say? Does he say “Jesus, who are those men with you?” No Peter says “Master it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Even though Saint Peter had never seen Moses or Elijah he knew them and could name them: isn’t this wonderful. 

To wrap everything up: Jesus far exceeded Moses as a prophet, as amazing as Moses was, Jesus is more amazing. Yet with Moses there is one more detail in the last section of Moses story in which we can take comfort. This detail is so obvious I felt funny not having noticed it before when first I heard about it, when first it was told to me. Remember earlier when I said God answers prayers by saying either “Yes,” “No” or “Not Yet.” Consider this: Moses stands looking out from a mountain in Moab – he can see the Promised Land but Moses is not allowed to go there and he dies, God protects and buries him. When Moses, this man now outside of time who enjoys the fruits of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus in eternity, comes from heaven in his resurrected body to speak with Jesus about the coming Cross where does this conversation take place? In the Promised Land – the same Promised Land Moses was not able to go into in life; Moses is granted to go into that Promised Land in his new life in Christ Jesus. What amazing grace Jesus gives to those He loves. Whether it is sooner or later you too can look forward with assurance that you will be with Jesus in the heavenly Promised Land in all the glory of your resurrected body.  

This is why I started with that passage from Saint Paul first letter to the Thessalonian Christians. Death is no longer a barrier for us to fear, we need not worry that God will abandon us at our death. Saint Paul speaks of the death of a Christian as sleep, and one who sleeps will be awakened, on The Last Day the dead in Christ, alive in Him, will awaken in their resurrection and they will have what we see Moses has in our Gospel reading today, and yet those of us who are alive on That Day will have what Elijah had, we on That Day will not taste death we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with the resurrected ones in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we with them will always be with the Lord. Whether it will be for you like it was for Elijah or if it will be for you like it was for Moses either way fear not and trust Jesus.  

Now, as we turn towards the season of lent, turn towards the Cross with Jesus, as we walk down from the Mount of Transfiguration we do not walk that path alone. This new path leads to the blessed crest of Mount Calvary where our sins, every transgression have already been washed away in the blood of Christ Jesus and we can keep in our hearts the words of God our heavenly Father, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him.” And what is it that Jesus says? I leave you with this comforting exchange between Jesus and the thief on the cross. In the Gospel of Saint Luke Chapter 23 we hear, “Then [the thief] said, “Jesus remember me in Your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise.”[18] This promise is for all who believe it was for the prophet Elijah, it was for the prophet Moses and it is for you. Amen.

Let us pray:

Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1] Luke 9:35
[2] Luke 9:29
[3] 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18
[4] 2 Kings 2:1-12
[5] The other is Enoch the father of Methuselah; Genesis 5:24; Hebrews 11:15.
[6] Philippians 1:19-30
[7] Philippians 1:23–24
[8] Exodus 2:11–15, “One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, “Why do you strike your companion?” He answered, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian. And he sat down by a well.”
[9] Deuteronomy 34:4
[10] 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18
[11] Jude verse 9
[12] Deuteronomy 34:6
[13] Isaiah 50:7
[14] Luke 9:30-31
[15] 1 Corinthians 15:20
[16] Christian Dogmatics, Volume III, (Eschatology, or The Last Things), F. Pieper, Concordia Publishing House 1953 Pg 515.
[17] Philippians 3:20–21, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.”
[18] Luke 23: 42-43