Today is Transfiguration Sunday. Today we are given a glimpse of future glory. Today we behold Jesus arrayed in heavenly glory. Today we hear the voice of the Father declare that Jesus is His Son, His Chosen One.
The Transfiguration of Jesus is a gift that those three disciples and us are given to behold today. It is a gift that we need to keep ever before us. That’s because in three days we will begin the season of Lent. For forty days we will be journeying throughout this season that will take us into the streets of Jerusalem. It is a journey that will take us to the cross. It is a journey marked with suffering.
The disciples were made freshly aware of this as they had just heard from the lips of Jesus that, The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised (Luke 9:22). What’s more they had heard Him say, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it (Luke 9:23-24).
These sayings of Jesus were no doubt swirling throughout these disciples’ minds as they ascended that mountain with Jesus. Sayings that in no way could be disregarded. For now they had to try and process what it truly meant to follow Jesus. It would be a road that would be marked with suffering and death.
Suffering is a guarantee in this life. Scripture says, In this world you will have trouble… I know I don’t need to tell you that life includes suffering and trouble. You live this life like I do. You see the news reports. You experience the chaos and the madness. You endure the diagnoses, the divorces, the damaged relationships, the dismay, the despair, and even death. You’ve gone through it all just like I have. We have each had our share.
Suffering is not something we enjoy in the least. We will do most anything to avoid suffering. We don’t like to think about it because it drags us down. We don’t like to talk about it that much because we don’t want to burden someone else with our problems. We mere sinful creatures even have the audacity to question God’s will and ways when we do suffer. Yet, as Jesus’ face was altered and His clothing was dazzling white, this reality of suffering is what He discussed with Moses and Elijah on the top of that mountain. The text says they spoke of His departure, literally they discussed His exodus.
How fitting is it to have Jesus discussing His exodus from this earth with Elijah whose exodus from earth had been on a flaming chariot, and even more profoundly, with the same guy (Moses) who led the Israelites in the Exodus from Egypt.
But where the Exodus from Egypt was marked with celebration and the plundering of the Egyptians, the only celebration of this exodus for Jesus would be the unruly crowd calling for His crucifixion…and the plundering would be of all of his clothing and dignity as they would strip Him and beat Him leaving Him to die in humiliation and embarrassment. This is what Jesus was to look forward to at His exodus. And this is what Jesus discussed with Elijah and Moses that day on the mountain. (Pause)
Now Peter probably missed out on most of the conversation because he and James and John were so heavy with sleep. But no doubt as he woke up, his mind was still on the sayings Jesus had spoken days before, sayings that included words like ‘suffering’ and ‘death’. So, it only made sense that when Peter became fully awake, that he suggested to Jesus what he did.
Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said (Luke 9:32-33).
We can hardly blame Peter for wanting to stay on the mountain? To look and see the Son of God’s glory. To see Moses and Elijah. Why would anyone want to leave that? It would be glorious.
But Peter here revealed that he completely missed the point about what was happening here and who Jesus is. Even though he had been journeying with Jesus for about three years now, he still didn’t understand. He hadn’t been paying attention. He hadn’t been listening.
How perfectly appropriate is it then that at that very moment then, the Father in heaven interrupted Peter as a cloud came and overshadowed them, and the Father said, This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”
Peter hadn’t been listening. Here he made this offer to put up three tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, but he was forgetting what Jesus had said before this all happened: The Son of Man ‘must’ suffer many things and be rejected and killed and on the third day be raised. The Son of Man must suffer. He must. It had to happen. So Jesus made clear He was not planning to stay on that mountain. He still had a mission to attend to and He wasn’t done yet.
But such is the case for Peter and all of us when it comes to our misunderstanding of who Jesus is and why He came. Such is the case when we don’t listen to all of what Jesus tells us. Yes, Peter wanted to stay up on that mountain. Who wouldn’t? But Jesus didn’t come to do what we suggest and fulfill our wish list. He came to be our Savior. That meant that He had to suffer and die.
Unfortunately, so many have bought into the notion that Jesus did just come here to fulfill a wish list. That’s called the prosperity Gospel. It’s where Jesus gets reduced to being all about the fulfiller of our happiness in the here and now, where Jesus is all about making sure we are healthy, wealthy, and happy. There is no sight set on the future glory in Christ through His death and resurrection. All that matters is that we are happy now. For Peter, he was happy now, and he wanted to stay on that mountain where there was no suffering. Again, who can blame him? How often do we buy into the same thing?
We may be inclined to think that ‘it is good to be here’ on earth like Peter said up there on the mountain, but everything here on this earth is temporary. Be it money in the bank, or stuff in the garage…it is all temporary. It doesn’t last. What’s more is that none of it will save us from our sins. None of it will save us from death and eternal condemnation.
That’s why, just like those disciples, we need to listen to Jesus. If we think that life is to always be filled with happiness and what we want and void of all suffering, then we haven’t been listening to Jesus. We need to open our ears and listen to Him and hear that the reason He came to this earth was because in order to save us He ‘must’ suffer, be rejected, and die. That was the only way for our sins to be atoned for. It was the only way the wrath of God could be satisfied. The Son of God had to die. Which meant that He couldn’t stay up there on that mountain no matter how much Peter wanted Him to do so.
Sure, it would have been much easier for Jesus to just stay up there. There He was arrayed in glory, surrounded by saints in their glory, and enveloped in a cloud that contained the voice of His Father. Of course it would have been the simple way to go. But Jesus didn’t come to do simple. He came to do the suffering…and the dying.
And that meant that Jesus had to ascend a different mountain. Only this time He did it while carrying His own cross. The cross that should have been ours, He carried up to Calvary. And there upon His shoulders, He bore the weight of our sins in order to defeat death once and for all. There He manifested His glory for all the world to see.
This is the journey we will soon begin this week as we journey throughout the season of Lent. It is a journey marked with suffering and death. But if we listened to what Jesus said before our text, He told His disciples and us that after suffering and dying, on the third day He would be raised.
It is in the hope of the resurrection that we journey throughout Lent and throughout all of life. Yes, there will be suffering in this world. Yes, in this world we will have trouble, but take heart, Jesus has overcome the world. He has overcome sin, and He has overcome death itself. Death will not get the final say.
There is a resurrection yet to come. As we deny ourselves and daily take up our cross and follow Jesus, let us keep our eyes fixed on Him and the guaranteed glory that awaits us. Glory that doesn’t include pain, tears, suffering, or death.
Because Jesus is not still on the mountain. He is not suffering or dead on the cross. He is alive and well, right where He belongs in all of His glory at the right hand of the Father. And from His very throne He will share His glory with us. He does so in His body and blood given and shed here today. And He will do so in the feast to come for all eternity. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.