Transfiguration Deut. 34:1-12
Careful to avoid tripping over any tent ropes, Moses picked his way through the portable city he had called home the past forty years. In his lengthy farewell sermon recalled Israel’s history, reminding them of the ten commandments He passed on a confession of faith to remember and teach to their children. He warned of curses befalling the people, if they wandered from the way of the Lord. Finally, he placed a blessing on each tribe of Israel. While everyone else was preparing to cross over the Jordan river into the land promised to them in the time of Abraham, Moses turned and left the camp. God had summoned Moses to one last mountain-top face to face meeting. He would not join his people in the land of milk and honey.
Like a scapegoat, he crossed the plains of Moab toward Mt. Nebo. Oh, he had argued with God about the matter. He just wanted to go over to see the good land beyond the Jordan. But the Lord would hear none of it. Like the rest of his generation, who started the trek from Egypt, the exodus would remain uncompleted for Moses. The people had broken faith with God under his leadership. On one of several occasions when they had quarreled about the lack of water, the Lord appeared in glory in the tent of meeting. The Lord instructed Moses to tell the rock in front of them to yield its water. But this was one of the many, “enough is enough” days for Moses. Calling the people rebels, he whacked the rock twice with his staff. God had taken one more opportunity to show his holiness tin order to convince the people that they could count on the one who had brought them out of Egypt, but the people and Moses demonstrated their unholy lack of faith.
Now, Moses, still strong and able, with eye sight undiminished, climbed Mt Nebo to its highest peak, Pisgah. The Lord had done wonders through his servant Moses. Who could forget the burning bush through which God called him, from a life as a fugitive shepherd, to shepherd his people to freedom? Through Moses, Yahweh had inflicted plagues upon the Egyptians. He sent his angel of death to kill all the firstborn of the Egyptians. At the sea, with the enemy bent on annihilating their run away slaves rushing up from behind, God used Moses to part the waters. In the wilderness, the Lord provided manna and quail for food. God made Israel his own special people, a kingdom of priests in the world. Through Moses, God gave Israel ten commandments by which to govern their relationship with God and with one another. He had even appeared to Moses, face to face, leaving Moses face glowing with such brilliance that he had to wear a veil. There was no one like Moses, the servant of the Lord. Nor would another prophet like him ever arise in Israel again, a prophet who knew the Lord, face to face.
The Lord had one more wonder in mind for Moses to experience. On Mt. Nebo He showed Moses the whole promised land from Dan in the north to the Negev in the south; from east to the shores of the Mediterranean . “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.” But Moses would not set one foot in the land.
Then, he died, just as the Lord had promised. His life went back to God. The Lord, with whom he had such a lively, close and sometimes volatile relationship, buried him in a valley in the land of Moab. God had been his closest friend. He had been a servant of the Lord. He had spent much of his 120 years alone. Now in death, he was once more alone with his God. The people never found the location of his grave. No shrine was built. No pilgrimages were made. When the thirty days of mourning were over, the people turned west toward the Jordan river.
Great as he was, Moses went the way of all people, since the sin of Adam and Eve. Soon he too, turned to the dust from which he had been taken. He knew nothing of the conquest of the land under Joshua, his appointed successor; a man “full of the spirit of wisdom.” King David came, reigned and, in his own time, returned to dust. Moses did not know of the exile into Babylon, nor of the return. He did not see the terrorism of the reign of Antiochus Epiphanies; nor the rising of the Judas Maccabeus who led a rebellion , and reconsecrated the temple. He missed the Romans taking over the promised land.
But one day, after what seemed, not 1300 years, but only the blink of an eye in time, he was standing on a mountain, again face to face with God. Beside him stood another person. Off to the side three men were asleep. But before him, Oh my, before him stood one who shined in dazzling glory. It was the same glory he had seen when God appeared in all his holiness in the wilderness. Once again, he was speaking with God face to face. But this one was a man. This one made the introductions. “Moses,” he said, “meet Elijah.” “Elijah, greet Moses.” “Elijah met me on Mt. Nebo too. It wasn’t in the thunder, lightning and earthquake that I spoke to him. I chose to speak out of a gentle breeze. I sent him on a mission too. But like your exodus, Moses, his mission was incomplete too. By the way, my name is Jesus. I’m about to complete your exodus, Moses. Elijah, I will finish the job of wiping out all the false gods who people still follow.”
So Moses, who knew God face to face, once again spoke to God face to face about Jesus’ exodus. Jesus’ exodus would take place in Jerusalem, where he, like a scapegoat in the wilderness, would bear the guilt of all upon a cross. Unlike the scapegoat, Jesus would bear the guilt of the whole world. Also, unlike the scapegoat, dying for the guilt of the people would not need to be a yearly event. Jesus’ exodus into death and his return in the resurrection would wipe out all guilt for everyone, for all time.
By this time the three men woke up, having nearly missed the whole event. As Moses and Elijah were departing one, named Peter, began to babble about building booths at the sight. As Peter was still talking a cloud overshadowed the scene and covered them all. Moses and Elijah knew what the cloud meant and they waited for it. Then a voice, like the sound of thunder, spoke from the out of the cloud, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”
Moses had been a servant of the Lord. There had been none like him. but here was One greater than even he. Here was the Son of God, who himself had gone down into Egypt and returned once again. He was about to do even greater signs and wonders than Moses had accomplished. He was about to die for all the lack of faith, rebellion, orneriness, quarreling and complaining that humanity had done toward God and one another. He was about to lead an exodus out of slavery to sin, death and the devil.
When the voice had spoken Moses and Elijah were gone. Jesus stood alone. Before his God, Peter had finally shut his mouth. Then, in silence they went down the mountain to go to Jerusalem. There God’s chosen One, His son would climb Mt. Calvary to die on cross. In the light of such awesome deeds of salvation a hymn verse comes to mind,
Let all mortal flesh keep silence
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For the blessing in His hand Christ
our God to earth descending
Comes our homage to demand.