Feb 7, 2016 – Seeing
When I turned 40 I had to get glasses. I really needed at them at first so I could distinguish headlights at night rather than just seeing these blurs of light coming at me. In the rain of Seattle it’s important to be able to see on-coming headlights clearly. Later, it became important to wear glasses so I could see to work on the old monochrome computer screens we used back then. Again clarity of sight was what was needed.
And now, today I simply need them… all the time if I want to see anything! And then there’re times when I have to clean these things and that becomes a pain in itself. It seems like no matter how much you try to get all the glass clean there’s always a smudge or streak that’s left. But if the glasses are going to work right I need to keep them clear so I can see what it is that’s in front of me.
Seeing what’s in front of you. That’s very important in the Old Testament lesson today for Moses. Moses was given the sight to see the Promised Land in front of him, from the top of Mount Nebo. From that mountain top, Moses, saw that land toward which he had led the people of Israel 40 years in the desert. And then, after giving Moses, on that mountain, the sight to see that, God spared Moses the grief of taking the people into the Promised Land.
Those problems fell to Joshua after Moses died. Moses entered into his death like we enter baptism, by God’s grace alone. We’re told that God Himself buried Moses there on Mt Nebo. As death spared Moses from grief among the hardships of settling the people of Israel in the new land, so baptism spares us the hardship of trying to settle ourselves into the new land of heaven.
Jesus has done that work for us through His death on the cross and His resurrection. And that work is poured out on us by God’s work in our baptismal life. But like Moses seeing the Promised Land, so also baptism gives us the sight, by faith, to see that heaven is our true home, our true promised land. We see, in the work of baptism, that the promised land of heaven is yet before us.
Moses’ seeing the land, yet not touching it reminds me of what our mothers used to say to us when we’d go into a store, ‘look, but don’t touch’. Sometimes I used to wonder, what good is that? If I can’t touch it what good is it? Well Moses had to deal with that same idea.
What did Moses see, though, before he died? He saw that God had fulfilled His promise. He saw the promise of bringing Israel to this land beyond the Jordan brought to completion. His view included seeing God bring this people out from Egypt and through the desert for 40 years. And then Moses saw that the land promised by God to this people was really there and waiting for them.
And Moses did get to see that Promised Land though in a different way in the gospel lesson today, didn’t he? In the gospel lesson, on another mountain top, Moses saw “the Promised Land” when he stood on the Mount of Transfiguration and talked with Jesus. Jesus is revealed as the true Promised Land. Jesus, by His death and resurrection, is how the fulfillment of God’s promise to bring His people home happens.
Moses standing on mount of transfiguration, with Jesus and Elijah, now enters into the Promised Land in a way he could not have foreseen when standing on the top of Mt Nebo, except one thing… faith. By faith in God’s promise, Moses saw that the Promised Land was his. And in seeing Jesus Christ, Moses sees God’s promise in its ultimate fulfillment.
As Jesus was transfigured there on that mountain, in the presence of His disciples and Moses and Elijah, the ‘promised land’ of God was revealed not as a place but as the person of Jesus Christ. That’s because in the person of Jesus all the promises of God find their fulfillment. Seeing Jesus as God’s fulfillment of all that He promises, is something that only those who believe God’s promises in His word can see.
I don’t know if you’ve ever read all of the books in the Chronicles of Narnia but there’s a book called The Last Battle. In this book there are dwarves and children and the Christ-figure, the lion Aslan, along with others. There’s a scene in that book that illustrates for us the idea that seeing Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promises comes from believing God’s promises.
There’s a door to a barn in the story that people go through one night. The night is full of fear and darkness and the barn from the outside is rather forbidding and scary. But for those who believe in Aslan, when they go through that barn-door, it surprisingly becomes the gateway to Aslan’s world that is full of light and trees and grass and meadows. And the children and their Narnian friends who go through it are met there by Aslan.
