Below is the sermon from this morning at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church in Buffalo. You can read this sermon on what we will see if we are fully awake to Christ’s glory, and/or listen to the sermon audio here. The sermon audio didn’t follow the introduction typed below exactly and I changed the ending somewhat and put the gist in the text below in brackets. Throughout the season of Lent, we will continue looking at the Gospel of Luke. The six Sundays of Lent will explore these six passages: Luke 11:29-32, Luke 20:9-19, Luke 20:20-26, Luke 22:66-71, Luke 23:1-25, and Luke 23:26-49. Next Sunday we will also read Jonah 3, but the whole four chapters of the book are relevant.
Are your two most favorite activities eating and sleeping? Many youth really enjoy sleeping. Some will sleep until noon or later on a Saturday or Sunday. Others would if they could. When I was in high school I slept until at least eleven in the morning on Saturdays. Then I would often spend the rest of the day doing reading and writing for my high school classes. You will find that there are a number of people who really enjoy sleeping – it is what they do in their spare time like I did with the spare time I had on Saturday mornings. It often seems like the only times when youth do not indulge themselves in their love for sleep is at a lock-in or a sleepover with friends. Then they want to stay up all night to talk with their friends and play games. Just do not try waking them up when they have finally fallen asleep and it is time to go home. Sleep is a precious commodity. When we do not get it we can become irritable and incoherent. Sometimes we will say things, not knowing what we have said. I am not a morning person, as they say. So I can identify with this problem. When I went to church growing up it was much earlier than this service. I went to church every Sunday for years at 8:15 or 8:30 (depending on the church as we lived in different states). Most of the time, I felt like I was dragging my way into church still half-asleep. The inner-circle of Jesus’ disciples also had a love for sleep. In this regard, your first thought might be a passage about the Garden of Gethsemane where the disciples could not stay awake. It also appears here, and it is the difference between Luke’s account and the other gospels description of the Transfiguration of Christ. Pay attention to that difference as we read:
- Luke adds the detail not found in the other gospels that Peter and the others were heavy with sleep but when they became fully awake they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him (Luke 9:32).
- This is right after Luke has told us what is important with the grammatical marker “behold” – meaning “look here.” Luke wanted to emphasize that Moses and Elijah were with Jesus and they were all discussing the departure Jesus would accomplish. The point being that something very important is going on but this inner circle of Jesus’ disciples (Peter, John, and James) were sleepy. And Luke tells us they eventually become “fully awake.” They were fully alert – they were not dreaming – this was really happening. But they were not fully awake to the significance of this event. Peter shows that he is still spiritually asleep. He suggests putting up three tents for them as Luke tells us, “not knowing what he said” (9:33). They had not fully woken up to the meaning of the transfiguration of Jesus Christ into the image of glory.
- Many in the early church, Luke’s first readers, had not woken up to the glory of Christ either. The Old Testament figure most respected in Israel after Moses was Elijah. He represented the Prophets. Old Testament Scripture was divided into three sections: The Torah of Moses, the Prophets, and the Writings. Thus when we have Moses and Elijah, representing the Torah and the Prophets, this is shorthand to say that they represent the Old Testament order. Some in the church wanted to continue circumcision, the dietary laws, and other distinctive rules of the Torah of Moses. They had not woken up to the glory of Christ – Moses and Elijah gave way to Jesus Christ – He was the only one left on the mountain. The voice of God the Father came out of the glory-cloud saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!” (9:35). God was authenticating that Jesus’ interpretation of the Torah, Prophets, and Writings was the Word of God. Listen to Him! The transfiguration showed that Jesus, who spoke with authority, was authorized to speak for God the Father. His interpretation of the Scriptures was reliable unlike the various interpretations others were teaching and that eventually would form Judaism. (If we are fully awake to the glory of Christ then our eyes will be open to see three things. First, we will be able to see that…)
- Jesus accomplished a new and greater Exodus.
- The glory of Christ is far greater than the glory of Moses or Elijah. Moses had been there for the first Exodus event where he led the people through the sea of extinction, the sea of Reeds, to freedom to worship God on the mountain. The prophets, represented by Elijah, spoke of a new exodus that was to come with the Christ. And here we have Moses and Elijah appearing in glory and speaking of Jesus’ “exodus, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (9:31). Departure is a transliteration of the Greek word “Exodus.” The whole passage sounds like scenes of Exodus. Just as Moses went up the Mountain of God and came back down with his face shining in Exodus, the appearance of Jesus’ face was altered – it was altered or changed or transfigured (hence this is called the transfiguration). Jesus’ clothes were also dazzling white – they were transfigured. And the glory-cloud is present in both Exodus and here at the transfiguration of Jesus. Like the people who insisted that God speak to Moses and Moses tell them what to do because of how frightening it was to hear the voice of God from the glory-cloud, the disciples were afraid. Jesus is the prophet greater than Moses that the Old Testament anticipated. The glory of Christ is far greater than Moses or Elijah. Thus we are to read the Old Testament the way Jesus teaches us to read it. This prepares us for his teaching after the resurrection where Luke tells us, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (24:27). And later in the same chapter the resurrected Christ said, as Luke tells us, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you” (24:44-49a). Christians must read the Old Testament differently than those who practice Judaism or Islam because Christ is our interpretive key to the Hebrew Scriptures. His death and resurrection is a new and greater Exodus event.
