Text: Exodus 34:29-35
Today we celebrate the Feast of our Lord’s Transfiguration. Transfiguration, which means “changing,” is the word we use to describe how our Lord’s appearance changed to shine like the sun. In the presence of Peter, James, and John, our Lord spoke with Moses and Elijah concerning His own death and resurrection for our salvation. A bright cloud also overshadowed the group, and God the Father Himself told us that Jesus is His Son and the one to whom we should listen. We should also note that today, February 2nd, is also the 40th day after Christmas. This is the day our Lord’s parents brought Him up to the temple to be dedicated, when St. Simeon sung the words of the Nunc Dimittis.
The change in our Lord’s appearance at the Transfiguration was for our benefit, that we might see just a bit of the glory to be revealed to us at the Resurrection and in the new creation. The shining face of Jesus also reminds us that He is the one who speaks God’s Word to us. This is why Moses’ face also shone in our Old Testament text. As Moses’ face shone, demonstrating that he spoke for God, so did Jesus’.
We were last in the book of Exodus about two weeks ago. We heard then from chapter 33, and what we heard happened right after the incident with the golden calf. While Moses was up on Mt. Sinai speaking with God, his brother Aaron fashioned for the people an idol made of gold, which they then worshiped. As punishment, the Lord told Moses that he and the people must leave the mountain and head toward the Promised Land. Whereas before, the Lord’s presence went with them directly, now they would be led by an angel – lest the anger of the Lord consume them. Moses pleaded with the Lord on behalf of the people, that He should have mercy on them and remember His promise to be with them. The Lord did have mercy and, as a sign of His presence, would make Himself pass before Moses and be seen by him. That does happen in Exodus 34.
After the calf incident, Moses went back up the mountain. The original copy of the Ten Commandments God made Himself, but now Moses had to cut the rock and engrave it on his own. The Lord made His glory pass before Moses and proclaimed His Name before him. Moses and the Lord spoke on Mt. Sinai, again, for 40 days. Then, our text begins,
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them.Exodus 34:29-31, English Standard Version.
Apparently, Moses’ face did shine for a while. He would speak with God and then bring His Word to the people. When he finished speaking, Moses would put a veil over his face until he spoke with God again.
So, Moses had a shining face; this we have heard. Now, let’s ask the Lutheran question: What does this mean? The Holy Spirit answers that question for us right in the text. He tells both why Moses’ face shone and what it means. Verse 29, “Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.” Moses’ face also shone when he spoke God’s Word to the people. Moses’ face was made to shine from the glory of God’s presence and the wonders of His Word. His face shone as a sign to the people that, when Moses came to speak to them, it was not his word but God’s. In some ways this was necessary because even Moses’ own siblings, Aaron and Miriam, played the role of false prophets at some points and tried to lead the people in a different direction. Their faces didn’t shine, though. Moses’ face shined because he had been speaking with God and was the one to speak His Word to the people.
There are a couple other spots in the Bible where someone’s face shines. You might remember St. Stephen from the book of Acts. He, as you know, was the first Christian martyr in the New Testament (if we count The Baptist as part of the Old Testament). Stephen was an eloquent and wise preacher of Christ. Some enemies of our Lord dragged him before the Jewish council, where he, unafraid, offered a beautiful sermon demonstrating that God keeps His promises; and he called the people to repent. Unfortunately, the people did not listen to Stephen but, instead, stoned him. St. Paul, before he was a Christian, held the coats of the people doing the stoning. St. Luke tells us, though, that the people who sat in the council and heard St. Stephen saw that, “his face was like the face of an angel;” that is, shining. (Acts 6:15) Stephen’s face shone because he was speaking God’s Word to the people. Somebody else’s face shines in the Bible, too. It’s what we celebrate today. At the Transfiguration, Jesus’ face shined like the sun.
Let’s carry the same thought. The Holy Spirit tells us that Moses’ face shined because he had been speaking with God. Moses was God’s representative, bringing His Word to the people. Jesus’ face shined for the same reason. The Father Himself said, as we heard in the Gospel, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” (Mt. 17:5) Jesus’ appearance changed so that we might receive a glimpse of His eternal glory, and so that we might recognize that He brings us the true Word from the Father. Now, when the Father says that we should listen to Jesus, that is a reference to something that Jesus has said. Just before the Transfiguration, St. Matthew wrote that, “Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Mt. 16:21) Just after the Transfiguration, Jesus said, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day.” (17:22-23)
Moses’ face shone because He spoke God’s Word to the people. Jesus’ face shone because He was speaking the Word to us. More specifically, it is God’s Word to us that Jesus is our Passover lamb. He is the one upon whom our sins have been laid. Though we were dead in our sins, God the Father turned toward us a loving heart. He sent His Son into the flesh to die and rise for us. St. Simeon knew this, it’s why he took the baby Jesus into his arms and sang. He knew that, in Christ, God’s salvation has come and we can be at peace. Let this be our confidence, then. The Transfiguration marks the beginning of our Lord’s walk to the cross on Good Friday. The change in Moses’ appearance benefited God’s people by showing them Moses was His true representative. Our Lord’s appearance changed so that we might be assured that He truly speaks God’s Word to us, particularly that we, by His death and resurrection, have the free and full forgiveness of our sins. In Jesus’ name. Amen.