But for the dwarves who go in the door they only see the dank stinky inside of the decrepit old barn. Though they are in fact surrounded by the glory of Aslan and his world, and the children and other Narnians who can see the dwarves, yet the dwarves themselves refuse to see it because they refuse to believe the promises of Aslan. You should read the story sometime if you haven’t. But those dwarves are like people who refuse the gift of faith in the promises of God.
Seeing is what today’s Bible readings are about. Seeing God’s work and seeing what Gods promises result in, are what we see in these readings. Looking back at the gospel lesson where the disciples, after recognizing Moses and Elijah, say that they want to put up shelters for Jesus and these two. The disciples only see what’s in front of them right here on the mountain. They don’t yet see all that God wants them to see. And one thing they miss is, that Jesus has been transfigured before them in preparation for going to Jerusalem to die on the cross.
So to help out the disciples, and us as well, God speaks from the cloud that suddenly surrounds them and makes clear two things: that Jesus is God’s Son and that they are to listen to Him. It isn’t for them to tell Jesus what the plan is, they are to listen to what He says. It isn’t for them to put Jesus, Moses and Elijah in some boxes up on this mountain-top so they can be looked at anytime the disciples feel they need a spiritual fix. Such a zoo-like approach to God’s promises is not in the plan.
God’s plan to redeem man can’t simply be viewed at the top of a mountain and say, oh that’s nice, I’ll tuck that away. No God needs to bring His salvation to man personally and that’s why Jesus’ personal death must take place. And that’s why baptism is a personal thing as well. God touches us individually with His grace through the promise of His word to us those waters.
Going to die at the hands of men is what Jesus makes clear is the plan in the following verses. In fairness to the disciples, though, this mountain-top experience is not something they had any frame of reference for. They had no context of a similar event with which to compare this. So we can understand their confused reaction to God’s plan. I’m quite sure none of us would have had the sight to see clearly on that mountain what it was that God was doing.
And when you read the lesson from Hebrews it becomes clearer what indeed God did. In Christ God was building the house of faith that began with Moses. Moses leading the Israelites faithfully through the desert to the Promised Land was the start. It was the point of reference needed to see clearly that, in Jesus Christ is the complete fulfillment of the Promised Land. The writer of Hebrews tells us that we are of the house of Christ as we keep hold of the courage and hope that is ours by faith in Jesus Christ.
Let me close with a story that helps us to remember to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus in our thoughts as Hebrews tell us to do today. When we do as this little boy in the story does, we can see clearly that keeping our eyes on Christ gives us the way to the Promised Land.
One rainy Sunday afternoon, a father was babysitting his children and had the task of keeping them entertained. He assigned different projects to each of the children. To keep his 10-year-old son busy, he cut a full page map of the United States out of a magazine, and then he cut the map into tiny pieces and told his son to reassemble it like a jigsaw puzzle. To the father’s amazement, his son completed the task in just a few minutes. “How did you do it, son?” he asked. “It was easy!” said the boy. “When I first tried to put the map of the land together it seemed impossible. But then I noticed part of a man’s face on the back of one of the pieces. So I turned all the pieces over, and put the man’s face together.’
When we fix our eyes on the face of Jesus, the Promised Land takes care of itself and comes together of its own accord. Because Jesus Himself is that Promised Land which Moses saw on both Mt Nebo and the Mt of Transfiguration. By faith granted to us in our baptism, we see the same thing as He did… that Jesus is the fulfillment of the promises of God.
In Jesus name, amen.
Sermon #808 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
First Reading Deuteronomy 34:1-12
34 Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, 2 all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, 3 the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. 4 Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.” 5 And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. 6 He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. 7 Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. 8 The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over. 9 Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses. 10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.
Epistle Hebrews 3:1-6
3 Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. 2 He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. 3 Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. 4 For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. 5 “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,” bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. 6 But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.
Holy Gospel Luke 9:28-36
28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. 31 They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 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.)
34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36 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.