The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
Today we mark and celebrate the transfiguration of our Lord; that powerful moment atop that mountaintop when our Lord Christ manifested and made known His divine brilliance, glory, and power to three of His apostles. It was a mind-blowing, magnificent event. There’s the heavenly cloud that envelops them. Jesus’ face and clothing become brilliant, dazzling white. Moses and Elijah make an appearance. Even the Father’s almighty voice booms from the cloud, telling these terrified apostles that Jesus truly is His beloved, chosen Son, and they need to listen to Him. It’s all so powerfully miraculous…, but it’s not exactly difficult to understand, right? This is Jesus. This is God’s Son. This is God in the flesh. Listen to Him. Duh!
And yet… “As Moses and Elijah were parting from Jesus, Peter said, ‘Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah’—for he didn’t know what he was saying.” He didn’t know what he was saying. Never mind the fact that Peter is already not listening to what God just told him; he’s talking and not listening. Apparently the whole Transfiguration things wasn’t so clear and easy to understand to Peter. Now, in Peter’s defense, can you blame him? Matthew and Mark are very upfront in stating that the disciples were terrified over the miraculous events transpiring before their very eyes. I know I would be too. Luke tells us matter-of-factly in his Gospel that the men were heavy with sleep. It is interesting to note that the Greek word Luke uses to speak of extreme drowsiness is also used elsewhere in Scripture (e.g. Daniel 8) to refer to the heavy sleep that comes about because of sheer terror and fear; the sleep of fainting or passing out and becoming like a dead man because you’ve just been shocked with fear and terror.
It all makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Peter, James, and John were rightly scared out of their gourds and had basically passed out because of the intense fear over being in the presence and glory of Almighty God. As they were coming to, they realized that being in the presence and glory of God was a good thing that they didn’t want to end so Peter starts running at the lips, but due to grogginess and mental cobwebs, his words don’t make much sense and he’s basically babbling incoherently. “Hey…I have a great idea! Let’s build tents for the three of you! There’s no need to leave. Stick around.”
My friends: I know that this is a nice and neat explanation (it would certainly fit me), but it’s not entirely correct. Look at how the passage begins. This is the key to understanding all that follows. We’re told that about eight days “after these sayings” Jesus took the three men up to the mountain to pray. “Those sayings” that are referred to here were very important in terms of faith and trust. Eight days before this miraculous mountaintop experience Jesus was (once again) preparing these men for the painful and tumultuous events that were still in store for them (i.e., the betrayal, the arrest, the beatings, the flogging, the mocking, the crucifixion). Unfortunately, the disciples let those words go in one ear and out the other. Like teenagers, they heard their Lord talking, but they didn’t listen. Just a few days earlier Jesus had asked the disciples who they say He is. Peter responds with one of the most profound confessions of faith ever recorded: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus immediately teaches the disciples what that means.
Being the Christ—the Messiah—means that Jesus will necessarily have to suffer persecution and even crucifixion. He has to die! Without His death there is no atonement; there is no redemption. Without His sacrifice, the ransom for our lives and our salvation is not paid. He will rise again three days later in victory, but in order to rise from the dead, He must first die. Jesus was very clear in teaching these men that His victory—their victory and our victory—over sin, death, and damnation included a bloody cross. In fact, that was the only way victory could be achieved. Jesus also didn’t sugar-coat the cost of following Him to His cross and beyond. In this same timeframe of teaching, Jesus was very blunt in stating that those who follow Him will bear crosses as well. Discipleship in Christ doesn’t mean easy street. In fact, it means the exact opposite. “The world will hate you because they first hated Me.”
Now, with these sayings in mind, you would think that at least some of it would have stuck in Peter’s mind as, just eight days later, he was listening to Moses and Elijah, the representatives of all the Law and the Prophets, talking to Jesus about His impending exodus. Yes…I said “exodus.” That’s the original Greek word that Luke records for us here in describing the divine conversation between Christ and Moses and Elijah. I want you to think about that for a moment. Moses and Elijah—the very epitome of all of God’s OT Word; His Law and His prophets—were very openly and plainly talking to Jesus about Him willingly going into our proverbial sinful Egypt for the purpose of suffering our deadly bondage and death. And He didn’t just go into suffer death. He also went into this deadly bondage to save us; to put us on His back and carry us out of death and into life. Christ’s holy exodus was a journey into death and bondage, followed by a victorious procession out of the bonds of sin, death, and damnation and into life eternal in our heavenly promised land; an exodus He still leads us on through His Word and His sacraments. This Christological exodus was what the entire OT had been waiting for and pointing to! This is what guys like Moses and Elijah had been talking about and pointing to throughout their entire earthly ministries!
Guys: This is why Luke tells us that Peter didn’t know what he was saying. He wanted that glorious mountaintop experience to never end. He didn’t want to have anything to do with the Good Friday mountaintop experience. He wanted the victory and joy of the empty tomb of Easter Sunday without having to go through the bloody cross of Good Friday. As I said earlier, it doesn’t work this way. This is not God’s way. This is how we would write the script, but this is not the way of the cross.
Now comes the big question: What about us? It’s easy to look down our noses at Peter’s faithless and foolish ramblings (and that’s what they were), but it’s quite another thing to look in the mirror and recognize the same sort of foolishness staring back at us. Truth be told, we all fall prey to this same faithless “theology of glory” from time to time. Nobody wants to suffer. Nobody wants misery in their lives. Are there people who “deserve” some pain and suffering? Sure, we reason, but that’s not us! We’re good, God-fearing Lutherans, right?! Pain and suffering and struggle isn’t how it’s supposed to work out with us! Life is supposed to be great and wonderful and peaceful, free of all pain and suffering and crosses to bear. Says who? Not Christ—not ever! You know what, though? I’m not going to belabor this point. We all have our moments. We all have those times when—yes—we, too, don’t know what we’re saying. I don’t need to beat this to death. It’s true. The wise ones will confess it and repent of it.
Instead, as we now prepare to enter into the solemn, penitential season of Lent—our exodus to Calvary—I simply point you to Almighty God’s own Word, which tells us, just like Peter, to stop talking and listen to what Christ is saying. As I’ve said before, listening doesn’t mean simply waiting quietly for your turn to talk. Listening means not talking so that you can hear and inwardly digest what the other person is saying.
May God, through the working of His Holy Spirit in His almighty and life-giving Word, keep you steadfast in the one, true faith unto life everlasting, even when your world seems to be crumbling all around you and things aren’t working out the way you planned. May He open your ears of saving faith so that you may be able to not only hear, but truly listen to the words of your Lord and Savior, which most certainly assure and comfort you with the sure and certain knowledge that your salvation—your victory—is found right here in the cross of Jesus Christ.
May your heart, mind, and soul be filled with this peace that surpasses all understanding; the peace of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected for you.
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