In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear Friends in Christ,
“After six days Jesus took with him Peter, and James and John his brother and led them up a high mountain by themselves.” It’s natural for us to want to hear what comes next. What was Jesus going to do with these three disciples? What was going to happen on the mountain?
I don’t want us to move too fast however. Listen again to the beginning of this reading, “After six days.” Matthew, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is connecting this event with an event that happened six days prior to this one.
Six Days Before
It was six days before this that Jesus had asked all his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” As a spokesman for the disciples, Peter had boldly confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied to him, “Blessed are you.”
Peter had gotten it right. Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of the living God, the One sent to earth. However, why had the Son of God come to earth? Did Peter and the other disciples understand that, could they answer that question with any certainty?
Matthew writes that “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
Jesus was teaching his disciples what it meant to be the Christ. The Son of the living God came to suffer and die, Jesus told them. These were disturbing words for the disciples to hear and to understand.
Peter showed their lack of understanding when he said to Jesus, “This shall never happen to you.” This was more than misunderstanding the words of Jesus. They were seeking glory. If Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God then certainly he would bring God’s glory into the world. They heard the words of Jesus but they were not listening. In fact they were so far off that Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God but on the things of man.”
Jesus Takes Three
In the midst of their confusion, Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him to a mountain. Why just these three, Scripture doesn’t tell us. I can only offer suggestions. Peter was the one most vocal about Jesus not suffering and dying. He didn’t seem to listen to what Jesus was telling him about why the Christ had to come into the world.
James and John seemed to spend at least some of their time arguing about who was going to be the greatest in the kingdom of Jesus. They were seeking places of glory instead of listing to the words of Jesus telling them about a glory that would come through suffering and death.
“[Jesus] was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” The physical appearance of Jesus changed, it was transformed so that the glory of his divine nature became visible to the disciples. His face was like the sun. Even his clothing appeared white as his divine nature shined through them.
Once again Peter steps forward. Peter wanted to stay on the mountaintop, to bask in the glory of the transfiguration, to stay away from Jerusalem and the awful things Jesus was predicting. He wanted to praise the Lord because finally Jesus was fulfilling Peter’s expectations of the Son of God.
Peter offered to build three tents, three places of honor, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. While Peter was still speaking, God the Father interrupted Peter. “Behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
The disciples fell on their faces and were terrified. Was God angry with them? Had they been brought there to be punished? Their fear brought with it silence. There was no more talk of staying on the mountain. Not even the bold Peter dared to speak.
“Listen to him,” the heavenly Father said. They had not being listing to the words of Jesus. Their ears had been plugged to the words of Jesus about his upcoming suffering and dying. The Father had grabbed their attention and they were afraid.
Jesus Comforts Them
The next words that they heard were from Jesus, “Rise, and have no fear.” For the moment “have no fear” meant they were in no immediate danger. Everyone was gone and “they saw no one but Jesus.”
But there was more to “have no fear” than the disciples would understand until later. “As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”
The fullness of “have no fear” would have to wait until after the resurrection. On the third day the angels at the empty tomb would say, “do not be afraid. You seek Jesus who was crucified. He has risen.”. On the evening of that day Jesus would say to his disciples, “peace be with you.”
They had seen Jesus heal the sick and even raise the dead, but they did not yet understand that he had barely scratched the surface of His great love for the world. They did not fully comprehend that God’s love would cost him the death of his son.
There would be no “Alleluias” for the disciples as they witnessed the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. It would be after seeing the empty tomb and the risen Jesus that they would say, “Praise the Lord.” Easter Sunday would be the beginning of more fully knowing what it meant to “have no fear.”
This week, on Ash Wednesday, we begin the season of Lent. It’s a very somber season, a season of repentance. We have been celebrating that Jesus is the Christ that he came down from heaven to be with us. The shepherds and the wise men worshiped him as the newborn king.
We have been singing “Alleluias,” but now is the time to hear Jesus tell us why he came. He came to suffer and die in Jerusalem. Jesus came because of our sins, sins that we do not want to face. He came because you don’t want to hear the word of the Lord and obey it.
Jesus came because we are searching for a god of glory, a god who can give us the things of this world. He came because we are willing to give others the same place of honor as we give Jesus. Jesus came because we want to stay on the mountaintop and are afraid to share our faith with others.
Lent is a time for us to bow our heads in fear because of what we have done and left undone. It is a time for us to plead for mercy. It is a time for us to lift up our eyes and see no one but Jesus.
Jesus In His Glory
The disciples said, “Lord it is good to be here.” It is good for you and me to be here. It is here that we see God’s glory; it is here that we see Jesus triumphant over sin and death. For all the fears you have in your life, for all the doubts about yourself, for all the chasing after worldly glory that causes you to sin Jesus has brought you here to see his glory.
Look at the Bible, in it you will see the words of Moses and Elijah along with the words of the Apostles telling you of God’s love and his forgiveness for you. Look at that baptismal font. It is there that Jesus promised to wash away your sins and to daily give you forgiveness as a gift. Look and see the bread and wine about which Jesus says, “Take and eat this is my body, given for you. Take and drink this is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
Here is where the glory of God is shown to you and spoken to you. Here you see and hear the promise fulfilled that your sins are forgiven, that you have life, and salvation as a gift from God’s grace. Here you see and hear about the One who left the Mount of Transfiguration and went to Mount Calvary. He went for you so that you might live with him in everlasting glory.
Today we will take down the Alleluia banner and during the season of Lent we will refrain from singing Alleluias or Praise the Lord. We do this as a reminder that the glory of the Lord is shown on the cross and in the empty tomb. We are reminded not to worship the Lord on the wrong mountain, but only on the mountain where he won for you forgiveness, life, and salvation. Have no fear.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.