COVER STORY – TRANSFIGURATION
Life on earth has been described as peaks and valleys. Even within a single day, we can feel euphoric one moment and despondent the next. While experiencing a joyful moment, we often long to extend it and make that time last just a little longer. Peter, upon witnessing Jesus’ transfiguration and the appearance of Moses and Elijah, wanted to act on that feeling. “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.’” (Matthew 17:4) In that moment, life was good. Understandably, Peter wanted it to last as long as possible. His comprehension of Jesus’ mission on earth was incomplete, but he immediately recognized this as a special moment.
A few days earlier, Jesus had been teaching about his upcoming suffering, death, and resurrection, which Peter found objectionable for the Son of God. “Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!’ But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.’” (Matthew 16:22-23)
In both instances, Peter missed the point. Jesus’ purpose on earth wasn’t to heap blessings upon His followers. He became man to live a perfect life and die a gruesome death for the sins of the whole world. Until then, He spent much of His time preparing His disciples for the time when they would no longer be able to see and hear Him.
In that glimpse of heavenly glory on the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John, no doubt, felt the joy of being in the presence of God. At news of the crucifixion, they would have felt intense grief at the loss of a teacher and friend. Emotions are fickle. We are no closer or farther from God no matter how we feel. God’s love is much stronger than a feeling.
God cares about every joy and problem we experience. But as Paul teaches in Romans 8:37-39, height and depth, joy and sadness, do not move us closer to or farther from God’s love. “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, . . . height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Yet, Jesus gave three of his disciples a glimpse of heavenly glory. Stephen also received a view of heaven itself shortly before he was martyred (Acts 7). Elisha witnessed his mentor, Elijah, ascend into heaven (2 Kings 2). While we don’t receive a personal view of heaven, we have all these things recorded for us by eyewitnesses of God’s glory. God also blesses us with joy and happiness in our lives. These aren’t things that sinners deserve, but rather blessings that flow from God’s love. These feelings are not the basis of our faith, but they are blessings from God.
We truly live in the valley of the shadow of death. Our sorrows often outnumber our joys. But as followers of Christ, we enjoy God’s ever-present undeserved love all of our lives. Just as Moses and Elijah joined Christ in glory on the Mount of Transfiguration, we will also experience the perfect joy of eternal life in the presence of our Savior.
Ross Kok is a teacher at Holy Cross Lutheran School in Phoenix, Arizona.