Jesus comes down from the mountain, in order to bring you up the High Mountain to God.
Generations earlier, Moses had also come down from the mountain — with the two stone tablets of the Testimony — and, having spoken with God on the high and holy mountain, he commanded the people all that God had told him. By this Word, the Lord established His Covenant with Israel, that He would be their God and they would be His people. The Ten Commandments defined the character and content of that relationship, comprising faith in Him and love for Him and others.
There was also given, in great detail, the Lord’s instructions for the Tabernacle and its furnishings, the Priesthood and its vestments, and the foundations of the sacrificial means of grace, by which the Lord would abide with His people and cause His Name and His Glory to dwell among them.
As the instrument and minister of this divine revelation, the face of Moses shone with the Glory of the Law. It was transfigured by his speaking with God, so that it radiated the light of the Lord. That frightened the people when they saw it. They were threatened by it, as by the thunder and lightning, fire and smoke of Mt. Sinai. But it also enticed, intrigued, and impressed them, quite rightly, for it demonstrated that what Moses spoke to them was the Word of the Lord their God.
He veiled his face afterwards, each time, until he next went in before the Lord to speak with Him. And St. Paul tells us why: namely, so that the people would not see the fading away of that Glory.
The Glory faded from the face of Moses, because Moses himself was fading away. Though he was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, he too was from the dust and returning to the dust in his sin and death. The mortal flesh of fallen man is not able to bear or sustain the Glory of God; not even that of great Moses, the Lawgiver. Indeed, the Law itself brings death to sinful man.
The Law is not fulfilled in Moses, nor in the ancient people to whom it was given at Mt. Sinai. Thus, the Glory of God does not remain with them forever, but fades away, time and time again. It must be restored — and it can only be restored — by the preaching of the Word of the Lord.
But, apart from Christ Jesus, the veil remains, hiding both the true Glory of God and the sin and death that it exposes and exacerbates. Minds are blinded and hearts are hardened against the Law, so that it is either misused or abused: ignored, or disobeyed outright, or else relied upon for life all the while it destroys you. In your sin you can neither fulfill nor escape the holiness of the Law.
In Christ Jesus, though, the veil is removed. The Light of the revelation of the Glory of God shines upon us in His face and does not fade away. For though He takes upon Himself and suffers the full burden of sin and death in His own Body of flesh and blood, He does not relinquish or let go of the divine Glory, but fulfills and completes it in perfect faith and in holy love for God and man.
The Glory of God is established and revealed in the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, first of all by His Incarnation, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and then also by His Holy Cross and Passion, His innocent suffering and death. That is where and how the veil is removed.
But what you see in the flesh of Christ is scary, isn’t it? Overwhelming and confusing. As it was for Peter, James, and John on the Mountain of Transfiguration; and as it was for all the disciples when they saw the Lord Jesus arrested, hauled away, condemned, beaten and mistreated, and cruelly put to death upon the Cross. His Glory confronts you with the Cross that kills you, and it reveals that fulfilling the Law is not only beyond you but is altogether other than you supposed.
The Glory of God is good and right and wise, but, precisely so, it brings to light all the ways that you are not. And it has already been established that the true divine Glory of the Law is, in fact, a ministry of death for you and for all who are not holy and righteous but sinful and unclean.
Removing the veil to reveal the righteousness and holiness of God — in the face of Jesus Christ, in His Body and His garments — exposes all the dirt and filth that fill your heart and mind, infect your perishing flesh from the inside out, and stain your garments with all the damn spots of your thoughts, words, and deeds. Removing the veil uncovers the nakedness and shame of your sin.
As painful and scary as that is — and, make no mistake, as devastating as that is to every pretense of self-righteousness or do-it-yourself-ness — it is not the whole story, but only the beginning of that which is perfected in Christ Jesus. For He is not another Moses or Elijah, but He is the One to whom they have pointed and for whom they have waited in hope, as do all the people of God.
He does not simply speak or reveal the Word of the Lord, but, as you know, He is the very Word of God, who has become flesh to dwell among us, to reveal the Father to us, to shine upon us in Love with the Light and Life of the Holy Trinity. He is not “on par” with Moses and Elijah, but far above them, residing from eternity in the bosom of God the Father, though He has also come down from heaven for all of us and our salvation, in order to fulfill all the Law and the Prophets.
Jesus does not simply preach and teach the righteousness and holiness of God, nor simply reveal the Glory of God, but He is all of these things, and He embodies them all in His own flesh for us.
As such, He removes the veil which covered the divine Glory and darkened the hearts and minds of man, by submitting Himself to the Law’s “Ministry of Death” in your place and on your behalf.
He bears your dirt and filth and stain in His own flesh and blood, as though all of it were His own; as though He were the One (the only One) who had done what He should not and failed to do what He should; as though He were the Guilty One. He is publicly exposed and put on display before God and the whole world in your naked shame upon the Cross.
