“It is Good for Us to Be Here”
Sermon, The Transfiguration of Our Lord, January 25, 2015
Last Sunday our text was about Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana. (John 2:1-12). In some churches the lectionary reading last Sunday was about the confession of Peter. The confession of Peter happened when Jesus asked His disciples at Caesarea Philippi who people said that He was. They say, “Some say Elijah, or John the Baptist.” But Jesus asks them, “Who do you say I am?” And Peter boldly confesses, “You are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus commends him, saying that he is blest to know this, for only the Father in heaven could have revealed this to him. Later, Jesus tells the disciples that the Son of Man, (one of His ways of describing Himself), must go to Jerusalem and be taken captive, suffer, be crucified, die, and be raised on the third day. Peter, as usual, was the first to speak. He rebukes Jesus whom He had just confessed to be the Son of God, telling Him that that cannot be right. It seems Peter thought that the Son of God must have had a lapse in judgment. It was a good thing for him to be here to set the Master straight before He did something rash like deliberately get Himself killed. Jesus rebukes Peter sternly, calling him Satan and telling him to get out of His way. For he was not setting his mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:23) The things of God being the prophecies that the Son of Man came to serve, not be served, came to suffer, came to take on the sins of all and die for them so that those who believe in HIm would have eternal life. Peter had not been thinking about those things, but about earthly glory.
But Jesus doesn’t fire Peter on the spot. Instead he gathers the crowds and the disciples and tells them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” (Matthew16:28 ESV). This sets up the scene for today’s text.
It is now six days later and Jesus takes some of those He was speaking to just then, Peter, James, and John, to the top of a mountain. There He is transfigured, that is, He is changed in appearance. His face is as bright as the sun and His clothes are like shining lights. And not only that, Moses and Elijah are with Jesus. James and John are silent, but Peter starts babbling, “Lord, it is good that we are here. I’ll make three tents, one for each of you if you want.” Suddenly a bright cloud overshadows them and a voice says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased: Listen to Him!” In other words, “Be quiet, Peter, and listen to what my Son says.” Don’t give Him advice about how to build His Kingdom. He knows what He is doing for He is following my Word. Your job is simply to listen, trust, and obey Him, as He listens, trusts, and obeys Me. Poor Peter gets another tongue lashing, this time from the Father, for not listening to Jesus, His Son. But there was a kernel of truth in Peter’s blathering. It was good for him and the others to be there, if not in the sense that he meant it, as we will see. But first let’s look at Peter and his brother apostles.
It’s easy for us to pick on Peter. He is so out front with his mistakes that we can’t miss them. And that is partly the point. The Scriptures allow us to see the heroes of the faith with all their blemishes so that we can see ourselves in them and learn the lessons they learned, chief among them that they and we are chosen by the Lord by grace, not by anything they or we did. Jesus chose the twelve disciples knowing full well that they would not understand fully who He was until after He had risen, that some, like James and John would look haggle about who would be the greatest when Jesus came into His Kingdom (Mark 10:37), that some, like Peter would try to tell Him how to build and rule His kingdom. But Jesus chose them anyway out of grace and taught them by Word and deed, gave His body and blood to them in the Supper, breathed the Holy Spirit into them and loved them as brothers. They finally came to know Jesus, His Word, His Sacrament, and His cross as the only way to the Kingdom that they would inherit by grace through faith by the power of the Holy Spirit.
It is easy for us to pick on Peter and the slow-to-understand disciples, but we shouldn’t dismiss what they did or said out of hand, for they loved Jesus and wanted to know Him. When Peter says, “It is good for us to be here.” he seems to mean that it was good that they were there so that they do something, anything, build tents for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, as if they needed them. But, as we know, It was good for Peter and James and John to be there to hear God’s confirming word, and to see the glory of Jesus that had been partially hidden to them in His ministry, so that their faith would be strengthened.
And It had always been good for them to be in the presence of Jesus, to hear Him teach and to pray with him, to hear His repeated promise of eternal life to all who believe in Him. The apostles were blessed to be the closest companions of Jesus in the three years of His earthly ministry. But He was about to leave them for a while, and they would need to be prepared. They needed to start thinking ahead, to prepare mentally for when He would be arrested, tried, crucified, and killed, and to remember His predictions when these things came to pass. All that would sustain them in the dark days ahead would be the remembrance of His promises that He would be raised from the dead, and for Peter, James, and John, the remembrance of seeing Jesus’ glory on the mount of transfiguration. It was good for them to be there.
