The key verse in today’s Gospel lesson is Matthew 17:5 in which the voice God the Father calls out from heaven to Peter, John, and James with a message about Jesus: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
Why did the three apostles who accompanied Jesus to the top of a mountain need this message?
And why do you and I still need to be reminded to listen to Jesus?
In a way, these words from the Father come as a direct rebuke to Peter. Back in Matthew 16, Jesus had asked the apostles, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter gave the right answer, one that Jesus said came not from Peter’s good sense and insight, but from Peter’s openness to the Holy Spirit’s witness about Jesus. Peter said: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” [Matthew 16:15-19] But then Jesus explained that He as the Messiah, God in the flesh, was going to Jerusalem to be rejected by the Jewish religious authorities, the Roman government, and the people, suffer death on a cross, and rise from the dead.
Peter was horrified! Peter thought that the Messiah would come into political power, vanquish the Romans, and establish a trouble-free reign of prosperity for God’s people. Jesus’ words didn’t compute for Peter. Crucifixion for the Messiah? “Never, Lord!” [Peter] said. “This shall never happen to you!” [Matthew 16:22]
At this, Jesus let Peter have it with both barrels: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
It was Satan, you’ll remember, who tried to tempt Jesus into avoiding the mission of His life on earth, the mission of offering Himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sin. Now, Jesus was saying that Peter, who had just confessed that Jesus was Messiah and the Son of God, God in the flesh, was acting just like Satan. “Peter, be quiet,” Jesus was saying. “Knock off your religious-sounding talk. Wait to speak until after you understand Who I am.”
Six days later, our Gospel lesson for today shows, Peter still had some learning to do.
As members of the inner circle of Jesus’ first followers, Peter, John, and James were terrified to see Jesus appearance “transfigured,” or “transformed.” A cloud came down from heaven filled with the blazing light of God and there Jesus stood talking with Moses, the giver of God’s Law in the Old Testament, and Elijah, Israel’s greatest prophet.
Imagine how overwhelming this all must have been for these three fishermen from Galilee!
But Peter, it seems, was never at a loss for words. Even when he should have been. Matthew 17:4 tells us: “Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’”
On the face of it, this is a religious-sounding thing for Peter to say. But it demonstrates that he just doesn’t quite get it. Peter has called Jesus the Son of God, yet he wants to build shrines of apparently equal importance for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.
Back in chapter 16, when Peter tried to educate Jesus on Jesus’ job as Messiah and Son of God, it was Jesus Who set Peter straight. Now, on the Mount of Transfiguration, it’s God the Father’s turn to thunder!
In effect, the Father, in verse 5 of our Gospel lesson is telling Peter: “Peter, put a muzzle on it, man! Listen to My Son. Moses and Elijah, great though they were, are Jesus’ inferior. You won’t find life and salvation in Moses or Elijah. (Or in Buddha, Allah, or a big fat bank account, for that matter)’ Life and salvation can only be found in Jesus. So, button it up and pay heed to Jesus only!” “Peter, this is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
Poor Peter, always trying so hard to say and do the right thing. But that’s the problem. He’s trying way too hard. He thinks he’s being faithful by spouting religious talk.
But, in talking about building these shelters, he shows that he isn’t really listening to Jesus or to His Word.
Christ’s Church today is filled with a lot of well-meaning Peters. I can be among them. We say things that sound religious, but show that we really haven’t been listening to God’s Word or to Jesus.
Last night, I jotted down three things that I hear well-meaning Christians say, but that, according to God’s Word, just aren’t true.
One thing well-meaning Christians say is, “Follow your heart.” Wrong!
Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” So, if my heart is going to deceive me and lead me into a deceitful life, a life apart from God, why would I follow my heart?
Jesus never says, “Follow your heart.” Instead, Jesus says, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” [Matthew 16:24] Follow Jesus: Turn from sin and trust in Him to save you for all eternity and to guide you always. Keep following Jesus.
Another false thing said by well-meaning Christians is, “God helps those who help themselves.” This is a whopper!
The Bible actually says that God helps those who cannot help themselves. And that’s all of us! Romans 5:6 tells us: “...at just the right time, when we were still powerless [or, helpless], Christ died for the ungodly [those of us born in sin...and that's all of us].” God helps those who recognize that they need Jesus as our King and Savior.
A third common falsehood uttered by Christians is, “Everything happens for a reason.” That’s another big fib!
I once heard a woman at a funeral visitation tell a father that his young son had died because God needed another angel in heaven. It would have been better for that woman to have shut her mouth than utter such unbiblical rot. When believers die, they don’t become angels. Humans are made in God’s image, angels aren’t! Human beings are of higher importance to God than angels are! Christ didn’t die and rise for angels; He died and rose for people!
Besides, the very notion that God would decide to take a boy’s life to sate His desire for more angels turns God into a monster, unrecognizable from the God we meet in Jesus!
The tragedies that happen in this world can’t be explained away as part of some master plan by God. Bad things happen to faithful people because we live in a fallen world in which sin, death, and darkness are on the loose. It was these things that Jesus came to conquer for us. That’s why Jesus says in John 16:33: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
Death and tragedy don’t have the final word over the lives of those who entrust their lives to Jesus; it’s the resurrection Jesus has won for us that will have the final, eternal say over our lives!
If Peter had listened to God’s Word in the Old Testament or if he had listened to Jesus, he wouldn’t have said foolish things like He did at the Transfiguration.
If Christians today listened to God’s Word--not just on Sunday mornings, but everyday of their lives--they wouldn’t say untrue things like the three I just mentioned.
More importantly, when we listen to God’s Word, meet the God we know in Jesus in His Word each day, we will know God intimately.
As Jesus promises, the Holy Spirit will lead us into all of God’s truth [John 16:13]. When we listen to Jesus, we experience the amazing promise He makes in John 15:5: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” That’s a stunning promise!
To be friends with Jesus, God in the flesh, means that we trust in Him, we trust in the power of what He accomplished for us on the cross, we trust that He can bring us God’s forgiveness, we trust that He can give us life with God, however blurry this world may sometimes make it, and life with God in perfection in eternity.
When we are friends with Jesus, we live in the assurance that, as He promises to all who follow Him in Matthew 28:20, He is with us always!
All of this comes to us when we listen to Jesus. Paul summarizes the power of what happens when we listen to Jesus and the Word about Jesus in this way: “...faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” [Romans 10:17]
So, how can we listen to Jesus? You might want to pull out a pen or your smart phones right now and note a simple method for listening to Jesus each day--one I've learned from our friends at Navigators, as I've mentioned before, and a way of listening to Jesus that I have found to be powerful. Here’s how to listen to Jesus each day.
First, stop. Find a quiet place, away from the laptop and the iPad, away from the TV or the PlayStation. Ask Jesus to meet you as you read a chapter from a Biblical book like Matthew or John.
Second, look. Read that Word and ask Jesus what He wants to tell you that day.
Third, listen. Consider what Jesus has told you and what truth He wants you to grasp from Him that can guide you that day or the next day.
Fourth, respond. If there’s some sin for which you need to repent or a sinful habit you need to jettison, lay it honestly before Jesus, asking for His forgiveness and help with living differently that day or the next. If there’s some act of love you feel compelled to undertake, ask Jesus for the Holy Spirit’s power to do it. Give Jesus glory for His death and resurrection for you; ask Him to guide you in the next twenty-four hours; pray for those who need God’s help; ask God to fill you with His wisdom; and ask God to help you be part of His mission of making disciples that day.
I want to underscore how freeing and important it is to listen to God each day and to help you with that day. How many times have we realized some sin or deficiency in our character, some bad habit we'd fallen into, and said something like, "From now on, Lord, until the end of my days, I will...so and so." How has that worked for you?
Let me put the question in another way: Do you remember what your New Year's resolutions were for this year?
You know, the power of the Twelve Step program is that it calls people to recognize their need and get help for that day alone. It's easier to trust in Jesus one day at a time after we've spent time in His Word and then spend time with Him again the next day and the next, than it is to trust Him without ever listening to Him again. This is why it's important to spend daily time with God in addition to the time we spend together once a week in worship.
From the cloud that overshadowed the mountain somewhere in Caesarea Philippi, God’s voice commanded Peter and the other disciples, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
That's our command today. May we obey it. May we listen to Jesus and so, live under the grace and forgiveness, power, wisdom, guidance, and love of God all of our lives. Amen!
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This is the message that was shared this morning during worship.]