Is Jesus Enough?
"Is Jesus enough?" What a silly question to ask of Christians! Of course, He's enough! What Christian would say otherwise? Let's see.
The disciples had been curt with Jesus in several instances before this trip to the mountain top. In the feeding of the 5,000, they deigned to tell Jesus the obvious: It was a deserted place; it was late; there was no food. And they acted like Jesus was keeping the people there. "Release them so they may go buy food for themselves," they said. Then jus prior to our text, after Jesus for the first time had clearly foretold His rejection, suffering, and death, brash Peter took Jesus aside to tell Him that would never happen! The Jesus who didn't know better than to keep people in a deserted place, the Jesus who thought He was heading for the cross was not enough for the disciples.
Is He enough for you? I don't think so. Don't you think you know better than Jesus sometimes? Don't you think He's not acting quickly enough, or doing enough? From our prayers that are more lectures than pleas to our certainty that we know exactly what Jesus should do in any and every situation, Jesus isn't enough for us.
Well the Transfiguration ought to solve that, huh? It didn't for these 3 disciples. On a lonely mountain, probably in the pitch dark, Jesus was "transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light." Such an appearance of Jesus to Paul on the Damascus road knocked him off his horse. When John sees Jesus this way in the Book of Revelation he falls at His feet as a dead man. When Isaiah sees Jesus (Jn. 12:41) in His glory on His throne he responds, "Woe is me, for I am ruined!..For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts."
Peter, James, and John don't have this reaction to seeing Jesus in all His glory. Matthew reports it as plainly as He did Jesus taking the disciples and leading them up a high mountain. Nope, it's not the Transfiguration that gets to the disciples. It's the arrival of Moses and Elijah. The NIV doesn't show you this; the Greek does. After dryly reporting the transfiguring facts, Matthew writes, "And behold appeared to them Moses and Elijah speaking with Him." The "behold," the lo" the "wow look at this" comes with the appearance of 2 heroes of the Old Testament.
You can tell their appearance is what strikes them by Peter's answer. Again the insert translation overlooks the point. It's not merely that "Peter said to Jesus, "Lord it is good for us to be here, etc." No, Peter responds, replies to the arrival of the Old Testament legends. The Greek is, "And answering Peter said to Jesus."
What's Peter's answer to the cavalry, Moses and Elijah, showing up just in the nick of time, just after Jesus has uttered that horrible prediction of His suffering, rejection, and death? "Lord it's good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up 3 shelters one for You, one for Moses and one for Elijah." That translation "shelters" is poor. Does Peter think heavenly citizens need shelters on earth? No, go with the King James or New American Standard translations here. Peter says that he is willing to build 3 tabernacles. You know like the tabernacle the Lord had commanded Moses to build in the wilderness. The tabernacle that became the temple. The tabernacle where God dwelled on earth.
Do you see how blown away Peter is by Moses and Elijah showing up? He puts them on the same plane as Jesus. All 3 are worthy of their own tabernacle on earth. Jesus alone, even transfigured, wasn't enough to evoke this response from Peter. But the presence of these Old Testament legends is. These 2 guys went out winners. They never lost in a confrontation. They did powerful deeds. Sure they were rejected by some like Jesus said He would be, but nobody killed them. Elijah was taken alive to heaven and Moses died peacefully not brutally.
Jesus isn't enough for me either. How I long for something like Peter's mountaintop experience. I want to see Jesus in glory. I want to see Jesus accompanied by those even the world will recognize as powerful. I find comfort, encouragement, and even a touch of power in here singing alleluias with you, but out there in my life, in my world non-religion or false religion gets more attention and has more power than Jesus does.
Don't believe me? Go home and turn on your TV's. The nonreligious Super Bowl will be oohed and aahed over for the next 12 or so hours. Or instead of that go home and Google "Mormon" or "Benny Hinn" or "Joel Olsteen." These false religions have everything the world wants and praises. And what do we have? Only Jesus, and Jesus isn't enough.
