First Sunday of Epiphany — Baptism of Christ
Second Sunday of Epiphany — Cana of Galilee Wedding
Third and Fourth Sunday of Epiphany — Reading of scroll in Nazareth
Last Sunday of Epiphany — Transfiguration
All of this is communicating that the long anticipated Messiah that the covenant Fathers spoke of has arrived. The epiphany in Christ’s Baptism is that He is identified as the covenant head for His people. His actions will be their actions. His baptism their baptism. The epiphany of the Miracle at the wedding of Cana is found in the fact that the water of the Old Covenant has now blushed into Wine of the New Covenant as the Lord Christ is identified as the Messiah long promised so that it is announced that, in Christ, the best has been saved to end. In the Reading of the Scroll of Nazareth the epiphany being communicated is that the age to come promised in the old covenant is Present in the person of the Lord Christ. He is the one who will bring good news to the poor, set the captive free, give recovery to the blind because He Himself is the promised age to come. Also, the epiphany aspect hinted at in the Scroll reading is that the ministry of the Messiah is going to extend to Gentiles as Christ is rejected by His own people.
In the words of both John the Baptist and the Lord Christ the Kingdom of God is at hand.
All of this is what is called Redemptive History. It is real History but it is the History of God’s redemptive work.
Epiphany is intended to give us basic Christianity 101. Ideally, mature Christians would have these basics down so that they could communicate how it is that Christ is the nadir point and fulfillment of God’s promises.
Why is a Epiphany sermon series like this important for your faith?
Let us first note the movement of the Church calendar. During the time of Advent we reach the zenith with the Incarnation of Christ. During the time of Epiphany we reach the zenith with the Transfiguration of Christ. During the time of Lent we reach the zenith with the Crucifixion. From there we move to the Exaltation of Christ as found in the Resurrection season of Christ. The Church Calendar gives us the life of Christ and teaches us Redemptive History as we consider the Lord Christ.
1.) It requires you to see that the Kingdom of God is present.
— Remember the “Now — Not Yet” Hermeneutic that we emphasize here. What we’ve been looking at the past few weeks, during the Epiphany season, is the Now-ness of the Kingdom. This is important to realize because the majority of the Christians you meet have imbibed (often quite without know it) that the Kingdom of God is only Future. They look forward to some future day when Jesus returns and sets up His rule and Kingdom in Jerusalem. The Kingdom of God is totally future to them. In this series we’ve been trying to teach, consistent with the Scripture accounts, that the Kingdom of God has arrived in Christ.
This already present Kingdom, to be sure, has a “yet to come” dynamic but if we don’t understand the already presence of the Kingdom we miss out on the confidence and optimism that is the birthright of every Christian. We live, in what some would style as ‘dark times,’ but as Christians we know objectively that God’s Kingdom has come and we live in terms of that present Kingdom.
With the completed work of the Lord Christ, God’s eschatological future Kingdom begins and is already present. In Christ, the Father has subjected the inhabited World to the rule of Christ. In Christ there is a new Creation and as God’s people walk in terms of that freely given new Creation this present evil age begins to be increasingly diminished and rolled back.
Ill — Sickness vs. Penicillin — Christ is the Penicillin
2.) It allows you to focus on Christ who is the Kingdom as opposed to focus on Israel today as somehow being wrapped up with Kingdom events as if Israel is more important than the King.
3.) It aids you in reading the Scripture in terms of the Scripture and not in terms of the Newspaper. I hope we have demonstrated here that when we read the Scripture we ask ourselves how does a knowledge of the unfolding and organic growth of the rest of the Scripture impact upon the blooming of the Kingdom in the Gospel Accounts. The Gospels are much like the point in the novel that is the crescendo to all that has been developed to date.
4.) Along the way we’ve tried to include the idea that as a people who have been swept up into this Kingdom of God we have the privilege and responsibility to live in terms of the present-ness of the Kingdom. For example, having been made citizens in the Kingdom of a King who is merciful and gentle we seek to demonstrate those virtues in our own lives. As another example, having been made citizens in the Kingdom of a King who is just we champion His Law word as the universal standard for Justice for all men. Being citizens in the Kingdom of God we resist evil because evil is inconsistent with this already present Kingdom.
Inherent in the story of the Transfiguration is the promise of a kind of life beyond what is apparent to earthly eyes most of the time. Hebrews 12 speaks of this other realm when it talks about being surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses. The Transfiguration reminds us again that there is a realm … a life beyond this life. Unlike the Academic Atheist who I once encountered in conversation, the Transfiguration reminds the Modern that it is not the case that when one dies there is just unconsciousness.
If nothing else, (and there is much more) the Transfiguration reminds that “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die” is not a true synopsis of life.
Let’s examine some of the symbolism and motifs (themes) that are attached to this passage and see what we can draw out from these as we read the rest of Scripture.
Exodus 24:15 Then Moses went up to the mount, and the cloud covered the mountain,16 And the glory of the Lord abode upon mount Sinai, and the cloud covered [o]it six days: and the seventh day he called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud.
