Behold! It’s Transfiguration Sunday, Hallelujah!
Yes, we’re burying the alleluia’s today. Into that small coffin in the chancel, they rest before our eyes while removed from our lips. This is our last hurrah before descending into Lent and the Lord’s Passion. Look in our text at the glorious notes being sounded before we make the descent. They are conveniently marked in the Greek by 3 ‘beholds’. “Behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Jesus.” “Behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them.” “Behold, a voice out of the cloud.” All 3 are worthy of a hallelujah.
Behold the dead in Christ aren’t gone. After being dead and buried for over 1500 years, we have Moses back on earth. After being taken alive into heaven about 800[ years before, Elijah’s back on earth too. Do not think this is only true of these two. Where Jesus is the entire Body of Christ is: that’s all in Christ whether alive or dead. This we celebrate every Communion service; all the company of heaven is with us. Google “1984 ‘Places of the Heart’ last scene”, but you have to know that some of those communing have died in the movie. Take the Philippine Army. As of 2006 whenever they had roll call, Douglas MacArthur’s name was called last and someone responded, “present” (http://centurions.blogspot.com/2006/01/macarthur-roll-call.html). Nice thought for a military unit. For the Church Militant it’s reality. Hallelujah!
Behold! Our text teaches us that although only Elijah, Enoch, and Christ and those in Mat. 27 aren’t waiting for the their bodies to rise on the Last Day, we can still picture our dead in bodily form. Revelation describes the company of heaven as those who have been beheaded for the sake of Christ. What does a headless soul look like? Sleepy Hollow anyone? No, picture them as you knew them but not cumbered by a load of care, pain, or illness. Picture them not as ghostly apparitions or slick holographs. Moses and Elijah have tongues to speak and ears to hear, and so do our dead in Christ today. Our dead in Christ haven’t become shades. Hallelujah!
And this is the proof passage that we will know each other in heaven. The dead in Christ need no introduction. Along the lines of meeting a child of someone you know really well, you recognize them as belonging to the adult you know. But look where these two OT saints are focusing: not on each other, but on Jesus. All 3 Gospels use the word not for ‘talking’ but “talking together” and all say ‘with Him’. And Luke tells us what they’re talking about: “about Jesus’ exodus which He was about fulfill in Jerusalem.” Really? Moses’ Exodus involved killing his enemies and dancing on the sea shore after. Jesus would be killed and His disciples not dancing but devastated. Jesus’ exodus won’t be fulfilled till Easter and Ascension. Still, isn’t this a kicker? We are going to spend the next 6 Wednesdays focused on what saints in heaven do. What Jesus Himself did. His exodus which He accomplished for us and our salvation. Hallelujah!
I’m talking the ‘beholds’ in order, but they do overlap. Behold the Dead in Christ aren’t gone. Behold heaven comes to earth in Jesus’ Person. Hallelujah! Hallelujah is an English transliteration of the Greek word hall?louia which is a transliteration of 2 Hebrew words h?lal – y?h, which is, “Praise ye Yahweh”. Hallelujah is only found 4 times in the NT, all in heaven in Revelation. Hallelujah, is found 24 times in OT, but only in 15 different Psalms from 104-150. These are called the “Hallelujah Psalms”. We don’t notice this because most of our translations translate, “Praise the Lord.” Moses and Elijah are the 2 OT saints who met the Lord, Yahweh, on a mountain. Perhaps on the very same Mount Sinai. Where Yahweh is heaven is. Hallelujah!
The Lord testifies to this with “behold a bright cloud.” Mark and Luke also note the cloud, but Matthew alone says it was ‘bright.” This is distinct from the cloud that descended on Moses: Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently (Ex. 19:18). The smoke from a furnace is gray or even black. The cloud that descended on Sinai in giving the Commandments is scary. Ex. 24:17 says, “To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.” Both clouds indicate the presence of the Lord. But before the cloud arrives in our text the Man Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, who has flesh just like ours, shines brighter, shines purer than sun, moon, or angels. Mark tells you at this point “they were exceedingly afraid.” Luke notes the “exceeding fear” at the cloud overshadowing them. Matthew notes the climax of their fearing, and you’ll be surprised when.
Let’s look more at this cloud. The cloud here is the same cloud that appeared to the OT Church as fire at night and a pillar during the day. It led the OT Church and defended Her in the Exodus. It dwelled over the Holy of Holies in the wilderness, and more specifically over the Mercy Seat. This cloud will receive Moses and Elijah back into heaven. And at the Ascension this is the Cloud that received the ascending Jesus. In 2 Chron 7 this Glory of the Lord drove His priests out of the Temple. Here: in Jesus it is bright, safe. Hallelujah!
