“Out with the Old, In with the New”
The Transfiguration of Our Lord, February 15, 2015
Out with the Old, In with the New
Text: 2 Corinthians 3:12–13 (14–18); 4:1–6
Are you aware that when you go grocery shopping, and they have those folks handing out shnibbles on toothpicks, the manufacturers know that at least 20 percent of the time a sale is generated, and sometimes, with the right product, as many as 90 percent of shoppers purchase the item after trying it.
Car dealers have learned this trick, too. It’s one thing to walk around their lot and kick some tires. But if the salesman can get you to test-drive the newest model, he knows you’ll begin to imagine yourself as the owner. He knows you won’t be as excited to get back behind the wheel of your old car and head for home. So if you are not really interested in buying a car, don’t go for a test drive. Because if you do, the salesman is well on his way to closing the deal!
Today, we celebrate the Transfiguration of Our Lord, and we remember how three of Jesus’ disciples were given a glimpse of Christ’s unveiled heavenly glory. Therefore, in today’s Epistle, St. Paul will help us understand what truly was taking place at this transfiguration. Essentially, the lesser was giving way to the greater. Come to find out, Moses and Elijah—the Law and the Prophets—are just the “free sample” or the “test drive,” but Jesus Christ is the real thing! The Old Covenant Finds Its Fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the New Covenant, the Real Thing.
The Old Testament Law and Prophets were designed to point to Jesus Christ. Well, there on the Mount of Transfiguration, our heavenly Father does the same thing. There on this mountain we see Jesus in His unveiled glory with Moses and Elijah—and all that is there to point us to Jesus’ “exodus,” His death for the life of the world.
Leading up to our text, Paul has been comparing the old covenant with the new. He concludes that the old is being brought to an end, for the old covenant cannot save, but leads only to death. This is the idea that obeying the Ten Commandments can save you.
The Law cannot save us. It can only show us our sin and our need for something more permanent. Our Law keeping will never reach the perfection God demands. If you were happy getting C’s or B’s in school, God’s curve is anything less than 100% is an F. To save yourself by the Law, you must be PERFECT. That is a test we all fail.
So we cannot save ourselves. We need help. This has been the case since Adam and Eve. One of the things about the Old Testament law for the Old Testament people was it instructed Israel on how sins would be truly taken away. With each animal that was sacrificed, Israel was being taught that without the shedding of blood, there could be no being right with God. Each year, on the Day of Atonement, when the sins of Israel were transferred to the innocent “scapegoat” (which was really a goat), Israel would be learning how God saves us by transferring our sins to another. With every Passover celebration, Israel would be taught to look to the “Lamb of God,” who would once and for all take away the sins of the world.
That was the old covenant—a good thing, a needed thing, but veiled, not fully revealed, and intended to be replaced with something better.
Sadly, to this day, many have never seen beyond that old covenant; a veil essentially remains. Lots of people still think they can only save themselves, or worse that they don’t need saving. Only when the Holy Spirit reveals the truth to us—only as He “calls, gathers, enlightens”—is the veil removed. Otherwise, the Scriptures remain a closed book, and we miss seeing the one behind the veil: Jesus Christ. Because every page of the Bible, Old and New Testaments, points to Jesus as our Savior.
Our Gospel, the transfiguration event, follows some other events in which Jesus revealed who He is. Mark 8 relates the miracle of the feeding of the four thousand and the healing of a blind man. We also hear Jesus’ question to the disciples: “Who do people say that I am?” Their answers: John the Baptist, Elijah (who has shown up again today), or one of the other prophets. In other words, people were equating Jesus with the other covenant, the Old Testament figures. Peter, however, saw Jesus as the Christ. This leads Jesus to predict His crucifixion and death, for that is what it means to be the Christ!
But then you know what happened? Peter was unhappy at being told this was the mission of the Savior. He tried to prevent it. Even after his absolutely true confession of Jesus, the veil remained! He still had more to learn. And so, Jesus takes Peter, with James and John, up the mountain for a lesson.
And just like them, a veil remains for many living today. Because of our sinful condition, we came into this world enemies of God. St. Paul had previously written to these Corinthians that “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14). In fact, it’s this veil that kept many in Israel from receiving Jesus. St. John reminds us in his Gospel that “he came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn 1:11–13).
All this saving, forgiveness, all these blessings from God, because of what Peter tried to prevent. Jesus did travel on to Jerusalem for the purpose of being “glorified”—glorified by being lifted up on the cross. And as Jesus was lifted up, the old covenant was being fulfilled, and the veil was being lifted. As Jesus draws His dying breath and commends Himself into the hands of the heavenly Father, as Jesus cries out from the cross, “It is finished,” the “veil” is not only being lifted, but it is also being torn in two from top to bottom (Mk 15:38)!
So for some folks, some are converted (brought to repentance)—and it is always solely by the grace of God. The veil is taken away. Because we are baptized, because the Holy Spirit is in here, we can now see Jesus for who He truly is—our Savior from sin, death, and the power of the Law. In fact, we, by God’s grace, with “unveiled faces,” also begin to reflect the glory of Jesus Christ as the Gospel has its way with us. The Law could never produce such a change, because we cannot keep it perfectly. The Gospel can, because it’s all about Jesus and what He accomplishes for us on the cross and then rising again!
God continues His transforming (transfiguring) work in us as we continue to hear the Gospel and as we make frequent use of the Sacraments—His Means of Grace. It is never complete in our lifetime, but only brought to completion at our “exodus,” when we join Him in heaven.
This is why St. Paul can carry out his apostolic ministry and not lose heart—because it isn’t about Paul, it isn’t about Moses or Elijah, and it isn’t about us and never has been! It’s only about Jesus! Paul is free, and so are we! Free to use the opportunities God gives to confess Jesus, knowing that the results are up to God alone.
St. Paul doesn’t have to resort to “disgraceful, underhanded ways” (4:2). He doesn’t have to resort to deception, and he doesn’t have to sugarcoat the Word of God to make it more palatable. There were certainly those in St. Paul’s day who were doing that, just as there are people doing that in ours. And we have discussed that here.
We simply confess Jesus Christ when and where God gives opportunity. If the message is received in grateful hearts, to God be the glory! If it’s rejected, and at times it will be, it’s only because “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (4:4). We don’t lose heart, because the result isn’t our responsibility. That always rests solely between those other folks and God.
We baptized believers, those for whom the Holy Spirit has lifted the veil, can be bold confessors of the new covenant, Jesus Christ—“the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9). May the reminder of this Good News change us, transfigure us, when we go back out there today…and every day.