Remember This Mountaintop

Today we conclude the Epiphany Season (Epiphany= to reveal, to make clear).  During Epiphany we were reminded that Jesus really is the Promised Savior as we see Him do miracles and listen to Him teach.  Generally, Jesus’ glory was hidden.  It need to be so, for if God were to reveal His full glory to us humans, we would be consumed.  But today we see a glimpse of His full glory.  For more than 500 years, the Church has celebrated this Sunday known as the Festival of the Transfiguration.  The word “transfiguration” simply means “a change in appearance.”  It refers to the account in the Gospel lesson for today when Jesus shined forth in all His heavenly glory.  Jesus gave his disciples a glimpse of his glory, because the cross was coming.  Jesus left that mountain and headed to Jerusalem where he would suffer, die, and rise again for all mankind.  As we see Jesus’ glory today, may we gain an even greater appreciation for his love for us.


Matthew 17:1-9 New International Version (NIV)

The Transfiguration

17 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Jesus Transfigured for You!


Transfiguration Sunday
Luke 9:28-36

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus dear friends in Christ, Everything changed, but nothing changed. I’m going to put in a shameless plug for a new marriage workshop that we started last Friday evening based on a book by Emerson Eggerichs called “Love and Respect.” In that marriage seminar he told a true story where everything changed but nothing changed. Imagine yourself in this situation: You’ve just got on an all-night red-eye bus ride. The bus is almost full but you find a seat and sit down. Everyone is just sitting back in their seats and getting comfortable and at the last minute a dad and three young children board the bus and fill up the remaining seats, but they can’t sit next to the dad who sits down in the seat right in front of you. He sits by the window and just looks out the window. The children proceed to reek havoc on the bus, running up and down the aisle, making all kinds of noise, disrupting the passengers and the dad simply looks out the window oblivious to what’s going on. Everyone on the bus is clearly upset and they all look at you and silently elect you to be the spokesman to get the dad’s attention. So, reluctantly you say, “Sir.” No response. “Sir” a little louder. No response. What, can’t this man hear? Sir! Finally, he turns around and you say, “Look, your children are screaming up and down the aisle, won’t you do something about it?? And he looks at you and everyone else and says, “Oh, I’m so sorry, please forgive them, you see we just came from the hospital, my wife, their mother just died.” He turns and looks back out the window. Everything changed, but nothing changed. Right? Where did your emotions go? From anger to sympathy, care, your heart goes out to him and those children. What had you thought the problem was? You thought the kids were out of control, this is terrible parenting, neglectful, permissive, exactly what’s wrong with America, people don’t discipline their children anymore. But that wasn’t the problem at all. The man had just lost his wife, the children had just lost their mommy and they didn’t know how to act without their mommy. There was the reality and then there was what we assumed the reality to be. That happens a lot in life, doesn’t it? We assume we have all the facts, we assume that we know the ins and outs of what’s going on, and yet often, we don’t. That’s true in marriage, that’s also true in life, and that’s also often true in our relationship with God.

In our text this morning, Jesus does something similar. Jesus gives us a bit of information that changes everything, changes the way we view things in life, changes the way we deal with difficulties, changes the way that we deal with death itself. Jesus pulls back the curtain to show us a glimpse of reality. The disciples had been with Jesus for about 2.5 years. They had seen a lot of things. They had seen Jesus do all kinds of miracles, heal people, feed people, even raise the dead. But they were about to see something that was going rock their world. We’re once again heading into the season of Lent. And what are we about to see? We’re about to see Jesus’ betrayal, suffering, and death for our sins. In fact, shortly before our text Jesus had just finished telling his disciples that he was going to suffer many things, be rejected, and killed. Remember how Peter reacted to that? “No way! That’s not going to happen to you.” He actually rebuked Jesus. But Jesus gave them and he gives us a reality check and it’s this reality check that was to help them in the future and help us too.

Jesus took His three close disciples with Him on top of a mountain to pray.  Now perhaps this happened during the night because we’re told that the disciples were “very sleepy”, “burdened with sleep.”  But as Jesus was praying His face changed (it shone like the sun Matthew says), His clothes became bright like lightning (dazzling white, as Mark puts it).  Then Moses and Elijah, who had been taken to heaven some 1400 and 800 years earlier, also appeared in glorious splendor and were talking with Jesus!  They were talking with him about His departure, His death and resurrection in Jerusalem, no doubt how everything in the OT was fulfilled in Him.  When the disciples wake up seeing this seen, they’re amazed.  Peter knows this is an awesome thing and he wants to capture the moment so he said, “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.”  But Jesus didn’t respond to him.  Instead a cloud came and enveloped them, the disciples were afraid and didn’t know what was going on.  Then God the Father spoke, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”  More than anything what does God want?  He wants His people to listen to His chosen Son, listen to His words, the very words the disciples failed to grasp!  Then they found Jesus alone and ready to go back down the mountain.

