I originally wrote this eleven years ago, as a 23 year-old young pup. Just stumbled upon it earlier today:
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
--Mark 9:2-9 (NRSV)
In this passage from Mark, we read of the Transfiguration of Jesus in front of the disciples. Can you imagine being Peter, James or John, being led up this mountain by Jesus, not knowing why you’re going or what’s going to happen? And suddenly, while you’re standing there, his appearance changes! His clothes begin to shine a dazzling white, so bright that you want to shade your eyes, but at the same time you can’t help but watch. As you marvel at this, you see movement out of the corner of your eye. Looking over, you see two figures approaching Jesus. Although you’ve never seen these two men before, you immediately realize who they are—Moses and Elijah! And there they are, speaking with Jesus as though they were old friends! Your knees begin to tremble a bit as you begin to realize the event that you are beholding. What role should you take in all of this? Your voice faltering, you suggest maybe making some tents, creating some shade for these greats of the Jewish faith. But at that moment, the shade takes care of itself as a cloud covers you, and you hear a voice: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
And just like blinking your eyes, it’s all gone.
The three of you are left alone with Jesus, his robe once again the worn, dusty one you’re used to seeing on him. The cloud is gone, there’s no sign of historical Jewish figures anywhere, and the sun is beating down on you again.
Quite an experience, isn’t it? The more I read this story, the more drawn I become to Peter’s part in it. I’ve always identified with Peter anyway, maybe because his journey of faith so closely mirrors my own. He has his moments of insight, to be sure, but he also has this uncanny case of foot-in-mouth syndrome. Remember the walking on water fiasco (maybe there’s more than one reason his name means “the rock”)? How about the crowing cock incident the night of Jesus’ betrayal? Peter has words, and plenty of them…as long as things are comfortable. But when the going gets tough, when all it comes down to is clinging to a strand of faith, he runs…or sinks.
The Transfiguration account occurs almost directly after a perfect case in point—Peter’s great confession and his subsequent great rebuke (Mark 8:27-33). One moment Jesus is calling Peter’s statement of faith the rock upon which the church will be built, and the next moment Jesus is calling him an agent of the devil. Poor Peter, who sees only the power and glory of his Lord, who insists that Jesus cannot and must not be put to death. What of the power? What of the glory? How stinging to be told, “Get behind me, Satan!”
We marvel at the power of the Transfiguration.
We marvel at the glory of the Transfiguration.
But does the Peter in us marvel at the GRACE of the Transfiguration?
It truly is a grace-FULL event! The voice on the mountain does not say, “You do not understand, therefore you have no place with my Son.” It exhorts the disciples to listen to Jesus. The more I read this, the more I am convinced that Jesus made sure Peter was there for a reason. It was a way to say, “I know you love me, and I know you don’t want me to suffer. But you must trust me. Listen to me.”
Jesus didn’t want the dialogue to end with “Get behind me, Satan!”
Just as he doesn’t want the dialogue with us to end with “Get behind me, Satan!”
Those “Get behind me, Satan!” moments in our lives are painfully obvious. What about the grace-FULL Transfiguration mountaintop moments? Can we hear the exhortation, see the glorious, risen Christ?
Our journey of faith will never be smooth. There will be missed steps, wrong turns, and barriers. May we always remember what a grace-FULL God we have and the grace-FULL reminders of his love that he sends us every day. He wants to renew us! He wants to refresh us! May we allow him to work in us, that he might also be able to work through us!