“Lord, It Is Good for Us to Be Here”

(Matthew 17:1-9 – Transfiguration – February 23, 2020)

Matthew 17:1-9 – Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”

Dear fellow Redeemed in Christ:

There are times in life when we have a mountaintop experience. Have you ever hiked to the top of a high mountain, and as you looked out across the majestic view you drew your breath in at the beauty of God’s creation? At such times, we may say, “It is so good to be here! What a great God we have! I wish I never had to go back down to face the realities of life.” But then, whenever we have a mountaintop experience this side of heaven, we realize we must return to the plains below, to life as usual. But we take a glimpse of that mountaintop experience with us.

Today we watch as Jesus leads Peter, James and John up on a high mountain. There they behold a majestic view; but it is not of the landscape around them. As they watch, they draw their breath in awe at the majestic view of Jesus Himself, as He is transfigured before their eyes. Similar thoughts race through their heads: “What a wonderful God we have! I wish I never had to go back down to face the realities of life. The view is so wonderful up here. Lord, it is good for us to be here.” The disciples would always take a glimpse of that heavenly glory with them.

Today as we behold Jesus’ transfiguration, we say: “Lord, It Is Good for Us to Be Here”: 1) To see Your glory on the mountain, 2) To know Your glory as we descend to the plains, and 3) To look forward to Your glory when You take us to heaven.

1) To see Your glory on the mountain

It says: “He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.” This was more than just a mountaintop experience; it was a heavenly experience as the disciples saw Jesus’ glory. The man whose human face had grown sweaty and dirty on many a journey through the landscape of this world – His face now shone as bright as the sun. Jesus allowed His eternal divine glory to shine through at this moment, so His disciples might see clearly that they were with their God and Savior here on the mountain.

“And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.” These prophets of old had passed from this world many centuries before, yet here they were talking with Jesus! Here the disciples get a glimpse of heaven. Jesus shows Himself as the timeless Savior for Moses and Elijah and all believers through the ages. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living (Matthew 22:32). Believers of all time will live in His glorious heavenly presence forever.

At this point Peter says: “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Peter wants to cling to this mountaintop experience. Who would want to descend from this point, so close to heaven – to go back to the daily grind, back to the world’s rejection of Jesus and His disciples, back to frustrating work and relationships, back to all the troubles and sorrows of life?

But while Peter was still speaking, it says: “Behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!’ And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid.” As God the Father voiced His pleasure with His Son and His work as the Savior, the disciples were terrified. It was good to be here on the mountain and see Jesus’ glory; but it was not yet heaven. In heaven there will be no fear as God speaks. Why should we fear the one who has always provided every need of life and every good? Why fear Him of whom Scripture says: “God is love” (1 John 4:8)? Is this not strange? The disciples find themselves as close to their loving God as they can get, and they are filled with dread and terror in His glorious presence!

Fear has to do with being a sinner before the holy God, knowing we deserve punishment for our sins. It is one thing to look on Jesus in His humble state as the Son of Man. As He worked out our salvation on earth, He did not always make full use of His divine glory and power. But to stand before the bare glory of God, as the “unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (1 Timothy 6:16), terrifies the sinner. When God’s divine light and presence shines on our hearts, baring our sinful attitudes, our grudges, our greed, our envy, our lusts, our disobedience – who of us could stand, without falling on our faces in fear like those disciples?

This side of heaven, we can find rest for our souls only as we look in faith on the comforting face of our humble Savior. Jesus is God in our human flesh (John 1:14; Hebrews 1:3). In Jesus, God does not come to us as the “unapproachable light,” but as the approachable Son of Man, as our Savior who understands us, loves us, and saves us from our sins. We find peace in God’s presence by fixing our eyes on His Son, full of grace and forgiveness for us sinners.

Now, as the disciples lay face down, terrified before the glory of God, “Jesus came and touched them and said, ‘Arise, and do not be afraid.’ When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.” They saw the face of their Savior, and there was no need for fear. They saw His humble and gentle countenance, and they were comforted.

