In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“You have not come to what can be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. … But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24).
You have to come to the mountain this morning, with Jesus, and Peter, John, and James. And in the words of the Scriptures you, with the disciples, see Jesus transfigured: His appearance changed. And we are given a glimpse of the glory of the eternal Son, which He shares from eternity with the Father and the Son. I suspect that this happens at night, because the disciples are sleepy, or asleep; and when they wake up, or are fully awake, they see Jesus, Moses, and Elijah speaking together about Jesus’ exodus—I know the English says “departure,” but the Greek word is “exodus”—His exodus, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. And Peter says to Jesus, “It is good for us to be here; let us make three tents: one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” But Luke says he didn’t know what he said. Up to this very week, I simply assumed that it meant that Peter didn’t know what to say, so he was just spewing whatever words came to his mind, just rambling. But why tents? Why does he suggest such a thing? Maybe it’s not that he doesn’t know what words he’s saying, but that he says the wrong thing at the wrong time. Because Peter’s not ignorant. He knows the Scriptures. He knows what happened the last time Moses was on a mountain, where God spoke to him. Peter knows that there was the glory of the Lord, there was Yahweh talking to Moses about Israel’s exodus from slavery in Egypt, through the wilderness, and into the land that God had promised to give them. Peter knows that there was a tent, where Moses would meet with God, and when he came out, his face glowed so brightly that he had to put a veil over it before he spoke to the people (Exodus 33:7ff.). I think Peter figures that God is going to set up a new place for meeting with God, and so they’re going to need some tents. But then the cloud comes and overshadows the mountain, showing us that this is the same almighty God who overshadowed Mary and brought about the conception in her womb of this same Jesus. The power of the Most High will overshadow you and you will conceive and give birth to a son. The same God overshadows the mountain of transfiguration, but there’s no tent and no tabernacle, as when the tabernacle was consecrated by the present glory of the Lord, and not even Moses could enter it (Exodus 40:34ff.). And the disciples are afraid to enter the cloud, just as Israel was afraid of the glory of the Lord on Sinai, and begged Moses not to let God speak to them directly, but for Moses to speak to them. But God the Father speaks and says, “This is My Son, the chosen one; listen to Him.” And when the cloud goes away, so do Moses and Elijah. No more begging Moses to speak to them on behalf of God; Jesus is not the new Moses, with a better, more spiritual law. He is the greater prophet whom Moses told the people that God would raise up from among their brothers, and to whom they must listen. They begged to have no further messages spoken to them, and God said, they are right. I will raise up a prophet like you, Moses, and in His mouth I will put My words (Deuteronomy 18:15ff.). The Father confirms that it is Jesus whom He has sent, and to whom everything must listen.
This is the reason that no tents are needed: because the tent is the flesh of Jesus. The Word is not spoken in the terrifying glory of the cloud and the fire; now the Word is flesh and He dwells among us. God no longer speaks to man inside a tent made by the hands of men; and you don’t go up on a mountain to meet God. He comes down to you and speaks to you in the flesh of His Son, and His Word is in Christ’s mouth. You don’t need a tent, a tabernacle, a temple; you just need the flesh of Jesus. Listen to Him. He is worthy of greater glory than Moses, in the same way that the builder of the house is worthy of more glory than the house itself. Moses was indeed faithful as a servant in the house of God, but Jesus is the faithful Son. He is the prophet greater than Moses. The Law came through Moses, but grace and truth have come in Jesus. It wasn’t Moses who led the people across the Jordan into the Land of Moses; the Law cannot get you there. It was Yahshua who led them in. It’s no coincidence! Yahshua led Israel into the Land, and the new and greater Yahshua leads all people into the eternal land of promise.
But the mountain of transfiguration is not that land. In order to accomplish His exodus, Jesus must go down from that mountain and up to another mountain called Calvary, to be lifted up on a cross. There the disciples will see the glory of God in this creation: the body broken and the blood shed, to give life to the world. He accomplishes His exodus out of this wilderness world of sin and death, and He crosses the Jordan of death and into the land of resurrection promise. It is to that Land that He leads His people. He is the Son; listen to Him! Now the Son of God in flesh speaks to you of your exodus. You have come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You cannot touch or see it, you can only hear it. But He speaks. He speaks to you of His death and resurrection, and of your free forgiveness. Here are innumerable angels in festal gathering—angels and archangels, and the whole company of heaven. All the spirits of the righteous, who no longer struggle and stumble around in this body of death, but who are with their Lord, waiting for the resurrection. Here you gather with the assembly of the firstborn, enrolled in heaven. The firstborn, who were spared as God’s wrath passed over them, because their houses were marked by the blood of the sacrificed lambs. That wrath fell, instead, on the firstborn Son of Mary, and now you are marked by the blood of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
Here is God, the judge of all, who judges you righteous—certainly not because you did what was required under the old covenant, but because of Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant. The old covenant was inaugurated with blood. Moses spoke to the people everything God had said; then he sacrificed animals, and threw half the blood on the altar; the other half he threw on the people, and he said, “This is the blood of the covenant, in accordance with all these words that the Lord has spoken to you” (Exodus 24:1-11). And so Jesus also, on the same day in which He was sacrificed, said, “This is My blood of the new covenant, poured out for many, for the forgiveness of sins.” And His blood, sprinkled on the whole earth, speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. The blood of Abel cried out for vengeance under the Law—a life for a life—for retribution against his brother who murdered him. But Jesus’ blood doesn’t cry out for vengeance against those who murdered Him; it doesn’t cry out for retribution against His brothers, even you and me, whose sin nailed Him to the cross. His blood cries out for mercy. Even now, He pleads for you before the Father’s throne. Here, on this glorious mountain, He gives you His blood to drink, and bread from heaven. He feeds you and sustains you for your journey through the wilderness, until you reach the eternal land of His promise.
Because we are not there yet. We, too, must go down from this mountain into the valley of the shadow of death, as we go through Lent. It is a reminder to us that we still live in the wilderness, where we cannot see or touch the mercy; we can only hear and believe it. We are still burdened by our flesh, tempted by the devil and the world. Still subject to sin and death, still inclined to rebellion against our Savior and Redeemer from slavery. But He points us to our exodus, to the resurrection. It is as certain as Canaan, no matter if it takes us 40 or 400 or 4000 years. It is good to be here, gathered with our Lord and the angels and the saints here and in heaven; but it will be far better to be at the fulfillment of this mountain, when we see the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. Then we will dwell with Him forever, face to face in the full glory of the crucified, risen, ascended Jesus. Come quickly, Lord Jesus, and bring us to the eternal Easter feast. Hallelujah, hallelujah!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 2/6/16