Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”– not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!
Week ago I had this great conversation with this young man. It is so good to see how the Holy Spirit works with people, gently leading them closer to Jesus. It is a miracle. And it is a great joy to be present and to witness it.
So we were having this conversation and this young man said that he had thought that he knew what the Christianity is about… but now as he listens to God speaking in His Word, he is learning again and again that he was wrong on almost everything that he thought he knew.
That has been my observation that this is true probably with every outsider to Christianity, and not only with them, often it is true also about those who consider themselves insiders.
For how would anyone know who God is and what He is like, if you don’t listen to Him speaking to you? Because this is how we get to know others, when they converse with us and when we listen to them.
Sometimes I wonder to what extent it is true also with us. There is this great quote: “Our understanding is obscured not by what we don’t know, but by what we think we know.” How much do we know about our God and His message to us? Or about our own rich theological heritage? And how much do we think that we know?
Sometimes I wonder how well do we understand our liturgy, our Divine Service? For that is one of first the things people seem to be ready to abandon. With good intentions of course. And then it comes out that those people actually don’t even understand the things they wanted to through away. Like children, who are ready to exchange a priceless diamond to a handful of colourful lollies.
Or think about our perception of the study of the Scriptures. I have encountered it again and again, that people think that that is something terribly boring, or what is worse, dangerous for our faith, and we need to keep away from those studies. It is worth asking those couple dozen of our brothers and sisters, who attend our studies, what they think about them.
And if we do not listen to our God, when He speaks to us, why would we think that we can understand the depth and the breath and the joyful riches of His message to us. And if we don’t understand … who loses?
It is us, we rob ourselves of joy that comes when we sit at the feet of Jesus and listen as He teaches us, revealing His wisdom, our Father’s loving heart, God’s mysteries, His plans for our future, and so many other things.
And, of course, people in our lives are robbed as well. For we can’t bring them the joy and the hope and the comfort and the wisdom that Jesus pours out thought His Word, and we also struggle to bring them closer to Jesus, for there is not much that we can tell them about our God. So they remain in darkness…
Let’s look at our today’s passage. There is so much in it that we can only scratch the surface. When we read this passage, when we begin to unpack the significance of this event, it reveals us new dimensions about our God.
We could say that He is the artist of all artists. Except, He doesn’t paint the story of our salvation on canvas, He paints it in history. He doesn’t use colours, He uses times and places, nations and rulers, to reveal the incredibly beautiful picture of His plan for His people.
So, what was going on? Jesus “took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.
And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”
We don’t see it in English translation, but Moses and Elijah were speaking with Jesus about His exodus. Exodus. Which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. What do you think when you hear the word exodus?
That’s right, we are transported back in time to the super-power of its time, Egypt. There was a little nation living among Egyptians, the descendants of Abraham, oppressed under the rule of this malevolent pharaoh.
And what happened? God Yahweh intervened. In the most unbelievable way. He called this gentle man Moses and sent him to the pharaoh of Egypt to demand that the pharaoh would let the entire nation, his so handy slaves to go.
When the pharaoh repeatedly denied the request, God Yahweh displayed His power to all Egyptians and to the surrounding nations, triumphing mightily over the gods and military powers of Egypt. He just took this little nation, which He called “my son Israel” and led them out of the slavery, leaving Egypt devastated and amazed at such miraculous display of power.
That’s what we know as the Exodus. True God, the Creator of heavens and earth, liberating His people from all the oppressors, from the slavery to earthly powers and false gods, and leading them to the promised land.
We also know that prophet Isaiah eight centuries before Jesus, foretold about even greater exodus, where God Yahweh would free all His people from all our oppressors. From sin, from death, and from devil.
Elijah, one of the most well-known prophets was supposed to return and to prepare the way for this greater exodus, to prepare the way for the Lord, who would come to dwell among His people and to lead them into true freedom.
And what does Luke describe for us? The same Son of God, who stood with Moses on the Mount Sinai, stood in front of His three closest disciples and with the same Moses and Elijah, for a short while transformed in His divine glory.
And what were they discussing? The Exodus of Jesus which He would accomplish in Jerusalem. God who cares for His people once again would go before them and would lead them to freedom.
This time it wasn’t about crossing the sea, the symbol of underworld and chaos, this time it was about descending into the very death and hell. It was about God Himself leading His people through death into true life, eternal life.
As with the first exodus, also here the might of the Lord would triumph, and He would accomplish what He wills, and nothing would stop Him. What a picture! Moses and Elijah, the prophets of the Most-High, speaking with the Son of God, as He is getting ready to sacrifice His life so that we can be freed from our ultimate enemies and transferred into His Kingdom.
And as they discussed what was going to happen, Peter interrupts them. O, Peter! “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”.
Whenever Peter speaks from his own heart, he gets it wrong. First, he interrupts their conversation. Second, He gets the characters wrong. He speaks of the three, of Moses, Elijah and Jesus, as if they were equals. Let’s make three tents!
And, third, he gets the whole event wrong. He likes the place, he likes the situation, he likes them so much that he wants to stay there. We will return to this point later. Peter gets is so wrong that God the Father needs to intervene.
And He does, causing great fear and trembling to the three disciples. “As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”
They fell on the ground out of fear. “This is my Son, not the others… listen to Him!” What does this mean? What does this mean for us? Surely, generally it would mean that we need to listen to Jesus, to everything that He teaches us.
And this is what He Himself repeats right before His ascension. “Learn to observe everything that I commanded you.” But in this specific event it means something else, something more specific, and this is really important.
What happened before this event? Jesus taught about His mission and about what it means to follow Him. “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
This doesn’t sound as appealing as hanging out with glorious and dazzlingly dressed Jesus. But… and this is the point. Both for Jesus and for us. Our path to the divine glory goes through the cross. Cross comes first, and only then the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
This was true for Jesus ministry. First He went to Jerusalem, was betrayed and murdered. Then He was raised triumphant and glorious. Peter, John and James would have loved to stay with the transformed Jesus, but the Father reminded to listen to what Jesus was teaching them. Before the glory comes the cross.
The same is true for us. Following Jesus is not about the earthly glory. Even as we desire it deep in our hearts. Here we are to imitate our Master. We are to serve. To deny ourselves. To sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others.
Even our enemies. So that everyone can hear the Gospel of Jesus from our lips and to see it lived out in our lives. And when this life is over, when we are done carrying our crosses, comes the resurrection. This is where the deepest longings of our hearts will finally find their fulfillment.
As Paul the apostle wrote: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Rom 8:18) How good will that be! How good will that be?
We have been given a little glimpse in our today’s Gospel reading. The reaction of Peter, John and James when they experience the divine glory of Jesus speaks volumes. We know that Peter was married, and he had his fishing business.
Partnering with Zebedee, the father of John and James. By all accounts it should have been rather lucrative a business. They were supplying their products to elites in Jerusalem, the household of the high priest including.
But suddenly they experienced something not from this world. They experienced the presence of Jesus with His divine glory revealed. How breathtaking, how overwhelming must this experience have been, that these men didn’t worry anymore about their families, about their businesses, about their entire lives… so that only they could continue to experience the divine glory. Remember, “… the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
This much for a glimpse of what our God has prepared for us. We need to listen to Jesus. If there was no other reason, then because God the Father told us so. We need to listen to Jesus, for when He speaks, He transfers us into much greater reality.
As we listen to Him, He opens our eyes and expands our minds, our imagination, so that we can taste the riches and beauty of the life to come and to say with other disciples: “It is so good to be with you, Jesus. So good.”