Wow! Can you imagine that? This event would have been quite a reality check for the disciples and is for us in specifically 3 ways. It’s a reality check in three ways: Life’s delights, life’s difficulties, and life’s death.

First, life’s delights. Peter recognized that he was in a delightful situation here. Yes, it’s terrifying, but it’s awesome! He had Jesus shining in divine splendor, he had Moses- that awesome OT leader and deliverer, and he had Elijah – that incredible preacher and prophet- there. Somehow he knew who Moses and Elijah were. He wanted this moment, he wanted it to last. So, he offered to build some shelters for them so that they’d stick around, he didn’t want this moment to end, he wanted a “heaven on earth” so-to-speak. But that’s not why Jesus came. Moses and Elijah disappeared. Jesus’ glory once again was hidden and he walked down the mountain. Why? That’s not why Jesus came. Jesus didn’t come to give us a wonderful life here on earth. Not only are the things of this world fleeting and temporary, but so often they can distract us from what isn’t fleeting and temporary, what is absolutely important: God and His Word. Let’s not get caught up with looking for a “heaven on earth.” Let’s be ready to leave anything, forsake anything for the sake of following Jesus.

Second reality check: Life’s difficulties. Jesus disciples were about to following Jesus from the mount of Transfiguration into the valley of suffering and death. It was after this event that Jesus would make his last and final journey to Jerusalem. And what would happen there? He would be betrayed, mocked, suffer physically, but far greater than that – suffering God’s eternal wrath for the sins of all people. The disciples were going to see it all. It would sure be tempting for them to be discouraged, to doubt God, to be depressed. They would be tempted to fight back, flee in fright, fasten doors in fear of the Jews. But did they need to be? What do they see here? Jesus isn’t just some normal human being. Jesus is God’s very own Son. Jesus has all the power, glory, and majesty as God’s Son all the time! He’s shining as bright as lightning!

Jesus has promised that just like He descended the mount of transfiguration and would go through much suffering and even death that anyone who would come after him must also deny themselves take up their cross and follow Him.  But that’s not easy, is it?  As soon as something goes against us, as soon as something goes wrong in our lives, as soon as something doesn’t turn out the way that we planned, what thoughts enter our mind? “Oh, Lord, I know this is not what I planned, but may your will be done.  I firmly trust in your grace and love to work all things out for my eternal good, instead of leaning on my own understanding I trust in you.  I will serve you with my whole heart no matter what my circumstance will be.”  Is that our prayer when things aren’t going right?  Or do we say?  “What in the world is going on, Lord?  Why is this happening?  Are you really in control?  I mean, it sure doesn’t seem to be!  You’re not doing what I want to be done!  Do you really care about me?  God, after all I’ve done for you, this is how you repay me?  Come on!”  Hmm.  Jesus said, “Deny yourself.”  Don’t lean on your own reasoning or your own understanding, but trust in him no matter what.  And think about it, if the disciples had only taken to heart this scene on the mountain of transfiguration. Instead, with trusting hearts they would think, “This is the very Son of God, who has all glory in heaven and on earth, this is God himself, whatever He does or allows to be done to Him will be for the best!  This is God!  Even if He dies, He’s able to rise from the dead!”  That’s a reality check!

And this is the reality for you and me too. Here we see without a doubt that Jesus is God Himself, shining with all the power as God. You know what that means? We’re about to head into Lent and see all of Jesus’ suffering and death. Lent would never be possible, unless Jesus chose to do it! What depth of love that God Himself would lower Himself to suffer and die for YOUR sins! Transfiguration shows that God must love you with a depth beyond tracing out. And if God Himself went through so much to rescue you eternally, will he not also take care of you every day, watch over you, protect you, work out all things for your good? Absolutely, this is a reality check for life’s difficulties.

And finally, death. Did you ever wonder why Moses and Elijah show up here? Now there’ve been all kinds of guesses as to why Moses and Elijah, but what do we know about them? They were taken from this earth hundreds of years before! But they’re not dead, they’re alive, they’re talking with Jesus, they see Jesus in His glory and they’re not afraid. Why? Because they are in heaven. In fact, they’re even talking with Jesus about “his departure” – really Jesus’ upcoming suffering and death on a cross, which is the very reason why they’re in heaven. Yes, death is a reality of life, isn’t it. But here’s a reality check. The fact that Moses and Elijah, both true believers and in God in the Savior, appeared with Jesus shows that they are alive and well and already for a long time enjoying the eternal glory of heaven!  Our loved ones who die in the faith in Jesus are right now enjoying eternal glory and we will see them again!

