Transfiguration – Vicar Stoppenhagen
The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Text: Mark 9:2-9
Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh
14 February 2021
In the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world. Amen.
Why do you build your tent? We are all tentmakers, just like Peter. Maybe you see the storm clouds gathering in the distance. Maybe the darkness is creeping up on you. Maybe you’re just tired and need a place to rest. We’re always looking for a reason to cut the journey short, circle the wagons, and pitch our tents.
And that’s what we’re quick to accuse Peter of doing here on the Mount of the Transfiguration. He’s trying to cut Jesus’ journey short! Look at how selfish he is! Obviously he wants to set up camp so that he and James and John can dwell in the glory of the Lord for the rest of eternity. Jesus did just tell them that some of them wouldn’t “taste death” until they had seen the kingdom come in power. This must be it—and they don’t even have to die!
But I think Peter’s intentions are more honorable than that. After all, Mark makes it clear that Peter didn’t even know what he was saying, because they were all scared out of their minds. But sometimes it’s in those moments of terror and confusion that one catches a glimpse of clarity and confidence. Yes, Peter sees that Jesus is revealing his glory as the Son of God, but he also sees that this glory is just like the glory of God on Mt. Sinai. In short, Peter sees a new Exodus.
Think about it for a moment. Jesus and his disciples have been wandering through the wilderness of ministry, like the Israelites in the desert. Now Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a high mountain by themselves, just like Moses led the seventy elders of Israel up Mount Sinai. All of a sudden, Moses appears with Elijah. True, Elijah is a little out of place, but having all three together would make for a great face-to-face conversation with God, just like the elders of Israel experienced. Then the cloud overshadows, and God speaks out of the cloud, just as he did during the Exodus. The whole scene looks and sounds just like giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai.
Peter’s reaction makes sense then. He’s thinking just like any faithful Jew would! In his mind, Jesus is just reviving the Exodus, so that he can lead them into the Promised Land. And just as God dwelled in a tabernacle with Israelites in the wilderness, so Jesus will need his own tent to dwell with them. So Peter offers to make him one. Jesus can veil himself with the pillar of cloud, lead the disciples around Galilee, converse with them in the tabernacle, and then eventually restore the Promised Land to Israel.
But this is where Peter is mistaken. Tents are only necessary for people who are on a journey, and Israel’s Exodus has already come to an end. With Jesus words, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand,” Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness and their exiles in Babylon were ended. The kingdom of God, the true Promise Land, has come to them in Jesus, the Messiah, tabernacled in human flesh. Where Christ is, there is the kingdom of God in all its fullness. The Exodus to the Promised Land is over. Jesus teaching establishes a new way, the way of the Kingdom.
That’s why God says out of the cloud, “Listen to him.” Listen to Jesus. Don’t listen to Moses anymore. Don’t listen to Elijah anymore. Their prophecies simply pointed to this person, to Christ Jesus. Listen to Jesus’ words, because they fulfill and give new meaning to the words of Moses and Elijah. Israel’s old journey has ended. A new journey has begun, led not by Moses and the prophets, but by Christ. Look to him and no one else.
But to stay on the mountain would, in fact, cut the new journey short. So Jesus and the disciples must come down the mountain. However, this new journey is not going to be easy. A week before the Transfiguration, Jesus had dropped the bombshell on his disciples: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected…and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Who in their right mind would follow a man who prophesies his own death? No wonder Peter wanted to stay on the mountain! Jesus had issued a challenge alongside his prophecy, too: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” The message is clear. If you’re going to be a true follower of Jesus, a full citizen of His kingdom, you must join him on his journey to a different mountain—the Mount of the Crucifixion.
To the naked ear, it sounds ridiculous. Why would Jesus, the true Son of God, let himself be rejected, beaten, and killed? Why would he leave the glory of the holy mountain to descend and journey through the valley of the shadow of death? Because that’s where we are. We might think we’re at the heights of glory, but we’re trapped in the pit of despair. Behind every façade of success is a well of pain and suffering. We’ve faced rejection. We’ve been beaten down by the rat race of life. We continually wallow in our sin and in our guilt.
These are the reasons we build our tents. To shield ourselves from the violent storms of life; to protect ourselves from wilderness of the world; to push away the painful people of our past; to shelter what little light we have left from the crushing darkness of despair. But our flimsy tents never seem to hold up. The pain and darkness always find a way to penetrate our hearts.
But God has looked down from his holy mountain into our valley of suffering and had compassion on us. But he doesn’t simply shout down to us and say, “Come up here! I will take care of you!” No, his compassion was so great that instead of making us climb to him, he sent his Son down into the valley to gather his scattered flock. It’s out of God’s great love for us that Christ has come down from the mountain, suffered the death of the cross, and rose victoriously to new life.
So tear down your worthless self-made tents. Christ doesn’t need them, because he has made you into his tent. The Spirit of Christ has entered you and made you his dwelling place. You will still face the challenges of this world. You will still wrestle with sin and the temptations of the devil. But Christ dwells in you and strengthens. He is the peace amid our stormy existence. He is the resurrection that enlivens our hope for eternal life. He is the light that casts out all darkness.
Even more, he is shaping you and molding you by the trials that you endure. As Paul says, “we all…are being transformed”—we are being transfigured!—“into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” We are all becoming little Christs. His light shines ever brighter in us, until that day when we leave behind our earthly tents and join the saints who dwell eternally on the mountain of the Lord, in his house, in the light of his glory forever.
In the holy name of Jesus. Amen.