Famous speeches often become famous because they borrow the language of the Bible or echo the words of prophets, apostles or Christ Himself. Abraham Lincoln borrowed the words of Christ when giving his famous “House Divided” speech in the days before the Civil War. Julia Ward Howe borrowed Scriptural imagery when she began “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” with the words: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord…” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in turn adapted that language to the speech he gave shortly before he was assassinated: “I have been the mountaintop…Mine eyes have seen the glory…we as a people will get to the promised land…” etc.
On this Transfiguration Sunday, we are reminded that two prophets of old appeared with Christ Jesus when He was transfigured in radiant glory on the mountaintop – Moses and Elijah.
Clearly Moses and Elijah both had their moments on the mountain during which God strengthened them for the hard march that lay ahead. Disheartened and disappointed at Israel’s defection to a golden calf, Moses pleaded with God on Mt. Sinai: “Now show me your glory.” Hiding Moses in the cleft of the rock, God honored that request, passing by in brilliant splendor, yet covering Moses with His hand, as He put it, “for no one may see Me and live.” Strengthened by that moment, Moses went down the mountain to deal with the disobedient sons of Israel.
Elijah the prophet saw fire fall from heaven to the summit of another mountain – Mt. Carmel – in a showdown with the prophets of Baal. But dejected by Israel’s failure to truly repent, and hounded by Queen Jezebel’s hit men, he fled into the wilderness – to the same mountain where Moses met God – and there in “the” cave, as the Bible puts it, the same well-known cleft of the rock where God appeared to Moses, the still, small voice of God lifts his spirits again and sends him back to his hard ministry with one foot in heaven.
Now they join Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. The Gospel of Luke tells us that they speak with Jesus about His “departure” (Literally: “exodus”) from this world – His death, resurrection and ascension – by which also He has paved the way for you and me to leave the hard labor and bitter bondage of our captivity to sin, to escape the wilderness of this world to our heavenly promised land. In the gospel, with the eyes of faith, we have seen Christ. We have been to the mountaintop! We have seen the glory! We will get to the promised land!