And it came about when Moses was coming down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the testimony were in Moses' hand as he was coming down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because of his speaking with Him. So when Aaron and all the sons of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. Then Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers in the congregation returned to him; and Moses spoke to them. And afterward all the sons of Israel came near, and he commanded them to do everything that the LORD had spoken to him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with Him, he would take off the veil until he came out; and whenever he came out and spoke to the sons of Israel what he had been commanded, the sons of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face shone. So Moses would replace the veil over his face until he went in to speak with Him.
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
When I was a child, I read this story about the Minister’s Black Veil. It was written by Nathaniel Hawthorn, and many of the details are long gone from my memory. But the idea was fascinating – the preacher wore this veil constantly, and no one saw his face for years. The climax of the story was when he passed away, and no one dared to move the veil from his face even as he lay in the casket. They all just wondered if he was disfigured, or hiding some secret shame, or what.
I am sure that the idea came from Moses. He went up into the Mountain of the Lord to receive the Law from God, and He stood in the presence of the glory of the Lord so long that his face began to shine with a reflected radiance, like one of those green phosphorescent crosses that were so common when I was a child. The shining of his face so unnerved his people, even his brother Aaron, that he began to wear a veil to cover his face and hide the troubling sight from his countrymen. It was something of an object lesson in advance pointing forward to the Transfiguration of Jesus. Our theme this morning is veiled glory.
This is such a good Transfiguration kind of Old Testament Lesson. Here we see the glory of God shining from the face of the man Moses. It is “borrowed glory” as the hymn says, but it is the glory of God. In the Transfiguration of Jesus, we see the glory of God shining forth from God through the veil of the humanity of Jesus. Unlike Moses, Jesus did not put on His veil and take it off from time to time. The mystery of Jesus Christ is that He put on the veil of Human nature and human flesh and blood at His conception, and has never taken it off. At the time of the Transfiguration, Jesus allowed the glory that was His own to shine through the veil. But He has never taken it off. Today, the glory of God permeates and shines through the humanity of Jesus full-time. That time of humility and meekness has passed. He is true God, and has always been. Now, all the glory and power and might and every attribute of His divine nature is at work full time even in and through His human nature!
What does that mean for us? It means that wherever you find God, or imagine Him to be, the man Jesus must be there. You cannot have God without Jesus. That is what Jesus meant when He said, in John 5, “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, in order that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.”
That is also the problem with Judaism, Islam, and all of those other religions. They do not accept Jesus as God, and so, when they use the word, “God,” they mean something fundamentally and radically different than we do – no matter what anyone says. When they pray, they pray either to a creature of their own vain imaginings, or they pray to a demon – but where God truly is, there you will always find - and always certainly have - and surely always pray to Jesus. I am not saying that you cannot pray to the Father – I am saying that you cannot pray to the Father if Jesus is not true God in your faith, and if you imagine that you can pray to the Father without Jesus also listening in.
That is what was wrong with the prayer services like that one at Yankee Stadium all those years ago which mix Christians and those who are not in some sort of supposed prayer service. We cannot pray with those who deny the deity of Christ without in some measure witnessing to them that their prayers are valid, that is that they are also heard by God, just like ours, and that their God is really God, the same God as ours, and that their religion is just as effective as ours in reaching God and gaining His tender mercies. That may not be the thought in the mind of any individual when they pray with those of other religions, but it is what the action says – and actions very often speak louder – and more honestly – than words.
And before I move on, let me answer one other canard that has been tossed about to silence people who faithfully confess what I have just said. It is said that faithful, confessional Lutherans – you know, those who object to worshiping and praying with non-Christians, are forbidding prayer in the presence of others, even our relatives in other Christian church bodies. We are not. You can pray anytime and anywhere. There is a difference between praying in someone’s presence, and praying with them. There is a difference between praying to the true God in the presence of and for the welfare of others, and praying with them as they pray to whatever it is that they worship, and so, not confessing to them clearly that your God is not the same as their God. To do that is just fundamentally deceptive and dishonest, unless it is true – in which case your confession marks you as not really a Christian at all.