A little piece of information can give you a reality check and a total attitude change about unruly children on a bus. So, Jesus’ transfiguration gives us a reality check on life’s delights, difficulties and even death.

Picture it!

6th Sunday after Epiphany
Mark 9:2-9

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, our Transfigured Lord and Savior, dear friends in Christ, What do you picture in your mind? I think it’s safe to say that each of us has certain pictures that are etched into our brains of times or experiences in life that we remember and recall.  For some, maybe it’s the picture in your head of the first time that you held your child and looked into his or her little eyes and saw the child that you waited so long to see. For some, perhaps it’s the sights, sounds, and smiles of a family reunion where you saw family members you hadn’t seen for years and had a wonderful time. Perhaps that’s a picture etched in your mind. For others, perhaps it’s a view of nature that just took your breath away, maybe a view of a mountain or a forest in the fall or out on a lake. In a way, the pictures that we have stored in our brains affect us too. Perhaps the picture of a child communicates love and joy and happiness. Perhaps the picture of a family reunion communicates fun, memories, and good times. Perhaps the picture of a view of nature communicates peace, contentment, relaxation. We all have certain pictures etched into our memory that we don’t just recall but they have a way of affecting us, influencing us, maybe even changing us.

Today in our text we have such a picture that God wants etched into our minds and memories. We know from at least two of the three disciples who saw this that this picture was engraved in their minds. John tells us in the beginning of his gospel, which was written perhaps 50 or 60 years after this event, “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth.” Peter tells us in his second letter that he wrote perhaps 30 or more years after this account: “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.’” (2 Peter 1:16-18) And God had this account recorded for us that it might be engraved also in our minds.

Just before this event Jesus had asked his disciples a question: “Who do people say that I am?” And they gave some answers some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, others one of the prophets. But then Jesus asked, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” And to this the apostle Peter said, “You are the Christ the Son of the Living God!” And right after that, Jesus began to explain for what seems to be the first time very clearly that he would be rejected, suffer many things, be killed, and after 3 days rise again. And to this Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Jesus for saying such things. But Jesus then rebuked Peter for getting in the way of His mission to go to the cross and pay for the sins of the world.

So just after all of that, Jesus took Peter, James, and John, why those three? Well, we don’t really know. But it seems like those three were a closer group with Jesus and their mission was going to require some special training and revelation from Jesus, so Jesus brought them along to see what was about to happen. He led them up a high mountain. We don’t know what mountain this was, but north of Galilee there are fairly high mountains that would have taken several hours for them to climb. When they were at the top something incredible happened. We’re told that “Jesus was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.”  Jesus was “transformed” or “changed” right before their eyes. Jesus, who is both 100% human and 100% God in one, was unveiled for a moment so that the disciples could see His incredible, brilliant, blinding glory as God.  Perhaps the closest we can imagine this is if you’ve ever accidently looked at the brightness of the sun on a clear day or perhaps accidently looked at metal that was being welded. This bright whiteness was beaming from Jesus –even his clothes!

Then, all of sudden there’s Moses and Elijah- two huge figures from the OT who both had been in heaven for hundreds and hundreds of years, there talking with Jesus.  The disciples are just frightened by this whole experience and Peter has to say something, but he doesn’t know what to say and says, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters- one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Then a cloud envelopes them and God the Father speaks, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Then they look up and everything is gone, except Jesus.  Then they went down the mountain and most likely in order that people don’t get the wrong ideas about Jesus, he told them not to tell anyone about this until he had completed his mission of dying and rising from the dead.

Wow! I’m thinking if you were one of these three disciples, this picture, this event, would be etched in your mind for the rest of your life. But Jesus didn’t mean this just as something that the disciples could picture and remember, He wanted them to picture this and be changed by it, be transformed by it into the disciples He wanted them to be.

