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Matthew 17 1-9
Exodus 24 12-end
2 Peter 1 16-end
Last week’s service here at all saints looked at the theme of forgiveness. It’s a hard and deep and complicated set of feelings. The drama of emotion last week gives way to today’s readings which feel more like a history lesson in comparison. They come across initially as stories about something that happened rather than things that need to be felt or lived.
Our old testament reading centres around Moses receiving part of the law from God in the cloud on the mountain, God is present in the fire and takes 40 days to lay out the rules he wishes the people of Israel to abide by. The parallel with the new testament reading is clear, Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a mountain and again the cloud covers them and, as well as seeing Moses and Elijah (those great old testament patriarchs) they also hear the voice of God.
We can take these stories at face value and simply be content with the similarity of them despite their being separated by hundreds of years. However, there are two remarkable things in them which are worth delving into. Although in the initial reading they lack the emotion of topics like forgiveness they make some very important points that I think we need to remember while we work our way through lent and try to understand the true power of Easter.
Firstly lets look at what actually happens in the New Testament reading. Unlike almost all other miracles involving him, this one happens to Jesus rather than by Jesus. He is identified by non-other than God himself as the Messiah, his son, and that Glory radiates from him. In terms of setting us up for Lent this is quite important, Easter doesn’t really work without knowing who Jesus really is. This whole episode is about confirming him as the new link between mankind and God before his sacrifice to pay for our sins takes place (by which I mean the events of the crucifixion). In order to reconcile us to God, Jesus has to have some sort of credibility with both camps. In the same way any parties in an election have to acknowledge the process of the election and its outcome and two parties in court have to recognise the authority of the court. He’s clearly a human, born of a woman like the rest of us, so that is that side done. But here he is publically recognised by God, and that is extremely important. Lets say that again, Jesus is authorised and empowered by God as the one who will save us from the judgement of sin. Seeing as that sin is the consequence of us breaking God’s law there has to be recognition by God of the mechanism we are to be saved through. And this is that recognition.
Indeed in the letter of 2 Peter we heard how important this concept is as Peter reflects on his life and his death. Indeed he wants to pass this on and it is his belief in this which will help him to his own martyrdom. It says “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honour and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory. ….. 18 We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.”
Interestingly today’s story of the transfiguration comes not long after the disciples work out who Jesus is for themselves. The previous chapter of Matthew is when Jesus asks the disciples “who do you think I am?” and Peter tells Jesus “you are the Christ”. But although they know that I still think that Easter does not work without God saying it. Both parties in the issue of sin have to recognise the process by which the resolution will come..
My second point today centres around delving into the thought that both our New and Old Testament excerpts are extremely similar. A point which would not have been lost on the disciples. It occurred to me that if you lay these two stories out side by side you can come to a rather interesting conclusion at the end.
Lets start putting those two stories down and work through them. Firstly - Moses has to wait until the6 days after God appears on the mountain before he is called to enter it, we heard (The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud.) As I said before the previous chapter of Matthew’s Gospel is where Peter confesses Jesus as Christ, that is they recognise the presence of God in his Son. Then our reading starts . “Six days later”, they go up onto the mountain. They are aware of God Six days before he calls them on the seventh.
Secondly Moses is the only one uniquely singled out from all of Israel to bring the law and Jesus is the one uniquely singled out from humanity to fulfil the law.
S0 what happens on the mountain? In the old Testament reading Moses is given some of God’s laws. These will be detailed requirements they must keep and the sacrifices that they may make if they do not in order to pay for their sins. It takes 40 days and 40 nights. 40 days is one whole lot of law. If you have ever read through big chunks of the Old Testament you’ll know what I mean. Indeed there are more than I can remember and therefore if I can’t remember them then I’m certain I must have broken one of them at some point.
So if these two stories are the same pattern what is the parallel to this law giving? What is the law that God gives to the disciples. God has set this whole thing up as the way to give the new laws and statues – but what are they? This is the remarkable bit – it doesn’t take 40 days and nights to write down, its not even 40 words, its not even4 words. Its only 3 and It comes after God tells them who Jesus is.: We read:. “Suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved;[c] with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” There is it, the new law: Listen to Him.
In terms of God’s laws when you believe in Jesus there is only one - listen to him.
So what are the things that we are to listen to? What does Jesus say? Well his first thing he says today is – Do not be afraid, but as we approach lent let us remember just 6 others which are so important to our faith.
Jesus said I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
Jesus said I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.
Jesus said I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.
Jesus said “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
Jesus said “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.
So during lent I urge you spend some time fulfilling that law, and listen to Jesus. Lent is about making that time to give Jesus a chance to talk to you so that you have time to listen properly and that is the important thing. Listen, really listen to him.
While Lent is a time for deep internal reflection we must be careful not to become too burdened by a sense of sin and failure. However its always worth remembering that two way process of recognition I spoke about earlier. Jesus told us today not to be afraid which is very important if we are not to lose hope in being saved because we must not forget that God also listens to Jesus. So if it you feel that you have failed always remember that God was listening to Jesus on the cross when he said simply Father, forgive.
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