Some things stay with you your whole life. Usually they are bad things. The Transfiguration stayed with Peter. Over 30 years later, Peter speaks of being an eyewitness of Christ's majesty at this event. The Transfiguration had an afterimage of 30 years. May this sermon titled "Exodus" cause an afterimage that would overwhelm the others till your exodus from this world to the world without end.
We begin by looking at the exodus that God provided for the Old Testament Church by baptizing them in the Red Sea. Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 10 that all were baptized in the sea. You know the story. Pharaoh's armies pursued the Israelites till they had them trapped. The sea was in front of them; armed warriors behind them. And the church of God had been a nation of slaves for hundreds of years. Slaves don't fare well in armed conflict with trained soldiers.
The situation was desperate. The people of God cried out to their Lord. Babies were screaming, mothers were wailing, and men were fainting. There was no way out. Then the Lord did a miracle. He parted the impassable sea. A wall of water stood on the right and left, and in between was a dry path to freedom, to rescue, to relief. But the water that parted to save them came together with a thunderous crash upon the armed warriors of Egypt who tried to follow. Horse and rider were covered by the sea.
God had provided an exodus, but they didn't enter the Promised Land right away; they exited into a wilderness. In a wilderness where all the bread, water, and meat had to be provided by God. Here was a nation numbering over 2 million people in a trackless wilderness on the way to the Promised Land guided only by the mouth of God. Numbers 9:18 says, "At the mouth of the Lord the sons of Israel would set out, and at the mouth of the Lord they would camp."
Here's the afterimage that would be emblazoned on their mind's eye, on their psyche, on their very souls. It's found in Exodus 14:30: "That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore." How many warriors do you take to recapture a nation of slaves? How many bodies lay dead on the beach with the water lapping at their lifeless bodies pushing, pulling hands and legs, bobbing heads and floating hair. Yes, that image will stay with you, and it should. These were the enemies intent on killing you or re-enslaving you, and they're gone, dead, defeated.
That was the Old Testament's church's exodus. God provides the New Testament church an exodus not through the waters of the Red Sea but through the waters of the baptismal font. Sin, Death, and Devil had you trapped; you were born trapped much as an Israelite child was born into slavery. These unholy 3 are bent on keeping you enslaved. Hebrews 2:15 plainly explains how it works. The Devil has the power of death and through fear of death he holds people in slavery all their lives. Yes, there's a part of us that whispers: if you don't give into sin you die. There's a part of us that thinks we must be able to do something to stave off death, so we must try. There's a part of us that thinks the Devil has all the cards and one must give him his due.
I'm sure some Israelites thought they should negotiate with their enemies bent on capturing them. But God really doesn't negotiate with terrorists. He defeats them. He destroys them. By the Waters of Baptism your enemies were drowned. Your way out, your exodus out of the trap set by Sin, Death, and the Devil is through Water too. The enemies of Sin, Death, and Devil pursue so closely that they go into the Font with you.
This Water didn't just drown your enemies; it gave birth to a new person, a free person. You enter the Waters of Baptism in the same state the Israelites entered the waters of the Red Sea as a slave, as enslaved, but you come out a free person. Where are your masters? Where are you owners? Where are your enemies? Lying dead at the edge of the baptismal font.
We come out of the font and take our first steps toward the Promised Land, but we're not there yet. We're in the wilderness where many dangers, toils, and snares are. The only food we have for this journey is that provided by the Lord. It's not manna, the Bread of Angels. Oh no, it's the Bread of God. It is God. In the strength of His Body that He provides for Bread and His Blood that He provides for Wine, in the strength of this Food we go not 40 days and nights but day and night until night is no more.
And the only guide we have on the way is also the mouth of the Lord. At the Transfiguration this is the Father's emphatic message. Our text has Him saying, "Listen to Him." But Him is first in Greek making it especially emphatic and the word listen is present imperative. "Of Him you must continually be listening." After showing them the greatest representatives of the Law and the Prophets, Moses and Elijah, after showing them heavenly beings, the Father says the Son is the One they must hear. Hebrews 1 says the same: "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son."
