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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!

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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 26, 2017

The Glory of the Lord, a Consuming Fire - February 26, 2017 - The Transfiguration of Our Lord/ Last Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: Exodus 24:8-18

Last week our Old Testament reading set before us the Law of the Lord and the reminder that the summary of the Law is love. God’s command is that we are perfect. God even spelled out what it means to be perfect, that is He has given us His commandments which give us direction in being perfect. Because we cannot keep God’s commandments, because we cannot be perfect we were reminded that Jesus came to be perfect for us, in our place. Jesus came to do what Israel could not do and what we cannot do. Because of God’s great love for us, Jesus gave His life for ours. God’s desire is that we are perfect, not because of threats of the Law, but because of love. Because He first loved us, we are to reflect that love back to Him and to others. As we continue working our way through the Old Testament we may believe that these words pertain only to the Children of Israel and although that may seem correct, I would again remind you that by faith in Jesus we are children of Abraham, the true Israel and so the words and promises here are made to us, as Christians, as well.
 
This morning in our Old Testament lesson we have the Lord confirming the covenant He made with Moses and the children of Israel. On our church year calendar today is marked as the Last Sunday after the Epiphany as well as Transfiguration Sunday, the day we celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord on the mountain. In the next few minutes, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we will look at the Old Testament lesson, putting it into the context of its day, looking at the details in the text, seeing how it gives us a preview of Jesus’ transfiguration, and then we will glance briefly at what took place at the actual transfiguration of Jesus.
 
The scene of our Old Testament lesson was this: The children of Israel were camped around the base of Mt. Sinai. They heard the Lord God as He thundered the Moral Law to them from the top of the mountain. He called them to worship Him alone and to remember their covenant commitment to “do everything the Lord said.” He invited them to build an altar and sacrifice on it their burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, and He promised to send His angel before them to destroy their enemies so the promised land might be theirs.
 
In verse one of chapter twenty-four Moses was told to “come up to the Lord”—along with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel. At that time the covenant was confirmed, sacrifices were offered, the Book of the Covenant was read, and the people again pledged themselves to obedience. Then the leaders of Israel “went up and saw the God of Israel . . . but God did not raise His hand against them; they saw God, and they ate and drank.” This wondrous meal formally confirmed the covenant.
 
In verse twelve of our text, Moses was called into God’s presence, to stay with Him and receive from Him the tablets of stone. Beginning at verse fifteen we read what happened next. “15Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. 17Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights” (Ex. 24:15-18).
 
In these verses we have several details that might help us better understand the events which are taking place. The first detail is that of the cloud. As you may remember, the cloud played an important role in the lives of the Israelites. It was the cloud of smoke as well as the pillar of fire which lead the Children of Israel by day and night out of Egypt. Later on this same cloud became the presence of God in the tabernacle and in the temple in Jerusalem. When the cloud rested over the tabernacle and the temple then the people knew that the Lord’s presence was with them.
 
The second detail is the seven days. Our texts says the “16The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud” (v. 16). My Bible dictionary says that the number seven means, “completion, perfection and consummation.” It took six days to create the world and the Lord rested on the seventh day. Many Old Testament festivals lasted for seven days, or for a multiple of seven days. And so, on the seventh day we have the Lord calling to Moses in order for the completion, perfection, and consummation of the covenant between He and the children of Israel.
 
The third detail is that of the forty days Moses stayed on the mountain. Again, referring back to my Bible dictionary, not only was forty used as a specific number but sometimes it was “used as a round number to designate a fairly long period of time in terms of human existence or endurance.” It rained for forty days and nights during the great flood (and here this is not a symbolic number but a definite number of days and nights), enough water and time to cleanse the earth. Forty years was the approximate length of a generation. The children of Israel wandered around in the wilderness for forty years, enough time for one generation to die before entering the holy land. The forty days that Moses spent on the mountain was a preview of the number of days of Jesus would spend fasting in the wilderness.
 
