Sermons ~ by Clint Magnus
Moses and the Transfiguration
Deuteronomy 34:5, “So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab according to the Word of the Lord...this is our text.
Have you ever had a situation where you thought you were going to be able to do something but at the last moment circumstances intervened and you realized that you wouldn't be able to achieve your dream? I think that is how our daughter Jille must have felt a couple of years ago as circumstances as she missed her flight to Australia. As she watched the plane leaving without her she must have thought, like Maxwell Smart, “Missed it by that much.” Well, we all have things we would like to do or see, and sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't. You have to wonder how Moses must have felt as he stood on Mount Nebo with the Lord in our text today and God showed him all the land that was promised to Abraham and his descendants. All the Promised land that Moses had been leading the people towards...through the Red Sea, following a pillar of light and cloud, through 40 years in the wilderness all leading to this exact moment in time when the people of Israel stood on the east bank of the Jordan river ready to take the inheritance that God had promised them...all except Moses.
We read beginning at verse 1, “And the Lord showed him all the land, Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb and the Plain, that is the Valley of Jericho the city of palm trees as far as Zoar. And the Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham and Issac and to Jacob, “I will give it to your offspring.' I have let you see it with your own eyes, but you shall not go over there.” Our Old testament lesson today is the final 12 verses of the Pentateuch, the 1st 5 books of the Bible sometimes called the Books of Moses. And what we read is that the people of God are “Almost” in the Promised Land. God takes Moses up to the peak of Mount Nebo and gave Moses a view of all the land that the Israelites would conquer and inherit in God's Name. All the land that the people had been waiting for for centuries since God made the promise to Abraham, and it must have been awesome for Moses to finally see it. He had spent about half his life getting here and the sight of it must have filled him with true joy. It was a wonderful moment...except for the next part when God says, “I have let you see it with your own eyes, but you shall not go over there.” So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab according to the Word of the Lord.” This whole account seems tragic to our human sensibilities doesn't it? It seems tragic and maybe even a bity unfair to us.
If this were a Hollywood script, Moses would be the one to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land as their glorious leader. Maybe they would find him a beautiful white stallion to ride at the head of the army as they charged across the Jordan and crushed everyone in their way. Moses with his white flowing beard and staff raised throwing the fear of God into anyone who would dare stand in their way. And it could have gone like that. We read that Moses' eyes were undimmed and his vigor was unabated. It wasn't like he couldn't lead the army into the Canaan...so we might ask ourselves why; why didn't God let Moses have his moment of glory? In our minds that would be only fitting and fair. What doesn't make sense to our rational human thinking is that God prevented Moses from going into the Promised land because of a moment of weakness that Moses had a few months earlier. For context we need to back up to Numbers chapter 20.
What happened was that the people of Israel came into the wilderness of Zin. After about 38 years of leading God's people through the desert, they arrive back near where they started at a place called Meribah. This however was a new generation of Israelites. When the first group had refused to enter the Promised land and take it, God forbade them all from entering and said that the entire generation would die in the wilderness without seeing the Promised land...all except Moses, Caleb and Joshua who remained faithful. This was the exact place of the greatest rebellion of the Exodus and unfortunately events were about to repeat themselves. This young generation did not remember the events in Egypt and showed no greater trust in the Lord than did their parents, and so Moses once again found himself besieged by grumbling and complaining about God's provisions for them. The people were scared and thirsty and they began to complain and so God gave Moses a direct order, “Take the staff and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water, so that you will bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.”
But 4 decades of leading God's people through the desert...4 decades of listening to all the complaining and belly aching finally bubbled to the surface for Moses and instead of just speaking the words that the Lord gave him to say, he instead got angry at the people and said, “hear now you rebels; shall we bring water for you out of this rock? And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank and their livestock.” But you see, Moses didn't trust the Lord and by lashing out in anger and frustration he showed his rebellion against God as well...and God was not pleased. He says in verse 12, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” So not only did Moses rebel against what God told him to do, but in saying, “Shall we bring water out of this rock,” he is claiming credit for the miracle of water and not accounting it to God.
