Sermon: “Listen to Jesus”
Lectionary Series A; The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Gospel Reading: Matthew 17:1-9
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
What is something that our parents expect of us day in and day out as we live in their household? What is something that teachers tell us to do if we want to know how to do an assignment correctly? What is something coaches demand of us if we want to know how to run a play? What is something our bosses remind us of so that we know what is the next step in the project we are working on? What is something that even God Himself tells us to do? And what is that something that all of them expect of us, but we rarely ever do? Listen.
Listening leads to learning. Listening helps us gain understanding. Listening shows we care. Listening displays respect. And yet…we rarely ever do it.
Often when I lead premarital counseling, I will take couples through reflective listening skills. These are skills that teach the couple to listen so intently to the other person that they can repeat back what the other said. Then, before proceeding in conversation with a response, one must ask first: “Did I understand what you are saying correctly?” If not, they need to let the speaker speak more, because there is more listening that needs to be done. It is a tedious process for most, but incredibly valuable for the sake of a marriage…or really any relationship.
God’s Word tells us in the Third Commandment: Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly ‘hear’ and learn it.
God expects us to hear Him gladly. After all, Scripture tell us that faith comes by hearing. God expects us to listen to Him. So it is today, and so it was on that Mount of Transfiguration. Jesus made His way up a high mountain with Peter, James, and John. And there on that mountain, our text says that Jesus was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And Moses and Elijah were there conversing with Jesus. But then here it comes…
And Peter said, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
Did you catch it? Did you catch what Peter did? Instead of listening in on a conversation between the Son of God and Moses and Elijah, what did he do? He interrupted them. Peter interrupted Jesus and Moses and Elijah. Did you ‘hear’ what I said? Peter interrupted them.
Interruptions put a halt to hearing and listening. No longer are we concerned with what the other is saying. Now we are only concerned with what we want to say. Here Peter has the chance to listen in on what might be one of the greatest conversations ever known to humankind, and he has the audacity to interrupt.
Interruptions in our lives are a constant. We sit down to read our devotions for the day, and the phone dings or buzzes. We come to church and the phone probably does the same thing. We try to have a nice family dinner, but everyone just interrupts each other. We gather for a meeting and how many times does the conversation get derailed by interruptions of some kind or another?
What this has led to is an inability to focus. We are so consumed with ourselves and our own desires that we can’t seem to hone in clearly on what another is saying. I have often wondered why many counselors have time parameters that they do for their sessions with people. They usually make their sessions last about 40-55 minutes. Why is that? It’s probably because listening takes a lot of work and energy. So it’s no wonder we don’t like to do it. We are too concerned with ourselves to truly care that much about someone else.
Now that may sound rather harsh, but consider Peter there on the mountain. Was he concerned about Jesus and what he was saying, let alone Moses and Elijah? No. He just wanted to stay there in that moment as long as he could, and so he wanted to ensure that everything would be in place, tents and all, to make it happen.
What he did not want to do was ever leave the mountain. Jesus had just told them that He would be suffering and dying soon. Why leave the mountain…ever? It would be so much better to just stay. That’s what Peter wanted.
How often do our selfish wants and desires detract from our ability to listen…and this especially comes to who we think Jesus is? At this point Peter seems to think that Jesus is an equal to Moses and Elijah. After all, the accommodations he was offering were equal for all three of them. But nothing could be further from the truth. And there it was before him as bright as light, as Jesus literally shone forth as bright as the sun. But Peter couldn’t see it, because Peter hadn’t been listening.
So, in an interruption to outweigh all other interruptions in the course of history a cloud descends upon the mountain, and out of the cloud, none other than the Heavenly Father interrupts Peter and says: This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.
You will note in the text that Peter never speaks again. He is rendered speechless. Peter, of all people, who seems to have something to say at every turn throughout the pages of Scripture, actually is silent.
Silence is what it takes in order to focus in and listen. It means closing our mouths and stop interrupting, stop speaking, and actually tune in to what God has to say.
This Jesus is not just some other prophet. This Jesus is not just some other Old Testament figure. He is not just one of the guys up there on the mountain. Just like we heard at His baptism, so we hear it here. This Jesus is none other than the beloved Son of God. This is God in the flesh. This is the promised Messiah, the Chosen One, Immanuel, God with us.
And just like it was for Peter, James, and John, so it is with us. Now is the time that we need to be listening to Him. Not later, but now. Because He has some wonderful things to share with us as we navigate the difficulties of this world, just like He did with His disciples before they descended that mountain.
Notice, that Jesus is the next one to speak in the text. Here the disciples had fallen on their faces and they were terrified. And they should be. The Almighty God had just been speaking to a small group of sinners. Why wouldn’t they be terrified? They had no business being in the presence of God.
Nor do we. We come here into the house of the Lord, and we are covered in the filth of our sin. We have failed to listen to God and gladly hear and learn His Word. We don’t pay attention to His commandments. We constantly place things on par with God or worse yet, even above Him. We have failed in our prioritizing of putting God first in our lives, because like Peter, we would rather put ourselves in God’s place. We would rather be the ones interrupting God and thinking that somehow our plans, our ideas, our ways are better than His ways. And for that sinful arrogance, we all should be terrified. Because sinners who stand in the presence of God only get what they deserve, and that’s death.
Peter, James, and John, were scared to death. But then in His ever so loving and compassionate way, Jesus came and touched them and said, Rise and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
The Son of God tells them to have no fear, and in their hearing all fear is removed. And why? Because Jesus is there. Jesus removes all reason for fear and trembling. He did so for them up there on that mountain, and He does so for us well.
You see, as we enter into the season of Lent here this Wednesday, we know that Jesus didn’t stay up there on that mountain. He descended it with His disciples, and on He went to Jerusalem. There He went all the way to the cross, and there He spoke words for us to listen to again and again: “It is finished.” The work is done. Your sins and mine were finished off once and for all on Calvary. There Jesus stood fixed on the cross to die our death and mine and to forgive us for our sins.
Hear it again and again. “It is finished.” Listen…and let it sink in. Are there any sweeter words for us to hear? As sinners who stand in the presence of the Almighty God here today, there certainly are not, and never will be. There can be nothing better than to know that sin and death are defeated for us once and for all.
And just like He did for His disciples, so He does to comfort us in our fears. He reaches down and touches us and tells us that we have nothing to fear. In His body and blood, He touches us with His own flesh and blood, removing our sin, and fills us to overflowing with His love and forgiveness.
No longer do we approach death in fear and trembling as we take up our cross and follow Jesus. For He has promised to be with us on the journey as He speaks to us in His Word. He strengthens and encourages us all the way through the cross and to the empty tomb.
That is, after all where the journey ends. Just like the disciples saw Jesus arrayed in His glory there on that mountain, so it will be for us. We follow Jesus all the way to the resurrection, when we too will be raised and we will behold Jesus in all of His glory.
So, have no fear, and keep following Jesus. Gladly hear His Word, and He will see us through to life everlasting with Him. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.