A sermon preached on 2 Peter 1:16-21 at Good Shepherd Lutheran in Sioux Falls, SD, on February 23, 2020.
This young musician gave up everything to pursue his dreams. He was less than one semester away from graduating college, when he decided to completely change his life. He dropped out of school, moved to Nashville in order to pursue a career in country music.
Could you imagine what his parents and family must’ve thought? What a boneheaded move! He was less than a semester from graduating! Just finish up your degree and then go do whatever you want to do. But this young man had a starry-eyed dream in his heart and he was going to pursue it at all costs. Fast forward 7 years into the future and country singer Luke Combs was accepting Male Vocalist of the Year at the Country Music Awards, which is the highest honor in the realm of Country Music. He had finally made it! He had reached his mountaintop!
It’s a cool story. One that we both love to hear and hate to hear. It is a cool story because it gives us hope that one day, we might reach our mountaintop. But it is also a story that we hate because we are envious that we haven’t had our mountaintop experience yet and are afraid that we may never get there.
So, what is that for you? What is “making it” for you? It probably has changed throughout your life… when you were in college – “making it” was being able to removed Ramen noodles from your weekly diet once and for all. When you were a first-time parent – “making it” was being able to get at least 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Maybe “making it” to you is achieving the highest promotion in your field, maybe it is checking off the vacation that you have always wanted to go on. We could go on and on about what your definition of “making it” would be, but the point has been made. Whether you think about it often or not – there is a point in your life that you are hoping to get to where you can say – “I made it.”
Peter found that point in his life. It wasn’t necessarily something that Peter planned on since the time he was a boy, but when he was there, he realized it. Peter was with Jesus, James, and John and Jesus took these three disciples onto a mountain in order to pray. When they got to the mountaintop, the disciples fell asleep (not the first time that happened), but we also can’t blame the disciples – it was probably late at night. When they woke up they were confronted with one of the brightest displays they had ever seen. Jesus was transfigured, meaning he changed form before them. His clothing was whiter than any bleach could ever make it. It was unlike anything the disciples had ever seen. As long as they had known Jesus, he was just like them – he got hungry, he got tired, he got thirsty, he mourned, he even looked like them. They knew that he was God, but they had never seen him in his glory like this. They now saw Jesus in his full glory. The disciples were eyewitnesses! And to his right and his left were Moses, the great law-giver of the Old Testament, and Elijah, the great preacher and prophet of the Old Testament. If that wasn’t enough, they heard a voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well-pleased.” Which was the very voice of God!
If there was ever a mountaintop experience, this was, quite literally, it. You can’t blame Peter for wanting to stay there for a while, if not forever! Peter suggested to Jesus that they set up three tents and stay there for a while. One for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. Peter didn’t even want one for himself, he just wanted to stay there. Yet, although Peter’s words and actions seem harmless, there was a deep misunderstanding here. Peter just didn’t get it! He didn’t understand Jesus’ purpose on this mountaintop.
So, what was Peter’s sin here? It didn’t seem unreasonable for Peter to suggest something like this, yet he was off-base. What was he missing? Well… he was in the glorified presence of the Son of God, about whom all Scripture is written. He was in the presence of Moses, who wrote the first 5 books of the Bible, and Elijah, one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament. And what did Peter do first? He spoke. He had a suggestion to make to God. He thought he knew how things should go. Rather than humbly listen, Peter spoke.
You see… Peter thought that he had “made it.” This was his mountaintop experience. This is what following Jesus was all about. The time and effort that he had put in with Jesus finally paid off – with glory!
A little over 10 years ago, there was a commissioned survey to Christians. It was a pretty simple survey that had only one question. The question was: If you could ask God anything, what would you ask? I’m sure if I asked that question of you, we’d have a lively discussion about some of the things that have been on your hearts. But I also imagine that you are perhaps like the majority of people that answered this survey. The #1 answer, by far, was, “Why does God allow suffering in this world?”
Maybe the question is not even so much about suffering… It is easy for us to admit that life can be a roller coaster – sometimes everything is going great and sometimes everything seems to be a mess. Internally, we wonder why it has to be this way? Why can’t I stay on the mountaintop? Why do I have to go through the valleys?
It doesn’t seem like it should be this way. God is a perfectly loving God that does not delight in the suffering of his people. He doesn’t enjoy seeing the tears you cry, he doesn’t enjoy the heart-wrenching pain of a funeral, and he doesn’t enjoy seeing you frantically stressed about how you are going to make it through the next month.
We know this about God – he is perfectly loving and he loves to bless his children. So, in that framework of thinking – from the moment I become a Christian, my life should be a gradual climb to the mountaintop, right? It makes us wonder, when we have good times, why we can’t just stay there forever. Why couldn’t we set up camp in those times and stay?
That is our advice to God. We desire glory and not suffering. That is us taking the place of Peter and speaking when instead we should listen.
Peter’s mountaintop experience was an awesome experience, but it was an experience that was meant to strengthen him. On that mountain he saw that Jesus was most certainly God! If he had any doubt before, that doubt was extinguished. He had seen the glory. He heard from the mouth of God that this indeed was his Son and he was pleased with him. He had witnessed Jesus next to the greats of the Old Testament, for Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament. This was all meant to strengthen Peter and the disciples.
But they couldn’t stay on the mountain. Jesus’ walk down from the mountain was the beginning of his walk to the cross. He was about to endure more suffering than anyone has ever known. He would physically suffer, mentally suffer, and he would even be forsaken by God. And would do all – for you!
The disciples needed the perspective of the mountain to give them strength for what was to come. They needed to know that despite his suffering and apparent weakness – Jesus was God. The disciples needed to know that Jesus was to be glorified in his suffering and that the disciples would be glorified through the suffering of Jesus.
As a witness to all of this, Peter wrote the inspired words of Scripture that we have before us today. In our lives we experience highs (mountaintop experiences) and we experience lows (valleys). God knows. We may not know the reasons why we are suffering, but Peter’s encouragement to you is to do what he didn’t do – LISTEN!
Listen to the Word of God. The Word of God is a precious gift that has been given to you for your certainty. It is a light shining in a dark place. The Word drives away the darkness and extinguishes the doubt. It gives you strength to endure the highs and the lows of life, as you look forward to the coming of Jesus again.
The Word is not words that a bunch of men threw together, but it is the very Word of God. The Holy Spirit inspired the authors of Scripture to record exactly what God wanted to say to his people. Everything that is written in Scripture is written for a purpose! That you may believe and have life in him.
This Word is written for your comfort and written to give you strength. Strength to know that Jesus has taken care of your biggest problem – sin. Strength to know that no matter what you have said or done in your life, no matter what guilt you carry, you are forgiven in Christ and your guilt has been taken away. Strength to know that your mountaintop experience is not coming in this life, but in the life to come, in heaven.
Life certainly is a roller coaster. There will be awesome highs – cherish them as the blessings that they are from God and thank God for them. There will be devastating lows – run to the Word of God for comfort and for strength. God’s Word will always be your constant in life. Then one day in heaven we will finally be able to say, “We made it.” Amen.