The ministry of the Law is not without divine glory. Indeed, it appears to be the height of glory. And to be sure, the Law is the Word and Will of God. It is holy and just, and it reveals what is good and right and true, what is acceptable and pleasing to the Lord. His Law is impressive, and it is powerful. It shakes the very mountains, and it crushes hearts. It is not without divine glory.
But the righteousness of the Law cannot save you. It does not make you righteous but condemns you. It is not the Law with its rules and regulations, with its commandments, with its virtues, that reconciles you to God in peace. Nor is it the Law that glorifies you with the very glory of God.
When you are confronted with the Law and its demands, with its commands and prohibitions, and with its threats and punishments, it will either terrify you by exposing your many sins and failings, or it will mislead you into selfish pride and presumptuous self-righteousness, as though you were actually keeping the Law and doing alright in your efforts and accomplishments.
The Law will either frighten or deceive you in these ways, not because the Law is bad or dishonest, but because of the hardness of your heart. You cannot keep the Law. You cannot save yourself.
But God never intended that the Law should save you. His Law does not give you life but guides the Life that He gives you by His grace. It points you to the life and love of God, which are in Christ Jesus, your Lord. The Law points to Him. And on the Mountain of Transfiguration it gives way to Him who is its perfect fulfillment. Moses and Elijah cast their crowns, so to speak, at the feet of Him who is the King of heaven, who has come down in the flesh to justify and save you.
Now, you should understand that, because the Law of the Lord is the Word and Will of God, and especially because it points to the incarnate God, Christ Jesus, in whom it is fulfilled, to contradict the Law or disobey it, to disregard it or reject it, is all the more deadly and damnable than trying to save yourself by keeping it. It is surely better to live according to the Law than to break it. For if you reject the Law of God, if you disobey His holy Commandments, if you persist in unbelief and hatred for your neighbor and for God, then you will surely die in your wickedness.
It is no small thing to break God’s Law, to break His Commandments, to turn away from Him. It is no small thing when you fail to pray, or fail to hear His Word and take it to heart. It is no small thing when you make other gods out of your possessions, or your friends and family, or your security in this world. It is no small thing when you disobey your parents and other authorities, when you disrespect them in your thoughts, words, or deeds. It is no small thing if you fail to love your neighbor, if you hurt instead of help, if you take instead of give. If you persist in such things, you will die in them. They are contrary to the Word and Will of God. Repent, and do otherwise.
Refrain from doing evil, and begin to do what is good and right according to God’s Word. But do not suppose that you will save yourself by keeping the Law. That you cannot do. It will not work. If you try to save yourself by keeping the Commandments, then you remain under the curse and condemnation of the Law. You cannot keep it perfectly, so attempting to acquire life for yourself by the standard of the Law will not result in life but death. Anyway, the purpose of the Law is not that you should save yourself, but that you should love and serve your neighbor and glorify God.
The fact is that you consistently fall short of that divine and holy purpose of the Law. So, when God comes down with Commandments etched into stone and confronts your stony heart, then there is wrath and fear and terror and dread. Not the promise of life but the threat of death. You rightly quake at His presence, for you cannot stand before Him with any righteousness of your own.
But when the Lord your God comes down from the Mountain in the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, then the greater glory of God is revealed in mercy and compassion.
When Moses had asked to see God’s glory — to see an indication that God would be and remain with His people — the Lord sheltered Moses in the cleft of the Rock. And the Rock that followed them was Christ. Thus showing His glory to Moses in the promise of Christ, God declared, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and compassion on whom I have compassion.” That is to say, not according to any of the works of the Law, but according to the grace of God Himself. That is the mercy and compassion of God which is found in the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.
It is when He comes down from the high Mountain, as you have heard this morning — not with tablets of stone and Commandments of the Law, but with His own Body prepared for the sacrifice of His Cross — that is where and how the greater glory of God is revealed and manifested for you.
Everything that the Law of God commands — His good and acceptable Will, which is summarized in faith and love toward Him, and in love for the neighbor — it is all fulfilled and accomplished in the flesh of Christ, in His Body crucified and risen. That is where everything is accomplished.
This good work of Christ in the flesh, the voluntary sacrifice of His Body on the Cross, and the shedding of His holy, precious Blood — that is not simply the penalty of your sin, the undoing of what you have done wrong. It is more than the Lord cleaning up after your mistakes. It is the Lord your God doing what He intended from before the foundation of the world. It is God loving as He does, because He is Love. It is the Father giving His Son, and the Son submitting to His Father in holy faith and perfect love for God and man. It is the pinnacle of divine glory in the flesh.
