Down the Mountain

I often wonder what sort of stories a biography of St. Peter might contain. This man was incredible; incredibly passionate, incredibly rash and incredibly human. The more I read about him in Scripture, the more I find him to be a similar spirit to me, a comrade of sorts. His life from the moment he was called by Jesus to follow until the end of his days is marked by incredible highs and lows, moments of profound faithfulness and defiant hope and then, almost within the same breath, miserable failure. Peter has been through the ringer from a humble fisherman to the leader of the faithful after the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. He was the one who received the command to go and feed the sheep of our Lord’s flock, yet only after he had denied Him three times. He is the one to first confess Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God and yet, he is the one who rebukes Jesus when we heads off to His death, the one to whom Jesus says, “Get behind me Satan.” In many ways, Peter is a microcosm of the Church itself. He has experienced it all and his experience make his words to us even more powerful.

Today we remember the time Jesus took His closest disciples, His inner circle of friends, up a high mountain and was transfigured before them. This is the pinnacle of the season of Epiphany, the great unveiling of the identity of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus takes Peter, James and John up the mountain and we are told He was transfigured there, His face shone like the sun and His clothes became gleaming white. It is like the veil of His humanity was pulled back a little the glory of the divine shone forth on the mountaintop. If that was not enough, Moses and Elijah appeared there with Him. These giants of the faith, men who spoke the Word of God to His people, who led them and cared for them and prayed for them, they are there, speaking now, with Jesus.

Now Peter’s reaction to this is to do what any of us would want to do. He wants to stay there. To stay on the mountain would be to stay in the presence of our Lord’s glory. This is the mountaintop moment of all mountaintop moments, a place of awe and wonder and assurance. He says, “Lord, it is good we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Matthew 17:4). Imagine if he had been able to do it. Imagine if he had been able to make those tents, to remain in the presence of the glory of God like that. He would become the great guru of glory. He could lead tour groups up the mountain in hopes of catching a glimpse of the good stuff. He could write a book about how you too can create your own mountaintop moment and so experience the divine majesty. No doubt they would line up to go. You would line up to have that direct path to the glory and awe. Who would not want to go?

Of course, none of that happens. Moses and Elijah do not stay on the mountaintop. Jesus does not stay on the mountaintop. So, Peter never gets to build his tents. Instead, God shows up in a cloud and turns everyone’s attention to His Son. If you wonder why God comes in a cloud, just review the story of God and Moses on Mount Sinai, the giving of the Ten Commandments and the glory of God which settles on it in a cloud. This, apparently, is how God prefers to show up to give His divine instruction; to give His Word. But this time there are no tablets of stone, but a living breathing person. “This is my beloved Son,” He says, “with whom I am well pleased.” Then He adds a little line of great importance. He says, “Listen to Him.” Listen to the Son of God. Above all things, this is the place, the location of the Word and promises of God.

All eyes are now turned to Jesus. This is the purpose of the transfiguration moment and why they went there. Not to just have some moment of glory and power, not to stay on the mountain, not even to lay out an ethic for climbing the mountain on your own, rather it was to proclaim who Jesus is and what we are to do with His words. Words we need when we go down the mountain, down here, down where you live, in your life in your struggles, in your trials. The Transfiguration was about these days, about the here and now, about your hope and confidence today. Think of it this way, up on the mountain there was light and brilliance, but down here there is a lot of darkness. There are endless ways you can get lost and confused and turned about in the darkness. You can get tripped up, stumble and fall. Down in our lives we need the guidance and hope of the light. We need what the Psalmist writes about when he says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).

So, Peter, when he reflects upon the transfiguration of Jesus, gives us some crucial guidance. He has something we need, those of us who spend our days down the mountain. He says, “We were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from Heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:16-18). He says we were there. We were eyewitnesses. We heard the voice of God direct us to His Son. This one who saw it all then says something amazing. He says,

“And we have something more sure, the prophetic Word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:19).

Something more sure than that momentary experience. Something more sure than the mountaintop moment. Something to guide us and lead us each day. Something of hope and confidence here and now at the base of the mountain. The Word of God is the light which shines in the darkness and the Word is not bound by your ability to climb out of the darkness. It is not limited to a place where you reach by strength and resolve of the will. No, it is freely given to you. It shines all the way down to the base of the mountain.

And so, amid your darkness, in the midst of all that would consume your thoughts and deeds, there remains hope. Perhaps it is a consuming anxiety or the seemingly endless battle of depression. Maybe it is just the constant tug of old sins you cannot ever seem to shake, that are your constant partner in life. It could be regrets and shame from the past, difficult and bleak moments which never loosen their grip on you. In it all and through it all you are, no doubt, met with accusers who will point out your failures, ones who will whisper in your ears the seeds of doubt and hopelessness. There are those who would encourage you to simply throw in the towel, to forget it all and just embrace the darkness. But no, not you, for there is a light still shining for you. It may seem dim at times. It may seem distant or unreliable, but it never fails to shine, it never gives up. And that light does the unexpected.

Into your darkness it proclaims hope. Into your depression and fear and doubt it declares you remain loved. Into your sin and shame, it says, without hesitation, you are forgiven. You are not lost here at the base of the mountain, for your Lord has come down to walk with you, to lead you and guide you by the light of His Word. And He will not leave you. He will not turn aside from the promise of life and salvation. This Word continues to shine for you, “until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19).