Sermon Text: Luke 9:28-36
Pastor Daniel Schmidt
Have you ever had your own, personal mountain top experience? What I mean is, maybe you were literally sitting at the top of a mountain, looking out at God’s beautiful creation, and at that moment it struck you just how wise and how powerful our Creator-God really is.
“Have you ever had a mountain top experience with God?” When some people ask you this, they mean did you ever have a “temporary, uncommon encounter with God that is meant to give you a fresh awareness of his reality and nearness, and that fills you with a joy and a peace that surpasses any other human experience.” And they may go on to tell you that if you are not able to point to this “mountain top experience” then maybe you really aren’t a true Christian.
As we gather together on this Transfiguration Sunday, together you and I go along with three of Jesus disciples, Peter, James and John, and we follow our Savior to the top of the Mount of Transfiguration. Today, we enjoy a mountain top experience.
Why does our weekly schedule of readings offer us this mountain top experience and a reminder of our Savior’s glory on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent? The answer to that question may be found in the fact that there are many who want to reduce Jesus Christ to nothing more than a great human being. A man’s whose example we could all follow. If this is true about Jesus, if he is only a human being like you and me, all of us would have no hope and we would be lost for all eternity.
Because of your sinfulness and mine, you and I were born into this world with a great need for a Savior. You and I are guilty of sin day after day. You and I are not able to save ourselves. You and I need a substitute. As our substitute, Jesus Christ had to be true man so he could live perfectly under God’s Law in our place.
But if he were only a man, that perfect life could only save himself. So this morning we enjoy a mountain top experience along with Jesus and witness his glory. During our mountain top experience, we see that Jesus Christ is not only true man, but he is also true God. As true God, the perfect life that Jesus lived under God’s Law is credited to you and me. The perfect Lamb of God lived, suffered, died and rose again to win your forgiveness and mine. The debt of our sinfulness is paid for in full by our glorious Savior, Jesus Christ.
Take a moment and picture yourself enjoying this mountain top experience along with the disciples and Jesus that day? Look around you. What do you see? What do you hear? The Savior’s appearance had been changed. You see and hear two “giants” from the Old Testament talking with Jesus: Moses and Elijah. You see the cloud. You hear the voice of God the Father.
What would have been your reaction? Would you have wanted to stay or leave? Would you have joined Peter in saying to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Some have suggested that Peter said this because he wanted to see Jesus remain in his glory. Perhaps Peter was thinking that Jesus could enjoy this glory now, without having to go through the suffering he was talking about during the past week leading up to his Transfiguration. This is exactly the reason why this mountain top experience is not only a good time for you and me to see Jesus’ glory, but it is also a good time for the Savior to remind you and me of his mission.
What was Jesus’ mission? We are told that as Jesus, Moses and Elijah talked on the mountain that day, “they spoke about his departure which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” The Savior, Moses and Elijah were talking about Jesus’ upcoming mission in Jerusalem. They were talking about how very soon he would suffer and die for the sins of the world.
It is quite likely the conversation did not stop there. Most likely they also discussed how this would not be a shameful defeat, but a glorious victory, including the victory of Easter morning, as Jesus would rise from the dead. And then, 40 days after his resurrection, how he would ascend into heaven and take his place seated at the right hand of God the Father, that is his position of power and authority.
During this mountain top experience, God the Father also mentions the mission of the Savior. Remember his words: “This is my Son, whom I have chosen. Listen to him.” God the Father says that you and I are to listen to the words of his one and only Son, Jesus Christ. We are to take everything he says seriously. We do not have the freedom to pick and choose which words of the Savior we want to hear. We are to hear everything that he says to us in his Word.
There are not, as some suggest, many roads which lead to heaven. Not all religions are the same. The saying that tells us that “all steeples point to heaven” is not true. It is only through Jesus Christ, and what he accomplished, that you and I are saved. And it is only in the pages of the Bible that we read the Good News of the Gospel. Our Lutheran confessions make this same point: “Therefore the eternal Father calls down from heaven concerning His dear Son and concerning all who preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name: ‘Listen to Him’. Now, all who wish to be saved ought to hear this preaching of God’s Word. For the preaching and hearing of God’s Word are instruments of the Holy Ghost, by, with, and through which he desires to work and to convert men to God, and to work in them both to will and to do.”
There is one more point I would like you to take from this mountain top experience today. Notice our Savior’s love in action. Notice how he did not stay on that mountain, like Peter wanted him to. Notice that we don’t read about Peter, James or John having to pull or drag Jesus down the mountain. On his own, moved by his love, Jesus comes down from the mountain to continue his mission. Willingly he would endure the suffering that was coming. He would place himself on the cross and die. He would rise again in great victory over sin, death and the devil!
The Savior’s mission while on this earth contradicted what many thought that mission should have been. Several times we read how some of Jesus followers wanted him to set up a kingdom here on earth. Time after time, Jesus had to remind his disciples that his mission was not to establish some type of earthly kingdom. His mission was to live, suffer, die and rise again in our place; to win for all people the wonderful gift of forgiveness.
Beginning this Ash Wednesday, we will follow Jesus as he leaves the mountain and completes his mission. I invite you to join us each Wednesday evening at either 4:00 or 7:00 PM for these special worship opportunities, as we once again remember the mission of Jesus our Savior to win your forgiveness and mine.
On this Sunday before Lent, you and I are blessed to enjoy a mountain top experience. Together, you and I give thanks that we are able to witness the glory of our Savior and remember his mission. During the upcoming Lenten season, may all of us look forward to our many worship opportunities, and say along with Peter: “It is good for us to be here!” Amen.