Theme: The Significance of the Sacred
- God’s Reveals Himself
- A Departure not an Arrival
- Sinners are Sanctified
Dear friends in Christ,
Is anything sacred?
Philosophers, theologians, historians, and many others have asked that question throughout history. The idea of something sacred holds much mystery and fascination for people. For religious people, the sacred is connected to the spiritual. Others doubt or question the sacred in this sense because the spiritual eludes our observation and understanding. But, no matter how we define the sacred, we all have it in some way. The simplest way to understand the sacred is what is in most important to each of us. What do you honor or value more than anything else? The answer to that question reveals what is sacred to you.
Another reason people question this is that there are so many cheap things that are sacred. Money, possessions, power, control, and experiences are often what people hold dearest to their hearts – yet they are hollow of true holiness. The Bible doesn’t pose the question, “Is anything sacred?” Rather, it cuts to the point by declaring again and again that God is sacred. The Bible’s idea of sacredness in the person of God does not disappoint or leave us wanting more. It fulfills our lives. Today’s text from God’s Word is a glimpse into the sacred, as defined, described, and given by God Himself. We read from Exodus 3:1-6:
Meanwhile, Moses was shepherding the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 Then the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire within a bush. As Moses looked, he saw that the bush was on fire but was not consumed. 3 So Moses thought: I must go over and look at this remarkable sight. Why isn't the bush burning up? 4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called out to him from the bush, "Moses, Moses!" "Here I am," he answered. 5 "Do not come closer," He said. "Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." 6 Then He continued, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God. (HCSB)
The Transfiguration of Christ is an event about the sacred. What greater example is there in the Bible of Jesus displaying His glory and holiness? It was present both in His divine conversation with Moses and Elijah and also in His physical appearance. Here in Exodus, we see a similar display through the burning bush. And on top of this all, God Himself tells Moses, "Do not come closer," "Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." Here we see the sacred. But what makes it so?
First, we see that God reveals Himself. Even in religious contexts, the sacred is so often relegated to worldly things. We see this in the great religions of the world, with certain branches of Christianity notwithstanding. In the most popular religions of the world, the sacred centers on worldly things that are perceived to be special in some way. Things like: relics, shrines, pilgrimages, buildings, monuments, and even people (called saints) who are considered to be holy. Yet, no matter the pomp or circumstance these are still earthly things.
Even secularists, who claim no official religious creed have their own versions of the mundane sacred. For many it is natural world. Beautiful and spectacular as it may be, yes, even the world itself is still worldly.
The Bible says the truly sacred is about God revealing Himself, and it should be respected as such. It’s not that Moses’ removal of his sandals somehow made him holy enough to approach God. Instead, God was teaching Moses to be respectful of His presence. How does that play out in our lives? Well, God doesn’t show Himself in a burning bush. Jesus isn’t walking the earth anymore. To answer this in our lives, we ask again, the overarching question – How does God reveal Himself to us?
The answer is clear and we have learned in from our youth – God reveals Himself in His Word. God tells us 2 Timothy 3:15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. (2Ti 3:15 NKJ) A subset of that revelation through the Bible is the Sacraments – Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. God gives special characterizations to these blessings which indicate that they reveal His presence to us. Therefore, we appropriately called them Sacraments, meaning “sacred acts.”
The second aspect we see about the sacred is another Transfiguration theme. In the Scripture accounts for today we certainly see displays of God’s glory. But maybe you didn’t realize that we also see a theme of departure.
Our text here is pretty obvious. It comes from the book of Exodus, meaning departure. God is calling Moses here for the purpose of freeing His people from Egypt. The meaning of Moses’ call would be realized when Israel, as a nation, departed Egypt and returned to the Promised Land. Two weeks ago we read the account from Exodus where they crossed the Red Sea, what was perhaps the most dramatic event along the way home.
Inside this text we also see a personal exodus for Moses. Up unto this point he has tried to manipulate God’s plan in His life. He murdered and hid. He denied and doubted. But here the LORD was not going to have any more excuses. It was time for Moses to step out of his shell of self-reliance and trust God.