And It is good for us to be here, too, for wherever two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, there He will be among us. Here we are also in the presence of Moses and Elijah and all the prophets of the Old Testament. Here we hear their words from the Old Testament, which pointed to the promised Messiah. And here we hear the word of God through the apostles of the New Testament who witnessed the coming of the prophesied Savior. Here we get a glimpse of the glory that Moses saw when he talked with God on Mount Sinai, the glory that left his face glowing, a reflection of the glory that would come over a thousand years later in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. We see that glory in the light of the Gospel. And we need this glimpse of glory, this confirmation of Jesus as Son of God, because we, like Peter, are tempted to give Jesus advice rather than listen and trust, because we, like James and John are tempted to seek our own glory rather than Gods, because the cross lies ahead for all of us.
It is good for us to be here, because our brothers and sisters in the faith need our support. They need to see us here worshipping. They need our prayers together in church, as well as the prayers that we offer individually for them during the week. .
It is good for us to be here, because we tend to forget the big picture. We see up close our troubles. We see the depressing news stories of a fallen world and we lose heart. We see our finances suffering after all the Christmas spending. We see our health failing and that of our friends and family. We long for the good old glory days of our youth. We forget the stories of those faithful before us whose lives were filled with trials every bit as difficult as ours and more difficult, but whose faith was vindicated by the promises of God, who never breaks a promise. Here we are reminded that the saints such as Peter, suffered doubts and fear and depression, but God never left them, but gave them the strength to face the worst trials with the joy of knowing His love and that the promises for them were true. He gives us also this strength, and will continue to give it.
It is good for us to be here most of all to grow in our faith, to be strengthened by the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God, shaping us into new people, transfiguring us to conform to the image of Christ. What we see and hear here may not be as exciting or dramatic as the sight of Jesus transfigured on the mountain, but one apostle said that it is even more of a gift.
That apostle was Saint Peter, who saw Jesus in His glory. He wrote to his readers in his second letter that he didn’t make up anything clever about Jesus, no myths. He told what he had seen with his own eyes and heard with his own ears. And what he saw was Jesus in his full majesty and glory. What he heard was the voice of God the Father from the bright cloud giving Jesus honor and glory, and who from His glory said, “This is My Son Whom I love and with Whom I am delighted.” As amazing as all that was to see and hear, Peter says we have something even more certain than the glorious Transfiguration that he saw with his own eyes. Peter says we have the Word. We have Holy Scripture, through which the Holy Spirit creates and strengthens faith. This Word is even greater than that mountaintop experience that Peter and James and John had. For that experience, as wonderful as it was, was soon over. The light of Jesus’ face and clothes returned to normal. It was a once in a lifetime experience. But we who have the Word have a radiant light that never goes out. In all times, but especially in dark times, Peter urges his readers to look to the Word as a light shining in a dark place, a light to our paths and a lamp to our feet on the path that leads through the crosses of life to the glory of eternal life.
When times are darkest, we can open our Bibles to see the glory of God’s love for us in His sending His Son to die for us, so that we might live eternally. When we feel alone we can come here for fellowship our Lord in His Word and Sacrament, and with our brothers and sisters of the faith. When we feel we have little to give, God takes our tithes and offerings and gives us His promise that He will take care of us, that He will give us our daily bread, for He knows our every need, He knows every bill that is due, every dollar in our bank account and every penny in our pockets, every hair on our head, and every molecule of our body. It is good for us to be here, for here is a place of joy amid sorrow, a place of hope amid despair, a place of forgiveness for the guilty, a place of light amid darkness.
The Gospel of Saint Mark and Saint Luke all record the Transfiguration, but the Gospel of Saint Mark is the only one that records that Peter did not know what he was saying on the mount of Transfiguration. Saint Mark, who wrote the Gospel, was Peter’s companion in his ministry. So it is likely that Peter told him this little insight. Peter offered this little detail so that we could learn from it. The voice of God set Peter straight. It spoke the law, “Listen to Him.” And it spoke the Gospel, “This is my beloved Son.” We, as adopted sons and daughters of God in Baptism, are therefore beloved of God, too. We stand here in His grace. We behold here His glory in His Word and Sacrament. It is good to be here. Amen.