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February 27, 2022*
By Pastor John Partridge
Exodus 34:29-35 Luke 9:28-36 2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2
Have you ever felt self-conscious? Have you worried that you don’t look quite right, or suddenly notice that everyone seems to be looking at you? Maybe you have food stuck in your teeth, or your fly is unzipped, or your skin broke out and have a big zit or something. It happens to everyone. There even a powerful photograph of President Carter, Menachem Begin, and Anwar Sadat moments before they went in front of the cameras to sign the Camp David Accords. In that moment, all three of these men, presidents of powerful nations, simultaneously and self-consciously stop to straighten their neckties before stepping out into the glare of the public eye. And, I wonder if what we see in Exodus 34:29-35, was caused, at least in part, by Moses being self-conscious about everyone looking at him.
29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; so, Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. 32 Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai.
33 When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. 34 But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.
After Moses met with God, he was outwardly, and visibly, changed. Our scripture says that his face was radiant, and from the description, that doesn’t seem to mean that he was happy in the way that we say, “the bride was radiant.” We are, apparently, to understand that Moses’ face was… glowing… with a light of its own and that light, not surprisingly, was at least disconcerting, if not frightening, to the people around him. The world didn’t seem any different to Moses, but Moses’ appearance was different, and it was noticeable, even shocking, to everyone who saw him. And so, either to calm the fears of everyone else, or to calm his own feelings of self-consciousness, Moses began to wear a mask in public after each of his meetings with God. There was something about being in the presence of God, that changes human beings. And we see something similar in Luke 9:28-36.
28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John, and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses, and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. 31 They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)
34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.
The disciples had become accustomed to traveling with Jesus and it was probably not uncommon for them to wake up early and be walking before the sun had risen. But whatever the case on this day, whether morning or evening, the disciples that were walking with Jesus were half asleep. But as Jesus prayed, the appearance of his face changed… and even his clothes changed so that they became as bright as a flash of lightning. And then Moses and Elijah appeared, and they shone in “glorious splendor” perhaps, in a way, that was similar to the way that Moses’ face had shone when he met God. And so now, obviously, Peter, James, and John were absolutely, completely, 100 percent awake and were, in a sense, in shock. As soon as Moses and Elijah began to leave, Peter just begins to babble nonsense about building houses, worship centers, or something. And then, as if this hadn’t been enough, suddenly a cloud appears, envelops them, and the voice of God announces that the disciples should listen to Jesus because he is his son. And then, just as suddenly as it began, it was over, and they found themselves standing, on the mountainside, alone.
What I find interesting, is that even though Peter had been babbling about building shelters, and although Peter was often prone to shoot off his mouth, and to say things without thinking, after this incredible experience, none of these three disciples say… anything. They don’t tell their families, they don’t tell the other disciples, they don’t tell anybody… anything. And again, I think this has a lot to do with the disciples feeling self-conscious. What they had just experienced was powerful, incredible, and probably more than a little… unbelievable. Even for people who had witnessed Jesus heal the sick and raise the dead, who would believe what they had just seen? Who would believe that they had seen the glory of God radiating from the face of Jesus? Who would believe that they had been surrounded by the holy cloud of God that they had read about in the scriptures, or that they had met Moses and Elijah? Who would believe that they had heard God’s own voice proclaiming that Jesus was his son? Would anyone believe them? Would they think they were crazy? Would the Pharisees and other church leaders declare that they were heretics and throw them out of the Temple?
And regardless of their self-consciousness or fear, the disciples could not un-see what they had seen. Like Moses, they had spent time in the presence of God, and they had been changed.
But what does that mean for us? What do we take away from these stories of Moses, Jesus, the disciples, and the transfiguration? In 2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2, Paul explained it to his church this way:
12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
4:1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.
Obviously, Paul’s understanding of why Moses wore a veil is not he same as mine and, I think, not the same as the reason given in Exodus. Exodus simply says that people were afraid to look at Moses because he glowed or radiated but Paul interprets that to mean that Moses wore a mask so that people couldn’t see that the radiance of God in him faded over time. Those are not at all the same things and, I think, Paul’s interpretation is unfair, and a little unkind, to Moses. But I also think that Paul says this to make a point. Paul makes the point of saying that accepting Christ is like tearing away the veil, or unmasking God so that we can see his glory more clearly. Christians, Paul says, are the “unveiled faces” that can see God more clearly and something happens to us because of it.
As I said before, human beings that have spent time in the presence of God, are changed by the experience. Moses glowed. He was both outwardly and inwardly different because he met God. Peter and James and John, and all the other disciples, were changed because of the time that they spent in the presence of both God and his son, Jesus. Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, his entire life was turned upside down, and he was never the same afterwards. Paul says that because we have met Jesus, and because we have been unmasked, and have seen the glory of God, our lives have also been changed. We don’t give up, we are encouraged, we no longer deceive other people or distort the word of God. Instead, we tell the truth as plainly as we can, and we tell the truth all the time, so that everyone will know that we can be trusted.
But there’s one more thing worth mentioning, I think. Paul believed that when Moses met God face to face, the glory of God that radiated from Moses’ face faded over time. And while I’m not sure that’s how I would interpret it, there is some sense to it. Human beings are not God. We do not, and we cannot, contain God’s glory. Being in the presence of God changes us, but the effect in us fades if we aren’t deliberate in doing things that bring us back into God’s presence. That’s why setting times of regular Bible study, prayer, and church attendance are so vital. Nearly every Sunday, we pray that God would be at work changing us into the people that he created us to be. But for that to happen, we need to do two things. First, we need to give God permission to change us, and be willing to change. And second, we must, regularly and deliberately, invite God into our lives, and set aside time for us to spend time in God’s presence.
But we warned: Just as Moses, Peter, James, John, Paul, and the disciples discovered, being in God’s presence changes people.
And maybe that’s why so many people seem to be afraid to do it.
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.