The disciples had spent much time with Jesus and Jesus is every bit a human being just like them, just like you and me with one exception- He was without any sin. The disciples ate with Jesus, drank with Him, walked with Him, talked with Him, Jesus was hungry, thirsty, tired just like them, Jesus cried and slept just like them. Perhaps it would have been easy for them to forget just who Jesus really is. Actually, Peter had just done that a few days before this event. Just after Jesus explained that he would suffer and die, Peter rebuked Jesus, Peter- a sinful human- rebuked Jesus- the very eternal God! Really??  How foolish! How silly! How sinful! And notice how Peter reacts to this picture of Jesus: he’s terrified. And rightly so. But…do we do that? Do we rebuke God? It’s so easy for us to become comfortable with sin. To begin to think that it’s ok to lie, or ok to share some gossip, or ok to get angry or upset with my spouse, or ok to lust a little bit, or ok to fail to hear God’s Word, or ok to be selfish. But really, when we do those things, aren’t we rebuking God?! When we sin aren’t we are telling God that we know better than He does? Rebuking God??!! To do so is to invite His eternal judgment, wrath and punishment.  God wanted the disciples and He wants us too to remember His Words about Jesus, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”  This is God’s Son! God wants us to listen to Him!

The disciples were terrified. But when they looked up, everything is gone, it’s just Jesus, once again His divine glory was hidden. Yes God wanted the disciples and us to picture Jesus shining with the glory of the eternal God, but God also wanted them and us to picture something else here. They went down the mountain. Jesus went down that mountain. Think about that. They had just seen proof positive that Jesus is the very eternal Son of God.  That means He has the very power as the Son of God, the power over everything. If Jesus is the eternal Son of God, then no matter what is going to happen to Him down that mountain He has to and will remain in control no matter what, and it will have to serve for the good.  Soon, the disciples were going to see what we’re about to see during the season of Lent. They and us are going to see Jesus’ bitter suffering and death. I can imagine later on when they pictured this event in their minds it must have blew them away to know that Jesus was so clearly the Son of God who shined with all the glory of God and, yet, he went down the mountain! He went down the mountain to die on a cross for their sins, for our sins, for the sins of all! That must mean He has an incredible, mind-boggling love for us! What a picture!

But Jesus doesn’t want us to picture His transfiguration and remember it, He wants us to picture His transfiguration and be changed by it. When you’re tempted to sin, picture it as rebuking the very Son of God shining with all glory. When you’re nervous or worried about the future, picture Jesus shining with the glory as the very Son of God who not only knows the future but controls it for your good. When you’re scared or afraid of death, picture Jesus in His glory talking with Moses and Elijah who are unafraid and know that one day you too will get to talk to Jesus one on one unafraid. When you’re troubled by your sin or the guilt of past sins, picture Jesus once again alone and walking down that mountain, walking down that mountain to suffer and die and rise for you to forgive all your sins. When you doubt God’s love, picture Jesus, the eternal Son of God Himself, descend that mountain to save…you! This week, may this picture of Jesus’ transfiguration transform you with God’s power and His love. Amen.

Listen to Him!

Transfiguration Sunday
Matthew 17:1-9

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, friends in Christ,

I confess it happens more than I’d like to admit.  It usually goes something like this: My wife and I will be in the same room and she will be talking to me and telling me some things that are probably quite important like, news about my family or her family, something the children did that day, or plans of something that’s going on or an appointment that she or one of the children have, and I know she’s talking and I know she’s talking to me and I know that I should be paying attention, but then at the very same time I’ll be concentrating on something, thinking about something, reading something, focusing on something else, and then all of sudden come those fateful words and you know what they are, “Are you listening to me?”  Bam!  Now I am!  Now she has my attention, now I’m listening.  But then comes the other question, “What did I just tell you?”  Oh boy.  All her words might have been entering my eardrums but they weren’t entering my head.  Guilty.

Has that ever happened to you?  Perhaps that’s more of a guy thing than a girl thing.  As I understand it, people who study how men and women think have come to the conclusion that men can typically only concentrate on one thing at a time, but women can on a multiple of things at time.  I can be telling my wife something while she’s got three things on the stove, rocking a baby, and ordering the other children to clean up and hear everything that I tell her.  Amazing!  But, regardless, each one of us struggles with listening.

And perhaps each one of us struggles most with listening to the very One whom we should be listening to the most, and that’s our God.  Well, the disciple Peter had the same struggle.  Our text says, “After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John the brother of James, and led them up to a high mountain by themselves.”  Well, there’s a reason why we’re told this happened “after six days,” what happened six days earlier?  At the end of chapter 16 we hear about how Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say I am?”  And Peter, speaking on behalf of the 12 disciples, gave an astounding answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Exactly right!  He nailed it!

But then we’re told right after that Jesus began to tell the disciples how he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.  But now Peter again takes Jesus to the side and does what?  Begins to rebuke Jesus!!  He said, “Never, Lord!  This shall never happen to you!”  Peter, a sinful human, rebuking the Son of the living God!  Was he listening?  Was he paying attention?  Jesus replied, “Get behind me Satan!  You do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men.”

