Sometimes we get it right; that one in a hundred thousand shot comes along and we hit it right on the head. With a satisfying “ping”, the nail is driven home. These are the moments that we see clearly. Past the political and cultural causes, past our traditions, through all the opinions and arguments and sayings of men, women, and children around us, we pierce the vale for a moment and speak actual bedrock truth. Even the disciples (whom Jesus called “ye of little faith” for three years as He was walking, talking, and living with them!) saw the truth of the matter on occasion. What they saw was who Jesus actually is.
Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”
Matthew’s account records Jesus as adding, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven….” Peter got it right this time… and then he blows it, just like we all do. I guess we figure that since we finally got our heads wrapped around this truth we have reached a sort of peak in our Christian walk; now we are ready for the “next level”… ready to be mature and closer to Jesus than we have been before.
Only now, Jesus starts saying stuff that we don’t understand, stuff like, “I must suffer many things, be rejected, killed, and rise on the third day.” and “If anyone wishes to truly follow me, they must deny themselves, take up their cross along side of me, and follow me. If you really want to save your life, lose it. Don’t be ashamed of me and I won’t be ashamed of you when I come in the Glory of God with all the armies of heaven. And I’m telling you that some of you standing right here won’t die until you see the kingdom of God.”
Even 2000+ years later, we are left scratching our heads at some of this, going, “Huh…?”
Let’s be honest, most of the time we just have no idea what’s really going on in God’s unavailing of salvation. As I read the story of the transfiguration, I am sorely reminded of my own groggy mind.
Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”–not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.
The thing that jumps out at me here is that Peter spoke, “not knowing what he said”. We all know that feeling – just waking up, trying to say something coherent, and ending up with the other person asking, “what did you just say?!?” It is at this point that we realize that we have no idea what words we just tried to string together to express Lord only knows what thought. There’s a slight panic, and we mumble and fumble our way through some BS excuse as we try to salvage the conversation… or we sheepishly admit that we were asleep and have no idea what was just said. Even though this is a common human experience, I think the passage is talking about something else.
Peter wakes up and sees the Son of Man in all His glory talking to two other glorious personages – Moses and Elijah. Peter takes the whole thing in, and decides to make a suggestion:
“Hey Jesus! Boy, is it good to be here. Let’s set up three tents – one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. I mean, You the Messiah, Moses is the Law giver, and Elijah is the greatest prophet in history, so how great would it be for the three of you to live up here for all the people to come and see, to ask you questions and to give you three the honor and respect you deserve. Sounds great, huh?”
What Peter doesn’t realize is that he is talking about idolatry. His idea makes sense from a human point of view, but God has other things for the Son to do… things far superior to anything Moses or Elijah ever could fathom. To set up three meeting tents would be to make the Messiah, the law giver, and the prophet all equal. Clearly, that is not the case.
In holy justice and righteousness, God could have smitten Peter. After all, he was threatening to break the first and second commandments. But, the Father does a gracious and loving thing here; He points us to the Son for clarity and understanding through instruction.
As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.
The Lord truly knows that we just don’t get things most of the time, even when Christ is standing in Glory right before our sleepy eyes. Even when we see things correctly, we decide to do stupid, sinful things that seem right in our own eyes. Thank God He interjects even as we are speaking. The Father points us again to Jesus, and Jesus alone. Only Jesus can correctly instruct we stupid sheep. He is the beloved of the Father, the only begotten, and the chosen Messiah. We who have such sleepy heads would do well to learn from Him before we ever attempt to speak.