The End and the Beginning (Transfiguration 2010)


Todd A. Peperkorn, STM

Messiah Lutheran Church

Kenosha, Wisconsin

Transfiguration (January 24, 2010)

Matthew 17:1-9


TITLE: “The Mountain and the Valley”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for this morning is from the Gospel just read, the Transfiguration of Our Lord.

There is a great temptation when you are at one of those moments of your life that are so wonderful, so beautiful and perfect, that you never want to leave. It is very easy to want to go from mountaintop to mountaintop, and not to peer into the valleys. The valleys are dark. The valleys are dangerous. The valleys are where all the action is, and that action is not always a good thing for sinners like you and I.

If you have ever wanted to go back in time to that perfect point in your life, you can understand Peter in our text. Here you have Jesus going up on a mountain to pray, along with His closest disciples, Peter, James and John. They have gone off by themselves to regroup, and to prepare for the coming road to Jerusalem and the cross. It has been six short days since Peter’s great confession, “You are the Christ the Son of the living God.” God had revealed this great confession to Peter, but apparently it didn’t stick yet. Right afterwards, Jesus tells them that he is going to Jerusalem and death. Peter wanted to stop Jesus from going on that hard road, but Jesus rebuked him.

So here they are, up on the mountain, and they get this incredible vision. Jesus changes before their very eyes. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. Like Moses so many years before, Jesus seemed to be the glory of God in the flesh. And then, wonder of wonders! Moses and Elijah appear! These two great men, prophets and deliverers of God’s people, are right in front of them, talking with Jesus. This wasn’t a dream! It was real, and the three disciples are there to witness the whole thing.

We can understand Simon Peter here. Great, Lord! Let’s set up shop right here, you, Moses and Elijah. We’ll make a tabernacle for you just like the good olé days. Then right in the middle of Peter’s proposal, they are enveloped in a bright cloud and a voice comes from out of the cloud and says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

Now to you and I, those words should sound at least a little familiar. They are identical to the words that our Heavenly Father said over Jesus at His Baptism in the Jordan River. But here, some words are added. Here we get that final statement, “listen to Him.” That may sound like something obvious, but it isn’t. Peter in his excitement and brashness caught himself telling Jesus what to do. He wanted to be with God-in-the-flesh, but he wanted it on his terms, not God’s terms.

And that is where we come in. So often we want God with us, but we want Him with us on our terms, not His terms. I want God when He is up on the mountain, looking down, filled with the glory of God, and when things are right and perfect and beautiful. It is a glorious site, that’s for sure. Who wouldn’t want a God like that? Who wouldn’t want a life like that?

There is a problem, though. While that may be a dream, it is a selfish dream. It is a dream that has no place for anyone else, even God. You see, to be in the image of God means to get outside of yourself and to get into the shoes of your neighbor. It means to live with them, to suffer with them, and yes, even to die with them and for them. It means to rejoice when they rejoice, and to weep when they weep. That’s what God is really like. The light of God does not just come down upon us in the sunshine. God’s light is clearer in the darkness. Listen to how our hymn confesses it:

Come, heav’nly Bridegroom, Light divine,

And deep within our hearts now shine;

There light a flame undying!

In Your one body let us be

As living branches of a tree,

Your life our lives supplying.

Now, though daily

Earth’s deep sadness

May perplex us

And distress us,

Yet with heav’nly joy You bless us. (LSB 395:2)

The sad reality is earth’s deep sadness does perplex and distress us. While the view from the mountain may be great, for most of us, we actually live in the valley of the shadow of death. The mountains are a part of the journey, but have you ever noticed when climbing a mountain that it takes a lot longer to climb up than it does to go down?

Today we rejoice with Peter, James and John that God’s glory is in our midst. You and I experience that glory even more directly than those disciples did, here in His body and blood. That gracious presence of Jesus that ties us to Him as living branches of a tree, ties us to Him so that we may go out into the world. Christ goes with us all the way, and we are going, even into that valley.

Enjoy the view from this great mountain! From this mountain we can see the valley of Lent, where we will go down and then up again to another mountain, Mount Calvary, where our Lord will be lifted up, and where He will draw us to Himself (John 12:32). From this same mountain we can see the heavenly city, Jerusalem, the city of peace where we will dwell with Him forever.

Now that’s a picture to consider, isn’t it? Hear again how our hymn confesses that great reality:

What joy to know, when life is past,

The Lord we love is first and last,

The end and the beginning!

He will one day, oh, glorious grace,

Transport us to that happy place

Beyond all tears and sinning!

Amen! Amen!

Come, Lord Jesus!

Crown of gladness!

We are yearning

For the day of Your returning!

Even so, come Lord Jesus. Change us into your holy image, that we may bear it to the end of days and your great returning. Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith, unto life everlasting. Amen.

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