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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus


The Transfiguration of Our Lord

About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)

While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.

Luke 9:28-36

Our Gospel lesson for today, which takes place on top of Mount Tabor, the Mount of Transfiguration, actually speaks of two mountains. About a week earlier, Jesus had told His disciples, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the Law, and He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Luke 9:22)

And now we find Him speaking of His coming death with some very unexpected visitors. “Moses and Elijah appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about His departure, which He was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.”

Now, the word “departure” may not have jumped out at you as meaning Jesus’ coming death. We don’t usually use the word that way. The Greek word is “exodus”, and of course when we speak of Moses and the children of Israel leaving Egypt for the Promised Land, we speak of their “Exodus.” We get our word, “exit” from “exodus,” and the Amplified New Testament says they “were speaking of His exit (from life). The King James Version speaks of “His decease,” and the Living Bible “His death.”

But Jesus and Moses and Elijah weren’t just talking about the fact that Jesus would die in Jerusalem, but we read that on that second mountain - Mount Calvary - Jesus was going to “bring to fulfillment” His departure - accomplish His exodus, His death!

His death wasn’t going to be a surprise, nor an accident, nor even untimely. His crucifixion on Calvary was planned and purposeful, and the right time was drawing near! His departure from this life was to be an accomplishment! But what was He going to accomplish? That’s what I’d like to look at this morning. For I believe that the better we understand what was accomplished on the cross, the easier it will be to trust the One who died there. And the easier it will be for us to prepare our hearts for the coming Lenten season.

Because of His holy love, God in Christ substituted Himself for us sinners on the Cross of Calvary. But why did He take our place and bear our sin? What did He accomplish by His self-sacrifice, His self-substitution? The Bible gives answers to these questions, two of which could be summed up in the words, “salvation” and “revelation.” What God in Christ did through the cross was to rescue us and reveal Himself. Salvation might seem simple enough, but it is a thing so great, and its blessings are so varied and diverse that the Scriptures use several pictures to illustrate it.

The first picture of salvation is one of Jesus appeasing or pacifying God’s anger. Does God get angry? Yes, sin arouses the wrath of God. But God’s anger is poles apart from ours. The wrath of God is His steady, unrelenting, uncompromising antagonism to evil. What provokes our anger (usually injured vanity) never provokes His; and what provokes His anger (evil) seldom provokes ours!

Now the Bible tells us that we’re all sinners, and there’s nothing we can say or do to pay for our sins or turn away God’s anger - no way to persuade Him or bribe Him. So God Himself put forward Jesus as the appeasing sacrifice, not because we loved God, but because God loved us. God does not love us because Christ died for us; Christ died for us because God loved us. God took His own loving initiative, to appease His own righteous anger by bearing it His own self, in His own Son, when He took our place and died for us.

Another picture of salvation is that of God redeeming us. To redeem means to buy or buy back, either as a purchase or as a ransom. So the emphasis here is on our captivity in sin - our slavery to sin - which made a divine act of rescue necessary. Jesus used it when He said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

He implied that we are held in a captivity from which only the payment of a ransom can set us free - and that the ransom is nothing less than Jesus’ own life! The death of Jesus means that what happens there to Him, would have had to happen to the “many.” In other words, in redeeming or ransoming us on the cross, He takes our place!

Another picture of salvation is in a courtroom, where we are justified rather than condemned - where the judge pronounces us “not guilty.” How can He do that, since we read that “There is no one righteous, not even one.” (Romans 3:10) It’s not because of anything we’ve done, but rather because of what God has done.

First of all, we are “justified by His grace” (Rom. 3:24), that is, by His undeserved favor. And secondly, we are “justified by His blood.” (Rom. 5:9) Justification has to do with justice. When God justifies sinners, He’s not declaring bad people to be good, or saying they’re not sinners after all. He’s pronouncing them legally righteous, free from any liability to the broken law, because He Himself, in His Son, paid the penalty of their law-breaking.

These are some of the pictures of salvation we find in the Bible. All emphasize that the saving initiative was taken by God in His love. And all plainly teach that God’s saving work was accomplished on the cross: the death of Jesus was the atoning sacrifice which allowed God to turn His wrath from us; His death was the ransom price by which we have been redeemed; and His death was the condemnation of the Innocent One so that we guilty ones might be justified.

But what Christ accomplished on the cross needs to be seen in terms of revelation as well as salvation. For through what God did there for the world, He was also speaking to the world. The cross was a word as well as a work! Just as we disclose our character in our actions, so God has shown Himself to us in the death of His Son. According to John’s Gospel Jesus referred to His death as a glorification, the event through which He and His Father would be glorified. That may come as a surprise to some people. In the Old Testament God’s glory was revealed in creation and nature and history. Heaven and earth were filled with His glory! And He showed His glory in delivering Israel from slavery in Egypt.

But the Apostle John tells us that though Jesus’ glory was shown in His miracles and signs, it was above all to be seen in His death! In His death He was “lifted up,” not just physically on the cross, but spiritually exalted before the eyes of the world. In the upper room, after the Last Supper, we read that Jesus “looked toward Heaven and prayed, ‘Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.’” (John 17:1)

And indeed, He was glorified. The cross which appeared to be shame was in fact glory! And the glorification was of the Father and the Son together. This glory was glimpsed as Jesus was transfigured and spoke with Moses and Elijah of His coming exodus, in which He would be glorified indeed!

I believe that the most wonderful aspect of God’s character that was revealed at the cross is His love. People often question His love, too, pointing to personal tragedies, floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes (which we refer to as “acts of God”) plane crashes, war, hunger, poverty, starvation, disease, and death. How can these things be reconciled with a God of love? Why does God allow them?

Christianity doesn’t offer glib answers to these agonizing questions. but it does offer evidence of God’s love which is just as historical and objective as the evidence which seems to deny it. This evidence is the cross of Christ.

The Apostle John wrote, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.” (1 John 3:16). Most people believe they know what love is, and even understand different kinds of love. But John says that, apart from Christ and His cross, the world would never have known what true love is! If we’re looking for a definition of love, we shouldn’t look in a dictionary - we should look at Calvary!

And John gets even more precise when he writes, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (John 4:10) Because we were sinners, we deserved to die under the righteous anger of God. But God sent His only begotten Son, and in sending Him came Himself, to die that death and bear that wrath instead of us. It was an act of sheer, pure, unmerited love!

The Gospel of the cross will never be a popular message, because it humbles us. Yet Christ crucified is what we must proclaim, for the cross is God’s way to satisfy His love and justice in the salvation of sinners. The Gospel of the cross is the power of God for salvation. And when we look at the cross we see the glory and the justice and the love of God in action.

Jesus had much to accomplish on the cross when He left the Mount of Transfiguration and headed for Mount Calvary. We’ve looked at two of His accomplishments today: salvation for us, and revelation of God. May our understanding of what was accomplished at the cross help us to have a greater trust in our loving Savior who died there – for us!


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