Summary: There are two kinds of Christians, those who follow rules and those who follow Chirst--which are you?
Today’s gospel is from Luke 9, the account of Jesus’ transfiguration. But I would like to juxtapose that reading with an Old Testament text from Exodus. I read the Exodus passage first: The LORD said to Moses, "Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and commands I have written for their instruction." Then Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. Now listen to the verse right before the first verse of the gospel reading and the first verse of the reading: Jesus said, "Some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God." About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray.
I did this to illustrate an interesting insight that I had on this passage during my study this week. I often dread having to preach once again on a text that comes up year after year. The account of the transfiguration is one such time. So I prayed for some different tact or idea that would provide something other than the same old saw. I didn’t want another sermon of "isn’t Jesus’ transfiguration wonderful and inspiring for us." That really isn’t a bad way to preach and ultimately that is the key to our understanding of this portion of Scripture, but as I studied I thought to myself, "There has to be some slightly different and important wrinkle that will prove interesting." And slowly it came to me. There was more than one occasion when mountain top experiences happened in the Bible. And the two most vivid could be the two I sited at the beginning-the experience of Moses receiving the 10 Commandments and the transfiguration of the Lord, Jesus. Moses is even mentioned in both events. There must be a connection. Then it was a matter of discovering something relevant to our situation here in Remsen, Iowa in 2001. So I present to you a sermon entitled, "Which Mountain Will We Ascend?" The point is that Moses’ ascent to Sinai for the 10 Commandments was quite a different ascent than the one to see Christ’s glorious transfiguration. One was an ascent in fear and trembling to hear the voice of God speaking his thunderous condemnations of the law. The other was an approach to the very throne of God’s forgiving grace in awe and wonder at the love God had sent in the person of Jesus. In our Christian walk it makes a lot of difference how we approach life, do we live our lives in fear and dread of the law or do we live in the wonder and peace and joy of the grace of God. Which Mountain will we ascend?
It might help you to understand this idea if we consider the experiences of Moses and Joshua on the one hand, and that of the disciples James, John, and Peter on the other as they walked up those mountains. In Moses’ and Joshua’s case they knew God’s awesome power was going to be displayed once again like it had in the parting of the Red Sea. They had seen the clouds of thunder and lightning descending upon the mountain and heard the warnings about no one person or animal could touch that mountain and live. It was a fearful experience for them for certain. And they had to go it alone. Moses left Joshua and went on by himself. So they were separated from one another on that desolate mountain for a long time, 40 days to be exact. What a terribly lonely and anxious time this must have been.
In the disciples’ case they also had some idea what they might encounter up on that mountain with Jesus. He told them they were going to pray and they had done that with him before. It was probably going to be an inspiring and peaceful time for them as Jesus showed them how to pray to God their loving Father. They anticipated that Jesus would be with them all the time as before to encourage and fill them with spiritual joy. There were no clouds yet and no thunder or lightning or worries about the deathly effects of God’s glory upon their sinful souls. They were no doubt basking in the sun of God’s grace-knowing their sins though plentiful were forgiven in Christ.
And that’s just an indication of just how differently some of us try to live our lives. Those who are ascending Moses’ mountain are those who try to follow rules so that they can get a better standing or more order in their lives. They seek a set of guidelines and then try to use them to manage their families, church, and work. They read and study the Bible to find these rules. They go to workshops and seminars and read books by Christian authors on things like 10 ways to forgive, 12 steps to a better marriage, the 8 keys to Christian success in business, the 7 A’s of confession. They look for a formula that will make them happy or more effective or a promise keeper of some kind. I would think that eventually they would figure out that life isn’t manageable and won’t respond to a set of rules. I would think they would get worn out by all this working for a better life. And the real tragedy is that they miss out on the very thing Jesus came to bring us-freedom from guilt, fear and rules that don’t work, forgiveness and peace and fullness of life-not in rules but in his own person and his cross and open tomb.