- In other words, we are applying this passage right now because we are thinking about how the Hebrew Scriptures (Torah, Prophets, and Writings) point to Jesus. You can continue to apply this passage by studying the Hebrew Scriptures when you go home today. After all, the better you know the story of Exodus and the better you know the passages where the prophets speak of a new exodus, the better you will understand the transfiguration of Christ. But if we want to interpret and apply the Old Testament we need to do so through Christ. If we want to know how to interpret and apply the Exodus we need to do so through Christ who accomplished a greater exodus in His death and resurrection. (I said that if we are fully awake to the glory of Christ then our eyes will be open to see three things. This was the first: that Jesus accomplished a new and greater Exodus. The second thing we will see if we are fully awake to the glory of Christ is that…)
- God the Father spoke from the glory-cloud and said, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (9:35).
- Here again the significance of the glory-cloud is much easier to see if you are very familiar with the Old Testament. The Spirit of God hovering over the deep in Genesis 1 is the glory cloud. It is very prominent in the story of the Exodus where the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud (cf. Exo 16:10). In any case, the description is often that the cloud is hovering over or overshadowing. Thus when Luke says, “As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them” (Luke 9:34) he is describing the glory-cloud. The cloud was there at the creation, at the exodus, it left Jerusalem to begin the Exile, as Ezekiel tells us, and it does not return until the conception of Christ. The Most High overshadowed Mary, as Luke tells us (1:35). This is the glory-cloud. In such passages the glory-cloud hovers like a bird over the original creation and new creation. Thus the glory-cloud is represented as a dove when Luke tells us the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in bodily form, like a dove. This was His baptism, the other time a voice came from heaven. The glory-cloud appears again here in our text and later in the ascension of Christ as He rode the cloud into heaven. The glory-cloud will come again when He returns riding on that cloud. Nevertheless, the voice that gave us the Ten Commandments from the glory cloud (cf. Deut 5:22) also spoke to say that Jesus is the Son of God, the Chosen One, listen to Him.
- In other words, we are applying this passage right now because we are listening to Christ. In Hebrew the phrase “listen to the voice of” was an idiom meaning “obey.” To truly listen to Christ is to obey Him. The Jewish people could point back to the nation hearing from the cloud and so they knew that Moses spoke the Word of God. But if they were really going to listen to Moses and Elijah they needed to listen to Christ, of whom they spoke and wrote. And again we don’t mean listen in the sense of letting what He is saying go in one ear and out the other but in the sense of hearing and doing. (I said that if we are fully awake to the glory of Christ then our eyes will be open to see three things. The first was that Jesus accomplished a new and greater Exodus. The second was that God the Father spoke from the glory-cloud and said, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” The third thing we will see if we are fully awake to the glory of Christ is that…)
- Christ was found alone when the voice said, “This is my Son; my Chosen One, listen to Him!”
- Jesus is the only one left because Moses and Elijah have moved off stage for the greater glory of Christ. Jesus is the only one left because the voice spoke about Jesus’ glory and not the glory Moses and Elijah had. Peter wanted to prolong this moment where the glory of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus appeared. He suggested making three tents: one for each. He wanted this mountaintop experience to continue. But Jesus had an Exodus to accomplish. He was preparing for suffering before glory. We all want our spiritual mountaintop experiences to continue without coming back down from the Mountain of God. We do not want to go through suffering before glory. The transfiguration, Luke tells us, took place about eight days after some of Jesus’ sayings. These sayings included, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (9:23-26).
- Some Christians are not yet awake to the glory of Christ. Either they want to have us follow the laws in the Torah of Moses without taking them through Christ. Christ has spoken – the dietary laws no longer apply. The ceremonial laws of sacrifice and the religious observances of the Torah no longer apply. And the laws setting up the Israelite nation no longer apply. But some who have not woken up to the glory of Christ want us to set up the Old Testament nation of Israel right here in America. This is the right-wing extreme. Or they are not concerned with having us follow the law but still do not take the Hebrew Scriptures through Christ (sometimes because they want to avoid the offense of the cross in interfaith dialogue). They want us to read and teach the Old Testament in ways that would be acceptable in a synagogue or mosque without showing that they point to Christ. This is the left-wing extreme. Instead, we need to wake up to the glory of Christ and read the Torah of Moses and the Prophets in light of His life, death, resurrection, ascension, sending of the Spirit on Pentecost, and coming again. That is, we need to obey Him. [At this point I repeated the three points and said that when you leave the mountain of God today and you’re still feeling the glow of His glory maybe you can think about what He wants you to see in the Hebrew Scriptures concerning Him. Suggestions already made are Exodus and the Prophets discussing the new exodus, but also the Prophetic book of Jonah since that will be where we are headed next Sunday.]