This is what the Law was always really about. Not your fulfillment, not your self-righteousness, not your self-salvation, but rather the gift of God in the Body of Christ Jesus. His works are the true keeping of God’s good and gracious Will for you. The life, death, and resurrection of God’s Son in the flesh is the full realization of His divine glory for you, that you should live and not die.
So, when Jesus comes down from the Mountain of Transfiguration, He is not leaving His divine glory behind. He is proceeding to the divine glory of His Cross and Passion. But of course that contradicts everything you think you know and understand. It contradicts your experience, your wisdom, reason, and all your senses. Even the disciples who were catechized by Christ Himself, who saw His glory on the Mountain, were confused and frightened when His true and greater glory was accomplished by His Cross. Yet, everything hinges and depends on that Sacrifice of Christ.
The glory of the Law must give way to the glory of the Cross, by which the Lord establishes His own righteousness for you in His Body of human flesh and blood. That is the righteousness with which you are justified, by which you stand before God the Father in heaven and are at peace.
So also, all of the miracles that Christ performs — and those of His Prophets before Him and His holy Apostles after Him — all of those miracles are gathered up into the Resurrection of His Body from the dead. All of the life that He grants to both body and soul are accomplished and fulfilled in His Body, which is transfigured by the Cross into the glory of His Resurrection from the dead.
It is in that same Body of Christ Jesus — crucified for you under Pontius Pilate and risen from the dead forevermore — that you behold the true glory of God and are brought to Him in peace.
You cannot see it with your eyes. Even here at His Altar you do not behold His flesh. And if you could see His crucified Body, then, just like the disciples, you would likewise be confused and frightened. But do as God has spoken, as He has invited. Listen to this beloved Son. Hear His gracious Words to you. For His Words in your ears declare to you what this hidden Body of Christ really is, and what it does, and what it means for you. It is given for you, as His Blood is poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins. And where there is forgiveness, there is life and salvation. There indeed is the glory of God, which is given to you by His grace. It is all right here.
The Word of Christ Jesus, that is, the Gospel of His forgiveness, that is how you hear and know, believe and trust that God is now your own dear Father in heaven, and that His good and gracious Will is not to crush you, condemn you, and kill you, but to save you for eternal Life with Him.
Thus, the highest Mountain of God is not Mount Sinai, where He gave the Law to Moses and established His Covenant with Israel. Nor is it the Mountain of Transfiguration, where the glory of Jesus was manifested in expectation of His Cross and Resurrection. No, the highest Mountain of God is Mount Calvary, where the Son of Man fulfilled the entire Law and established the New Covenant in His Blood by His death upon the Cross. That is where He is lifted up to the heights of true divine glory, for that is where He saves sinners according to His mercy and compassion.
So, too, the true Mount Zion, where the glory of the Lord resides, and where His holy Name abides among His people on earth as it is in heaven, is not the Temple in Jerusalem, which has long since been destroyed. The true Mount Zion is right here at this Altar, the Altar of the Holy Communion. It is therefore to this place that the Word of Christ brings you in love. It is here that you find life.
Here at His Altar is the center of Life, the very Body and Blood of Christ Jesus. And here, by His Word, with His own Body and His Blood given and poured out for you — regardless of your age or education, no matter how much money you make or have, or what you have done in the past, or what you will yet do and accomplish — here God feeds you with Himself, His flesh for yours.
Thus are you transfigured by the glory of God in the flesh of Christ. Your body of flesh and blood is transfigured by His Body and Blood to live by faith in Him and with love for your neighbors. Not by impressive deeds of glory and grandeur in the eyes and estimation of the world. No, the glory of God transfigures your life in such a way that you go about your days in humble service and self-sacrifice. And even if no one else notices, your Father in heaven sees you. He beholds you in the very glory of His beloved Son. As you are baptized into Christ, to you also He says, “You are pleasing to Me. I love you and delight in you. All of Mine is yours. So, even though you die, yet shall you live. And so shall you be raised in your body, glorified and perfect forever.”
The gracious Word of the Lord Jesus Christ, His Gospel of forgiveness, has clothed you in His garments of righteousness and holiness. You are not condemned, you are forgiven, and you are set free. You really are free. Free of guilt and shame and condemnation and death. Free to live.
Your flesh also is glorified by the flesh of Christ. Not simply in your heart and head, but in your body, too, you live in love, both here in time and hereafter in the resurrection to Life everlasting.
By His Cross and in His Resurrection you are saved, as sure and certain as God Himself is true. For Christ the Lord has in fact set up His Tabernacle on earth among men. Not on a high mountain that you could never hope to climb, but right here in your presence, His flesh for your flesh, His Body for your body. This is where He lives for you. And as He lives, so shall you live forever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.