Read Matthew 17:1-9
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, my family and those whom God loves:
Let us pray. Lord God, bless your Word wherever it is proclaimed. Make it a word of power and peace to convert those not yet your own and to confirm those who have come to saving faith. May your Word pass from the ear to the heart, from the heart to the lip, and from the lip to the life that, as you have promised, your Word may achieve the purpose for which you sent it; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Peter said, Lord, it is good that we are here (Matthew 17:4). How many of you are experiencing that right now? Not just feeling or thinking it, but truly believing that it is good that I am here.
Perhaps, however, you’re not feeling or thinking that. Maybe your mind is somewhere else, looking forward to something more interesting. Or it could be that your heart is feeling burdened by some concern and as so often occurs, being in worship and in the presence of God makes you want to get away from here rather than draw near. So is it good that you are here? Let’s listen to God’s Word.
Matthew, Mark and Luke and even our reading from 2 Peter (1:16-21), all record this account of Jesus’ transfiguration, that event where Jesus takes his inner circle of Peter, James and John up a high mountain by themselves (17:1). It is there that Jesus is fully revealed as he is transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light (17:2).
Then if that wasn’t enough, behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him (17:3). The Gospel of Luke records that (9:31) they were discussing with Jesus his departure – his coming crucifixion and death, maybe even his resurrection and ascension.
While this is all happening, from the edge of the main event Peter, gobstopped by what he is seeing and hearing, blurts out to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” It’s a Kodak moment, as the saying goes.
Oh, if we could capture the best of life, when we were at our prime; when we were happy; when everything in the church was running well; when the pews were full…Oh, if we could just capture the glory of life…Then it would be good to be here.
But in the midst of Peter’s attempt to capture this glory; while he’s still flapping his jaws, 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 (17:5). Suddenly, Peter’s attempt to capture the glory or to bring glory to the moment is silenced by God the Father who needs no such human glory, but instead sets before these humans the glory of God, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him (17:5). To know and confess Jesus as the Son of God and in faith to obey all that he has commanded you (Matthew 28:20) is to be in the glory of God.
However, this glory of God does something else also. When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified (17:6). When you come before God, you are coming before the God who knows not just your sinful actions, but who also knows the deep dark secrets of your heart and your mind, every one of your hidden sins. These disciples knew that to come before the holy God was to be destroyed because holiness destroys impurity, sinfulness, evil. Perhaps this is why some people do not want to come to church where God’s bright cloud overshadows all who gather and where his voice speaks his Law accusing us all of sin and throwing us onto our faces. It is as Jesus said (John 3:19-20):
19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.
And yet it is this same fear that rather than leading these disciples to run away moves them to fall on their faces in worship before God. To fear God is biblical. Every one of Luther’s explanations to the Ten Commandments begins with, We should fear and love God…. And God’s Word reminds us that The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight (Proverbs 9:10).
When you come into this sanctuary where the Word of God is proclaimed in its truth and purity and where on this altar, Christ’s very body and blood is given for you, do you bow in fear as you come before God as a sinner in need of his grace and mercy? Or do you saunter into this place as if you own it and God is nothing more than some spiritual existence out there some place?
It is good that we are here in fear before God almighty like Peter, James and John because it is only on our knees, confessing our sin and acknowledging what we deserve because of our sin that we can then receive what Jesus brings.
But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only (17:7-8). These disciples had encountered God almighty, but they had not been destroyed. Instead, Jesus was there to lift them up and comfort them.
As they rose, before them stood the Jesus who had called them; who had taught them; who had healed many; calmed a storm; raised the dead; who had said, Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). Before them was the Jesus who had fed five thousand and walked on water and called them to deny themselves, take up his cross and follow. This was the Jesus who although he was God had come in grace and mercy to take their fear, their sin away; to raise them up and set them free to live life together, to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth and to serve their neighbours in the love of God.
This is why it is good for us to be here that we might flee from our sinful selves, the world and the devil who would lead us away from God and into destruction. It is good for us to be here that we might run to God and fall on our knees before the mercy of God in Christ Jesus.
Yes, it is even good to be here to hear the accusation of God’s Law revealing our sinful nature because to repentant sinners, those who in contrition and faith come before Jesus, he speaks those words of Good News, Rise, and have no fear. Your sins are forgiven. Come to my table. Take into your mouths my body and my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. Yes, it is good to be here.
As incredible as that mountain top experience was, Jesus did not stay on the Mount of Transfiguration, but led his disciples back down to continue a journey that would eventually lead them and him to the cross.
This coming week we are also invited onto a journey with Jesus which begins as we gather on Wednesday for Ash Wednesday service. There we will again come as we are – sinners needing to confess our sin; to fall on our knees before Almighty God. But then, we will be raised by our Lord to follow him through this season of Lent, denying ourselves, being more diligent in gathering for worship, reading and studying God’s Word, praying and loving our neighbours.
The one who leads us on this journey is none other than the Son of God, God Almighty; to be feared and yet he has come among us in human form to live with us, to die for us and to raise us up to life everlasting.
Therefore, it is good, really good to be here today; to know this Jesus who is with us and who is our comfort and our hope. Amen.
Grace be with you,