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Dear Christian friends,
I love the prophet Elijah. Yet I would never have traded places with him. He was the prophet of God who took on wicked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. God’s church, the body of believers, at Elijah’s time seemed like it was in the ICU. It was struggling. Elijah even believed he was the only one left who still believed in the Lord and had not bowed down to Baal, the god of Ahab and Jezebel.
Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a showdown. Each side was to build and altar on which to sacrifice a bull. Whichever God would light the fire obviously was the true God. The prophets of Baal pleaded and begged with Baal for hours and hours to light the fire. Nothing happened. Then the lone prophet of the LORD, Elijah, said a simple prayer and the LORD blasted the altar to smithereens. There was no doubt who the true God was. But some thing very discouraging happened. Instead of getting down on their knees, Ahab and Jezebel wanted to avenge the death of the Baal’s 450 prophets who were killed. The Scripture says, “So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”
Elijah ran. He ran to MountHoreb- the mountainof God- the mountain where God gave Israelthe Ten Commandments. Elijah was down in the dumps and depressed. How could all this seem to backfire? God showed his presence and power and Ahab and Jezebel turned up their noses. What does it take for people to believe in the LORD? On this Transfiguration Sunday we will discuss that today. Paul guides us to see “Where We Find the Majesty of God.” 1) We find his majesty in the power he shows; 2) We even find it in God’s Law that is preached; 3) But we really find it in his Gospel that he gives us. Let me explain what I mean.
These words were written by the apostle Paul, a man of extraordinary gifts and learning. Peter said about Paul that his letters he wrote were filled with wisdom but “his letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” Our sermon text is one of those sections I think Peter was talking about. It is meaty and has a lot of substance.
On Transfiguration Sunday the theme centers on the glory of God. But “glory” is a hard word to define! Today I am using the word ‘majesty’ – His splendor, his greatness and power!
When Moses led the Children of Israel to Mount Sinai on the way to the Promised Land and they stopped at Mount Sinai, God gave them his Law. The book of Exodus says, “The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai…To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.” God chose to show his splendor, his majesty, as a fire that ate everything up.
That was unsettling for the nation of Israel. You can watch a forest fire and it is awesome but scary at the same time. On the night of Jesus’ birth remember what happened out in the fields outside Bethlehem. “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them.” There was a brightness that accompanied the angels. That was the glory of God. How did the shepherds react? “And they were terrified.” They were terrified like their forefathers where at Sinai. That’s what happened on the Mount of Transfiguration. When the cloud enveloped the mountain and they heard the voice of God Peter, James and John “fell facedown to the ground, terrified.”
There is a reason. They were in the presence of the Holy God. They heard the unmistakable voice of the holy Heavenly Father. Their lack of holiness made them afraid. The point I want to make is this. I have often wished that I could see God. You have too. Be careful what you wish for. We are sinners just like Israelwas at Sinai, just like Peter, James and John. To appear as sinners before a holy God would only scare us and make us afraid. There is a reason that on the great Day of Judgment the Bible tells us God is going to change us before we can go to heaven. The Bible says, “Listen, I tell you a mystery,” Paul says, “We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” He will make us like Jesus, perfect and holy and only then can we stand before him.
Paul, here in II Corinthians, shows God’s glory and majesty in a little different way. Paul talks about Moses and the very special relationship he had with God. In fact, the Bible says about Moses, “Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.” The Lord would talk to Moses like he did with no other person. When He did, a phenomenon took place that was most usual. Moses’ face began to glow. For instance when God gave Moses the Law which included the Ten Commandments, the Bible says, “His face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. When he descended the mountain, the Bible says, “When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them… When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face.” I am not sure that this is a well-known story from the Bible. When God spoke to Moses his face would shine. When Moses spoke to the people for God the people would see Moses’ face shining. When Moses was done speaking for God, the veil was put over his face again. What in the world was going on here? Paul explains here in II Corinthians.
