So, Jesus invites Peter, James, and John up a mountain. Just them. All the other disciples are left down below. Now, prior to this in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus walked on water, has been announced as the Son of God, and as the long-awaited Messiah, so this is quite an honor for them. You kinda wonder if they were feeling a little privileged, a bit superior. And possibly curious. What did Jesus have planned? Why is he bringing them up here?
They soon find out. Jesus is transfigured — he changes — right in front of them. His face is like the sun, his clothes are dazzling white. And if it isn’t enough that the Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah who walks on water starts glowing in front of them, Moses and Elijah come and are also with him. Like the perfect trifecta. These good Jewish boys have learned all their lives about these great historical leaders of God. Moses, who led their people out of slavery into freedom; who spoke with God and was given God’s law. And Elijah, the greatest of all the prophets of God; who defeated the god Baal, brought fire from the sky, raised the dead, and was whisked away to God in a whirlwind. Jesus is in some pretty good company here.
So Peter makes a very hospitable offer. Tell you what, Jesus, let me build three little cabins right here; one for each of you. I’ll do it right now, if you like.
If you think about it, that’s a pretty gracious, if a bit ambitious, offer. Peter, James, and John are witnessing something amazing: Jesus the water-walking Son of God, right there alongside the two greatest figures in history. The moment needs to be recognized, memorialized, monumentized. They figured Jesus is something special, but to be hanging out with Moses and Elijah is all kinds of impressive. Three little cabins. One for each. Recognizing this historic event.
For James, John, and Peter, the presence of Moses and Elijah validates the significance of Jesus. It proves he is someone special. It makes it OK to believe in him. Moses and Elijah support their belief in Jesus. They can trust Moses. They can believe Elijah. As long they they are going along with Jesus, the guy must be alright.
So I’m wondering, who/what are Moses and Elijah for us? What is it that we have confidence in, that we trust, that fit our lifelong beliefs and understanding, that support our faith in Jesus? Is it a person who makes Jesus credible (if Mom believes in him, he must be alright)? Is it the people we hang out with (lots of people believe in him, he must be alright)? Is it the fact that our life is content, that we are healthy, that we have a good retirement (I’m doing well, Jesus must be alright)? Or is it that the church is a comfortable place for us (the coffee is good at church and the people are nice, so I guess this Jesus is alright)? Or that belief in Jesus is what we’ve always done (so it must be fine). What or who is it that we want to build a little cabin for, right next to Jesus, to support our faith him?…
While Peter is still making his offer to build some cabins, a voice booms from the clouds, “THIS is my son; with HIM I am well pleased; listen to HIM!”
Nothing about Moses. Nothing about Elijah. Just Jesus. Now the three disciples witnessing this are terrified. Moses and Elijah are gone. It’s just Jesus. Jesus alone. It’s Jesus or nothing. And Peter, James, and John are overcome with fear.
What happens when Moses and Elijah disappear? What happens when the things that support our faith in Jesus don’t hold up? What happens when someone whose faith I admire gives up on God? What happens when our culture no longer feels a need to associate with Jesus? What happens when my life is in turmoil, when I am no longer healthy, when I face bankruptcy? What happens when the church is uncomfortable, and makes decisions I don’t like? What happens when Jesus doesn’t meet our expectations and talks about things that I don’t understand or don’t want to do? What happens when we fall to the ground overcome with fear?
“…[the disciples] fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.”
When Moses and Elijah disappear, aren’t standing with Jesus, or simply let you down, Jesus stays. He stays with you in your doubt, in your confusion, in your anger, in your frustration, in your disbelief, in your fear. And reaches out and touches you. And he helps you up. And he walks down the mountain with you.
Because when Moses and Elijah are gone; when the things or the people that prop Jesus up disappear; when all the things that make it OK to believe fall short; when you are face down in the dirt trembling in fear and anxiety, Jesus stays.
“And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.” Moses and Elijah are fine, but Jesus is the one who stays with you. On the mountaintop when your life is all shiney and bright. And down in the valley, where life is uncertain, frightening, and chaotic.
“Lord,” says Peter, “It is good for us to be here.”