The Last Sunday After Epiphany March 2, 2014
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
244, 720, 135, 127(4-5)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him. Then it happened, as they were parting from Him, that Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” When the voice had ceased, Jesus was found alone. But they kept quiet, and told no one in those days any of the things they had seen.
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit my grandmother in Wisconsin. She is 91 years old and I don’t get that many chances to see her. When I entered her apartment she said, “Oh, it’s good to see you!” I answered, “It’s really good to be here!” I meant what I said. It felt like being there with her was the right place for me to be just then.
I’m sure you’ve been in similar situations too where you’ve thought, “It is good for me to be here.” Maybe it was a holiday get-together with family, or maybe a quiet night on vacation. Hopefully, whenever you come to church you, likewise, think to yourself, “It is good for me to be here.”
When Peter, James, and John joined Jesus on the mountain where He changed in appearance before their eyes, Peter said, “Master, it is good for us to be here.” [v.33] Peter was right. At that moment, at that time, it was very good for them to be there and to see the things they saw and to hear the things they heard.
Today, let’s imagine that we are on that mountain for a little while too. Let’s go there in spirit and say to Jesus as Peter did, “Master, it is good for us to be here.” I. To see Your glory, II. To hear of Your death, and III. To help us go forward with You. Let’s see what they saw there and hear what they heard there, and consider what blessings the Mountain of Transfiguration also holds for us.
When Scripture says Jesus took Peter, James, and John onto a mountain to pray, that mountain was probably Mount Hermon. Rising to some 9,000 feet above sea level, it would offer the peace and quiet Jesus would have wanted as He talked with His Father and enjoyed the company of three of His closest friends and disciples.
What those disciples ended up experiencing, however, was surely more than they had anticipated. For suddenly, while they were there alone with Jesus, they saw Him as they never had before.
Jesus’ appearance changed. His face became as brilliant as the shining sun, and His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Suddenly, He looked other-worldly, like the Son of God He truly was. Here He was shining like One who had come down from Heaven. That wasn’t the end of the glorious sights either. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared there too. They were also visible in glorious splendor.
We might think at first that they must have been seeing a dream or a special vision. But no, the Bible makes special mention of the fact that Peter and his companions, although they had been very sleepy, had become fully awake when they saw Jesus and witnessed this stunning change that took place in His appearance. Peter later wrote in his second epistle: “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16 NIV). What they saw was not a dream. It really happened. They saw Jesus, the glorious Son of God, looking glorious.
It was good for them to be there. It was good for them to see this amazing sight. Why? For the same reason that it had been good for them to see other glimpses of Jesus’ glory—such as the miracle He performed at the wedding of Cana (John 2:1ff), or the daughter of Jairus being raised from the dead (Luke 8:41ff), or the feeding of five thousand men with just five loaves of bread and two fish (Luke 9:10ff). In all of these instances and many more, Jesus revealed His glory so that His disciples would know He is the Son of God, believe in Him, and inherit everlasting life. It was the same here on the mountain. It was good for them to see Jesus’ glory so that they could be strengthened in their conviction that He was the Son of God.
Not long before this, the Lord had told them that He would have to suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the Law. He told them that He “must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Luke 9:22 NIV). And He went still further to explain that they too would suffer if they followed Him.
The disciples did not fully understand at the time what Jesus was talking about, but by being on the mountain and seeing Him in glory, they would later be comforted when the troubles came, knowing that Jesus really was from Heaven and that everything would turn out alright for those who trusted in Him. It was good for them to be there and see what they saw when He was transfigured in front of them.
It is good for us too to be in places where we see and recognize Jesus’ glory. Through the Scriptures we see His glory as we are taken to places like the Mountain of Transfiguration, but we also see glimpses of our glorious Master working in our daily lives. Maybe we have been led safely through a particularly dangerous surgery or sickness. Maybe something has happened to you that has made you notice that Jesus has cared for your family in a special way. Aren’t there many instances when, if we remember to look, we can see Jesus’ hand working in our lives, and we can see that He is truly the Son of God? The 19th Psalm tells us that the glory of God is also revealed in the very things we see around us, the complexity and beauty of creation itself—the sky, the seas, the animals—showing us the glory of Creator Jesus.