Moses’ name was always connected with God’s Law which included the Ten Commandments and God’s Laws about worship and all. You know the sacrifices and special days, the special foods they were to eat. In fact, the Bible says, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” God’s Law is pretty glorious. Think about that! No other nation on this earth had a God that told them how to be and how to act. God wrote it down on tablets of stone with his own finger. Moses reminded Israel that others would say about them, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us?” What a blessing!
But here is where the veil comes into the picture. “We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away.” When Moses went up into the mountain to receive was very important – the very Commandments of God, His Law. But remember that the 10 Commandments aren’t the whole story. Moses put a veil over his face so that the people would not put undue emphasis on the law. His face faded. The Law faded too. It was not God’s final word.
Don’t get me wrong, God’s Law is very important, but it will never get you to heaven. The Bible says that the Law makes us conscious of sin, not sinlessness. There was a rich young lawyer who once asked Jesus what more he needed to do to get to heaven. Jesus told him to keep the commandments, to love the Lord with all his heart, soul, strength and mind and to love his neighbor as himself. The man actually thought he had done that. Jesus knocked the self righteousness out of him when he pointed out then that he could sell everything he had and give it to the poor. He went away sad. He had big bucks and toys. Jesus pointed out that he sure loved the bucks and toys more than the Lord. He didn’t want to give them up. He was a sinner.
It is easy to associate sin with criminals and killers and adulterers. The law however points out that “there is no difference, for all have sinned. They are all gone aside; they are altogether filthy; no one does good, not even one.”
But Paul also goes on to say that most of Israeland a whole lot of people to this day, miss the point of the Law. They think it doesn’t fade and give way to the message of Jesus. “But their minds are dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant in taken away.” Much of Israel misunderstood and felt that they could get to heaven by being as good as they could. That was certainly true in Jesus’ day and it is true to this day. So sad to hear! There are billions of people who think that they can say something, do something, earn something or pay something to get into heaven. Even Christians prefer to hear do this rather than Jesus did this. I remember a man who once told me that he hears too much Gospel and not enough Law. Really? So is God’s Law glorious and majestic and wonderful. Sure it is, after all it is from God. He doesn’t keep us guessing what he wants and expects and demands. We do get a peak into him. Yet if that’s all he said, we would all be lost.
There is another part we need and thank God we receive it. This is something far more glorious than his power and the Law. “Only in Christ is the veil taken away.” The glory and majesty of God is found in what he does for us. “Where the Spirit is, there is freedom.” The Holy Spirit convinces us of our sin. They Holy Spirit convinces us of the need for God’s Son, Jesus. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Everything we couldn’t do to save us, Jesus did. We are freed from the accusations of God’s Law which says you are a sinner. The Gospel says, “You are forgiven.” The Law says you are going to die. The Gospel says, I am dying but I am living …a whole lot better than I am now. In fact because of Jesus the people of Jesus will never hear, “Depart from me into everlasting fire” but rather “Come inherit the kingdom that has been prepared for you.” Never will the people of Jesus have to fear the Last Day as Isaiah describes it, “the Lord is coming with fire, and his chariots are like a whirlwind; he will bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire.” Why? Because of Jesus!
You know what else is glorious? Paul says, “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.” God entrusts the sharing of God’s glory in Christ to the very ones on whom he is merciful. That’s quite the privilege, don’t you think?
Mardi Gras is going on now inNew Orleansand inMobile. People say that Mardi Gras started inMobile. It goes all the way to Ash Wednesday. Our pastors and congregations say the French Quarter is quite the place to be as parade after parade goes on. There are floats. From those floats people throw all kinds of beads. People love to throw them and people like to catch them. It is amazing what makes people happy and laugh.
Anybody who has ever beenNew Orleansknows those beads that are tossed and caught are cheap. It is amazing how people will battle for them. Our glorious God, full of majesty and splendor, has something he wants us to catch too - an all sufficient and all satisfying Savior. And be like the folks on the floats of Mardi Gras; share him with all others.