LORD, TAKE MY HAND AND LEAD ME – FOR YOU ARE MY GOD.
The Radiant Glory of the Lord.
In the name + of Jesus.
It is no surprise that the people of Israel were afraid when they saw Moses' face shining. Moses' face was reflecting the glory of God. When the people saw it, they were petrified. It was not because Moses looked weird, though I'm sure that had its own shock value. Rather, it is because Moses' presence reflected God's presence. That is what frightened the people. God's holiness, even when it is reflected, produces fear in men—whether it is Zechariah in the temple, shepherds in the fields, or women at the empty tomb. Likewise, no Israelite wanted to be anywhere near Moses when he was shining with the radiance of God. Even Moses' own brother, Aaron, wanted to keep his distance. It was reminiscent of Adam and Eve fleeing from the sound of the Lord God when he was in the Garden of Eden. Sinners have good reason to fear the holy God.
Even though you have never seen the radiance of God shining from anyone's face, I am sure that you have experienced the fear of the Israelites to some degree. It is the fear of being a sinner who must give an answer to God. Perhaps it has happened when you were doing something you knew you were not supposed to be doing. Perhaps you were looking at a webpage you should not have, or were trying to snitch something off limits, or were even doing something relatively harmless like a prank, but then someone walked in on you—perhaps a parent or a teacher or even a friend. You snapped your head around and had that deer-in-the-headlights look of terror. Even if the person who walked in on you had no idea what you were doing, just the fact that you got caught was enough to afflict you with fear and shame. You probably tried to cover up by stammering some excuse, or you pretended to be angry so that the person who discovered you feels like it is his fault you were doing what you were doing. Or you uttered some loud, random question (“Do you know if that Spongebob Squarepants marathon starts at 5 or 5:30?”) hoping that the weirdness of your question would distract the other person from your sin.
The greatest terror, however, comes to you when you are alone and have some quiet time to think. That is when the devil makes you acutely aware of your sins and guilt. He replays your thoughts, words, and actions for you, and highlights what you deep down know—you are a sinner, and you have proved it in shameful ways. You cannot take back the words you said. You cannot fix the hurt you caused. And you fear God's wrath which falls upon you because of your sins. And what's worse is this: You know you should fear God's wrath. You know you do deserve his curse. You can't escape it no matter how many plans you make or deals you try to cut. That is similar to the fear that the Israelites had when they saw Moses' face shining with the radiance of the Lord.
But now hear the word of the Lord: 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. Afterward all the people of Israel came near... (Exodus 34:30-32) Moses summoned the people to him, for his intent was not to terrify them, but to give them the words that God had given him. Through Moses, God established his covenant with Israel. It was a covenant that demanded obedience, but more importantly promised salvation from all the guilt with terrified them. And so that the people would not continue to be terrified of the radiance of the Lord in Moses' face, he covered himself with a veil.
The Lord Jesus Christ has established a new testament with you. When the Lord came to earth, he did not radiate his divine glory. He veiled his glory with humble flesh so that he would not terrify us. What's more, Jesus Christ summons us to hear his word so that he can reveal God's love to us. Though we rightly fear God's wrath, Jesus reveals that he will deliver us from God's wrath. Jesus does not ignore our sins; he deals with them and removes them from us. He takes our guilt and shame, and he stands before the Father in our stead so that we will not be destroyed in his holy wrath. Instead, it is Jesus who was cursed and condemned for us. He put himself in the cross-hairs of God's wrath and suffered for all our sins.
Jesus summons us to hear the word of the Lord, and that word is forgiveness of sins. He has cleansed us of our sins by his holy, innocent blood. He has covered our guilt and shame with garments of salvation. And he continues to give us his holy body and blood for our forgiveness. Though his body and blood are holy and glorious, he veils them in simple bread and wine so that he will not fear, but so that we will flee to God's altar for his mercy, forgiveness, and salvation.
Last Sunday, we had heard how Jesus did reveal his radiant glory for just a moment to three of his disciples. They were afraid when they saw it. You notice that the Church does not highlight Jesus' transfiguration in our stained glass or in most of our art. You are more likely to see Jesus praying in Gethsemane or a crucifix. The Church emphasizes Jesus in his most humble state—in his innocent sufferings and death—because your salvation is not found in Jesus' radiance at his transfiguration or in God's awesome holiness. These things only produce fear in sinners. Rather, your salvation is found in Jesus' holy precious blood and in his innocent sufferings and death. So, Jesus' transfiguration gets one Sunday, but Lent gets six weeks. There, God veils his holy splendor, but he reveals his divine love and mercy. That is how God approaches us so that we do not flee in terror. Instead, this is how God comes to sinners to remove our fears, take away our guilt, relieve us of all shame, and bestow eternal life.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.