And here is the wonder of all wonders: His divine and holy Body is transfigured by His Cross and Crucifixion, so that He thereby enters into Glory — with our human flesh — by way of His death.
The indestructible Power and Glory of His Resurrection, anticipated here in His Transfiguration, is the divine Glory that He accomplishes and establishes for you and for all people by His Cross.
Which is why it cannot be preached or even told until after the Son of Man has risen from the dead.
In this light, therefore, are at least two reasons why Peter’s confused suggestion is misguided and wrong, no less so than when he took it upon himself to rebuke Jesus and refute His coming Cross:
First of all, Jesus does not need anyone to build a tabernacle for Him to abide with His disciples, because He is Himself the Tabernacle of God among men. And, second, He actually becomes that true divine Tabernacle in His human flesh and blood — for all who believe and are baptized into Him — by coming down from the Mountain and going the Way of His Holy Cross and Passion.
He is the Tabernacle, the Temple of God, the merciful and great High Priest who remains forever, and the once-for-all Sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, because He lays down His own life and sheds His own holy and precious blood for the salvation of all the children of Adam and Eve.
As the one perfect Mediator between God and Man, because He is both true God and true Man in His one Person, the fullness of the Godhead dwelling bodily among us in His own flesh and blood, He comes down from the Mountain — as He has come down from heaven, and as He went down into the waters of His Baptism, even to death and to the grave.
He comes down to offer Himself up, in order to raise you up with Himself from death unto life. For in His bodily Resurrection from the dead, the Glory of God in His face and in His flesh shall never fade away. He has satisfied the Law completely, both meeting its demands and suffering its punishments for the sins of the world. And having risen from the dead, He is never to die again.
What He has thus accomplished and achieved in Himself, in His own Body and Soul, in all His thoughts, words, and deeds, He now also gives to you, and bestows upon you, and makes it your own by His grace, through His Word of the Gospel, which is a Ministry of the Spirit and of Life. By that Ministry, by that New Covenant in His Blood, you receive His mercy and forgiveness.
Through your Baptism into Christ, into His Cross and Resurrection, you have passed through death into life, and you have entered into the Glory of God with your body and soul and all that you are.
To be sure, it does not yet appear what you shall be, but everything that Christ Jesus has received in His Body of flesh and blood, in His Resurrection from the dead, is now also yours in and with Him. Therefore, when He appears in all His Glory for the Judgment of the living and the dead, then you shall see Him as He is, and you shall be like Him: Radiant, glorious, and beautiful.
As the veil has been lifted by the Cross of Christ, for now you behold the Glory of God precisely in the Cross: Not only in the Gospel of Christ — in the preaching of His Cross, and in His Body given, His Blood poured out for you — but also in yourself, bearing the Cross as a disciple of His.
That is the part that is still so difficult and hard to understand, but you are not left to yourself, to figure it out or handle it on your own. You are catechized and cared for by the Word of Christ, and by the care and catechesis of His Church, which He has established on earth as it is in heaven.
The crucifix above the Altar artistically confesses and declares the Body and Blood of Christ that are given and poured out for you upon His Altar. Historically, that is why Lutherans have always preferred the crucifix, that the body of Christ on the Cross should confess His Body in the Supper.
This, indeed, is the majestic Cloud that now surrounds you, the Pillar of Cloud by day and the Pillar of Fire by night, in which you behold the glorious power and presence of God among us. For the Body of Christ, crucified and risen, and given for you to eat, His Blood for you to drink, truly is the Tabernacle of God among men. Here is where and how Immanuel is God-with-us.
And this Sacrament of Christ is the mirror by which you are given to see the transformation — the transfiguration — of your own body of flesh and blood into the same Image of God, from Glory to Glory. For the Cross that you bear and suffer in the Name of Christ Jesus, the blessed Fruits of which you here and now receive, is a participation in the divine Glory of the Lord, as well as the means by which you are being transfigured with His Glory unto the Resurrection of your body.
Here is mercy for you in the one Lord, Jesus Christ. Therefore, do not lose heart, but rest in Him.
Already now, though you cannot see it, you are clothed with His radiant garments of righteousness and holiness, pure and clean like no bleach or laundry soap on earth could ever hope to manage. As He has taken the stain of your sin, your nakedness and shame to be His own, so are you covered with Christ Jesus and clothed with His grace and His Glory by His Gospel of forgiveness.
So, too, as He feeds you here with His Body and His Blood — transfigured by His Cross, unto the Resurrection and the Life everlasting — so does He gather you up, both body and soul, into His Body of flesh and blood, and bear you up the High Mountain to His God and Father in heaven.
Thus do you behold by faith the true divine Glory in the Fruits of His Cross, given and poured out for you and for the many. You eat and drink in His presence, and you do not die, but you live.
Dear Christian, listen to Him, and hear what He says: Take and eat this Bread. It is My Body, which is given for you. And drink from this Chalice, which is the New Testament in My Blood. It is poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.
Come, find your peace and rest in Him, and receive your inheritance, which shall not fade away.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.