There is likely a connection here then between the Mosaic witnessing of the glory of God and the disciples witnessing the brightness of God’s glory here in Christ. If that is the case then this is one of those testimonies of Scripture where another Divine character quality of the Father is seen in the Son so that what is being subtly communicated is the Divine Nature of the Lord Christ.
This is underscored when Luke writes,
“they saw His glory, and the two men that stood with him.”
This is not merely the refracted character of God’s glory, this is a case where the Son is full of the same glory as the Father.
That the disciples are witnessing the Glorified and Divine Christ, in a kind of “time before the time manifestation”, is confirmed by John’s record in his Apocalypse (Revelation) where John describes the ascended Christ.
Revelation 1:14 His head and hairs were white as white wool, and as snow, and his eyes were as a flame of fire,
Compare that with what is recorded here
Luke — the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became white and dazzling.
Mark 9:3 And his raiment did shine, and was very white as snow, so white as no fuller can make upon the earth.
The Whiteness here communicates the intense glory radiating from the Son. Snow was as close as they could come to this intense spectacle of God’s person. That the divinity of Christ is being pressed here is underscored by Daniel’s description of the “Ancient of Days in Daniel 7
Daniel 7:9 I beheld till the thrones were set up, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels, as burning fire.
So, on the Mount of Transfiguration the post-Ascension divinity of Christ is put on display and what is communicated for those playing close attention when we read what leads up to this event, where Christ speaks of His death (vs. 22), is that He who is God glorified is going to lay down His life for His people.
The paradox of the Kingdom is that it comes in with both glory and humility at the same time. During Epiphany we find the Lord Christ everywhere assaulting the Kingdom of Satan. We even see the proclamation here of His divinity and yet all this is wrapped in the enigma of His coming Humiliation — His death and burial.
Luke says they: “Spoke of His Exodus which He should accomplish at Jerusalem”.
Of course the Exodus phraseology takes us back to the the departure of Israel from Egypt. When you combine the idea of Exodus mentioned here to the Lord Christ’s speaking of His coming death (22) one can’t help but see that Christ, in His Exodus will the be the Passover Lamb of God whereby God’s people are not visited with God’s wrath against His enemies. All of this bespeaks the great themes of God’s justice and mercy and God’s means of salvation. It speaks of a substitute in our place and instead of us. It speaks of delivery from what we deserve. It speaks of reconciling God to man and man to God by man presenting a sacrifice, as provided by God, in order to satisfy God’s just demands by propitiating (appeasing) God with something more than animal blood.
Likewise in this Exodus of Christ we are reminded that we are delivered as in Christ. His blood is spilled so that we might Exodus into the promised New Creation that is provided in and by Christ. Christ’s Exodus thus is our Exodus. By His stripes we are healed.
This also speaks of the necessity of Christ and His Exodus being our Exodus. Christ is both the necessary and sufficient condition in order to be right with God. If we will not have His ransom price paid as our ransom price we will remain in this present evil age and under the authority of “the God of this world.” If we will not have His deliverance and protection proved by His shed blood we are on a trajectory that will find us joined with the foulest and cruelest imps and demons for all eternity.
Moving on, this Transfiguration also serves then as analogy for the “Now … Not Yet” of the Kingdom of which we have been speaking. It has arrived in glory and yet it, more often than not, comes to us wrapped in humility. Paul was the great champion of the Kingdom … a champion beaten with rods and whips as well as stoned and shipwrecked while bearing a thorn in the flesh. Peter does many great miracles in the context of Kingdom work and yet Stephen and James are recorded as martyred in the Scripture. We share in the glory of Christ and yet we do so around the Word broken and the humble elements of Bread and wine and Water. The Kingdom is present … the Mt. of Transfiguration tells us that. The Kingdom is yet to come … the fact that we are not yet transfigured tells us that.
Do not miss the significance that this is all taking place on a Mountain,
As we have seen before Mountains are often associated with the place where concourse with God is held.
The entry for “Mountain” in Dictionary of Biblical Imagery reads:
“Almost from the beginning of the Bible, mountains are sites of transcendent spiritual experiences, encounters with God or appearances by God. Ezekiel 28:13-15 places the *Garden of Eden on a mountain. *Abraham shows his willingness to sacrifice Isaac and then encounters God on a mountain (Gen 22:1-14). God appears to Moses and speaks from the *burning bush on “Horeb the mountain of God” (Ex 3:1-2 NRSV), and he encounters Elijah on the same site (1 Kings 19:8-18). Most impressive of all is the experience of the Israelites at Mt. *Sinai (Ex 19), which *Moses ascends in a *cloud to meet God.
A similar picture emerges from the NT, where Jesus is associated with mountains. Jesus resorted to mountains to be alone (Jn 6:15), to *pray (Mt 14:23; Lk 6:12) and to teach his listeners (Mt 5:1; Mk 3:13). It was on a mountain that Jesus refuted Satan’s temptation (Mt 4:8; Lk 4:5). He was also transfigured on a mountain (Mt 17:1-8; Mk 9:2-8; Lk 9:28-36), and he ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:10-12).
