Transfiguration Sunday – C LSB #’s 414, 918, 537
Text – Deuteronomy 34:10-12
And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for all the signs & the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh & to all his servants & to all his land, & for all the mighty power & all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.
GREAT DEEDS OF TERROR
Vladimir Putin certainly is not Moses, but like Moses did thousands of years ago, Putin is currently unleashing great deeds of terror. If you are on the receiving end of those deeds it can be extremely difficult to consider the motive behind them. Suffering is suffering, & in those moments, it is all but impossible to look past our pain.
As we are seeing in the nation of Ukraine, if evil men are to be stopped, it’s not uncommon that they must be overpowered by force. Asking them nicely only makes them laugh & enjoy all the more the terror they cause. Evil does not stand down because it cannot. That’s why people are anxious about the events in Europe – evil has no power to stop itself.
That’s why no evil will be allowed in heaven. Hell is the ultimate quarantine. There, evil shall be contained for all of eternity, &, unlike our human efforts in 2020, that quarantine will never fail. However, the glorious paradise in eternity has not yet been fulfilled. The Word of God in Deuteronomy was given to us for the life we live here in this vail of tears.
Given the atrocity of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, WWIII is not off the table. Even the current war is likely to have a tremendous effect upon our economy & lifestyle. The world we have become accustomed to since the death of Adolph Hitler has drawn to a close. How are we to deal with the anxiety that comes from human political failure?
Obviously, in all circumstances, the answer is to trust in the Almighty God to care for us. We are certain that He loves us because Jesus died to pay for the sins of the entire world, even those committed by Vladimir Putin. However, that answer is looking at things from 30,000 feet. How does the answer look at the ground level upon which you & I live? For that, I’m going to take you back to the great deeds of terror done by Moses. That’ll help us understand what our Lord was doing through him & how it impacted the Israelites & their enemies at their ground level.
How many of you have heard of the 10 plagues? The early ones weren’t so much deeds of terror as deeds of nuisance. First their source of water turned to blood. Then frogs covered the land, even entering their beds, ovens & cooking utensils. Pharaoh’s magicians were allowed to replicate these feats so Pharaoh was not impressed.
Then came the gnats & next came the flies. They covered man & beast & the Pharaoh’s magicians could not replicate this, so they told Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” “But Pharaoh hardened his heart… & did not let the people go.” (Exodus 8:19 & 32 ESV) God escalated things with #5 & all the livestock of the Egyptians died, but none of the Israelite’s livestock did.
Then came in succession, plagues of boils, hail, locusts & darkness. After these, God tells us that He hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that he would not allow God’s people to leave. Before the plague of locusts:
“…the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart & the heart of his servants, so that I may perform these signs of Mine among them, & that you may tell in the presence of your son, & of your grandson, how I made a mockery of the Egyptians & how I performed My signs among them, so that you may know that I am the Lord.” (Exodus 10:1-2 ESV)
It may seem counter intuitive to us, but God is clearly saying that He worked great deeds of terror through Moses so that people might know that Yahweh is Lord. If you trust in Jesus as the One who saves you from sin then you must know that God’s motives are always good. He wants us to know Him as our Lord & as our Savior. In spite of all our doubts Yahweh always knows what is best for each of us, not just in a perfect world, but even in a world broken by sin. Vladimir Putin also wants people to know that he is lord. So do you & me. That’s what are sinful nature is, the desire to be lord. Mr. Putin just happens to have a lot more power at his disposal than we do. And much of the world is now well aware that his motives are not good.
Finally, after hardening Pharaoh’s heart through the 9th plague, God crushes him with the 10th great deed of terror. Then, Pharaoh allows the people of God to leave.
“And that night at midnight, the Lord struck down all the firstborn sons in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sat on his throne, to the firstborn son of the prisoner in the dungeon. Even the firstborn of their livestock were killed. Pharaoh & all his officials & all the people of Egypt woke up during the night, & loud wailing was heard throughout the land of Egypt. There was not a single house where someone had not died. (Exodus 12:29-30 NLT)
Great deeds of terror are highly unsettling because they all too clearly demonstrate our utter helplessness. That is true in the face of evil, & it is true in the face of good. The sinful nature in each of us wants to be god, yet it is entirely incapable of being so. Every now & then, for our own good, we need to be reminded of that.
I believe that Putin’s deed of terror is being used by God as a ‘wakeup’ call to the people & to the leaders of the free world. I also believe that the bravery & heroism of President Zelenskyy & of the Ukrainian people is also being used by God as a ‘wakeup’ call to Christians around the world.
Every day Satan is waging war on us. That battle is raging all hours of the day & night, & he doesn’t use such obvious weapons as tanks & fighter planes. When you wake up each morning, it would be wise to put on the spiritual armor that our Savior paid for with His own life.
And if you remember, as soon as the people of Israel had crossed the Red Sea, escaping certain capture at the hands of the Egyptian army, they needed a wakeup call: “Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, & they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness & found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’” (Exodus 15:22-24 ESV)
They had just seen the entire Egyptian army destroyed before their very eyes yet three days in they’d already forgotten the almighty power of God. And what did they do? They questioned His motives, & we’re no different. At least the Israelites did not have proof of God’s love in the crucifixion & resurrection of His Son. We do & we still question God’s motives.
Pastors sometimes lose sight of the fact that it is not easy to live by faith instead of by sight. Pastors need wakeup calls too, but when any of us are on the receiving end of great deeds of terror it’s understandable that we have a difficult time considering the motives behind them. The truth is that God is always able to use those deeds of terror to fulfill His plan.
The crucifixion of Jesus is again the ultimate example. In the Roman world there was no more terrifying way to die than crucifixion, & still Jesus resolutely made His way to Jerusalem for that very purpose. His death on the cross is what He & Moses & Elijah were talking about at His transfiguration:
“And behold, two men were talking with Him, Moses & Elijah, who appeared in glory & spoke of [Jesus’] departure, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:30-31 ESV) His departure is His death on the cross, which Jesus accomplished in order to pay for all the sins of all people throughout all of history.
That good news is what makes it possible to confess & repent of our sins, because they will not harm us. Only refusing that forgiveness, which is already accomplished, causes separation between us & God, between us & eternal life. And that refusal, that unbelief is a stubborn disease to root out. Sometimes it takes great deeds of terror to wake us up to the danger that we are in without Christ as our Lord & as our Savior. I appreciate what Martin Luther wrote concerning the book of Deuteronomy:
“Moses beautifully repeats & edits into brief compass the whole history, the good deeds & the wonders of God, at the same time mentioning also the deeds of godless men. He intends to declare the glory & magnificence of God & thus to coax the people to trust the divine goodness & to fear His wrath, so that, taught by experience, they might become ready to receive His [instruction] from the heart.”
Job received that instruction from God after what we could certainly describe as great deeds of terror. All his children were killed, all his sheep & cattle were stolen or destroyed, & his wife told him to curse God & then die. Yet, he remained faithful through it all & famously spoke these words: “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him…” (Job 13:15 ESV)
If we remain faithful to God & hope in Him to the end of our days, we will join Moses & Elijah & Jesus in transfiguration glory forever & ever. Amen.
Guide me, O Thou great Redeemer, pilgrim through this barren land. I am weak, but Thou art mighty; hold me with Thy powerful hand. Bread of heaven, bread of heaven, feed me till I want no more. When I tread the verge of Jordan, bid my anxious fears subside; death of death & hell’s destruction, land me safe on Canaan’s side. Songs of praises, songs of praises I will ever give to Thee. Amen. LSB 918:1, 3.
 American Edition 9:16.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet