Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, February 15, 2015
Christ Removes the Veils - February 15, 2015 - The Transfiguration of Our Lord - Text: 2 Corinthians 3:12-13 (14-18) 4:1-6
Today we celebrate Transfiguration Sunday, the day we are reminded of Peter, James, and John’s mountain top experience as disciples of Jesus Christ. It was fitting that these disciples had this experience when they did and that we celebrate this event today, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Jesus was preparing for His crucifixion and His transfiguration served to strengthen Him as well as His disciples for the events which were about to take place. So, I pray that our Lord’s Word this morning will serve to wake us up and to prepare us for our up coming Lenten Season.
Before we get into the text for this morning I would like to take a moment to look at the other readings for today. Our Old Testament lesson for today is the historic account of Elijah’s ascension into heaven and his leaving Elisha to take his place. Elijah was indeed a man of God and the Lord allowed for him to not die, but to ascend bodily into heaven. As the lesson goes, we read that “chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them (Elijah and Elisha). And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (v.11). And please notice, it was not as we so often mistakenly suggest when talking about this event, that Elijah was taken to heaven by a chariot of fire, but as we go back and check the text we are told that he was taken into heaven by a whirlwind. A chariot of fire and horses of fire is what separated Elijah and Elisha.
In our epistle lesson Paul mentions Moses who, as we remember because he struck the rock instead of speaking to it, was not allowed to enter the promise land with the rest of the children of Israel but died and was buried by God Himself. Then as we listened to our Gospel lesson for today both Elijah and Moses appear, being with Jesus who was transfigured on the mountain. Obviously Peter was frightened and did not know what to say, so he suggests that they build three tents, or booths, to shelter Elijah, Moses, and Jesus. This was not the reason for the transfiguration, to have booths or tents built so they could permanently stay.
Although we may not be completely certain of the reason or reasons for this event, we might make a couple of suggests. Remember, Jesus came to be Israel and us for us, that is He came to be perfect for us in our place. He came to fulfill all righteousness. He came to do what we and all of Israel could not do, live perfectly. So, understanding why Jesus came, one suggestion for this transfiguration event is that Jesus was conferring with Moses, the law giver, to make sure that He had completely and actively obeyed all the laws of the Lord, for us and in our stead. And He was conferring with Elijah, who is held by many to be the greatest prophet in Israel, to make sure that He actively obeyed all the prophecies, the promises concerning Himself as the Messiah, again, for us and in our stead. And most certainly, this transfiguration event was meant to strengthen Jesus’ resolve to take our sins upon Himself, go to the cross and suffer for us. I believe it also helped strengthen the disciples belief in the resurrection, because here was Moses who had died many years ago, alive. Interestingly enough, the disciples were given orders by Jesus not to tell anyone about what they had seen until after Jesus’ resurrection.
Today is Transfiguration Sunday and as you can see, the scripture readings all fit very well together. I believe the main theme running through these lessons is the cloud, or veil as our text says, that covers us from our understanding of the Gospel message and that Jesus and faith in Him is the only way to remove this veil. According to our sinful human nature we resist the Gospel, instead we look to the law to justify ourselves and it cannot be done. The law serves to veil the Gospel even more and it is only with the help of the Holy Spirit that the veil is removed and we see the Gospel message and its freedom.
Our text tells us that for the Israelites still today there is a veil over the old covenant, that is the Old Testament, so that they do not understand the freedom of the Gospel. Before we stand in judgement of them, however, we need to look at ourselves and see how the gospel remains veiled to us today because of our own resistance. Of course we would never admit to having our eyes clouded over by these veils, but take a moment to give, as Paul would say, sober judgment as I talk about the veils we have over our eyes and see if one does not perhaps cover your own eyes.
The first veil with which we cover ourselves is the self-righteous veil. This veil includes work righteousness and dependency on the law. And the first thing that pops into our mind is, what are you talking about? I am not self-righteous, I do not think that I can get to heaven by my own works. But is that true? Do we always remember that it is Jesus who is the only way to heaven. Why is it then that we compare ourselves with others? “I am no worse a person than my neighbor.” It is because we can always find someone worse than we are. Instead of comparing ourselves to others we would do well to begin by comparing ourselves to Jesus who was perfect and that is how we find out just how bad we really are. Yes, we are self-righteous people and we often look for ways to justify ourselves and why Jesus should let us into heaven.
