Summary: On the Mount of Transfiguration, Christ gives us a foreview of the Kingdom to come, and our glorification within it.
Second Sunday in Epiphany,
“The Rest of the Story”
Paul Harvey is famous with his features entitled “The Rest of the Story.” The premise of the feature is that some stories are compelling, interesting, fascinating, and that they reach a point where it would seem that the story is complete. But, there is more, and what is more is, perhaps, even more compelling than the part of the story that preceded it.
The Christian faith, as it is seen in the testimonies of a great many Christians, is like one of those Paul Harvey features. What I’m thinking of here is the testimonies many of my friends in college were encouraged to report to gatherings of other college students, to explain how they were saved, how they came to faith in Jesus Christ, how a former life of sin, or degradation, or desperation was overcome by the saving forgiveness of one who paid the penalty that all such sin rightly deserves.
I have no interest in calling any of these kinds of testimonies into question. Without a doubt, some of them were likely embellished in the telling, but for every overblown testimony I’m sure there are dozens that are even wilder and woollier which are as true as the gospel. Christ’s mercy extends far, far beyond anything we are used to thinking about, unless, of course, we have one of those wild and wooly tales in our own spiritual closets.
So, for the record, let us acknowledge candidly and enthusiastically that the proper and first concern of every sinner is the very one that so exercised Martin Luther – how shall a sinner like me ever find himself acceptable to a holy and righteous God. And, also for the record, let us acknowledge candidly and enthusiastically that the answer Martin Luther settled on is the one loudly proclaimed in the gospel of Christ: God’s free and gracious forgiveness of all our sins, because they were judged and atoned for by the death of his Son on the Cross. 16"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
Now, for a great many Christians, this is the end of the story. My problem, your problem, everyone’s disastrous problem is that we’re sinners, born in sin, carrying Adam’s guilt, and adding our own as soon as it is possible to do so. And, the solution to this disaster is the removal of the penalty of sin. Praise the Lord. End of story, at least until Jesus comes to take us to heaven.
But, there’s more to the story, a lot, lot more. And it is the rest of the story that I want to point your attention to, from the lessons we have heard read a short while ago.
Let’s begin with the Old Testament lesson from Exodus 34. We’re told about a curious thing concerning Moses and his shuttle diplomacy, as it were, between God and the people of Israel. Moses was the one to whom God spoke, and after God has given Moses commandments or other things for the people, then Moses would depart from God’s presence and go to the people and tell them what it was that God said. If you want to know how this arrangement came about, read Exodus 20, where you’ll find that the people could not bear the presence of the Lord, and so they demanded of Moses that he speak to God, and then come and tell them what God had said. If God spoke to them directly, they feared they would perish.
So, Moses becomes God’s mouth, as it were, for that is what a prophet in Israel is – a spokesman for God.
Now, the first time that Moses comes down from the mountain, he must have been one very scary looking fellow. No one wanted to get close to him, and the reason for this is that Moses’ face was shining. Evidently, light was pouring out of his face toward others, and this frightened all who saw him. Moses succeeded in getting the people to approach him anyway, and he delivered God’s words to them. So far, so good. But here’s the curious thing – after he had finished speaking with them, Moses put a veil over his face. And he kept it there until he went to speak to God face to face again. Then he would take away the veil, speak with God, and come back to speak to the people WITH HIS FACE UNVEILED. And, after he had finished speaking, he would put the veil back on.
What, exactly, is going on here? Why not leave the veil off all the time? Well, the Apostle Paul explains for us what was going on in 1 Corinthians 3. Moses, Paul says, “put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away.” In other words, the light that was shining from the face of Moses after he had spent time with God began to fade over time. Moses knew this, and he feared for the morale of the people and for his own reputation as their leader if the people saw the light fading. And, so he covered it up until he went to speak with the Lord face to face. After each of these visits, his face would shine, Moses would speak with an uncovered face, and then cover it again, so that no one could observe how the light from his face was fading away.