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Down from the Mountain
Luke 9:28-36


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
The Transfiguration of Our Lord—February 4, 2010

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Our text for Transfiguration Sunday is today’s Gospel Reading from the ninth chapter of Luke, the account of Jesus’ glorious transfiguration up on a mountaintop.

It was truly a “mountaintop experience” for our Lord, the greatest event of his ministry here on earth.  For a few moments, Peter, James, and John are privileged to see their Master in all his heavenly glory: “The appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.”

For some 30 years while here on earth, Jesus voluntarily laid aside his divine power, prestige, and prerogatives, living as a human, the simple life of a country carpenter from Nazareth.  As Paul says in Philippians, “[Though] being in very nature God . . . [he] made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself.”

Like the veil which Moses wore in today’s Old Testament Reading to cover the reflected glory which lingered in his face after he saw the Lord on Mt. Sinai, it was only occasionally during Jesus’ earthly life, when he performed miracles, that he let his divine nature show through the veil of humanity which normally covered the glory of his true divinity. 

But, now, for a few moments up on the mountaintop, Christ again shows forth the fullness of the divine glory that he possessed in heaven before he came down to earth and was made man: “The appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.”

“Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.”  These two greatest prophets of the Old Testament represent all the prophets and their prophecies, which pointed forward to the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, and Savior of the world.

Luke tells us, “They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.”  The word “departure” is a euphemism, like when we speak of the “dearly departed.”  For, the “departure” which Moses and Elijah are talking with Jesus about is actually his impending departure from this life, from the sorrow and suffering of this world, to return to the splendor and serenity of heaven.  As he later said in the Gospel of John, “I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

But, before Christ would ascend unto heaven, before he would return again to the ultimate, eternal “mountaintop experience” which heaven is, he must first come “Down from the Mountain.”  For, between the temporary glory of the Transfiguration and the eternal glory of heaven lay the suffering and agony of the Calvary.  As Jesus told the disciples, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.  He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”

Peter does not want the glory of the Transfiguration to ever end: “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”  Peter is saying, “Do not leave this wonderful glory; do not endure the suffering, the sorrow, the agony, the pain, the death; do not go ‘Down from the Mountain.’”

Peter later wrote in his First Epistle, “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”   “Take up your cross,” Jesus said, “and follow me!”  Follow him, “Down from the Mountain,” through suffering, through sorrow, through agony, through pain, through death itself.  Follow him, “Down from the Mountain,” for at the end of this life’s painful path lies for you the ultimate “mountaintop experience,” the never-ending glory of heaven.  As Paul says in Romans, “If we share with him in his sufferings, we will also share in his glory.”

What are the “mountaintop experiences” in your life?  You may not remember it, but your Baptism was a “mountaintop experience.”  Through this “washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,” your sins were washed away and you were born again as a child of God.  But, before you enter your Father’s heavenly mansion, you must come “Down from the Mountain,” and pass through the valleys of life. 

Peter puts it this way, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you. . .  In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”

For many of us, Confirmation in the faith was another “mountaintop experience,” pledging yourself to follow your Savior.  Jesus warns his followers, “In this world you will have trouble.”  But, he also assures us he will be with us in those dark, fearful valleys, “I am with you always. . .  Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you. . .  Do not let your hearts but troubled; trust in God, trust also in me. . .  Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life.”

Your wedding day was another “mountaintop experience” in your life,’ but soon you came “Down from the Mountain” to the realities of everyday life.  The wedding vows themselves acknowledge that everything won’t always be perfect like your wedding day, that there are many struggles ahead: “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health.”  It is especially in the valleys of married life you must find consolation and strength in each other: “to have and to hold from this day forward, to love and to cherish till death do us part.”  As Paul says in 1st Corinthians, “Love endures all things, love never fails.”

Economically, what we call “boom years” are a “mountaintop experience,” with business expanding, income increasing, and assets growing.  But, then come times like we are experiencing now, and we come “Down from the Mountain” of plenty and wealth to the valley of poverty and want.

Beginning your week here in the Lord’s house is a “mountaintop experience.”  But, the days which follow bring you “Down from the Mountain” into the valleys of everyday life with all its toil and struggles.

The Confirmation students at Holy Cross memorize several dozen Bible verses, verses which were especially selected to go with them throughout their lives, and give them comfort and assurance.  One of those verses they memorize is from Psalm 103: “He does not treat us as our sins deserve, or repay us according to our iniquities. . . as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

That verse reassures us that for Christians, the sufferings of this life, the valleys that you pass through, are never, in any way, a punishment from God.  For, the punishment your sins deserved has already all been suffered for you, in your place, by God’s own Son, your Savior.  As Isaiah says, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.  We observed him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.  He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Another verse, from Ephesians, which the Confirmation students memorize, tells us, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.”  Because your sins are all forgiven, the sufferings you experience in this life, the valleys that you pass through,  are never, in any way, a punishment from God.  As Paul assures us in Romans, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”

Exactly how even the dark valleys, even the painful things of this life, are working together for your good is something you may not understand now, or ever in this life.  But in 1st Corinthians Paul tells us that in heaven it will all be made clear: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully.”

Perhaps one of the greatest “mountaintop experiences” in this life is the birth of a child.  But, the death of a loved one takes “Down from the Mountain” and into the “valley of the shadow of death.”

Paul says in Romans, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed to us.”  When we struggle in the painful valleys of this life, especially when we mourn the death of loved ones or face our own death, we are comforted by the promise of the ultimate “mountaintop experience” in heaven.  As the book of Revelation says of the blessed in heaven, “They have come out of the great tribulation . . .  there will be no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain . . . and God will wipe away every tear from there eyes.”  “Therefore we do not lose heart,” Paul says in 2nd Corinthians.  “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are preparing us for an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

The book of Hebrews says that Jesus, “is able to sympathize with us.”  Jesus knows what it means to walk through the valley, because he came “Down from the Mountain,” and, as the old spiritual says, he “walked this lonesome valley,” the dark valleys of suffering, sorrow, agony, pain, death.  He is with you, not only in your life’s shining “mountaintop experiences,” but he is also with you as you walk through the shadows in the valleys of your life.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”  Rejoice and be glad in all the “mountaintop experiences” of your life, like Jesus glorified on the Mount of Transfiguration.  And, when like Jesus and the disciples you come “Down from the Mountain” into the valleys of life, do not lose heart, for he walks with you.

Amen.

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