What Was It Like?
What Was It Like?
Text: Luke 9:28-36
What Was It Like? What was it like for two million Israelites to camp in the desert at the foot of Mt. Sinai? After more than 400 years of slavery in Egypt, their God had led them to freedom. They walked through the middle of the Red Sea on dry ground and turned to watch as the Lord crushed their enemies with those massive walls of water. Now their God had asked them to camp and wait as he spoke with their leader Moses on the mountain.
What Was It Like to wait 40 days and 40 nights for Moses to come back down? What Was It Like to watch our holy God envelope a mountain with a massive cloud, thundering and shaking the mountain with his awesome presence? What Was It Like to know that you are so unholy, so unworthy that if you so much as even touched the mountain you would die? What would you have done for those 40 days and 40 nights? What would you have thought? What would you have told your children was happening?
What Was It Like to see Moses finally coming down from the mountain, but to see his face was shining so brilliantly from the glory of the Lord that he had to cover his face? What Was It Like to know that our God is so mighty that even a fraction of his glory reflected on a human face was too much to handle?
What Was It Like for Moses? What Was It Like to be in the presence of the glory of the Lord, to speak with him, and to receive his laws and commandments? What Was It Like to have that honor, yet to ask to see the face of the Lord and be denied because no one, not even Moses, could see the face of the Lord and live? What Was It Like to have your face shining like the sun simply from being in God’s presence? Or to cover your face with a veil because that glimpse of God’s glory was too much for sinful people?
What Was It Like for Elijah? What Was It Like to be hunted down and wanted dead or alive, to feel like the only believer left in the entire land of Israel? What Was It Like for Elijah to return to this very same Mt. Sinai over 500 years after Moses to see the Lord passing by? He waited and watched. A powerful wind tore by. A might earthquake shook the mountain. A fire blazed. But the Lord wasn’t in any of those. What Was It Like for Elijah to hear the Lord in a gentle whisper and be reminded that God’s power sometimes comes in small and subtle ways? What Was It Like for Elijah to be humbled by the Lord over and over? Yet What Was It Like for Elijah to be honored by the Lord and carried off to heaven in a whirlwind of fire?
What Was It Like for Peter, James, and John? For three years they had seen Jesus do incredible things. Sometimes the three of them even had special viewing privileges for miracles, like when Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead. What Was It Like to follow Jesus up this mount of transfiguration? What were they expecting? What would Jesus do next? And why did they fall asleep so often? Was Jesus that boring? Was his ministry that strenuous? Or were they really that sinfully weak?
What Was It Like when Peter, James, and John gradually woke from their sleep, wiped the crust from their eyes, and realized that Jesus had changed (transfigured) right in front of them? What Was It Like to see Jesus’ clothes whiter than any bleach could make them or to see Jesus’ face shining like the sun or like a flash of lightning? What Was It Like when they finally realized that the two strange men standing next to Jesus were their great heroes of faith, Moses and Elijah?
What Was It Like to catch just a glimpse of Jesus’ full glory as God? They had seen him do plenty of miracles. They heard him say he was the Son of God. But they had never really seen his full glory. How frightened were they? How humbled were they? How awestruck were they? Apparently awestruck enough for Peter to blab his big mouth again. What Was It Like for Peter to finally realize that it was really foolish to ask Jesus if they could stay on that mountain with Moses and Elijah which would have prevented him from going back down the mountain to become our Savior? And What Was It Like for these three to not only see the glory of Jesus but to hear God speak from heaven, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”
What Was It Like for Moses and Elijah to reappear that day? They had long been in heaven but here were given brief moments to speak with Jesus while on this earth. What was that conversation like? The only thing we know is in verse 30: “They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” What did they say? “Go on, Jesus. Do it. Go. Go to Jerusalem. Do what you came for. We prophesied that you would come. We believed and waited for you to come. Now go. Take away the sins of all mankind. Become the Savior of the world. Go on, Jesus”?
We don’t know what it was like for Israel, Moses, Elijah, and Peter, James, and John to see our Almighty God. Was it something remotely like standing 16,000 feet above sea level in Rocky Mountain National Park on a massive peak looking out for thousands of miles and recognizing that you are a blip on the radar screen? Was it something like standing on the shore of the crashing Atlantic Ocean and realizing that you are as small of a speck compared to the ocean as the sand is under your feet? Was it something like staring up at the sun on a hot Florida summer day and feeling like the radiating light will scorch both you and your corneas in seconds? Was it something like standing outside during a Category 3 storm and having your bones shook by the thunder as lightning flashes so close it makes your skin crawl and wind blows so powerfully it almost knocks you over and you grasp just how little power you have? Is that awe kind of what it was like to be in God’s presence?
