The smell of the dirt is strong in his nose. Earthy, grounding. It’s a welcome contrast to the ringing only now fading from his ears and the tears that still stream unbidden from dazzled eyes. He is still not sure if he wants to laugh, or cry, or vomit. His mind is racing through a thousand different thoughts, his heart is full of a dozen conflicting emotions, and his body is one big twitching raw nerve. It has all been so much that a small part of himself asks if it really wouldn’t be better just to lay there and let that sweet, welcoming, earth cover him over and bury him deep.
And then came the hand on his shoulder. A solid hand pulling him back from the edge. Back from his confusion, back to this world, this mountain. Back to this moment. It’s a strong hand, with a firm but gentle touch. And then the words cutting through the ringing in his ears “Get up Peter. Don’t be afraid.” … And that’s it. Just like that he is anchored again in reality. He is calmed and comforted. He is convicted and yet encouraged. He is himself again, and looking up from the damp earth he sees no one but Jesus only and all makes sense in the world again.
Dear friends in Christ. We have all been right there with Peter … not literally on the mount of transfiguration, maybe not even figuratively face down in our fears and doubts. But we have all shared in first the ecstasy and then the terror and finally the comfort as our lives spin out of our own control before they are brought under God’s. It is what happens to each of us when we finally see No One but Jesus Only.
1And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. 3And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
Can you feel the elation and the ecstasy of Peter over the sight finally revealed before him! His wildest dreams and hopes could never have come up with something more perfect or wonderful. Things had not been good between Peter and Jesus of late. Only six days before there was some pretty disturbing talk of suffering and dying. Why couldn’t Jesus see what they needed? Why wouldn’t he step up to the plate and usher in the glorious kingdom of God, that Peter knew was His to claim. Suffice it to say that his encouraging rebuke had gone over with Jesus like a lead balloon. Harsh words were said. But now … now maybe Jesus would see what Peter saw all along. Maybe Moses and Elijah could talk some sense into Him.
Peter is beyond himself with excitement, (he must have been to interrupt the likes of those three in their private exchange) but in that excitement he makes one tiny little mistake. He places the glory of Jesus among all the other things which he deems to be good or important. Most central is his own plan for Jesus’ future. Peter’s problem was that he was really only looking at himself … his own needs, his own desires. How this would serve his purposes. So it’s not really such a tiny mistake is it?
And who here has not likewise made the mistake? Placing the glory and honour of Jesus as but one among many other good things? Worship as a usual, but not exclusive calling. Bible Study as a great option, but not as a daily necessity. The Lord’s Supper as a special treat, rather than the very bread of life. Such little things, right? But we’re not done yet. You have used the kindness and forgiveness of God to serve your own ends, suit your own plans. Who here hasn’t spoken without really thinking? Made a deal with God, like He could be guided or bribed to see things your way. Do things according to your will, or timetable, or desires? And it can be so exciting when it seems to be paying off! When God blesses you in all that you knew you deserved, and proved to you that you were right, and loved, and listened to.
5[Peter] was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 6When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.
And then comes the terror. Peter is being selfish and foolish and God stops him cold. Literally cuts him off. Jesus is not one among equals … He is The One. Behold! This One, and this one alone stands apart. It is time to stop talking and start listening. The divine voice, the voice of the pure and just God, was too much for the poor, sinful mortals caught talking nonsense. The cloud, the glory, the thundering voice all serve the same purpose … closing the door to foolish and self-serving attitudes, while opening hearts and eyes to the divine truth actually before them. In the intensity of their terror they fell to the ground upon their faces to hide themselves before Him whose eyes are like flames of fire.
7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” 8And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. Jesus, ever kind, gentle, and sympathetic, stepped forward. Note that He approached them, not vice versa. Thus it always is. Because of our sins and sinfulness we are (and should be) afraid to approach Him. Have our lives before God shown us to be any less foolish and self-serving than Peter? But still He mercifully comes to us. And in His touch is a world of understanding and cheering assurance. He urged Peter and the others to rise and cast aside their fears. Strengthened, and encouraged they lift up their eyes, and saw no one but only Jesus. Good old Jesus, just as they had known Him for all those years. The teacher, healer, Rabbi, and friend.
They saw no one but Jesus alone … Moses and Elijah are gone. They have finished talking of Jesus’ upcoming death and resurrection. They have served their purpose for the One who will serve the whole world! You see, the Transfiguration is directly tied to the crucifixion. For there too at the crucifixion site we see Jesus alone … so utterly alone! Sure there was a criminal on either side of him, dying just as he was, but not for the reason He does. At the height of his suffering he cries out for his father to help – but God wasn’t there. My God, My God, why have You forsaken me? And it is proper that we see this alone-ness of Jesus on the cross. Though it pains us to behold Him deserted by God His Father, we recognize that this desertion is the price of our salvation. On the mount of Transfiguration He is glorified alone, for when he reaches the bottom of the hill he will begin the long and lonely journey to the cross (a journey we will join Him on this Lenten season) where He alone will die suffering the torments of hell for all our sins. And that is why it is always good that we see no one but Jesus alone.
A vision so great and wonderful is not for everyone; but there is one way in which we all may see the true glory of Jesus, namely, in His Gospel proclaimed and His Sacraments received. For there if you care to lift up your eyes and look we both hear Him speak and see His glory. And seeing, we believe. Sinful, human beings are fickle. Ecstatic one moment, fearful the next. Always coming back to ourselves and our foolishly selfish outbursts. Subjective feelings are deceptive. Christ and His Word give us “a steady new spirit” and “strengthen us with a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:10 and 12) This is true faith. And so we too are directed to the voice of Christ, to Christ’s Word, which is God’s Word, and not to wonderful visions. We have enough in His Word. For in the Word, and in the Sacraments we see No One but Christ Alone. That bright light, which gives light to us in this dark world, and shows us down off the mountain to the way of salvation.