What afterimage is burned on your retina from your exodus? The sign of the cross, the mark of God from Ezekiel to Revelation. You see people with face tattoos, don't you? You either feel sorry or scared of them. Slaves and sometimes prostitutes were so branded in ancient times. You received the sign of the cross over you head and heart right before your Baptism to indicate that you've been redeemed by Christ the crucified. When you make your final exodus the pastor will mark your body with that same sign. The person who tattoos themselves on the face is reminded of something every time they look in the mirror. The ancient person tattooed by someone else was too. You are too. See the cross of Jesus marking you as His, indicating that He has freed you forever. You're no longer a slave to Sin, of Death, or for the Devil.
Our exodus to a world without end, a world we enter and celebrate for a time every Sunday here, happened through our Baptism. But our Baptism was empowered by the exodus Jesus accomplished through His baptism. And I'm not talking about the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan.
First, why am I talking about the exodus of the Old Testament Church and our exodus? Because Moses and Elijah are taking to Jesus about His exodus. That's what the Greek says: "They spoke to Him about His exodus which He was about to fulfill in Jerusalem." This is the only place that Jesus' passion, resurrection, and ascension are referred to as His exodus. But there's more. Luke 12 is the only place where Jesus refers to His passionate suffering and death as a baptism. I have linked your exodus from slavery to your Baptism because Jesus' exodus and baptism are what give your Baptism its wonderful power to forgive sins, rescue you from death and the devil and give eternal salvation.
Jesus exits this life through a baptism, through a pouring out of blood, sweat, and tears all of them His not yours. He exits through torture, humiliation, abandonment, damnation and death. He exits the way we deserve to go. It's not by accident that when something bad happens to you that you think or fear you're being repaid for your sins. It's what you deserve to have happen; that's what should happen. That's what will happen apart from this Man who stands glowing before you today as only God can.
The repayment you correctly know you owe was paid for by Jesus Christ. Here at the Transfiguration He's making no payments. He's discussing the payment plan with Moses and Elijah, so that we might know that all heaven talks about the things we talk about on earth during Lent. This glowing, God-Man will go from here to the cross. This God glorious and shimmering in our flesh and blood is going to endure the ashes that you deserve to give you alleluias.
The sins that leave a taste of ashes in your mouth and a burning afterimage in your eyes have been put on the glowing Jesus. Watch as He goes to the cross having more and more of the ashes piled on Him from our burning pile of unbelief and misbelief. Watch as these ashes don't just mar His face but press His soul to the point that even the God-Man can't take it and blood is forced from His pores. Keep on watching till it is finished. Keep on watching till Jesus hangs ashen grey not one heartbeat, brain wave, or respiration left in Him. And then shout "Alleluia my sins have been paid for; alleluia my death has been died; alleluia the devil has been crushed."
Alleluia is the church's song on earth and in heaven, but the church on earth forgoes them for a time, burying them in a coffin where we deserve to be but won't go. The alleluias were paid for by Jesus' exodus through a baptism of suffering and death. And the alleluias remain ours because they were given to us in our Baptism which was our exodus out of slavery and into life. But we forego them for Lent as a reminder that no matter how great our blessings, no matter how many our joys this isn't the Promised Land. This isn't our final destination or resting place. All of this must come to ashes before alleluias can ring eternally.
So what is the afterimage to take away from the Transfiguration? Take away what Peter did. The last verse of our text refers to "what they had seen." This is a perfect too. It means what they saw left an afterimage burned in their bodies and souls forever. As proof I cite Peter who right before dying refers to the Transfiguration. He says "after my departure." Yep, that's the word "exodus." He refers to his dying as an exodus. Get it? He's in prison, about to be crucified for the faith, and the image of Jesus' exodus still is a bright afterimage.
Peter witnessed heavenly beings referring to Jesus' suffering and death as an exodus into a Promised Land. That means all baptized into Jesus can for the rest of their lives think of their own death as an exodus from a world of ashes into a world without end where every breath we take is alleluia. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Transfiguration of our Lord (20160207); Luke 9: 28-36