Southminster Presbyterian Church

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With the Mountain Behind Us

Peter’s Journal: With the Mountain Behind Us

Matthew 17:1-8

I’ve seen some things since we left our nets. How could we have known what it would mean to become fishers of people? I’ll tell you one thing—in these three years with Jesus I’ve picked up a lot more questions than answers.

It’s been a few days now since it happened. There’s a lot of time on dusty roads between places—lots of time to think, time to talk. John, James and I have found a few moments to consider what we saw, what we felt, and what we heard on that mountain. One thing we agree on—we’ve never experienced anything like it before. It was something right out of the Torah, the Scriptures.

It could have been any mountain, but Jesus picked that one and he took the three of us to the top. It was a thin space, a place where God came so near to us and we came so near to God. Of course, lots of places seem thin when Jesus is there with you. Something about him brings the divine presence close.

And that’s what happened. When we got to the top of the peak I was ready to sit down and take in the view, expecting a teaching or lesson. The world was stretched out beneath us, valleys and streams, cedars and scraggly olive trees scattered across the hills.

Suddenly Jesus changed. It took me a minute to notice, but once I did I was transfixed. He had changed! He was glowing. I don’t even know the right words to write. He became as the light! Divine light, God’s light was pouring from him. Like Moses when he descended the mountain. But for Jesus it was more than just his face. Through our squinting eyes we could see that even his clothes were flooded with light.

Then we made out two figures beside him. Jesus didn’t even have to say anything—somehow we all just knew they were Moses and Elijah. The three of them stood there, talking, their heavenly trio balanced by our earthly three. They were full of heaven’s light, and it radiated on us, bright in our eyes, illuminating our hearts. None of us even remember what they said to each other. We must’ve been in some state of shock.

I don’t know if Moses was there to represent the law and Elijah to represent the prophets or if they were both there because together they are among the greatest figures of our faith. We’ve seen some crazy things with Jesus, but standing there with Moses and Elijah was unbelievable. I mean it! I could barely believe my own eyes.  

John and James were fixed in place, full of reverence, not ready for action. But me? I was. I jumped into action, ready to build some shelters for the three of them, like we Jews always do during the Festival of Booths. It seemed right to me—I am the rock, after all!

But, before I could even start, a bright cloud swallowed us up, freezing us in place. Nothing we’d known in our lives had prepared us for this. Suddenly, human wisdom and insight fell short. The voice from the cloud could only have been the voice of God, but not the still, small voice that Elijah experienced. The voice… it was overpowering. It declared, “This is my Son, the Beloved!” and then it commanded us, saying, “Listen to him!” We were so afraid.

Just days earlier, Jesus had asked us, who did we believe he was? As usual, I was the first to speak up. I told him he was the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God… but here he was, not just some sort of metaphoric Son, but a human with the divine coursing through him! Son of God and God were very different, and yet here he was, glowing, conversing with Moses and Elijah, being praised by the Father.

In our terror all we could do was fall to our faces right there on the ground. Gone were my notions of shelter and safety. Gone was the safe distance I had always maintained from God. We laid there, motionless, gripped by fear like mice caught in the light of a lantern.

Then—I’ll never forget this in my whole life—he came to us. Jesus reached out his hand, he touched us, and told us to rise. Jesus who touched the lepers and the blind, who eats with tax collectors, who called common fishers to be his disciples, this same Jesus reached down where we lay, placed his hands upon us and bid us to rise. “Be raised,” he said, “and be not afraid.”

The human hands of our divine Lord were extended to us. He’s not just another great rabbi, or prophet, not just a fine example of how to live our lives, but this is Emmanuel, God with us. All the light of creation, the very presence of God, folded into the compassionate hands of Jesus.

But now, with the mountain behind us, we’ve passed from glory back into the mundane, and I find a different kind of fear worming its way into my heart. Jesus keeps talking about dying, and being raised. We’re headed back to Jerusalem, and I know they’re plotting to kill him. It almost sounds like Jesus is convinced it has to happen. I don’t get it. Is he the exalted Son of God, or a suffering Son of Man? The same voice that claimed him also told us to listen to him, and so we will.

James, John and I experienced a divine mystery on that mountain, something beyond words, and I guess in Jesus we have a different kind of divine mystery, equally beyond words—the Son of God, the light of the world, walking our dusty roads with danger ahead. I find my own courage in Jesus, and I will always remember him reaching out, touching me, and saying, “Rise and fear not.

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Friends, this Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, and over these forty days, we will journey with Jesus toward Jerusalem.

Later in life, Peter did have more to say about that day on the mountain. In 2 Peter 1:16-19, he says:

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.
19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

"Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care."

Psalm 95:6-7