March 2 & 3, 2019 – Transfiguration
About eight days after he said these words, Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. While he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothing became dazzling white. Just then, two men, Moses and Elijah, were talking with him! They appeared in glory and were talking about his departure, which he was going to bring to fulfillment in Jerusalem. Peter and those with him were weighed down with sleep, but when they were completely awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let’s make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not realize what he was saying. While he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them. They were afraid as they went into the cloud. Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” After the voice had spoken, they found Jesus alone. They kept this secret and told no one in those days any of the things they had seen.
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Imagine yourself in your own home, in your own bed, going to sleep. You are attempting to say some prayers as you lie there. Your mind is pretty consumed with the many activities of the coming day, and you are wishing that tomorrow will be better than today. You pray that your kids would just start behaving better. You pray that your work day will go more smoothly with less grief from others. You pray that your spouse will start remembering all the things that he or she manages to forget all too often. You pray that God would just please make things easier for you, that life could be simpler, that more things could go your way. And with this last thought running through your mind, sleep finally overtakes you.
At some point during the night you begin to dream. It is a vivid dream, one that you are sure to remember. Without knowing how or why you realize that you are the Apostle Peter. You feel much the same as before, groggy, tired, half asleep. Your eyes are closed in prayer, but your thoughts are jumbled and confused. You are quickly woken by a bright light piercing through your eyelids. You struggle to shield yourself from the brilliance before you, trying to get a glimpse of what is going on. Soon your eyes begin to adjust and you see a spectacular sight. Jesus shining like lightening. Moses and Elijah are talking with him. (How you know it’s them you’re not really sure, but you have no doubt that it’s them.) You cannot believe what your eyes are seeing. It’s so beautiful, so wonderful. Your heart and soul are overwhelmed.
You are so filled with joy over what you are witnessing that you can’t help but speak. “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let’s make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” You just don’t want this moment to end, ever. And then a cloud begins to envelop the mountain top. You don’t know what is happening, and it’s starting to scare you. A voice booms from heaven, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” And before you even have a chance to consider who is speaking or what it means, it’s over. Jesus once again looks normal and is alone. And with that, you wake up. The dream is over.
You start to wonder about that dream. You know what it’s from. You’ve read the story in Luke many times before. But there’s something there that rubbed you the wrong way. But there’s no time to think about that now, you’ve got to get going on your day. But as you go about your daily schedule, you find yourself thinking again and again about what you saw. Finally, that evening, when you have some time to yourself, you decide to go back and read once more about what happened. You want to know why it didn’t seem right for you/Peter to do and say what you did. And you want to know why this event ever happened in the first place.
As you read you begin to empathize with Peter. Who wouldn’t have reacted this way? What else could you do when faced with such brilliance and glory? So you go back a ways, and read the section just before this. It’s where Peter gives a great confession of faith, saying that Jesus was the Christ of God. Jesus then tells the disciples how he is going to suffer and be rejected and then be killed. Suddenly it hits you like a ton of bricks. Jesus let them see this glimpse of glory because of what was coming next. They needed this sure sign of his divinity as they would soon see him look like the lowest of criminals. They needed it so they would not lose faith as Jesus did what he came to do.
And so you realize what was wrong with Peter’s reaction. He saw the physical glory of God, and he tried to keep it for himself. Not realizing it, he was trying to keep Jesus from his most important work of going to the cross of salvation. There is where his true glory was. But in that moment, Peter did not remember and did not care. He only wanted to bask in what he could see, forgetting what Jesus had told him must happen. So you close your Bible with a sense of satisfaction. You now understand the transfiguration better. And knowing that Peter later figured things out, you feel like the mystery is over.
So you once again head off to bed. The pattern follows from the previous night, saying your prayers as you drift off to sleep. Once again, the same dream pops into your head. You, again, are Peter. You see the same sights. You feel the same awe and wonderment. You say and do the same things. And once again, you wake up puzzled. You ask the question that you forgot to answer yesterday, “Why was I Peter in this dream?”
This time you are not going to wait around till the end of the day for an answer. You whip open your Bible immediately and read through things once more. Silently you offer a quick prayer, “Lord, please help me understand.” You focus your attention on Peter thinking, “How am I being like him?” This time the answer doesn’t pop out at you so quickly. You notice again how Peter focused on the outward glory. You take note of Jesus’ talk of denying self and taking up your cross and following him. But it just doesn’t come together. You’ll have to come back to this later, because it’s time for your day to begin.
So you go about your daily routine, but the dream is never far from your mind. Thoughts of denying self come up as you care for your kids. The notion of cross-bearing rises up as you deal with people at work. Consideration of what it means to follow Jesus happens as you interact with your spouse. You feel like you’re heading toward something, but what is it? Yet again you read through the familiar verses. You ask yourself once more, “How am I being like Peter?” You stop on the words of God the Father from heaven, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” The picture starts to become clearer.
Peter was not taking the time to listen to Jesus. He could only think about telling him what should happen. He saw the great glory of the Son of God and wanted that to never end. Forget the cross, forget the hard stuff. Let’s just have the good stuff. He thought he could tell the Lord what was best and avoid the hardship. It was selfish. It was arrogant. It was wrong.
And so you think back to your prayers of the last few nights. You remember with no small amount of shame how you kept asking God for glory. You expected him to fix your life. But it was never you who needed fixing. In your mind it was everyone else around you. You didn’t want to deny yourself. You didn’t want to bear a cross. You just wanted to tell God how to do right by you. In the busyness and difficulties of life you stopped listening to God’s Son. God has told you that the way will not be easy. God has told you that you will experience hardships. But you wanted him to rescind all that. You forgot yourself. You forgot your need of Jesus. It was selfish. It was arrogant. It was wrong.
You experience the realization that, even without the dazzling sight that Peter saw, you have been just like him. You bow your head in humility and pray, “Lord, I have sinned against you. I have failed to listen. I have sought after glory instead of your cross. I have even tried to tell you what to do. Forgive me.”
You open your eyes to look upon God’s Word. You think about Moses and Elijah and marvel at their glorious splendor. You remember how they failed God in their lives. Moses tried to force God’s hand through murder. Elijah was ready to give up because he couldn’t see God’s work taking place. But there they stood, perfectly glorified, perfectly redeemed through the merits of what Jesus was soon to do. They listened to what the Lord had said. They trusted in his promises. Through the blood of the Lamb of God, they were forgiven. And now they got to see the full glory of God in heaven.
Silently you mouth the words, “Thank you, Lord.” Relief washes over you as you see the Son of God shining so bright. Your faith receives the forgiveness found in this gospel, knowing what Christ has done. You see his brilliance and know that soon it will all change. You think of what he will soon suffer, how he will not give up or step aside until every last sin is paid for. You think of the whip, the thorns, the cross, and you know, “It is finished.” And the hope of the coming glory of paradise builds within your heart. “It will be more than I can imagine,” you think to yourself. “It will be more magnificent than my heart can bear.”
The time for Lent is nearly upon us. Soon our many sins will be laid before us in vast array. Our contribution to the suffering of our Lord will be thrust before our eyes. The cross will be on display, both Christ’s and our own. Don’t run from either during this time. Remember your own, the cross of self-denial that God asks of us, fully aware that this life is not heaven. And remember his, the cross of our redemption, his real and true glory, hidden beneath his sacrifice for all.
Jesus has revealed his glory today. It’s there in the brightness of his transfiguration and in the darkness of his suffering and death. It is everything that we need to have comfort and peace in this life and hope for the next life. Know that glory on that mountain top will one day be yours. Amen.