In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
“It is good for us to be here,” said Peter. Isn’t that the truth? What a blessing to have been on that mountain seeing that heavenly vision. Jesus revealing Himself to them as the true God He is. Giving them a glimpse of the spiritual realities they are blind to in their sin. What happened on this mountain is what had happened on Mount Sinai when Moses saw God; Jesus; the second person of the Holy Trinity; God in human form. But Moses only saw God’s backside. (Exodus 33:18-23). For God can not be seen in His full glory by sinners. It undoes them.
Before this they had walked with God in the garden. They saw Him. They talked with Him. They conversed and communed with Him. Now His presence strikes fear into their hearts. He comes down into garden and they hide, grabbing leaves off trees to cover themselves. And from that moment on, whenever angels reveal themselves and appear to humans it’s the same response: fear. At least if it’s God’s holy angel the response is fear. All throughout the Scriptures. Whenever one of God’s holy angels appear their first words are almost always, “Do not be afraid,” as in, “Do not be afraid, God forgives your sin, I haven’t come to destroy you.” They are afraid because we who are spiritually dead are also spiritually blind. An angel suddenly appearing shocks you into sudden realization of your spiritual state. And of course, if you are spiritually dead and blind you are also spiritually lost, groping around in the spiritual darkness, unable to find your way home. This is what John Newton meant when He wrote, “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.” He could have added, I was dead but now I’m alive in Christ.
That is, not unless God opens your eyes to see or believe in these realities. What a blessing to have that happen! To see a vision of who Jesus Christ is spiritually, to not see only His physical form, but to get a glimpse of the spiritual glory with which He shines in heaven. It is good for us to be here: both for them to have been on that mountain, and for us to be in this place where He comes and gently touches us with His Word and Sacraments.
To be blind, of course, is a natural result of being dead. But God blinds us to spiritual realities not merely in judgement against sin, but in mercy for sinners. For to see His glory face to face in all its fullness would kill even the failing flesh of the sinner. Thus, due to sin God no longer walks side by side, visibly in garden with Adam and Eve. Thus, Moses can only see backside of God on Mount Sinai. Thus, whenever Jesus appears in the Old Testament He hides Himself in an inglorious human form often called the “Angel of Lord” or He shrouds Himself in the bright cloud which muffles glory. Thus, at long last He comes in human flesh so that He might draw near to sinners and we to Him without our imminent death by His Majestic Glory.
his is how He has arranged for Himself to come into the world, veiled in flesh, and hidden in water, wine and words. For His glory which you long for rocks you to the core when confronted by it, so that even angels who shine with the reflected glory of God—just as Moses’ face did when came down from Mount Sinai—even such reflected glory terrifies you. So that the children of Israel said, “Moses veil your face, we can’t stand to see God’s reflected glory.” (Exodus 34:29-35) “Moses, you speak to us from God. We can’t stand to hear the mighty rumblings of His voice on the mountain.” (Exodus 20:18-19; Hebrews 12:18-21) And anyone who ever saw a holy angel with his own eyes and not in a dream was terrified. For the glory of God terrifies a sinner. Even hardened sinners who would reject Biblical morality or that there is a god who will judge them, are brought low by such spiritual visions. When that veil is torn and they see spiritual realities, when God’s Majestic Glory should shine on them they are terrified.
Or if God should be so merciful to you to show you His glory, like Peter, James and John you will be tempted to bottle it, and keep it for yourself. To build anything you can with your strength to make it last longer as though something you did either opened God’s glory to you or could keep His glory with you.
In response to Peter’s desires the Father shrouded them, surrounded them, and overcame them with His cloud of glory. They fell to ground hearing the voice of glory that Moses heard on the mountain, the same voice John the Baptizer had heard at Jesus’s Baptism. “This is My Son, My Beloved,” but the Father adds, “you must listen to Him.”
For this is His answer for your godly hunger for His glory, and your sinful hunger for spiritual experiences, for mystical revelations, for wanting bottle up the good times. To know God’s glory listen to Him. Listen to Jesus. Who came over, just a normal looking man, touched them and said, “Do not be afraid.” (Why? “For I am here to forgive.”)
Adam and Eve’s sin passed on to you by your human father means you are spiritually deaf and blind. But His word heals you on this side of heaven by giving you faith which trusts in what He says. Listen to Him. He doesn’t promise to make life sparkly, shiny, exciting, or supernatural. He promises to save you eternally, to shepherd you, to send His holy angels to minister to you who are His. Listen to Him.
Years later after Jesus’ resurrection Peter said that what we saw on that mountain isn’t the main thing. What He said—not when He was shining in glory on the mountain, but when He was in the valley of the shadow of death waging war against death on the cross—that’s what is important. That He loves you. That He died for you. That He forgives your sins and the sins of all the world. That He will come again and restore to you a paradise better than what Adam and Eve lost, where you will be fully alive. For on that Day, in the twinkling of an eye you will be changed. You will shine like Him in glory. You will see all His marvelous light and not be undone by it, but rejoice in the Lord always, in His eternal presence.
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON