True Light in a Dark World
Text: 2 PETER 1:16-21
It's hard to believe how quickly time goes by. It really does seem like only yesterday that I was a head-strong young know-it-all following at the heels of my Rabbi Jesus. I remember that evening on the mount, Moses, Elijah, the voice of God Himself; I remember it all like it only happened a few minutes ago. I don't mind telling you that in the 30 years that have passed since those days, I have thought about that night an awful lot. What happened to us up there has shaped my life, as I know it. That mountain top experience was the one thing that saw me through some otherwise horrible times.
Growing up I was always a little impulsive. My father would often look at me and say why can't you just slow down and think things through before you go getting yourself in trouble? He was always telling me to be more like my brother Andrew. But that just wasn't me. I was a go-getter. I liked to face new challenges. I liked to tackle any problem head-on. I guess that was part of the reason I followed Jesus in the first place. I think I wanted to prove myself to Him. I wasn't always very good at it though. Especially that night on the mountain. It was only after years of thinking about it that I came to really understand what happened up there and why.
I probably need to start back a little ways. We had been following Jesus for a couple of years already. We had seen Him do some pretty amazing things, healing the blind, walking on water, feeding thousands of people with almost no food. With each new miracle I thought I was beginning to see the Big Picture. I finally thought I knew who this great man was. He was The Messiah! The chosen one of God who would lead Israel to salvation. It was as plain as the miracles He was performing.
And wouldn't you know it, shortly after I had figured this out He turns to us and asks us who we thought He was. Naturally I jumped to the front and shared with Him my revelation. You are the Messiah, I told Him proudly. I remember the look He gave me. He seemed very pleased with my answer. That was one of the greatest moments of my life. I was a disciple of the Son of the Living God, and He was pleased with me. I was in the company of the man who would restore Israel to power. The one who would free us from the bonds of oppression. The one who would be king over all; and I was His favourite! Life doesn't get any better!
But then, without warning, He did something strange. He started talking about how He, the Messiah, The Chosen One of the Lord, would have to die! I remember thinking that He must be joking. But I didn't think He was very funny. I told Him so. The Messiah could not die. It wasn't His place. And that's when my world began crashing down around me. Jesus looked at me again but this time it was different. He was cross, stern, disappointed. The words He said to me then will haunt me always. He called me satan, He said I was a stumbling block. I was devastated. Everything I thought I knew was thrown right out the window. Now I had NO idea who this man was! All I knew was that somehow I had goofed things up. That next week was a very dark time for me. I continued to follow Jesus, but I didn't really hear much of what he was saying. I was still trying to work things out in my head. Was He the Messiah or wasn't He? If He wasn't, then why should I follow Him? Had I wasted all those years on a rash decision?
It was while I was still hashing these ideas around that we stopped for the night near Mount Hermon. Jesus asked John and James and myself to go with Him up on the mountain. I still remember the long walk up. It was toward sunset, the air was cooling down fast and there was a strong, dry wind. By the time we got up to the top we were all pretty tired. The three of us just flopped down without a word. As usual, Jesus went on a little way further. Just a dozen paces or so. We all figured it would be another long night of prayer. I remember that I was debating getting something out of my pack to eat when all of a sudden their was a blinding light all around us. Then we all turned and saw Jesus but not like we ever had before. I can't describe to you what I saw exactly. Our dear friend Matthew has done the best he could in his Gospel, but it really doesn't come close.
And then! Then there was Moses, and Elijah, as real as you or me. And the three of them are talking like old friends. And then! Then came the cloud and the voice. THE VOICE. I'll never forget that voice. No matter how much happens in my life. You don't ever expect to have that much thrown in your face all at once. The sights, the sounds, the implications of it all, it was too much. Once the initial shock wore off a little my mind started racing. Jesus really was the Son of God, the Saviour. He was my Messiah! Without really thinking about it I shouted out: Lord! This is great! Let's all stay here! I will make us some shelter. Now that I have had time to think about it, I guess I was being selfish. I thought that Moses and Elijah could straighten Jesus out. Get him to stop talking about all of this doom and gloom. And I didn't want to leave. Who would have? The full power and majesty and glory of the Christ was right there.
