The Transfiguration of Our Lord, February 23, 2020
Text: Matthew 17:1–9
A guy named Gideon Lasco, an avid mountaineer, has a Web site, “Pinoy Mountaineer.” Some years back, his group was attempting to climb Mount Malipunyo in the Philippines. Following the advice of some locals, they took what they thought was a shortcut, but after about an hour they realized they were on the wrong mountain. It sounds funny, you know, “Oops, I climbed the wrong mountain!” But it’s more common than we may think. Like Peter in today’s text, we may find ourselves on a mountain where Jesus does not want us to stay.
Our text is the transfiguration of our Lord:
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. (vv 1-3)
Something I tell you all every year on this Sunday is that what is recorded here is not a dream, it is not a fantasy, it is not a vision. Peter, James and John saw what is described here. Days before Jesus was murdered on a cross, God gives them a peak, a glimpse of heaven. What Matthew is describing here is what Jesus, Moses and Elijah look like NOW. It was very important that the three apostles see this before all the really bad stuff of Holy Week happened.
With that said, an interesting connecting point between Moses, Elijah, and Jesus is that they all had powerful experiences with God on a mountain. They are all famous for stuff that happened with them on mountains. God has used various mountains to reveal His plan of salvation in Jesus. Let’s take a quick look at those mountains to see what we can learn.
We start with Moses. You know Moses. He looked like Charlton Heston. (If you don’t get that, you are too young, and you need to watch some older, classic movies.) God picked Moses to bring His people out of Egypt and to the Promised land. While on that journey, God revealed His Law through Moses on Mount Sinai (Ex 24:12, 15–18). You may have heard of this. His Law is also called the Ten Commandments.
Moses is with Jesus at the transfiguration because He was given the Law. The Law shows that we are sinners and need a Savior. And of course, that Savior is Jesus. Moses is there on the mountain of the transfiguration because God gave him the 10 Commandments on Mt. Sinai.
That’s Moses. Now we get to Elijah. God revealed His power through Elijah on Mount Carmel (1 Ki 18:19, 36–40). We have talked about this before. Mount Carmel is where Elijah took on the prophets and priests of Baal. Each side set up an altar, and put a bull on it. The Baal worshippers screamed and yelled and prayed all day asking their nonexistent god to start that bull on fire. Nothing. Elijah took his bull, covered it in water, said one quick prayer, and God, THE God, brought fire down from heaven and blew up the bull and the altar. Pretty cool. Elijah is with Jesus at the transfiguration because he is a powerful prophet. Through Elijah, God demonstrated His power not only to judge but to save (1 Ki 18:42–45).
Now today, in this Gospel text, we see God revealed the glory of His Son on the Mount of the Transfiguration (vv 1–2). Jesus appears at the transfiguration in His glory, His heavenly glory and it is clear He is God. God has really come to live with us. Remember in Advent, “Immanuel…God with Us”?
So there you go: three mountains, three important things. God gave Moses the Law on a mountain, God used Elijah to show His power on a mountain. And God revealed, made very clear, that Jesus is God on a mountain. None of these mountains, though, completes the revelation of Jesus.
Here’s what I mean by that. None of those things saved us from our sins. The Law is not the mountain of salvation. The Law is not how we get saved. What we do does not save us. OK? Peter wanted to go no further than the old covenant given to Moses (v 4). He wanted to just stay there and hang out. We get that. What they saw was pretty cool. But if Jesus had stayed there, no one would be saved. The Law is the wrong mountain—because by words we wouldn’t want shouted from the mountaintops, thoughts we’d be ashamed to have exposed to the light, actions that can only be called low, we break God’s Law every day. We cannot save ourselves by trying to follow the Law that was given to Moses.
It can be thought here that power will save. God showed His power there on the mountain with Elijah. But power is a dead-end. For Peter, this was heady stuff—hobnobbing with the big shots, a power lunch he wanted to go on and on. But power is the wrong mountain—though we often pursue it in office politics, in influence over our friends, in trying to dominate members of our own families, and in other ways. Power over sin, death, and the devil does not belong to us. We don’t have it. We can’t do it.
Glory is a cliff—a certain death. Peter wanted to stay and bask in the glory of the transfiguration. But glory is the wrong mountain—though we work hard to gain it for ourselves with titles and degrees and kudos. A lot of times we work really hard to get glory, but that doesn’t save us.
There is one mountain on which the plan of salvation is revealed in Jesus. You all know what mountain I am talking about, right? On Mount…Calvary, God revealed how far He would go to forgive our sin. Like Peter, we may be tempted to put up a tent on the wrong mountain.
But salvation was earned only on this mountain, Mount Calvary. Jesus is shown to be the only one who can deal with sin. Only Jesus fulfills the Law, has all the power, and lives the glory of God. Only Jesus can save us from the sin of living on the wrong mountain. Jesus’ holy life, death on Calvary, and resurrection is God’s plan of salvation. Through faith in Him, you are forgiven and have life.
That mountain, Calvary, reveals Jesus Himself to be the right mountain. God the Father Himself, told us that, right?
At times like these when we are reminded we don’t save ourselves, we are also reminded we have a Savior in Jesus who gave Himself up for us, died for us, rose for us, to take away our sins. Here—that is, with Jesus—is where we know we want to be. In Jesus, We Know We Are on the Right Mountain.
Gideon Lasco, of “wrong mountain” fame, decided to climb “mount unknown” anyway. He noted that very few people climbed it because there is really no view from its summit. The people of the world may stubbornly insist on climbing the wrong mountain and find nothing to see. But you, brothers and sisters, have been brought by Jesus to Mount Calvary, to see His glory and the salvation He won for you. He won it for you, and He gives it to you.
In Jesus’ Name,