Sermon: “Are We There Yet?”             

LSB Series B

The Transfiguration of Our Lord; February 14, 2021

Gospel Reading: Mark 9:2-9

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Are we there yet?

It is a common question asked of children when they get in the car no matter how long the trip may be. Some kids may find the trip to Waconia to be one that necessitates this question. To which I say in the words of Linus from the comic Peanuts: “Good grief!”

But most of us would probably agree that we have asked this question at one time or another while traveling. There are times where it just seems that time out on the open road lasts forever. And when that happens, we just want to get to our final destination and be done with it already. “Are we there yet?”

For the apostle Peter, he was content not asking this question. He was content to just stay there, to simply call the top of the mount of Transfiguration the end of his destination. Here he was with James and John and they were seeing Jesus arrayed in this glorious bright white and there beside Him were their two Old Testament heroes: Moses and Elijah. In his mind, life couldn’t get any better than this, so why not stay?

I am guessing that we have all felt that way from time to time. Wonderful mountaintop experiences are hard to depart from. Most youth that I have been blessed to serve with rarely want to return from a servant event or youth gathering. It is a mountaintop experience they don’t want to end. Many of us probably feel that way about vacation. When we feel rested and relaxed, enjoying the pleasures of this life, we don’t usually want the mountaintop experience to end.

So, why not stay on the top of the mountain? This is a good question, especially considering what descending the mountain would mean. In the verses preceding our text for today, Jesus predicted his death and resurrection. He told them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again (Mark 8:31).

In Peter’s mind, the thought of descending that mountain only meant suffering and death for Jesus. And since he was a follower of Jesus, he must have been wondering what would happen to him as well if he left that mountain. So, again, the question is, why not stay on the mountain? Why not just conclude that they had arrived at their destination and be done with it?

The answer to these questions comes in the answer to why Jesus came. Did He come just to be glorified there on that mountain, or was there a greater purpose? Was this His final destination? Why did Jesus come? 

We know well and good that Jesus didn’t come simply to be transfigured on that mountain. He came to die on another mountain. Mount Calvary. We will soon sing of this as we begin the season of Lent: “Come to Calvary’s holy mountain, sinners, ruined by the fall; Here a pure and healing fountain flows for you, for me, for all, in a full perpetual tide, opened when our Savior died.”

If Jesus stays there on that mount of transfiguration, if He considers that He had arrived at His final destination like Peter desired, then no one would have been saved. 

So, to answer the question of the kids in the back of the car: “Are we there yet”: “No, we are not there yet.” There was still a lot of the journey yet to travel. And that would first start by going down the mountain.

But the question remains: If this wasn’t the final destination, why was Jesus transfigured as He made His way to Calvary? Why the teaser, if you will? Well, this was no teaser. It was God’s way of encouraging His Son for the journey ahead and giving His disciples and us a preview, a foretaste of the feast to come.

Had Peter been paying attention to what Jesus had said earlier before our text for today, he would have heard that even though Jesus would die, three days later He would rise in resurrection glory. This transfigured Jesus was a picture of what was to come. Though they would endure suffering when they descended the mountain, there was glory yet to come, both for Jesus and for them as well.

No, they had not made it to their final destination. They weren’t there yet. But they could be confident that in the end Jesus would win. Though they would watch Him suffer immensely and die in the most horrific way possible, they were shown that in the end, all Jesus does is win. He would be victorious.

And not only would He win, but His resurrection victory would be passed on to them as well. Each of them, including the other disciples would face harsh persecution for their faith. They would suffer, and most of them would die a martyr’s death. But in the end, they too would rise from death. They would behold Jesus again in all of His glory in heaven and on the Last Day.

The same can be said for us. We are about to embark upon a journey through the season of Lent. It is a dark season of grieving our sinfulness and turning to the Lord in repentance. And the darkness will only get darker as we approach Holy Week where Jesus will enter into Jerusalem and journey to the cross to die for the sins of the world on a darkest day ever, on a day that we call Good. But, we aren’t there yet. There is more to the journey. Jesus doesn’t stay dead. He rises in resurrection glory. He returns to His Father to sit on His throne. And one day, He will return in all of His glory to take us to be with Him forever.

But we aren’t there yet, are we? Jesus hasn’t returned, and we may still feel like those impatient children in the back of the car longing to get to the final destination, and asking: “Are we there yet?”

No, we are not. Though our sins are forgiven and our salvation is secured, we are still awaiting Christ’s return. And if there is anything we have probably learned about our ability to be patient is that we aren’t very good at it. And that reality only increases when those times that we are waiting are filled with suffering and hardship.

So as we journey through this valley of the shadow of death, we too, are to keep in mind this image: The image of Christ transfigured on the mountain. Jesus in all of His glory. 

I read the following in a commentary the other day: “Focus on the end and not on the road, on the final glory and not on the suffering, on the triumph and not on the (apparent) defeat” (Mark Commentary, Voelz, p. 657).

Far too often our focus is not on Christ who stands at the finish line awaiting us in eternal glory. Far too often our focus is like Peter. We just want to stay where we are where it’s safe and attempt to avoid all pain and suffering. We don’t want to descend the mountain. We want to think we have arrived, rather than recognize that our journey is not yet over.

Far too long we Christians have enjoyed and taken for granted our barca lounger version of Christianity. We have often gone into a coast or cruise mode rather than take risks in our relationships, homes, workplaces, and neighborhoods and witness our faith to those around us. Like the rest of the world, we have just found it easier to keep our religion to ourselves, because we don’t want to offend anyone. We don’t want to endure rejection. We don’t want to risk upsetting the proverbial apple cart of what we have worked so hard to establish as we cling so tightly to the things of this world. We are content to think that we have arrived at our destination, and there is no need to travel down the mountain where there might be suffering and hardship of any kind.

And who can blame us? Suffering and loss of all kinds stinks. It is no fun. Not at all. But as we watch the scene that is going on around us, the reality of suffering and loss is coming whether we like it or not. The Christianity that our parents and grandparents grew up with and we have taken for granted is fading away. The tolerance of God’s Word and what it truly means to be a Christian and stand on His truth is in many ways a thing of the past.

So, will we keep our faith to ourselves when the going gets tough? Will we remain silent in our witness? Or will we be bold in our faith and stand on the truth of God’s Word and journey down the mountain with Him through whatever suffering may come our way?

Thanks be to God that we have One who journeys both with us and for us down that mountain. Where we have often buckled to fear and chosen to be like Peter and stayed put where life is comfortable and free from suffering, Jesus chose to journey down that mountain and back up Calvary’s mountain for you and for me.

He did so because we are weak and afraid. He did so because we often cave to the comforts of this world and don’t stand up for Him. He did so because we are sinners in need of a Savior, and He is that Savior…your Savior and mine.

And because He is our Savior, our victorious Savior, we don’t have to fear following Him down the mountain in this world. We know the end of the story. We know who does the victory lap and raises the trophy. It’s Jesus, our Savior, and he welcomes us to celebrate the victory with Him. 

So even though we may see the tolerances toward Christianity fade away, God’s Word never does, His promises never do, and He never abandons us. 

Jesus is sitting right now in His glory at the right hand of the Father and He is waiting for us to join Him, calling for us to follow Him. There is no need to fear, Jesus is here…right where He said He would be…in His Word, and in His Sacrament. This is where Jesus is located for us so that we may have the strength to carry on through the suffering, through death, and to the resurrection and the life everlasting. And on that day, there will be no need to ask, “Are we there yet?” For on that day, we will have arrived at our final destination with Jesus. In His name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.