God wants us to know that every good and perfect gift is from Him, and we His servants are simply vessels of His grace and mercy. As we serve each day it is good for us to reflect by asking ourselves, “How has God made me a blessing to others today...and though we will stumble in our faith as Moses did, we know that God is gracious and merciful and will forgive the repentant heart, but here's the thing. There is still earthly consequences to our sin. As believers we live in 2 kingdoms at the same time. Luther said we have one foot planted in the heavenly realm and one in the earthly realm. And so yes God forgives us when we stumble...that's what grace is all about, stumbling and receiving forgiveness...knowing that through faith in Christ our eternal salvation is secure is what our whole life in Christ is about...but nowhere does Scripture tell us that we will escape consequences in the earthly realm on account of our sin. No...in the earthly kingdom, if you do the crime you do the time. The Apostle Paul tells us that God has appointed rulers over us in the earthly realm to execute His justice. And so that is why God makes this judgement to Moses that is carried out in our text today. While we might see this as being a bit harsh for simply hitting a rock twice instead of speaking to it, it is not...let me explain. The question actually is much simpler than we tend to make it out to be. To think that this punishment is too harsh is the same reasoning that says God's judgement of death on Adam and Eve and all their descendants is too harsh for simply eating a bit of fruit. How much sin is too much? Were Moses' sins and Adam and Eve's sins really minor. Are your sins and mine minor? Is there some kind of sliding scale of sinfullness when it comes to God. Not at all. To God, we are either 100% holy or we are not...there's no middle ground. And so when we begin comparing ourselves to God's benchmark of perfection, we see that He is perfectly justified in calling down whatever punishment He deems right for Moses. It also means that He is perfectly justified in calling down whatever punishment He deems appropriate for you and me as well.
Sometimes we try and convince ourselves that our sins aren't too bad...maybe we deserve some punishment, sure...but not too harsh, because we are pretty good overall. But consider Moses...he is one of the greatest heroes of the faith. The Bible tells us that Moses knew God face to face, and yet even for him, the wages of sin is death. The spiritual application for us is that, just as Moses was prevented from entering the Promised land because of sin, for us our sin should also keep us from laying a foot in the Promised Land of Heaven. And so the Lord buried Moses and to this day no one knows where...and that is how the story should end for Moses, and we would have to admit that God would be justified.
Now I suppose you all are wondering what any of this has to do with Transfiguration Sunday. Well, on this Transfiguration Sunday we get to witness something amazing...we get to see that there is more to this story of Moses. The Events on the mountain of Transfiguration happen just before the events of Holy Week and God's plan of salvation in Christ's death and resurrection is unveiled before our eyes. We read in our Gospel lesson that Jesus took Peter, James and John up onto the mountain to pray. And as Jesus was praying His face became a dazzling white as He was revealed in all His heavenly brilliance. But He was not alone. Verse 30 tells us, “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 in Jerusalem.” Did you catch that...Moses was there in Glory!! And in this we see God's plan for His people and God's grace for sinners shining through. We see that God never turned His back on Moses...yes Moses had to pay the earthly consequences of sin...we all do, but God never stopped knowing Moses face to face because of it. Not death nor the grave could separate him from God's love. In this we see why Christ was born into the world, died on the cross for sinners and rose bodily never to die again. In Christ we see a greater Moses...one who leads His people out of slavery to sin and even death itself to the Promised Land of eternal life in Heaven.
He did it because He loves us and doesn't want to spend eternity without us. He did it because we need Him because we can't do it ourselves. And so when we read the account of the Transfiguration we are actually reading the account of our own redemption. That God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but receive eternal life. Jesus was Transfigured before those 3 witnesses so that they would have a clear picture in their minds when He went to the cross...this was how it had to be, and so they could record these events for you and me even 2000 years later to give us confidence that Jesus really is who He says He is, “God the Son.” Moses and Elijah were there to show us that Jesus really does have the power and authority to grant life after death for all those who repent of their sin and believe in Him as their Savior.
It is fitting that Moses was on the mountain that day with Jesus. He had a few mountaintop experiences. Mount Sinai where he received the 10 commandments, Mount Nebo where God revealed the Promised Land to him and now the Mountain of transfiguration where he and Elijah talked to Jesus about His impending death. This glorious vision of Jesus being transfigured in front of Peter, John, James, Elijah and Moses gives us the assurance that we too one day will see what they saw. That in Christ, our sin will not prevent us from entering the Promised land...God's Holy mountain, Mount Zion where we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever...amen.