In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1. Our Lord was with his disciples in the district of Caesarea Philippi, in the northern reaches of Israel. There they had some respite from the harassment of the Jewish religious leaders. There Our Lord could give his disciples some much needed instruction regarding what was to come as he prepared to set his face toward Jerusalem. There Peter made the good confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16). There our Lord began to show his disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes. There He revealed to them that He would be killed and on the third day be raised (Matthew 16:21). There our Lord instructed His disciples that His way is the way of suffering, for if anyone would come after our Lord, “let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow” (Matthew 16:24). And so, a short time later, here, on the mount of Transfiguration, our Lord reveals his full glory to Peter, James, and John as He converses with Moses and Elijah regarding his impending exodus (Luke 9:31) from this world.
2. Peter, however, demonstrates a complete lack of both piety and awareness caused by his inability to listen. Peter wants to subvert the plans of his Lord, to avoid the suffering and death of His exodus, of which our Lord spoke with these Old Testament pillars, even as He had done so with His disciples. By building shelters here on this mountain, the new Messianic age could begin with the full glory of Christ, flanked by Israel’s law and prophets. Just as the glory of the Lord had dwelt in the Tent of Meeting in the days of old, so now could the full glory of the Lord’s Christ dwell in a tent for all nations to gather in worship. And so, glory could be achieved apart from suffering, or so Peter thought. Perhaps it is right, then, that our Lord referred to Peter as “Satan” only a few verses prior to our text for today (Matthew 16:23), as He commanded to get behind Him this man who was advocating a demonic subversion of our Lord’s mission. It was just as Satan had tempted our Lord from the pinnacle of a very high mountain at the beginning of His ministry: “All these [kingdoms] I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me” (Matthew 4:9). Glory apart from suffering is the lie of Satan. Avoid the pain and the struggle. You can reach the same end more quickly and easily. It’s the magic pill. Except the magic pill never works. And so, the promise of glory apart from suffering in the end turns into suffering apart from glory.
3. So why is it, then, that humans are so quick to believe this lie? Just eat this diet for 60 days and your life will be completely changed. Make this purchase, and you will find contentment. Freely enjoy time on that certain website, and you will have endless pleasure. And so, we try the diet, we make the purchase, we go to the website, but deep down inside we know what’s going to happen—nothing. At least nothing good. We’ve bought into a lie, and so, we are forced to live with the consequences. If only the consequences of our belief in these lies were relegated to a few miserable meals, several unwanted purchases, or a tinge of guilt. And yet, this is but the tip of the iceberg.
4. Far too often, though, the lies which we come to believe are much more damaging. We fail to put the necessary hard work into our marriages, believing that love will carry us through. And yet, what is love if not a tireless, committed labor, which reaps immense joys? We fail to build genuine, deep bonds with our friends through self-sacrifice, believing that shallow gossip or chit-chat about sports will suffice. And yet, what is true friendship if not an intentional commitment to mutual surrender for the joy and well-being of both? We fail to build character and virtue in ourselves through dedicated, persistent commitment to the pursuit of justice and truth and honor, believing that screens, fast-food, and easy entertainment are enough. And yet, what is it to be human if not to work and overcome obstacles and to grow into the man or woman God has made us to be? And so, like Peter, we choose the temporary tent over the eternal home. We choose comfort over friendship and connection. We choose unfulfilling pleasure over virtue. That is to say, we choose glory apart from suffering. And if we haven’t already, in the end, we will fall down under the weight of shame over our sins or from sheer incompetence of how to live in God’s world. In the end, we will find that we have nothing more than suffering apart from glory because we have believed Satan’s lie.
5. Back on the mountain, our Lord knew this. He knew the sinful human tendency to take the easy way out, thinking that our way is better than His. He saw this in Adam, who failed to protect his wife from the serpent in the Garden of Eden. He saw this in Cain, who despised his brother and killed him. He saw this in Noah, who after the flood failed to exercise the virtue of self-control in his vineyard. And He sees this, too, in you, who fail to work hard at your marriage, who neglect the friends the Lord has given you, who become lazy in building character within yourself. The Lord sees your sin as you continually exchange the eternal for the temporary. And so, on the mountain of Transfiguration, He knew what was at stake. Our Lord knew that on our own, you and I are hopelessly lost. We are incapable of choosing the path of our Lord which leads to eternal glory. On our own, we will constantly choose the path of ease and sin.
6. And so, on the mount of Transfiguration, our Lord made the choice for us. God the Father spoke as God the Son set His face toward Jerusalem and the cross (Luke 9:51). The Father would not allow His plan of redemption to be subverted. He would not allow you to be lost eternally to the deceptions and lies of Satan. And so, His voice from the cloud spoke in rebuke of Peter: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5). Nothing—neither Peter’s ineptitude nor Satan’s deceptions nor your own sin—nothing would stop from happening the Father’s will and the Son’s desire to atone for your sins. And so, Jesus would go to the cross. Peter would try to stop him again, more than once. Satan would tempt Him to be diverted, but He would not. His commitment was too strong, His love too deep for that to happen. He set His face toward Jerusalem and the cross for you.
7. And so, our Lord returns to Peter—the man who believed the lie of Satan and tried to derail his Lord. Peter is fallen in fear, his face in the dust. He has blundered terribly, and his sin is evident to all, but the Lord Jesus comes to touch him not so that He can rebuke him. Our Lord comes to touch him so that He might raise him from the dust, so that He might wipe away his fear and offer him reconciliation and forgiveness. Peter does not yet realize that what his Lord is about to go through, nor does he realize how all of this suffering will be for him. But that doesn’t matter to Jesus. Jesus didn’t suffer and die only for those who appreciate Him. He died for those who believed the lies of Satan. He died for those who pursue glory without suffering. He died for you and me. Our Lord Jesus died so that He might be raised up again to new life on Easter morning, and that being raised to new life, He might say to Peter on the mountain the same words we will all hear on the last day: “Rise, and have no fear” (Matthew 17:7). And as He ushers in the glory of the new creation, there, too, will we see and recognize Moses and Elijah, along with all those who have gone before us in the faith, as we experience the joys won for us by the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ, who with the Father and the Spirit is due eternal glory and honor.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.