The light shining from the face of Moses said something. It spooked Aaron and the company of Israel because it was that visible, undeniable proclamation that they were dealing with the true God! This glow was the evidence that Moses was staring into the face of the Glory of God! One lost the ability to pretend that God was distant, off, out there somewhere, or that other deities were “just like Yahweh,” or that they were surely as legitimate and valid as He. Yahweh did the plagues. He made the Red Sea part and stand like the walls of a hallway for Israel. He made Manna appear to feed them every morning – except, of course, the Sabbath. He was the Cause of the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of cloud by day. And now His glory was luminescing from the face of His prophet, Moses. There was no confusion possible here. Unbelief could possibly be done – and it was from time to time – but there was no room for confusion. This is the true God!
St. Paul also uses the veil of Moses to describe the stubborn unbelief of Israel, and the natural condition of all other unbelievers, who read the Word of God and do not find Jesus, the Son of God and Savior of mankind therein. In Second Corinthians, Paul says that when they read the Old Covenant, their heart is veiled – they cannot see the glory of God in Christ. But when they are brought to faith, Christ lifts the veil and they can see the glory of God.
And what is the glory of God? The answer to that question is the same as the answer to “And what is the will of God for us?” This is the glory that Paul wrote about in Second Corinthians 4:6 – For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
The glory of God is that He sent His Son to become one of us, to live for us and then die in our place -- on a cross, no less -- so that our sins might be forgiven, and we might be made heirs of everlasting life.
And don’t let the word “might” fool you. It only expresses purpose – not uncertainty. Jesus accomplished all that He came to do. Your sins have been atoned for. You have been redeemed. Your sins are forgiven, and God pours out everlasting life upon all that the one that believes might receive and possess and enjoy that life beyond sin and sickness, sorrow and death. He that believes and is baptized, shall be saved!
The glory which shone from the face of Moses, like the glory of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, also speaks to us about the promise of God for us. That glory of Moses is just a pale foretaste of what God has planned for us. God has promised to transform us into the image of His glory. We have that glory now, but like Moses, we have it hidden behind a veil. God would have us to walk by faith, not by sight. It would be an interesting world if Christians glowed, while unbelievers did not – but surely the world would find some sort of scientific explanation, and threaten that this “glowing” will damage our health or cause our life-span to be abbreviated, and people would run in fear from us, fearing contagion. And, of course, Hypocrites would find it harder to hide in the church.
No, the glory of God in the Children of God is hidden. The only way God will let us show it right now is by lives of faithfulness and holiness – loving one another, and serving our neighbor for the sake of Christ – you know, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” And our visible glory – when we are finally transformed into the image of His glory – will come on that great day of resurrection and home-going. On that day, our Lord Jesus “will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” Or, as John writes, in his first Epistle, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is.”
So, like Moses, let us remove the veil whenever we come before the Lord, when we enter into His presence in the Word, and in the fellowship of the body of Christ, and in the blessed Sacrament. Let us behold His glory in Jesus Christ – a glory that is veiled to unbelievers, pagans, and hypocrites. And when we leave this place, let us reflect that glory by lives transformed by the Word, shining with the glory of God’s love and grace toward us.
And remember Moses, and Jesus. The path for Moses was not smooth and easy – he faced the unbelief and hostility of many. He finally died being given just the view of the promised land, but not allowed to enter it. Jesus walked down the Mount of Transfiguration and walked the road to Jerusalem to suffer and to die. Just because we carry the glory of God within ourselves does not mean we will enjoy peace and prosperity and comfort in this world. It means, in fact, just the opposite. We will know the attacks of Satan, the hostility of the world, and all those things which we can lump together under the phrase, “the cross appointed to us.” We will bear the cross, if we are truly Christ’s people, “for the Father disciplines those whom He loves,” and the world hates us as it does Christ, for we are His people and His body in this dark and sinful age. The cross is our witness to the world, and our personal challenge to live out the faith that we confess.
And we want to keep in mind that any glory we possess as God’s children is veiled. Everyone would want some if it made us rich and happy and kept trouble at bay – but they would want the wrong things and desire God’s presence for the wrong reason. We se that misplaced focus in those giant auditoriums with men like Joel Osteen where people gather and hear that God wants all of His children to be wealthy and happy and triumphant in the ways that our flesh would appreciate. But God wants faith, not greed, lust, and the selfishness of the flesh to be our connection. He has appointed faith as the hand that receives His blessing. So walk by faith – not measuring your relationship with our Lord by what we see or how it feels, or what others – any others – think of us. Our measure is the Word of God. Our goal is to walk humbly with our God. And our true glory in this life – like that of Jesus, or even the glory which shined from the face of Moses – is veiled glory.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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