The other themes of departure in the Gospel and Epistle accounts are not as easy to see, but they are certainly there. In Luke 9:31 we’re told what Jesus, Moses, and Elijah talked about; who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. You may have guessed that the Greek word for “departure” in these verses is literally “exodus.” Yes, Jesus was on the brink of His own departure when He was transfigured on the mountain. This exodus was His death on the cross. Ultimately, the exodus from Egypt was a picture of this exodus from Jesus. Time and time again throughout the Old Testament the prophets of God would remind the people how God delivered them from Egypt; not just as a history lesson, but as reason to hope that God would also fulfill His Messianic promise. When Jesus went to the cross, He delivered all people from sin, death, guilt, and shame. He departed this life so that we could all share in eternal life.
And, yes, we also see the theme of departure in Peter’s retelling of the Transfiguration. 2 Peter 1:14-15 says, knowing that I will soon lay aside my tent, as our Lord Jesus Christ has also shown me. 15 And I will also make every effort that you may be able to recall these things at any time after my departure. Again, the Greek word for exodus. We see our lives in Peter’s. As sinners, we know that we all face death, if the world lasts long enough. We will go through that same departure that Christ endured. Yet, for the believer, as Peter confesses, this does not leave us in despair. Because Christ died on our behalf, we have hope that death cannot conquer us. We are content by faith, to “lay aside the tent” of our bodies, just as Peter did – because of our confidence in Jesus.
You see, the sacred is more about a departure than an arrival. The sacred things of the world, the shrines, the relics, the holy places – they all have significance through those who arrive. Worship at the shrine. See the relic. Take a pilgrimage to the holy place. But, with God things are different. Holiness is not bound up in our ability to arrive. Instead, it’s about departure. First Christ’s, which paid for sin and gave me a place in heaven. And then my departure, when I leave this sad world to be in My Father’s house forever.
So, we too, like Moses come before the Lord’s holiness with respect. We seek to remove the sandals of pride, self-righteousness, pre-conceived notions, and personal opinions. As 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.
But we also recognize the last point of our sermon – that holy ground sanctifies sinners. That which is truly sacred, namely revealed by God and focused on the departure through Christ our Savior, is able to redeem and restore fallen sinners like us. We respect and obey God, but we do not worry about whether or not we can come to Him. In Jesus we are given access because Jesus is the justifier of the ungodly.
And with that cleansing, we are given new purpose in our lives. Take Moses as the example. Through this moment with God Moses became a new person. He wasn’t completely perfect to be sure, but he was changed. He was able to follow God’s will. He clung tightly to God’s revelation in power and in word. He led God’s people. He made intercession for sins in God’s name. Moses was changed. The Holy ground sanctified him through God’s presence, power, and mercy.
The same thing could be said of Peter, James, and John on the mountaintop. They were sinful and foolish. James and John argued about being greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Peter didn’t know what to say on the mountain. He would obviously later deny His Lord and Savior in the most critical moment. But Jesus’ message to them was not one of failure but one of purpose. They were forgiven and cleansed of their sin and their lives were changed to serve and glorify God. That’s holiness in action. It has the ability to change a sinner’s life.
And so, we come to ourselves. Is anything sacred? If you look at my life, if I look at yours, we probably can’t find much. We’re spiritually disgusting and dirty. We don’t deserve to approach God’s glory and we know it, even if we try to act differently sometimes. But like all the others, even we are forgiven and cleansed in Christ. He shows us the glory of God in the Word and Sacraments – things that seem ordinary and common on the outside but hold divine power and eternal blessings. He has atoned for our transgressions by offering up His life – the departure of His soul and body as well as the departure of His Father’s blessing because of our sins. Jesus was forsaken and despised on our behalf. But as surprising, joyful, and glorious as His resurrection from the grave was, so also our sanctification is surprising, joyful, and glorious. Holy ground is still here – wherever the unconditional grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is proclaimed. And on that ground all sinners find a haven from sin’s storms. Amen.