The disciples, this disciple, has been curt with Jesus. The Transfiguration doesn't' change things for them or me. The Word of God, however, does. There are 2 more "beholds" in the text that the insert passes over. The first is when the cloud enveloped them. "While Peter was still speaking behold a cloud enveloped them." That was startling; that was another "wow," another "will you look at that!" Then in quick succession follows, "and behold a voice out of the cloud speaking.."
The cloud and the voice startled and amazed, but it is what the Voice said that grabbed their attention and put the fear of God into them. Neither the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah, nor the cloudy presence of God knocked them to the ground in terror in the way of Paul, John and Isaiah. What God says did. May it so knock us.
The Father says from the cloud, "This is My Son, whom I love; in Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him." These simple words are what do it. The text says, "When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified." They had been treating Jesus as less than God the Son. That's what you're doing when you think you know better than He does. That's what you're doing when you regard Jesus as just another man in whom God works in a special way like He did in Moses and Elijah. Jesus wasn't enough for them; Jesus plus Moses and Elijah was.
Not only had they been dismissing the Person of Jesus, they had been dismissing His Words. When you're told to listen to someone it means you haven't been. Jesus words were not enough for them, and you will not get from this text what you should unless you too confess that Jesus' words haven't been enough for you. You've wanted more, better, different words. You've wanted words that are scientifically sensible, philosophically wise, intellectually stimulating. You've wanted words of glory not gory words of the cross. You want to hear that your Egyptians are going to be drowned in the sea and you false prophets of Baal are going to be slaughtered. It isn't enough for you to hear that Jesus is going to be slaughtered in your place and drown your sinful nature in Baptism.
You should be trembling now. It is a fearful thing to say, "No," to the Words of your God, or, "That's not good enough." Let a child say that to you and see how angry you become. You're not holy; you're not God, so imagine how hot His anger is when we respond that way to Him. There is no way you can live with an angry God, and you ought to be as afraid of Him as the disciples were in the text.
But fear isn't the answer. Jesus is. Jesus alone is. Neither the booming voice of God, nor Old Testament heroes; nor heavenly beings on earth is the answer, but Jesus only. Remember the Baptism of Jesus less than a month ago; the Father from heaven says exactly the same thing here. "In Jesus He is well pleased." Outside of Jesus, God is not well-pleased. In Moses, the friend of God, God is not well pleased. In Elijah, the man spared the agony of death, God is not well pleased. In Jesus only He is.
Though you have dismissed the Person and Words of Jesus, though you have thought you knew better than Him, and wanted more, better, different than what He gave you, God is well pleased with you in Jesus. Because in Jesus He cannot see any of your sins and on Jesus He punished all your sins, standing in your Baptism, covered as you are with Jesus, the Father is well pleased with you. With the words of Absolution bespeaking you righteous for Jesus' sake, the Father is pleased as could be with you. And just how happy, how delighted must the Father be with you if He invites you to eat and drink the Body and Blood of His Son not for judgment but for forgiveness, life and salvation?
The answer to neither Jesus nor His Words being enough for us is not are rightly being afraid, but Jesus only and only Jesus' words. The Father says, "You must listen to Him." The last words Matthew records Jesus saying to the disciples were about His sighing, bleeding, dying, and rising, and how these things of God were more profitable than the whole world of men. Here's the answer to our fears which are almost all about the world of men. We've been redeemed from this world, from this fear. What we fear, in the past, present or future, in life or death, in demons or devils, cannot rob us of our salvation.
"Listen to Him," the Father tells us from heaven, and in our text what are the first words out of Jesus' mouth to the cowering disciples? "Get up and don't be afraid." He doesn't rub their faces in the dirt for dismissing Him and not listening to Him. He doesn't leave them in their fear to teach them a lesson. No, He says, "Get up and leave your fears down there."
Get up my friends. We're going down from this mountain with Jesus alone, and Jesus is enough. We're going with Him to dark Gethsemane, darker Calvary, and brighter Easter. Get up my friends; don't be afraid to look at your sins and sinfulness in Lent in, with, and under Jesus. Jesus is more than enough to deal with them. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Transfiguration of our Lord (20080203); Matthew 17:1-9