Jesus also designated a mountain in Galilee from which he gave the Great Commission to the eleven (Matthew 28:16). Jesus is both the tabernacle of God among men (John 1:14) and a temple (John 2:19-22) who builds the new temple (Ephesians 2:19-22 [his body, the church]). Hebrews 12:18-24 contrasts Mount Sinai and Mount Zion in the context of the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. God’s people have gone from one mountain to another. Surely these mountains are symbols of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant and have their foundation in the first mountain-temple, the Garden of Eden.”
We could do much the same with the Biblical Motif of Clouds
Exodus 40:34-38 — Then the cloud covered the Tabernacle of the Congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. 35 So Moses could not enter into the Tabernacle of the Congregation, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. 36 Now when the cloud ascended up from the Tabernacle, the children of Israel went forward in all their journeys. 37 But if the cloud ascended not, then they journeyed not till the day that it ascended. 38 For [a]the cloud of the Lord was upon the Tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.
Staying with the Cloud motif
After the exodus from Egypt, when the Israelites wander in the wilderness for forty years, their journey is marked by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Ex 13:21, 22; 14:19, 20, 24, see later reflections in Neh 9:12, 19; Ps 78:14; 99:7; 105:39; and 1 Cor 10:1–2). Exodus 16:10 associates the cloud in the wilderness with the “ glory of the Lord.” The cloud and the fire represents God’ s presence with them
See, the Lord rides on a swift cloud and is coming to Egypt. The idols of Egypt tremble before him, and the hearts of the Egyptians melt within them. (Isaiah 19:1-2)
Jesus, like God in the OT , rides on a cloud (Acts 1:9). One of the most pervasive images of Christ’ s return is as one who rides his cloud chariot into battle (Mt 24:30; Mk 13:26; 14:62; Lk 21:27; Rev 1:7; cf. [cf. cf.. compare] Dan 7:13).
That takes care of some of the Imagery here. Now let’s turn our attention to the persons present.
Both Moses and Elijah, two figures whose passing’s were mysterious, were believed by many Jews to be God’s precursors of the end times. That this is at least some of the point in the text is seen in vs. 11-12
The reason for this end time expectation of these two was the mysterious end of each
Elijah — Chariot into Heaven (II Kings. 2:9-12)
Moses — Buried by God Himself (Ex. 34:4-7)
As such these two men were thought to be available for God to send back to prepare for the end. Their presence here reminds us that the Messianic end times was nigh. They also represent the idea of “the law and the prophets.” In Moses and Elijah God’s covenant people are present. Luke’s account tells us that they speak of Christ’s Exodus … meaning his Death. This would have been a matter close to the interests of the OT Saints. The Messiah is their Champion as well as ours. His Exodus is there Exodus as well.
God Speaks — Tracks with Isaanic Servant passages
Messianic Sonship OT
1 Behold, my servant: I will stay upon him: mine elect, in whom my souldelighteth: I have put my Spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. 2 He shall not [e]cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. 3 A [f]bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking [g]flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment in [h]truth. 4 He shall not fail nor be discouraged till he have [i]set judgment in the earth: and the [j]isles shall wait for his Law.
Christ is the Isaanic Servant in whom God delight and in delighting in Him He God’s beloved Son.
Peter — James — John
That Peter at least notes that the end is at hand he blurts out this bit about building Tabernacles or booths. We think Peter odd for saying that but Peter, though fearful (wouldn’t you be afraid if you were on the cusp of the end of the world?) connects some OT dots.
Zechariah 4:16 But it shall come to pass that everyone that is left of all the nations, which came against Jerusalem, shall go up from year to year to worship the King the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of Tabernacles.
So, this God-commanded festival kept by Jews for centuries, was considered a possible time for God’s taking control of God’s creation and beginning the age of shalom. Peter’s comments then were not “off the wall” but consistent with Jewish understanding.
Perhaps we would be well reminded that the Mt. of Transfiguration becomes an objective marker of the Truth of God’s Salvation narrative. Our belief in the presence of the Kingdom is not pinned upon our own personal experience, nor upon how we are feeling at any given moment, nor upon our sense of utter dependence. Those are all subjective markers. Our belief in the presence of God’s Kingdom is based upon these Objective realities. It was for Peter.
16 For we followed not deceivable fables, when we opened unto you the power, and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but with our eyes we saw his majesty: 17 For he received of God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from that excellent Glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. 18 And this voice we heard when it came from heaven being with him in the holy mount.
Second we can be reminded that God’s glory comes in God’s time and according to God’s movement. There is nothing so foolish as to think that we can seize God’s glory somehow. God’s glory comes to us in God’s time and if Scripture is any indication the glory of God is never far removed, in this life, with a theology of the Cross. Everyone wants the glory … nobody wants the humiliation. Everyone wants to go to heaven. Nobody wants to die.
Third, we are reminded of how the presence of the Kingdom is wrapped up in the death of Christ. Our hope for the Kingdom is anchored in the fact that we are united to Christ in His death, resurrection and ascension. The victory of Christ is our victory. But this victory is not only a spiritual victory (though it is that) without any corporeal repercussions. The Kingdom has come. Christ has conquered and so we move in that victory understanding that the Gates of Hell can not resist the assault of the Church upon the defense mechanisms of Satan.