Turn Off the Dark
The subtitle for the Spiderman Broadway musical is "Turn off the Dark." That comes from a rock song written for the show whose writer said a parent told him that instead of his child asking, "Turn on the light," he asks, "Turn off the dark." That's a different point of view. The child knew the darkness was the problem. It's a big problem when you don't know you're in darkness. This brings us to our text and particularly Peter.
Our text, much like a modern movie, starts six days ago. You noticed that time stamp, didn't you? "After six days." This is the first specific reference to the passage of time in all of Matthew. It's like a movie that begins with a startling event fades to black and then the words "Chapter 1: Six Days Ago" materialize on the screen.
What happened six days ago? Matthew tells us that in the chapter before our text. Peter for the first time had given a clear confession that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God. Jesus assures Peter that he is blest in that confession and that it was miraculous. Flesh and blood didn't give it to him but Jesus' Father in heaven. So far so good, but then we read, "From that time on Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life."
That doesn't startle you because from Advent on you've lived with the reality that Jesus was born to save us by suffering and dying in our place. Peter too could've known that from the Old Testament, but just like we could know from the New Testament that we will suffer for the name of Jesus but forget, so Peter had forgotten that before the glory of salvation comes the gory cross. So when Jesus tells Peter of the cross he categorically denies it. "Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. Never, Lord!' he said. This shall never happen to You!'" This is the same as your toddler looking you in the eye stamping his foot and saying, "No!" Peter has no idea he's in the dark. He thinks Jesus is.
Jesus can't let that "No!" stand. He tries to show Peter just how much in the dark He is by calling him Satan. Wouldn't that have devastated you? Jesus calls you "friend" and that's what you are to Him. Jesus calls you "saint" and that's what you are to Him. Jesus calls you Satan andthat's what you are to Him. But that's not where Jesus left it six days ago. The last verse before our text records Jesus promising, "I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom."
The screen fades to black and the words "Chapter 2: Go Tell It on The Mountain" materialize. When the Lord in the Old Testament wanted to impart some special revelation to Moses and Elijah He directed them to a mountain. He did this in each of their cases during a time of duress. He called Moses up to Mt. Sinai for the giving of the Law, and He called him back up after the golden calf incident. Moses said he couldn't go on unless he was sure he had the gracious presence of God with the people. Elijah too felt he was too weak to go on, so God sent him to a mountain to tell him something special. Peter and the rest of the disciples aren't ready for Lent. They're too weak for ashes, crosses, and graves.
So that everything can be confirmed at the mouth of 2 or even better 3 witnesses, Jesus after 6 days takes Peter, James, and John up a mountain. Peter who had so forcefully and satanically denied the central message of the Gospel, the cross, was one of those who were privileged not to taste death before he saw the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.
Jesus pulled out all the stops. He showed what He really is in flesh and blood. His body shined with the intensity of the sun and His clothes became like the rays of the sun. It's like in the vampire movies when the good vampire accidently shows his girlfriend the other side of him. She backs away, overwhelmed. The one Peter had felt free to put his arm around in a patronizing fashion and rebuke in a Satanic one is suddenly aglow with God's brightness and might.
But there's more. Moses and Elijah add their testimony as to who Jesus is. Moses and Elijah are the only two people in the Old Testament to meet Yahweh, Jehovah, on mountains. But this time it's different. When Moses asked not to be left in the dark but for assurance that God's gracious presence would go with them, he was only allowed to see the back of God. When Elijah needed the dark turned off, the Lord Almighty, Yahweh, spoke to him in a still small voice. Now the only two to have met Jehovah on a mountain meet Him again but this time it's face to face; this time He speaks in a normal voice.
But all of this doesn't prevent Peter from being just as stupid, just as misbelieving as he was 6 days ago, and it doesn't shut him up either. When Peter speaks he thinks he's saying the right thing, "'Lord, it is good for us to be here. If You wish, I will put up three sheltersone for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.'" Isn't that special? Peter offers, by himself, to build a Pantheon, a temple, a shrine for gods. Also, by saying they should stay there Peter is saying it was not necessary for Jesus to go to Jerusalem.
