Sermon on Exodus 34:29-35
Text: 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.
On Transfiguration Sunday, we journey with Peter, James, and John to the mountaintop and witness a majestic sight. We see a glimpse of the glory that is Jesus’ as the Son of God. We see two Old Testament heroes of faith, Moses and Elijah. The Father lends his voice, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” (Luke 9:35) On the Mount of Transfiguration, we are in the presence of the glory of God. This morning, as we study this section of the Scriptures, we also SEE THE GLORY OF GOD as it is 1. Reflected In the Law. We, also see the glory of God as it is 2. Experienced In The Gospel.
Our text begins with Moses coming down Mount Sinai with “with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands.” (Verse 29) On these two tablets of stone were written the Ten Commandments, which God had given to Moses for the people of Israel. However, something else had happened to Moses that he wasn’t even aware of. “He was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD.” (Verse 29) Because Moses was in the presence of the Lord, his face was glowing. This wasn’t just a case of someone being excited to have something happen to them, as we might say that a person’s face is radiant. Moses was reflecting the glory of God.
What was the reaction of the people? “When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.” (Verse 30) They terrified to be in Moses’ presence. They wouldn’t come near him. Why were they so afraid? Was it just because it was such an abnormal event to have someone’s face glowing? There was more to it than that. They were afraid to come near to Moses because it reminded them all the more of their sins. When the people of Israel had come to Mount Sinai, Moses had spoken with the Lord and then came and told the people what the commands of the Lord were for them. In response, the people all said, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” (Exodus 24:3)
Moses then went up the mountain again and stayed there for forty days, as the Lord gave him further directions, especially about their worship life. In the meantime, the people of Israel had become impatient. They came to Moses’ brother, Aaron, and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” (Exodus 32:1) Aaron listened to their request and made a golden calf that the people worshiped. They even went so far as to say, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” (Exodus 34:4) After God told Moses what was happening in his absence, Moses returned to the people and confronted them with their sin. 3,000 Israelites died at the hands of the Levites at the order of Moses. In addition, the Lord sent a plague on the people. Later, God told Moses to lead the people away from that place, but he would not go with them. Moses interceded for the people and the Lord said that he would be with them.
However, as Moses stood there, with his face reflecting the glory of the Lord, the people were still terrified. They realized that they had sinned against the Lord in such a horrible way. This is the effect that the law had on them. They were reminded of their sins. They knew that they had offended the holy God. They knew that they deserved punishment from him.
This is the effect that the law has on people. When we hear the law, it strikes terror in our hearts, as well, because we realize that we have dared to sin against God. We have acted in a similar way to the Israelites. Have we ever been impatient with God, the way that the Israelites were at Mount Sinai? We think to ourselves that we have come to God again and again with an issue in our lives. We prayed and prayed and nothing seems to happen. When that happens, we might think that God really doesn’t care about us and what’s happening in our lives. ‘Yes, I know that he said he would always be there for me, but why don’t I see it?’ As a result, we are tempted to try other things to try and lead us out of our situation. Those things, such as wealth or our own strength or other people, become our gods, because we place our trust in them. Then, we compare our lives to the rest of God’s law. The end result is that the law shows us very clearly that we have sinned against God. No matter how good we think are or what we think we can do, the law can do nothing but terrify us. The law, even though it comes from God, cannot save us. This is because we can never live up to its demands. The glory of the law strikes terror in our hearts, because we have sinned against God and rightly deserve his punishment, both for this life and for all eternity.
The apostle Paul wrote about this account in 2 Corinthians 3. There, he makes the following observation, “Moses . . . who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away.” (2 Corinthians 3:13) Paul shows us that the law was passing away. This is not to say that the law is of no use. However, since it cannot save, another glory of the Lord has been revealed. Again, Paul writes, “If the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?” (2 Corinthians 3:7&8) The “ministry of the Spirit” is the gospel message. This is the one thing that can save us. It highlights the love of God for us.
We see this in verse 31 of our text, “Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them.” God could well have left the people cowering in the dust. Moses could have thought, ‘That’s right. You should be afraid!’ However, Moses invited them to come and hear the words of the Lord. He reassured them that God has not abandoned them. He was remaining true to his covenant that he had made with them. He would continue to lead them to the land that he promised he would give them. He would continue to be their God. Would they continue to sin against him? Absolutely. If you read the rest of their journey, you see that they sinned against God time and again. Yet, God never gave up on them. He remained faithful to his covenant of love with the people.
This is the beautiful gospel message that God continues to tell us, as well. Yes, we know that we have sinned. We have ever reason to cower in the corner. Yet, God continues to call out to us with his gospel invitation. He reminds us that he sent his Son into the world to be our Savior. Jesus did everything necessary for our salvation. Jesus lived a perfect life for us. He never doubted his Father’s love and concern for him. Even when things were going horribly for his, Jesus continued to place his trust in his Father. Then, to pay for all of our sins, including our impatience and misplaced trust, Jesus went to the cross. He suffered the punishment that we deserved. He died so that you and I would be set free. Jesus’ resurrection assures us that all of our sins have been paid for.
There is no sweeter sound to the ear than that our sins have been forgiven. When we feel overwhelmed because of our sins, the voice of the gospel comes to us and tells us that our sins have been forgiven. When we are terrified that we have dared to offend our God, the gospel tells us that God has not forsaken us. He continues to love us. He will lead us to that promised land, just as he said that he would. We see the glory of the gospel that never fades away, because we have been rescued by our Savior Jesus Christ. The glory of the gospel lights up our darkest nights and leads us home to eternal glory with our Lord.
By the way, it is interesting to note that Moses wasn’t even aware that his face was glowing after he had come into the presence of the Lord. However, his contact with the Lord made a visible impression for others to see. The same is true for believers. We come into contact with our Lord through his Means of Grace, which is the gospel in his Word and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It cannot help but transform our lives, as well. As we are reminded again and again of God’s love for us, we want to do those things that are pleasing to him. We become lights that shine and direct the lives of others to their Father in heaven. We don’t need to wear a piece of Christian jewelry or clothing to show others that we are living a life of victory. Our outward behavior declares that we have seen the Lord.
It is interesting to see the similarities in our sermon text and Gospel lesson for this morning. In both cases, we see the terror of the law. The Israelites were afraid to come into Moses’ presence, because he shone with the reflected glory of God. The disciples were terrified, when the cloud covered the mountain and the voice of the Father rang out. However, in both cases, there was an invitation to not be afraid. Moses called the people to come to him. While the disciples were cowering on the ground, Jesus came to them and touched them. He told them that they didn’t need to be afraid. The message of the law and gospel still have that effect today. The law terrifies us, because we know that we are standing in the glory of the holy God. The gospel comforts us, because we know that, because of the work that Jesus has done for us, we will love in his glory forever. We praise our loving God as we behold him in all of his glory. Amen.
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