We also don’t know what it was like for these people of old to be stricken with terror when Mt. Sinai was thundering and quaking or when Moses was glowing or when Jesus was shining while flanked by Moses and Elijah. How terrified were they to be in the presence of the holy God? How guilty and ashamed did they feel?
Was it something remotely like the feeling I have when I wake up in the morning and know that by the time I make it to the shower I will have probably sinned against my God a few dozen times already? Was it like the feeling I have walking into my office every day knowing that yet again I will fail to live up to all of your expectations, to serve you as you really deserve, and worse, that I am not at all worthy of this ministry God has privileged me with? Was it like the feeling I have when I walk in the door at night and see my wonderful wife and beautiful children and know that yet again I have failed to be the husband and father I should be? Or was it like the feeling I have when I sink my head down on the pillow at night and all my guilt crashes down with me, suffocating me with an overwhelming rush of shame at yet another failure of a day?
Did Israel, Moses, Elijah, Peter, James, and John feel like I do when I walk into this holy sanctuary? Here I am, where God dwells. Here is where I come with heavy heart and burdened soul to sit and stand in the presence of a most holy God who does not tolerate sin. Did they feel afraid, honored, overwhelmed, amazed, horrified, and stupefied all at the same time like I do?
I don’t know what it was like for them. I can’t imagine. I don’t want to imagine. My life is small enough and shameful enough without the thunderous, radiating glory of God around me.
So What Was It Like for Jesus? What Was It Like to be the God who made heaven and earth and then to take on human flesh and live in that same world he made? What Was It Like to humbly set aside all power and all glory to walk the dusty roads of Israel, to talk with prostitutes and tax collectors, to teach disciples so dense that they almost always did something dumb?
What Was It Like for Jesus atop that mount of transfiguration and look down at Jerusalem knowing that the most incredibly intense suffering and pain was just days away? What Was It Like for Jesus to be the God of heaven knowing that he was about to experience hell for the people he created and who deserved to be there instead? What Was It Like for Jesus to be encouraged by Moses and Elijah to do what his people had waited so long for? Or to hear the voice of his Father booming from heaven, encouraging him one final time to accomplish their plan for sinful humanity?
What Was It Like for Jesus to see Peter, James, and John sleeping through most of this important moment, just as they would be sleeping in the Garden of Gethsemane a few days later on Maundy Thursday? What Was It Like for Jesus to ride into Jerusalem where his own people rejected him and wanted to murder him? What Was It Like to be alone in Gethsemane when his own friend betrayed him and all the rest ran away? What Was It Like to be ridiculed and tortured by the people you were there to save?
What Was It Like for Jesus to hang from a cross and carry the sins of the world? I can barely endure my own sins and guilt. How could he carry that of the whole world? What Was It Like to square off with Satan, to stare death and hell in the face as his heavenly Father abandoned him and death closed in? What Was It Like for our God to bow his head and die when he had absolutely no reason or business being on that cross, except for the sole reason that he loved me that much? What Was It Like for Jesus to crush Satan’s head with a deadly blow, to open the doors of heaven, and to free his people from an eternity of hell?
I don’t what it was like for Jesus to have done all these things. But I do know this: I know what it’s like to be overwhelmed with joy. I know what it’s like to no longer fear the presence of God or the anger of God. I know what it’s like to rest my head on my pillow at night in peace, knowing that after yet another day filled with sin my heavenly Father still loves me and my Savior still forgives me. I know what it’s like to step into this holy sanctuary every Sunday with reverent awe and eager excitement to worship and praise a God gracious enough to dwell among us and show his power in the gentle whisper of his Word and Sacraments.
I don’t know what God’s glory was like on Mt. Sinai. I don’t know what God’s glory was like on the mount of transfiguration. But I know I can’t wait to see what God’s glory is like in heaven.
Posted on February 11, 2013, in Church, Sermons and tagged Church, Elijah, Glory of the Lord, James, Jesus, John, Luke, Luke 9, Moses, Mt. Horeb, Mt. Sinai, Peter, Sermons, Transfiguration. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.