February 23, 2020 Baptism, Communion
Malachi 4:1-5, Matthew 17:1-9
Moses, Elijah and Jesus.
Marcion of Sinope was a controversial figure within the church in the early part of the second century of the common era. He preached that the God who sent Jesus into the world was a different, higher deity than the creator God of Judaism. According to Marcion, the God of the OT, the creator of the material universe is a jealous tribal deity. In contrast, the God that sent Jesus is an altogether different being, a universal God of compassion and love who looks upon humanity with benevolence and mercy. He goes on to say that the teachings of Jesus were incompatible with the actions of the belligerent and judging god of the OT. The consequence of his view is of course that the entire OT is an irrelevant book – for the God of the NT is the God that matters for Christians!
To this day some Christian people consider the OT old and therefore obsolete. The NT has replaced the OT! This is unfortunate as I have said before, without the OT it is impossible to truly understand the person and work of Jesus Christ.
And today, on this Transfiguration Sunday, the Scripture readings are great examples of the importance of the OT for our understanding of Jesus.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus, Peter, James and John are on a high mountain. Suddenly Jesus is transfigured before them and then Moses and Elijah appear. Peter, the always scheming and talking Disciple immediately has a plan: “Let’s make three dwellings here – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah!” The reason? It is good for Peter to be in the presence of these holy men! But then he is interrupted by a voice coming from a bright cloud: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him.” The next moment the Disciples were on the ground overcome by fear. Jesus touch them saying: “Get up and do not be afraid.”
What is the significance of this fascinating event? Well, in order to understand what is happening here you need to know the OT! You need to know who Moses and Elijah were and why they are considered to be such important figures.
Moses of course is the man whom God called to lead Israel out of Egypt. He is their leader during the time in the wilderness and he is the one who received the Ten Commandments. The collection of the first five books of the Bible, also called the Pentateuch, or in Judaism the Torah, is known as the 5 books of Moses. The NT refers to these as the law of Moses.
In the last book of the OT, Malachi, chapter 4:4 we read: “Remember the teaching of my servant Moses, the statutes and ordinances that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.” Moses, in Jewish thinking represented the Law!
We read about Elijah in the books of Kings. Elijah was a prophet and miracle worker. He defended the worship of God over Baal, raised a widow’s son from the dead and brought fire from heaven. According to 2 Kings 2:11, Elijah ascended into heaven. Elijah in the OT became the representative of the prophets!
Moses represented the Law. Elijah represented the prophets. God in Malachi says about Elijah: “I will send my prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.”
Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets! Walter Brueggemann points out that the Law required obedience and the prophets invite hope for God’s future! Malachi presents
us with a call to obedience to the Law and
the prophetic hope for the future.
And now it gets interesting: The last book of the OT is Malachi. Malachi concludes the OT. The reference to Elijah means that the entire OT ends in prophetic hope! God’s work in the OT concludes with the hope that God is about to bring something that is new, something full and complete. God’s future is a hopeful one which at the same time calls for obedience to God. Moses and Elijah – the law and the prophets, obedience and hope.
And then the NT opens with, the first book – the Gospel according to Matthew! And here we are in today’s Matthew reading with Moses and Elijah! Moses and Elijah, the representatives of the Law and the Prophets, a call to obedience and the assurance of hope. Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus on the mountain.
The intention of Matthew is clear: Jesus is the embodiment and fulfilment of Israel’s hopes and dreams. All of Israel’s hopes now come to bodily fruition! In essence Matthew is saying: The wait is over! Jesus really and truly is the One the prophets talked about. Israel’s hope is now our hope! Jesus is the embodiment of God’s future with us! In order to grasp God’s plan with humankind, Matthew is saying, we need to know who Jesus is and what he is about to do!
And Jesus is the One who is showing obedience to the divine law. As our communion liturgy states: “…he fulfill for us all obedience to the divine law, even to the bitter and shameful death of the cross”.
The Divine voice from the cloud repeats the words that were spoken at Jesus’ baptism: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased.” Jesus is God’s Beloved Son and with him God is well pleased. But now these words are added: “Listen to him!” In other words, God is saying: “Be obedient to what he teaches!” Follow his law and live in his hope! It is significant that the Law is summarized in Matthew 22: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. And a second is like it; love your neighbor as yourself!” The call to obedience is directly linked to love of God and love of neighbor!
It is telling that Jesus touches them saying: “Get up and do not be afraid”. You cannot love your neighbors when you are afraid of them. Love and fear cannot co-exist. Jesus says: “Do not be afraid!”
Love, the Bible tells us, drives out fear! God’s love revealed in God’s Son, the beloved drives out fear and enables us to be obedient – to love our neighbor!
Fearful people cling to the past, they idealize the past and find it difficult to have hope for the future? The future, with all its uncertainties, intimidates fearful people. But for those who hold unto the prophetic hope, the future is exciting and full of opportunities for the future belongs to God and God is trustworthy and God is able to do marvelous things!
Moses and Elijah and Jesus: Obedience, hope and the embodiment of all the hopes and dreams of Israel. By the grace of God our hopes and dreams are realized in Jesus too. He is God’s Beloved Son. He is the culmination of all God’s promises. We can be obedient to his law to love God and our neighbor. We have hope for the future is God’s future. And we are not afraid because in Jesus God is with us! Amen.