The God-Man, Jesus, is here to bring peace between the God of glory and sinful mankind. As Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah on the mountain, Luke’s account says they discussed His coming death at Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). For soon, Jesus would go to the cross to take away the sins of all. And finally, as they came down from the mountain, Jesus gave His disciples this command and promise: “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”

2) To know Your glory as we descend to the plains

Now we see why Jesus gave His disciples this mountaintop experience. It was not to have them wish for a heaven on earth, a temporary dwelling with God as sinners in tents. It was to prepare them for His sacrifice that would win their forgiveness and peace with God, so they could live forever in heaven’s mansions. He would purchase this gift by His death on the cross to take away their sins. So it was good for them to see His glory on the mountain, that they might know His glory as they descended back to the plains below, back to the way of the cross.

Jesus’ Transfiguration prepared His disciples for seeing Him descend to depths of humility. The Lord of Glory would go down the mountain, soon to have a crown of thorns shoved on His head, to be mocked by enemies, and to bear His cross to dark Mount Golgatha. The disciples would see the Lord of Glory hanging by nails pounded through His bloody hands and feet, crying out in agony of His soul: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Psalm 22:1). They would see the Lord of Glory experiencing that dreadful terror of a miserable sinner in the presence of the holy God who must punish sins. For Jesus bore all our sins (Isaiah 53:12). He bore the dreadful punishment we had coming, to bring us true and peace in the presence of God.

It was good for Jesus’ disciples, and it is good for us, to see Jesus transfigured on the mountain, that we might know His glory on the plains below. Life in this world is the way of the cross, both for Jesus and His followers. Was Jesus Himself always filled with joy; or did He not also feel sorrow and weep as we do? Was Jesus Himself always filled with comfort; or did He not suffer pain and rejection as we do? Did Jesus Himself always feel strong; or did He not stumble under the weight of His heavy cross, even as we must bear crosses through this life?

But we have seen the glory of our Savior who went before us to the cross. With the disciples, we can descend from the mountain with Jesus to continue living life on the plains of this world; for we know He is our glorious Savior, even when it is hidden from sight, even when troubles surround us.

But where do we see His glory today? Where is our mountaintop experience? We see His glory in the testimony of Scripture. That is where God speaks to us today and shows us the glory of His Son as our Savior. Peter was there in person to hear God’s Word that day on the mountain: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Later on, Peter wrote about this experience in his Second Epistle: “we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.” Yet Peter knew we could not all have the same privilege of seeing Christ’s glory the way he did that day. So by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he reminds us that we do have God’s Word in Holy Scripture, where we see our Savior’s glory today. Peter wrote, concerning this Word of God: “which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:17-19).

As we live our daily lives, until that day dawns when Jesus returns to take us to heaven, we are blessed to use God’s Word as a light for our path (Psalm 119:105). In the dark times, when we feel low down on the plains, stumbling under a cross of suffering and hardship, God’s Word remains as a light shining in a dark place. His Word still reveals our crucified and risen Savior who has gone ahead of us, and who lives and reigns today in all of His glory for our good.

We see our Savior’s glory each day, as we live by His Word and promise. The Lord of Glory gives us a mountaintop experience as He speaks His Word of salvation and eternal life in our Baptism. For Scripture says: “We were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection” (Romans 6:4-5). The Lord of Glory gives us a mountaintop experience as He speaks His Word of peace and forgiveness in His Holy Supper: “Take, eat; this is My body… Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28).

Here in His Word and Sacraments, the Lord of Glory comes to us in humble form, yet full of grace and saving power. Here, Jesus brings to us the forgiveness and eternal life He won for us by His cross and resurrection. Here, He promises to be with us as we live on the plains of this world, to comfort and strengthen us daily, until He takes us into His eternal heavenly glory.

3)  To look forward to Your glory when You take us to heaven

So we say: “Lord, it is good for us to be here – that we may to look forward to Your glory when You take us heaven.” For the Lamb of God, who has taken away our sins on the cross, risen from the grave, and ascended on high, now lights up heaven with the fullness of His glory. Revelation 21:23 says: The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.”

And Jesus promises that, when He raises us at the last day, He will give us a glorified body like His. The apostle John, who was also there to witness Jesus’ Transfiguration, wrote in his Epistle: “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). Here is a real mountaintop experience – to live each day knowing that “Our our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:20-21).

Therefore we say: “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” We see Your glory as our Savior in Your Transfiguration. We remember Your glory as our Savior while we live on the plains of this world. And we look forward to Your glory when You take us to heaven!

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.