Let’s Go Up to the Mountain (Feb 23, 2020)

Matthew 17:1-9
Pastor Steven Hillmer

God’s grace, mercy and peace are yours through Jesus, you Glorious Lord and Savior, Amen.

One of my favorite series of TV commercials is from Southwest, “Wanna get away?” Wanna get away from an awkward situation – hop on a flight. Wanna get away from the stress of work – buy a ticket. Wanna get away from below zero temps and freezing wind chills – you know what to do. Getting away from it all for a time can be a very good thing – and Jesus knew that too.

In our Gospel lesson for this Transfiguration Sunday, Jesus bought his three closest disciples: Peter, James and John, tickets to a getaway they’d never forget. They went up on a very high mountain, we’re not exactly sure which one, but Mt. Herman, near Ceasarea Philippi where they had been, seems to be the logical one. If so, Mt. Herman is about 10,000 and usually snow-covered year-round. This getaway was more than just a sight-seeing tour or decompression trip. Jesus had some big things on the horizon, which helps us understand why it was so good for the disciples to be there.

This Transfiguration Sunday Jesus invites us to come get away with him up to this mountain. For what purpose? God wants us to 1) see our Savior’s glory, 2) to make sure we are listening to him; for doing so 3) will prepare us for the cross. As we go up this mountain, may we see exactly how GOOD it is, as God prepares Jesus, his disciples and us for the cross and the glory to come. 

  1. To See our Savior’s Glory

The glory was amazing. The Gospel writers describe it as a super bright light, brighter than the sun, like lightening, brighter than anything that could be bleached. What they’re trying to describe is the holiness, glory and perfection of the Almighty God. According to God’s purpose, these three disciples were able to see Jesus in his FULL GLORY talking with Moses and Elijah. In the Old Testament lesson, we heard how Moses was in this glory as he received the 10 Commandments and how the people trembled in fear, that the “glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire.” Even still, Peter says, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” And it was!

It was good – especially in view of what they were about to experience in the next few months.  (This is about 8 months before the crucifixion.) They would see many of Jesus’ followers fall away. No doubt that would be discouraging. Even they would deny him; and one would betray him. They would witness cruelty and unjustness. They would see the blood, the gore and the bitter death of their Lord. But what they wouldn’t realize until it was all over – is that these moments of glory were foretelling the victory that would most certainly follow. Witnessing this glory would prove that Jesus would overcome sin, Satan and death and open the way to heaven where all believers will forever stand in the Glory of God. Yes, it was good for them to see witness this glory, but they got a bit confused.

Sometimes we get a little confused about glory, especially earthly glory. At times we get caught up in personal victories and happiness… and we say to ourselves, “Ah, it’s good to be here…” It may be the job promotion or the victory on the athletic arena. We just want to bask in the glory as the confetti falls from the ceiling. Let’s not confuse blessings with eternal glory. We give thanks for blessing – but to savor the moment like it’s the glories of heaven – that’s a trap Peter fell into as he said, “If you wish, I will put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

He thought they had “arrived!” but here, on this mountain, surrounded by bright gleaming glory, power and majesty… it was just a foretaste. Eternal glory would not be possible if it weren’t for the glory that beamed brightly from another mountain – that hill outside of Jerusalem called Golgotha. There on that hill would be the glory of God revealed, not just to 3 people, but to all mankind. There would be the payment for sin. They needed to see this glory, so they would understand that glory – for that to happen, they needed to do some listening.

  1. To Listen our Savior’s Words

Understand that this mountain top experience was primarily NOT for the disciples. It was for Jesus. As our Savior is about to enter into the thick of battle, His heavenly Father had a message for him – words which he spoke at Jesus’ baptism… words repeated here:  “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” His Father’s opinion of him hasn’t changed. He loves him fully and unconditionally – even though the greatest paradox is about to happen: that God would forsake his only Son. Yes, the Father loves his Son and after all God’s justice was met, God will raise him in glory, just as he is glorified for this short while on the mountain. What incredible reassurance for Jesus!

And these words also served a secondary purpose… for his disciples. Peter wanted to launch into a construction project, but God the Father cut him off as the cloud enveloped them. God said, “Listen to him.” Friends, now is the time to listen closely, to hear and meditate, and reread and consider every word Jesus speaks. Our Savior must suffer. Christ will go to the cross. What must happen – will happen, even though it doesn’t make sense to human reason, so we need to listen carefully. Peter forgot this lesson, which caused Jesus to strongly rebuke him, “Get behind me, Satan.” The message of the cross is one we to listen to daily, for therein we find our forgiveness and our peace. 

One of my former members loved to drop one-liners, “Pastor, God gave us 2 ears and 1 mouth for a reason. Twice as much listening, half as much talking.” And yet we fall into the opposite, just like Peter, running our yapper so loudly we can’t hear what God is saying. And were does that lead? What would have been accomplished if they stayed on that mountain of glory… if Peter would have gotten his way, preventing his Lord from going to the cross? We know that answer.

When the disciples heard these words, they reacted in the only way a sinner can react when hearing the words of the Holy and Just God: they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. They knew they were in the presence of God. Because of their sin, they trembled in fear like the children of Israel at the foot of Mt. Sinai. They fell because what Paul said is most correct, “The wages of sin is death.” From this point on they started to listen more closely, and what did they hear?  Nothing – nothing but Jesus. Our text states, But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

What beautiful words to listen to! What an incredible sight to behold – just Jesus, not Jesus in blinding piercing glory, just Jesus, reaching down to help them up, just Jesus telling them that they have no reason to fear.  I don’t know about you, but to me, this verse has always been the glorious shining verse of this whole text. 

We’ve come up to this holy mountain, we’ve seen Moses and Elijah, we’ve heard the voice of God and seen his glory – and yet the most tender truth comes in this verse – as we see our gracious, merciful, compassionate Savior, reaching down to help poor miserable sinners like these 3, sinners like you and me, telling me not to be afraid. And yes, Jesus’ words are just for you. We don’t have to be afraid, for while we know that the wages of sin is death, we also know, because we have listened to Jesus, that the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord! Because of Jesus we know that on that last day, we look up from the sleep of death, we will see the same Jesus, raising us from the dead, welcoming us to his side.  

  1. To Prepare them and us for the cross!

Yes, it’s good to be here – to hear his words again because quite frankly, it’s ugly out there. As the disciples descended down that mountain, they would see it. After Jesus’ ascension, as they were preaching and teaching the Gospel, they would feel it and endure it, but they remembered that they had nothing to fear. They had their Savior’s approval. They knew the glory that was to come. They knew the marching orders Jesus had given them. If they were to put aside their discipleship for a life of earthly glory, they knew they would never see Jesus again, except for on the wrong side of Judgment Day. The glory they witnessed encouraged them to take up the cross and follow Jesus, even though it cost them their lives.

That’s why it’s so good for us to be here, not just today, but every Sunday. Here we see his glory, we hear his word, sing his praises and experience his touch in Word and Sacrament. Here he gives us his body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. Here he puts his name upon us in the waters of baptism. Here he says to us, “Go in peace.” Here we get to lift up our heads to see Jesus a leaved all the more encouraged.

As we now go down from this mountain, as we enter the season of Lent – may we reflect upon this mountaintop experience. May we continue to “listen to him” each day with personal and family devotions, and as we are able with the special opportunities to gather on Sunday mornings, midweek Bible studies and now midweek Lenten services. Each one of these gives us the opportunity to see Jesus – to see the eternal Glory of God and to be reminded of the glory that is come. May God continue to let his glory shine, even in our lives! Amen.