It is good for us to be where we can see Jesus’ glory because the times will come for us, as they did for the disciples, that will be hard. As followers of Jesus, we will bear our crosses for His sake at various times and in various ways. We can be comforted in those times by remembering as Peter later did, “We have seen His glory,” and put our trust in Him.
Now it was good not only for the disciples to see Jesus transfigured, but also to hear what was spoken. When Moses and Elijah appeared, they were not just talking about the price of eggs, They were speaking with Jesus about “His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” [v.31] The two prophets were talking about Jesus upcoming death on the cross—the very thing Jesus had told His disciples earlier.
It should make an impression on us that Jesus’ cross was the topic of their conversation. They were talking about what mattered most. Surely Jesus’ death was on His mind more than anything else from the moment He began His ministry. He knew where this was all going to end up. He knew He would eventually suffer indescribable pain and torment, not just at the hands of men, but at the hands of His Heavenly Father. In His death He would also suffer the wrath of His Father, a righteous wrath, because of sinners everywhere. Jesus knew that He would become the Lamb who would be sacrificed to make up for the whole world’s disobedience against God’s holy Law. How could this death not be on Jesus’ mind? It would certainly be on yours if you knew your end was coming and you would be forsaken by your best friends and even your God in Heaven. If you knew you would be punished by God for everyone else’s crimes, you would be thinking and talking about that too.
It was good for Peter, James, and John to hear this conversation because even though they were Jesus’ close friends, they did not fully understand what He was going to do. They did not grasp until much later how important and necessary it was for their Master to go to the cross. For them, the cross was not yet the most important thing. They knew Jesus would save them from their sins and trusted Him to do that, but they did not fully understand or appreciate how He would accomplish it. So the conversation they heard on the mountain would later help them to make Jesus’ death and resurrection the cornerstone of their preaching.
We say to Jesus too, “Master, it is good for us to be here to hear of Your death.” It is good for us to be in places too where the death of Christ is brought to our attention. The world we live in makes less and less of it. It minimizes it and belittles it just as many on Good Friday mocked it. There are even some churches that have removed crosses from their sanctuaries because they don’t want people to be reminded of blood and death when they come to church. But this is exactly what we do want to be reminded of when we come here.
We want to hear of Jesus’ death. We want to see the altar and have it remind us that He sacrificed Himself, gave His life for us, so that we could be declared “not guilty” in God’s sight. We know that our sin would kill us if it were not for Jesus’ death. His death is the focus of our preaching and our faith. We don’t want to lose sight of it or be distracted from it—ever! Master, it is good for us to hear of your death!
There is a saying that “all good things must come to an end.” This special time on the mountain came to an end for Peter, James, and John. Peter wanted it to last longer. As Moses and Elijah were leaving, he wanted to put up shelters for everyone so they could all stay awhile. But it was not to be. You see, it was good for them to be there, but it was not good for them to remain there.
Just like the shepherds, who after the glories of Christmas Eve had to return to their flocks, so Peter, James, and John had to return to their daily discipleship. A cloud enveloped them, a voice from Heaven said to them “This is my Son…listen to Him” [v.35 NIV] and then it was over. The brilliant glory was again hidden. The conversation was quieted. The disciples found themselves again alone with Jesus.
Disappointing? Not at all! And it’s not for us either. The hour comes when we too must “leave the mountain” so to speak. We see Jesus’ glory, it warms our hearts and give peace to our minds. We have wonderful times in our lives where we can clearly see the hand of our Savior at work—but it is okay too when the dust settles and things seem to go back to normal, because Jesus is still with us.
Just as Jesus was with His disciples after they had seen His glory. So He is still with us, whether His glory is obvious to us or not. He, the very Son of God, goes forward with us, and we go forward with Him. May we remember with joy His glory, meditate with thanksgiving upon His death for us, and face each day with confidence in His abiding presence. Truly, Master, it is good for us to be here—with You! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.