But as you know, we couldn't stay. Jesus made us come down off the mountain that night. It was a long dark walk, especially after what we had seen. It was made all the more dark, because we knew that down there was a wretched world full of disbelief, and hatred, scheming and indifference. A world full of sin. A world that was seeking to kill our Messiah. And the world only got darker. The weeks following, those leading up to Jesus arrest and trial and crucifixion were a hundred times more dark than anything I had ever been through. The pit of blackness was the most oppressive as I followed behind Jesus on that dark night; trying not to be seen by the soldiers. Trying to catch a glimpse of him as he was being tortured and abused. Denying Him in front of the ones who were killing him. Seeing his lifeless body on that cross.
When I tried to get through those dark times by myself I failed miserably. My denial of Jesus is proof enough of that. I know now that there was only one thing that saw me through those dark times, and it wasn't my own strength or determination. Somewhere in the back of my mind was that night on Mount Hermon. The true glory that was shown me there. The true power that could overcome even death. I didn't know how, but I knew that He would. And so in the midst of all that darkness, I remembered and I prayed. And that glorious vision of Jesus was the light that guided me through. It is the light which still guides me through every trouble.
And that's what I was hoping to share with you all this morning. Exactly what I wrote in my letter. "We have the prophetic word made more sure. You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts." We have all been through some pretty dark times in our lives. You probably don’t want to hear this, but I can guarantee you that will go through more. After all, if our Lord, the Messiah, was treated so badly by the very world he created, why would we expect things to be any better for us? As much as we would like to, we just can't stay up on the mountain forever. Our lives can't always be easy or glorious. We all have to face the realities of this dark and sinful world. That means we will all have to confront pain and sickness, hatred, doubt and worry, persecution and even death. But we can't do it alone … We don't need to do it alone … Because we are never alone. Our risen and glorious Lord is with us every step of the way, to light the way.
In many ways I envy you. I know that sounds strange. Many people have told me they envy me for being on that mountain. But they don't fully realize what they (and you) have been given. I spent three years watching and listening to Jesus. I couldn't remember half of what he said sometimes. I understood even less. But you have been given God's Holy Word. A Word made more certain, because Jesus is the fulfillment of all the prophecies. A Word made more certain because it doesn't change or fade away in memory. A Word made more certain because it has power in our lives. Power to give us faith, power to give us knowledge, power to give us forgiveness. It's all right there in the Scriptures. The full glory and power and majesty of Almighty God revealed in Christ Jesus.
Not only do you have the very words of God written down for you, but you have His blessed Sacraments in your midst as well. You have Baptism to give you the Holy Spirit, and make you a member of the Body of Christ. The waters of life to cleanse you of your sin and make you part of God's holy family forever. And with Baptism you also have our Lord's own supper. In this meal Jesus reveals himself to you more gloriously now than he did to us on that mountain. In this meal our Saviour gives us again and again, his own body and blood, to forgive our sins and give our faith new strength.
Every Sunday as you gather around God's Holy Word and Sacraments you are given a mountain top experience even more glorious than I had. My experience showed me the true power and glory of Christ but it didn't reveal the full extent of his love and mercy. I had to wait through a lot of dark times to see that. But you don't. You have had all these things revealed to you from the beginning. And you have all this love and mercy and forgiveness given to you each time you come together around the Word and the Sacraments.
I guess in the thirty-odd years I've been struggling to follow Jesus that's the one sure lesson I've learned. You can't do it by yourself. Nobody can. The Christian's calling is a tough one. It isn't all mountain top experiences, so treasure the ones you are given. Let the glory and power and forgiveness of Jesus that you are shown in the Word and Sacraments guide you through the dark times. And you will come through it all to see Jesus as I once did, only this time when he returns in power and glory to establish his kingdom forever.