Once more the screen fades to black and the words "Chapter 3: To the Cloud" materialize on your screen. Surely you've seen those Microsoft commercials where there is a problem with home pictures or being stuck at an airport and suddenly a person says, "To the cloud." The cloud is a computer network beyond your physical computer. Microsoft is selling the cloud as the answer. In our text the cloud is. Not Microsoft's cloud but the cloudy presence of God. This Cloud will receive the Man Jesus on Ascension, but now it's here to rescue Peter and us. According to our text it's the Cloud and the Father's voice that finally shut Peter up and put him in his proper place before God: flat on his face with mouth closed.
First God the Father straightens out who Jesus is compared to the heroes of the Old Testament. This Jesus who talks about being rejected, beaten, and killed is His Son. "This One," booms the Father not Moses, not Elijah "is My Son." When the followers of Korah rejected Moses, the earth opened and swallowed them. When Moses' sister rejected his authority, God struck her with leprosy for seven days. When over 900 false teachers challenged Elijah he was the last man standing. As great as these men were, they were not God's beloved Son, this Man of apparent weakness who will be rejected by the church and crucified by the Romans is.
But there's more revelation in this Cloud. The Father doesn't say as your insert has it "with Him I am well pleased" but "in Him I am well pleased." In Him who will be rejected by the highest court of the church, in Him who will be put to death as a criminal, in Him, and only in Him, is God pleased. Everywhere and anywhere outside of Jesus, God is not pleased. No matter what you sacrifice for God; no matter what you do for God or others; no matter how pious, religious, sanctified you are, outside of Jesus God is not pleased with you or anyone else. God is pleased in the suffering, sighing, bleeding and dying of His only beloved Son in place of sinners.
When Peter confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God, he was in Jesus and God was pleased with Him. When Peter rebuked the suffering Savior, he stepped outside of Jesus and into the realm of Satan, and God was not pleased. You are baptized into Jesus. In your Baptism, God is pleased with you. You are absolved in Jesus' name. Your sins are sent away from you and you are placed in Jesus. In your Absolution, God is pleased with you. You commune with the Body and Blood of Jesus. Not only are you in Jesus but Jesus is in you. That's why you are dismissed in peace with the assurance that you will be strengthened and preserved in the true faith. In Jesus the Father is pleased as can be to do that for you.
Peter's problem all along was that he wasn't listening to Jesus. So the last thing to come out of the Father's Cloud is, "You must listen to Him!" Listen to Jesus; don't rebuke Him. Listen to Jesus, not your opinions, thoughts, ideas. Listen to Jesus closer than you do others. Listen to Jesus every chance, every place you can. Listen to Jesus' words about the cross so that you will be able to hear His words about the crown.
Paul said, "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." If you hear this as Law you need to go back to the mountain and the Cloud. Imagine you're in a fire with more smoke than flames. The firefighter calls to you. He tells you to drop to your knees and crawl to his voice. He tells you not to pay attention to anything but his voice. Do you think he is speaking law to you? Do you resent it? Do you think he is wrong to expect that you would listen only to him?
Listen to Jesus as He again tells you the story of His Passion. Listen as He tells you His Body is given for you sake and His Blood is shed for your sins. Listen as He says in Gethsemane, "Let these go; just take Me." Listen as on another mountain, Calvary, Jesus says, "Father forgive them," and "It is finished." Listen to Jesus this Lent not the Devil, not the World, not your own flesh. They speak lies; lies that the Father says you don't have to follow, believe, or even listen to. Listen instead to the first thing Jesus says after the command to listen to Him, "Don't be afraid."
The screen fades to black. In the dark a little boy's voice says "Turn off the dark, Daddy." God the Father answers, "Gladly," and God the Son on the Mount of Transfiguration turns on. And little boys and girls everywhere are relieved. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Transfiguration (20110306); Matthew 17: 1-9