Getting back to the cloud which we said was the appearance of the glory of the Lord, it is interesting to make note as to how this cloud was looked upon. In verse seventeen we are reminded that, “17Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel” (v. 17). The Israelites were well aware of the awesome power of the Lord. They were also aware of their sinful nature. Thus, to the Israelites the cloud of the glory of the Lord was seen as a devouring fire. As sinful human beings we may have the same perspective of the cloud of glory of the Lord. As sinful human beings we realize that we are worthy only of the wrath of God. As we run the ten commandments through our minds we begin to realize how each day we break our covenant with our Lord and are worthy only of His wrath. It is at these times that we sinful human beings see the cloud of the glory of the Lord as a consuming fire. Here we are reminded that without the Gospel, the Law will only lead us to despair. The Law never motivates us to anything but to despair. By the Law we become conscious of sin.
 
On the other hand, as forgiven children of God, as saints, we also see the cloud as a sign of the glory of the Lord. Because of Jesus life, suffering, death, and resurrection, because Jesus is our substitution on the cross, we see the cloud as a sign of Jesus’ forgiveness and of the glory of the Lord. It is this Gospel message which works faith and strengthening of faith in our hearts.
 
Today we celebrate Transfiguration Sunday, the day Jesus was transfigured on the mountain. Our Old Testament text is what we might call a pre-figuration of Transfiguration, in other words our Old Testament lesson is a kind of preview of the Transfiguration that we read about in the Gospel lesson.
 
Looking at the Gospel lesson we read that “after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain.” Our Old Testament lesson told us that after six day, on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses who was up on the mountain. Obviously the events in both instances were different, but the numbering brings us to a similarity. Jesus transfiguration was a “completion, perfection and consummation” of His work showing Himself to be the true Son of God.
 
In the Gospel lesson we read, “a bright cloud overshadowed them.” In the Old Testament lesson we read of the cloud as the glory of the Lord. In the Gospel the Lord spoke from the cloud as He did in the cloud in the Old Testament lesson. And just as the Israelites were in fear because the glory of the Lord looked like a devouring fire, so also the disciples fell on their faces and were terrified at the events that were taking place on the mount of transfiguration.
 
In the Gospel lesson we read that Moses and Elijah were on the mountain with Jesus. They symbolized the Law and the Prophets, that Word which Jesus came to earth to fulfill. In the Epistle lesson Peter describes the events of the transfiguration telling us that, Jesus “received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (2 Peter 1:17). He further assures us that this all took place as directed by the hand of God when he says, “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21). For the disciples this was truly a mountain top experience.
 
This morning we celebrate these two mountain top experiences. We celebrate the confirming of the covenant that God made with us on Mount Sinai, the covenant that He would be our God and we would be His people. And we celebrate the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain. The transfiguration in which we see that Jesus is who He said He was, the Son of God who came to give us life and salvation through His work on the cross.
 
Transfiguration Sunday is the last Sunday after the Epiphany and is the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. In three days, on Wednesday we will celebrate Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Unfortunately, many in our society use the last two days before Lent, Monday and Shrove or Fat Tuesday, to “get out their sinning,” before the forty days of penance during Lent. That is really not what grace, repentance and forgiveness is all about. Paul reminds us that we are not to go on sinning so that grace may abound. The fact that Jesus suffered and died for our sins; the fact that the Holy Spirit gives us faith through His means of grace; the fact that we are forgiven sinners is what gives us encouragement to fight such temptation and sin.
 
So, this morning we celebrate our own mountain top experience, the experience of being in divine service, of being strengthened in our faith, and of having sins forgiven. We celebrate God’s promise to send a Savior. We celebrate that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise, even God Himself in human flesh in the person of Jesus. We celebrate Jesus showing Himself to be truly God and truly man. We celebrate the fact that Jesus fulfilled all God’s laws perfectly, all God’s promises and prophecies perfectly and we celebrate that Jesus freely took our sins upon Himself in order to pay the price for our sins. We celebrate His resurrection and the fact that death and the grave have no power over Him. We celebrate and we say, praise the Lord for His gift of grace for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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