Well, six days later, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a high mountain and while they were there, Jesus was transfigured before them.  His face shone like the sun, his clothes became white as the light.  An astounding thing to see.  What a sight!  Without a doubt, Jesus is exactly whom Peter had confessed him to be: the very Son of God, shining in absolute brilliance, the veil hiding Jesus’ true glory was pulled back for the disciples to witness.  Then, what happens next?  Moses and Elijah, great and important people from OT times, appeared with Jesus and they’re talking with him!  Can you imagine being there?  As you’re standing there watching this, here’s Moses, the great leader of God’s people who led them out of slavery in Egypt, who conversed with God and gave the Israelites the commandments of God, who led the Israelites for 40 years.  And then there’s Elijah, the great prophet of God of once took on the 450 prophets of the false God Baal and confronted wicked kings, who was taken to heaven in a whirlwind of a chariot of fire.  There they are having a conversation with Jesus who is shining with divine splendor and majesty!  What a sight to see!  What a conversation to hear!

And what does Peter do?  He interrupts it all!!  He knows this is an awesome experience and is good and he seems to not want this amazing experience to stop so offers to build some shelters for everyone to stay in.  What glory to have and to have now!  But instead of listening and observing, he interrupts.

But do we do the same?  Are we more ready to speak than to listen?  When we are more concerned about ourselves, about what we want, about our own interests, about what’s on our mind, then it is very difficult for us to concentrate and listen to someone else.  When selfishly our interests are more important to us than the interests of others, we fail to listen and concentrate on others.  God tells us that we are to be quick to listen and slow to speak and become angry.  Part of putting other’s interests ahead of our own is to be genuinely interested in other people and listen to them, rather than foist our selfish interests or ideas on other people.  But what is even worse than failing to listen to other people, is failing to listen to our God.

Peter isn’t the only example of this.  In fact, each one of us has to examine our own hearts and our own past track record.  Certainly praying is a good thing and certainly God wants us to pray to him, but remember, prayer is where WE talk to God, yes God wants us to tell him everything on our hearts and minds, but He also wants us to listen, to listen to Him.  Where is it that God speaks to us?  It is in His Word, we “listen” to God when we hear and read and study and think about and consider and chew on and apply His Word to our lives.  Do we do this?  Do we do this consistently?  God wants to be the top priority in our lives, he wants us to constantly think about Him all the time, to constantly put him first in our lives all the time, constantly make decisions based on what He tells us in His Word.  Could God rightly look at you and me with anger and say, “Are you listening to me??”  God wants us to be patient, to take the words and actions of others in the kindest possible way, to be quick to listen and understand others before insisting on our own ideas or opinions.  Could God rightly look at you and me with anger and say, “Are you listening to me??”  The fact is that each one of us has failed to listen to our God, each one of us has let His words pass through one ear and out the other, each one of us has failed to take our God’s words to heart and do what He tells us.  Therefore, each one of us deserves to be eternally separated in hell from the very one whom we’ve so often refused to listen to.

And so did Peter and James and John.  But what happened next?  A bright cloud enveloped them and God Himself interrupted Peter’s foolish talk, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.  Listen to him.”  At this the disciples are still terrified and fall face down to the ground.  But notice there was no lightning bolts striking Peter dead, no fire falling from the sky to crush this sinner, rather, there was God’s voice telling them to continue to listen to Jesus and then what did Jesus do?  He came over and touched and said, “Don’t be afraid.”  Then Jesus led them down the mountain.

Why didn’t the disciples have to be afraid?  Why don’t you and I have to be afraid of God?  Because Jesus went down that mountain.  This is what God wanted the disciples and He wants us to listen to.  He wants us to listen to Jesus’ words and actions.  You see, Jesus could have stayed on that mountain basking in the glory of being God Himself and no one could have ever touched Him.  But he didn’t.  He went down the mountain to go into bitter suffering and into death on a cross.  Why?  To pay the penalty you and I owe for our sins, for every time we’ve spoken selfishly, every time we’ve failed to listen to God.  Jesus came to wash us clean from those sins and every sin with his perfect blood.

If that’s what Jesus has done for us, is He someone we want to listen to?  Certainly.  This Lent as we watch Jesus go down into the valley of the shadow of death, listen solemnly to God’s Words for you, for me, words like, “He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, by his wounds we are healed.  We all like sheep have gone astray…and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”  And having listened to Jesus’ grace for us, let us, in our own lives listen, seek to listen to others so that we might hear what they tell us and at the right time God might use us to encourage, to comfort, to build them up with the only message that builds us up: that we have a glorious Savior who went down one mountain to ascend another in order to go to the cross and save us and win eternal life for us, let’s listen to him!  Amen.