The second veil with which we cover ourselves is the “I’m not good enough” veil. This is the woe is me, self-pity veil. We think that if we condemn ourselves enough that God will feel really sorry for us and He will have to let us into heaven. We have had it so rough here on earth that we are not deserving of hell.
The third veil with which we cover ourselves is the intellectual veil, that is we think we are smart enough either that we do not need any further Christian education, or that we can answer any questions God might have for us. For some this veil has evolved to the point that they do not even need God anymore because their world can be explained by science or by any number of theories. For others, they think confirmation was graduation and see no further need to study God’s Word. And for too many we believe that one hour a week on Sunday, or every other week on Sunday is enough “God” time, instead of hungering and thirsting after the Word of the Lord every Sunday, even desiring to be in Bible class and have personal reading of God’s Word, personal and family devotions and the like.
The fourth veil with which we cover ourselves is the philosophical veil. This veil tends to lead us to a very watery faith. We come to the belief that God is love and He would never really send anyone to hell, so we become very universalistic in our belief, that is, that everyone is going to heaven. It does not matter what you believe, as long as you believe something or as long as you are sincere in your faith. And this tends to lead to a very humanistic point of view, that is that man is essentially good and there again deserving of heaven. We forget that we human beings are conceived and born in sin and are naturally enemies of God and that God is a just God and has promised to punish sin.
The fifth and last veil with which we cover ourselves is the religious veil. This is another of the obvious work-righteous veils, which by the way all of these really are. This veil says that I always go to church and therefore I deserve heaven. Or, I have been a member of this church all my life. I have taught Sunday School, Vacation Bible School. I have been a member of the LWML or LLL, this board, that board, and on and on. I am sorry, but none of these good works will get us into heaven. And this type of thinking clouds over the real Gospel message.
Which brings us to what I call Christ’s veil removal service. His veil removal service works first with the plow of justification. That is, through the working of the Christ’s death and resurrection we are justified and through the Holy Spirit working in our hearts we are brought to faith. The word justification means to be made right. It is a very fitting legal term used because not only do we stand accused, but we are also found guilty in God’s court. We are conceived and born in sin and there is no way we can save ourselves, and we have seen from the previous examples of how we try to do so. It is only because of God’s grace, His undeserved love toward us that we are saved. Because of His grace for us He sent Jesus to take all our sins upon Himself and to suffer for all of them. He died and He rose so that we might stand before God and be declared justified, right in His eyes. It is His justification for us which frees us from the bondage of the law so that we are no longer veiled and can see the freedom of the Gospel. Working through Word and Sacrament, what we call the means of Grace, He is the one who gives us faith. We cannot even claim our own faith as something we do, because it is only through the Holy Spirit working in our hearts that we are given faith.
His second plow is the plow of sanctification. That is, through the working of the Holy Spirit we are transformed. The word sanctify means to make holy, to make special. Even though we are made right before God we are still sinners. We are now in the process of becoming saints. We are no longer what we were before, that is completely lost and condemned persons, but we are not yet all that we will be, that is completely saints in heaven. We are on our way to become more and more Christ-like. We are becoming more and more holy with His help. Of course we continue to understand that we will never be completely holy until we reach our home in heaven.
Our sanctification is our response to our justification. First, we are justified and this is all done by God. Next God works on our sanctification. Again, this is something God works at within us. God works at our sanctification through our worship and Bible class attendance, through our daily family and personal devotions, through our remembering our Baptism, through our Confession and absolution, through our daily reading of God’s Word, through our attending the Lord’s Supper as often as we can. And with our Lord working through our daily Christian example we bear witness of the faith that is in us.
We are much like the Corinthians to whom Paul was writing. The Transfiguration of Jesus has already occurred. Christ has already lived, suffered, died, and risen for us. We can read about these historic events in the Bible. Now the Holy Spirit is working in our hearts, 18And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (v. 18). May the Lord continue to work in you that transformation. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.