This is the Lord teaching us visually. The Transfiguration of the Man Jesus shows us the reality of Col 2:9, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” His face “shone like the sun” and “and His clothes became as white as the rays of the sun.” The gloves are off; the masks are removed. The God incarnate who didn’t always use His divine powers as a Man to take our place in life and death under the Law, shows who He really is. And unlike when Zeus shows his lover his full glory, the apostles aren’t burned up. This parallels what happened in the Exodus: after being sealed by animal blood that stood for the Blood of Jesus that cleanses us from all sins, the OT Church leaders could enter into Yahweh’s presence safely: Listen: “Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the 70 elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under His feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise His hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank” (Ex. 24:9-11).
That’s worth a hallelujah. I’ve been right next to molten iron. I’ve seen it poured. I’ve seen molten iron rain down like water. I knew what iron was. I knew what a liquid was. I was fascinated by what I knew to be solid now a liquid in the crucible. Now, the 3 apostles see the Man Jesus who they saw tired, hungry, sick, sleepy, cold, and weeping as Very God of Very God. Then they are going to witness, and so are we in the Wednesday Passion Readings, this God in Flesh go into the Crucible and that is going to be excruciating – i.e. out of the cross – for Him not us. Hallelujah!
So far so good. Behold the Dead in Christ are where He is whether heaven or earth. Behold heaven comes to earth and shows that the Man Jesus is God the Son while talking about heavenly things with Him. But look what scares them so badly. “Behold a voice out of the cloud…they fell to the ground terrified.” This is parallel to Exodus when the people plead with Lord not to speak to them directly but through Moses or they will die (Ex. 20:19). How we going to say Hallelujah to this?
It’s not the voice itself. Although go home and read Psalm 29; hear what the Voice of God can do: It’s powerful and majestic. It breaks cedars, makes countries leap, strikes like lightening, shakes the desert, and strips forests bare. The Voice here merely ‘says’. It doesn’t thunder; it doesn’t shake; it doesn’t rattle. It just says, “Jesus is My Beloved Son, and you must listen to Him.” Can you see why these words might have undone, unmanned, peed the pants of the apostles? The last recorded word of Jesus was Him foretelling His rejection and crucifixion, which Peter flatly, boldly denied. He sure didn’t listen. And this knowledge terrifies them in the face of God saying, “You must listen to Him.” The voice of Jesus sounds in the Divine Service but how many listen only when they feel like it? The Voice sounds in Bible Class. How many say, “Not for me, Thank you.” The Voice sounds in sermons too, but that’s just my opinion. Too bad for you. This is the same Voice that speaks your baptizing, absolving, and communing.
Listen to Jesus. The bloody, sweaty cross is necessary. Jesus speaks about it with Heaven itself. He set His face on the cross despite being offered a way out next Sunday. Despite the agony in Gethsemane where He wants to redeem us from our sin, from the devil’s power, and the Death that haunts us, but without His drinking God’s cup of wrath. It’s not enough that Jesus by a holy life did keep all the laws we break everyday. There was still hell to pay, and the cup of God’s wrath would not be finished till that last bitter pain on the cross was swallowed. Hallelujah! He did it!
And even though they had not listened, even as we don’t, what are Jesus’ next words? After the Father gives the command to make it their constant policy to listen Jesus, what are Jesus’ next words? “Arise” – the Easter word. “You must be risen (passive) by Me” And you can stop being afraid.” If you arise from you);r grave of sin and death by anything other than the Word Jesus speaks on the basis of His life and death, you haven’t really risen. If you stop being afraid of God’s judgement on you for not hearing God’s Word carelessly, or not all, just because you’re over it. Just because you’re able to forget it, not think of it, you are in for one hell of a surprise. Self-absolution, you telling yourself, “I don’t have to be afraid; I don’t have to be afraid” will one day give way. No, you go by the Words Jesus speaks on His authority, for the sake of what He did for you: You can stop being afraid of God’s judgment for that reason. You can like the OT Church come into the presence of God at this altar and eat and drink not just with Him, but Him!
This is certainly worth a ‘behold’ and a ‘hallelujah. True, but from here to Easter we bury them in that coffin till the resurrected Jesus brings them back with Him. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Transfiguration of our Lord (20230219); Matthew 4:1-11