The Mountain Peak
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Lutheran Church historically has commemorated the Transfiguration of Our Lord on the last Sunday after the Epiphany—and appropriately so. We have seen the divinity of Jesus revealed to us through the healing of the blind and the lame. We have seen this revealed in water turned into wine. We have seen this demonstrated through the calming of the sea and the stilling of the storm. And now we see it revealed in the Transfiguration. This is one final, glorious manifestation of the divinity of Jesus, shining through His humanity, revealing Jesus as Immanuel, God with us, as He made His way to Jerusalem and the cross. John the Evangelist was speaking of this event when he wrote, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Jesus had just told His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem. He told them that it was necessary that He suffer many things from the religious leaders of the day, and be killed, and then be raised on the third day. He also told them that they would face their own trials and sufferings. Although they had been with the Lord for three years, the disciples could not easily accept these sayings from the Lord. Matthew records that Peter even took Jesus aside and rebuked Him for saying them. For six days the disciples stewed over the Master’s prediction of His coming death. And then Jesus led the inner circle of the disciples—Peter, James and John—to a high mountain. Thoughts of suffering and death were wiped from their minds when the face of Jesus began to shine with the brightness of the sun and Moses and Elijah suddenly appeared with Him! What a welcome change this was for the disciples. Gone would be the talk of self-denial. Gone would be the talk of crosses. Gone would be the talk of death and sadness; now they were witnesses to life and glory. After all, Moses had been dead for over a thousand years, but here he stood in front of them, speaking with Jesus. And Elijah had not died; a fiery chariot came down and carried Elijah away into heaven. These two Old Testament pillars appeared with Jesus and spoke with Him. And such a glorious Lord as Jesus who could shine like the sun could surely find a different way of doing His work than by suffering and dying. Peter wanted to set up tents. He wanted to prolong the experience with these worthies. He wanted to prolong the glory.
The funny thing about Peter the disciple is that he is so much like us. Funny and sad. Peter was pleased to experience this glory. Heaven’s glory had come down to earth. Moses was present, the one through whom the Law was revealed. Elijah was present, the Old Testament prophet who was spared death. And Jesus was present in all His glory, transfigured by His Father in heaven so that all His majesty would be revealed. Peter wanted to stay and enjoy this glorified Christ and the glorified Old Testament saints forever. And which of you could blame him? Peter only said what any one of you would say. Who would want the Lord to die? Who would wish to face his own suffering for the sake of the Gospel? It’s one thing to live as a child of God when life is good, when things are going well, when the dice are rolling your way and the sun is shining; it’s another thing altogether to live as a child of God when the baby’s crying, when Mom and Dad are in the nursing home with no idea who their children or grandchildren are, when the rain is falling—or, sometimes for us who live in the world of agriculture, when the rain isn’t falling. Certainly the Old Adam within you would avoid both the death your sins deserve and the crosses which go along with being a disciple of Jesus. The mountaintop has much more attractive scenery than the valley. The glory is so much more appealing than the cross. The temptation is to want to stay on the mountaintop. After all, Jesus reveals Himself as good and gracious and powerful on the mountaintop, and He allows us to see His glory. But sharing in His cross is more than the Christian expects or desires. Like Peter, we would gladly stay with the gloriously transfigured Christ forever. But when the soldiers come, when the cross looms, we scatter with Peter and the rest.
What Peter failed at the time to recognize is that the same Lord who was revealed in the glorious light of the transfiguration was revealed no less gloriously in the love that compelled Him to carry and hang upon the cross. Peter and James and John only observed the glory of Jesus on the mountain of the transfiguration. But Jesus came down from that mountain, and He climbed to another; and on that mountain He hung on the cross. He hung on that cross bearing you sin and shame. And because He bore your sin and shame, through Holy Baptism you share in His glory. You are not only observers. His righteousness makes you shine.
This morning you climb both mountains with Jesus. Jesus reveals Himself to you in the shining glory of His holy Word, revealing Himself through the Old Testament promises and as the fulfillment of those promises. He reveals Himself to you in the waters of Holy Baptism, waters He returns you to each day through repentance and forgiveness. And He reveals Himself through the breaking of the bread—as He will do with the disciples on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection—in the holy feast of His body and blood. This is a humble revelation, it might seem, but it is a revelation through which He shares with you the glory of His resurrection. You have seen a glimpse of His glory, and He has shared that glory with you.
The Divine Service will end this morning, and from this mountaintop you will return to the valley of your daily life. But just like Peter and James and John, you do not go down from this peak alone. Even in the valley, even in the trials and terrors and persecutions, you are not alone. You leave this place in the presence of your Lord and Savior. And though you must descend from this peak today, your glorious Lord brings you back here, week after week, until finally He will bring you to dwell with Him in that glory that will never end. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.