Click HERE for an audio podcast of this message.
Jesus uncovered his glory as the Son of God in different ways throughout his public ministry. There was the voice from heaven and the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove at his baptism. There was his first miracle, at least the first he did in the presence of his disciples- turning water into wine. We heard about Peter’s reaction to the miraculous catch of fish – he told Jesus to go away from him for the miracle had uncovered not only Jesus’ holiness but his own sinfulness. The twelve had witnessed the feeding of 5,000, the healing of all kinds of sicknesses and diseases including leprosy. They had seen Jesus cast out demons, walk on water and still storms. Having seen all these things, Jesus asked them who they thought he was. Peter was quick to answer, you are the Christ the Son of the Living God.
How wonderful! Even though Jesus hid his glory most of the time; most of the time he was walking and talking with them just like any other human, teaching them, often getting away from the crowds so that he wouldn’t be hounded to heal; Peter was still convinced by these glimpses of glory and by the words of Jesus that he was the promised Messiah, the Son of God.
But just as is often the case with us, Peter’s bold confession was quickly replaced by bold sin. When Jesus explained that because he is the Christ he would be going to Jerusalem, not to establish a glorious earthly kingdom, but to suffer and die, Peter tried to tell Jesus, the one he had just confessed to be the Son of God, that he didn’t know what he was talking about. Jesus rebuked him and pointed out that his suggestion that he didn’t have to suffer was not coming from faith but from Satan.
After the rebuke, Jesus continued to patiently and lovingly instruct Peter and the other disciples, reminding them that they too would need to take up a cross in order to follow him. Then, within a week, Jesus did something for Peter, James and John that would help them as they saw him suffer, and as they themselves would suffer for confessing that he is the Christ, the Son of God.
Jesus took them up on a mountain to pray. As he prayed, we see a foreshadowing of what was to come. They were weighed down with sleep. They had difficulty watching and praying with Jesus already on this mountain. While Jesus was praying the appearance of his face changed, and his clothing became dazzling white. Jesus uncovered his glory as the Son of God.
Unlike Moses, whose face glowed with the reflected glory of God, which faded away day by day, Jesus was the source of the glory. It’s the glory he has had with the Father from eternity, and the glory he will continue to have as he provides glorious light for all who will live with him in the New Jerusalem. That sight was greater proof than all the miracles they had seen Jesus perform! No matter what happened, no matter how much Satan or their sinful nature tempted them to question whether Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, they could say, “But we saw him shining with the glory of God,” we were with him on the sacred mountain.
That would have been a wonderful source of strength and comfort by itself, but there was more. We are told, two men, Moses and Elijah, were talking with him! We aren’t told how they knew it was Moses and Elijah, but what strength and comfort this sight would give them! When they were called upon to take up a cross for Jesus, to suffer for confessing that Jesus was the Christ the Son of God, they would be reminded that all those who are faithful unto death receive the crown of life, just as Moses and Elijah did. They had died, but as Jesus promised at the funeral of Lazarus, those who live and believe in Jesus continue to live, even though they die. Their souls live and reign with Christ until he comes again in glory on the last day, and everyone sees his full glory uncovered. All the dead will be raised, and all believers will live, body and soul, in the presence of Jesus’ uncovered glory forever.
The fact that Peter, James, and John got to see Moses and Elijah in glory is still a source of strength and comfort for us today. It continues to assure us that our loved ones who have died trusting in Jesus are not dead. They too are living and reigning with Jesus, and Moses and Elijah, and Peter- all who have died believing in Jesus. It’s an encouragement to us to take up our cross and remain faithful to Jesus no matter what so that we get to join them one day.
What was Peter’s reaction? Like all of us he preferred glory to the cross. He offered to put up three shelters or tents, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. Who can blame him! Who wouldn’t want to stay there and bask in the glory of Jesus as long as possible! But Peter didn’t realize what he was saying.
What didn’t he realize? He didn’t realize that what he was suggesting was that he was willing to trade lasting glory for temporary glory. He proposed tents, temporary shelters, so that he and others could enjoy something beautiful and exciting for a little while on earth. But who would want to trade that for enjoying the beauty and excitement of living in God’s presence forever? Peter didn’t realize what he was saying. He didn’t want to think about what Jesus had said would happen when they came down the mountain and headed for Jerusalem.
Like Peter, we are all attracted to what Luther calls a theology of glory. We are quick to focus on the miracles Jesus performed, and on the glorious moments of his ministry. We are quick to focus on the day of Pentecost when 3000 were added to God’s church in one day. We are quick to think that’s the norm. That’s the way it should be. We might even be tempted to believe those false teachers who say that if we are faithful enough, if we live right, if we do all the right things for Jesus, then we will experience miracles, or speak in tongues—we will experience some glory on earth. But glimpses of God’s glory on earth are the exception, not the rule. If we are looking for the exception, we need be reminded that we are elevating the temporary over the eternal. We are not listening to Jesus, and we will be greatly disappointed.
As Peter’s thinking was clouded by a theology of glory, a cloud came and overshadowed them. Think of the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire by which God indicated his presence with Israel in the desert, or the cloud that descended on Mt. Sinai at the giving of the law, or the cloud that filled the Tabernacle when God came to speak with Moses. In the Old Testament we refer to these things as “The Glory of the Lord”, the indication of the presence of God who is hiding his glory in a cloud so that we are not destroyed by it.
They were afraid as the went into the cloud, and rightly so as they were entering the presence of the Father. Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
That’s what Peter needed to bring him back to reality. That’s what we need if we ever get caught up in the theology of glory that wants to substitute something temporary and fading from what is eternal and unfading. We need to listen to Jesus.
What does Jesus say? He clearly says that the way to glory is through the cross. He had made it clear that when they got to Jerusalem he would go to the cross. Peter didn’t want to hear it, but the Father says, “Listen to Jesus.”
Jesus clearly says that the way to glory for us is by taking up our cross and following him. He makes it clear that following him won’t bring us earthly glory. Instead, most often it will bring us rejection, hatred, persecution. If they hated and crucified Jesus, the perfect Son of God, and we claim to follow him, what do you think the world will want to do to us? Jesus reminds us that if we want to hang on to our earthly life so much that we are willing to deny him, we will lose all life, earthly and eternal. But if we hang on to the eternal life that he has given us, even if it costs us our earthly life, we will have true life with him now and forever.
Peter, James, and John got to see a glimpse of heavenly glory, an assurance that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Son of God, their savior. How this must have been a comfort to them as Jesus’ glory was hidden again; when he was betrayed, and even though he knocked his captors over with the words, “I Am He,” he didn’t escape; when they saw him beaten and he didn’t heal himself; when he was on trial, and he didn’t defend himself; when he was on the cross and he didn’t come down.
What strength and comfort was available to them and is still available to us by listening to Jesus! Everything happened just as he said it would. As he later reminded the disciples on the road, didn’t the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter into his glory? And what did he say at the end of the list of all the things that would happen to him? On the third day I will rise again.
Jesus came to earth and took up his cross. He experienced hunger and thirst, temptation and rejection for us. He went to the literal cross so that he could pay for all the times that like Peter we are tempted to exchange temporary glory for eternal glory- for this and every other sin. As we take up or crosses and follow him, as we experience temptation and the trials and troubles of life, and as we suffer because we follow him, listen to Jesus. Remember that every promise of God, including the promise of eternal glory, is yes and Amen in Jesus. Because he lived and died for you and rose again you too will see him in glory.