Matthew 17:1-13 – Southern People & Snow & Peter Wanting to Stay On the Mountain

Posted: January 23, 2016 in Gospel of Matthew

Matthew 17:1-13 (Part 4)
The Transfiguration

When you are a kid in the South and for some of us adults too, snow means an unscheduled vacation day. It doesn’t matter that we do not have blizzard conditions. It can be an inch or so and the Southeast shuts down. We all become little kids again. It is time to occasionally play in the snow but most it’s time for hot chocolate, long conversations, old movies, and staring out at the white blanket of beauty outside. As Southerners, we do not see snow as something to work around like Northerners do. We see snow as time to take a break and enjoy this God-given moment. Northerners keep on going with life and complain about how this snow is just a pain in the rear end. In the South, we revel in the moment. Just look on Facebook you will see us just having fun. Even the coach of Clemson’s football team took his staff and the recruits that were stranded on campus because of the weather for and unexpected sledding opportunity at “The Hill” at Death Valley. We celebrate the snow. As a kid, you want the snow moment to never end. It is a perfect time. No school. Building snowmen. Snowball fights. Sledding down slopes. For grown-up kids like me, it’s finding an empty parking lot for your car so you can do doughnuts and spins in the icy/snowing slush. It’s time to test your driving skills. It makes mundane trips to the grocery store or anywhere and adventure in driving skill. That is snow in the South. A time to revel in the moment. A moment that sometimes you do not want to end.

As we continue in our look at Matthew 17:1-13, commonly known as the Transfiguration passage, the Southern concept of a snow day where you revel in the moment and what Peter wanted to do coincide. What did Peter want to do in this scene? Let’s find out as we read the passage together:
17 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

10 The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”

11 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. 12 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.
Peter wanted to build shelters to memorialize the moment. It is good for us to be here, he said. He wanted make this moment like the Festival of Shelters celebrated annually by the Jewish nation, as was commanded by God while they dwelled in the Sinai. The Feast of Shelters/Tabernacles memorialized God’s holy Dwelling place, the desert Tabernacle, the design of which was given to Moses by God Himself and which was later replaced by the Temple built by Solomon in the 10th century BC on Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem. The feast also recalled the booths or shelters the people lived in during the time they received the 10 Commandments at Sinai and during the rest of the Exodus experience. Therefore, as a reminder of the time they were homeless when God delivered them from their enemies and protected them, the people were commanded to leave their homes and dwell in shelters. This was a significant moment for Peter, the creation of shelters was to connect this moment to the past where God revealed Himself to His people. We see confirmation of who Jesus is as God in the flesh in this moment. Another revelation of God to His people.

But it was also Peter’s attempt to grab hold of this moment and not let it end. This was a sweet spot moment for him and John and James. It was what we call today, a mountaintop experience. One of those high moments that you will never forget and often never recapture. Could you imagine? Would you not want that moment to last forever, like Southern kids on a snow day? What can we learn from Peter’s wanting to build shelters? Several things jump out. First, we must appreciate the mountaintop experiences but we cannot live there. Second, the mountaintop experiences can sustain us through the mundane and sometimes painful part of being a Christ follower, but particularly being a leader of other Christ followers.

Snow days for us Southerners are so much fun. It is a moment cherished even for us adults. For kids though, you don’t want it to end. You want the snow to stay on the ground for a good long time. You want to miss several days of school. You want to do the things you can do in snow that you cannot do in its absence. It is a joyous time. You want to bottle it and keep it. But as with anything on this side of eternity, snow is temporary. It melts. We return to normal. We go back to school. It reminds you of that song from the late 80s by Soul II Soul, “Back to Life”. The memorable lines were “back to life; back to reality!” Here, we see Peter not wanting to get back to life and not wanting to get back to reality. He wanted to stay in the moment. We have the same kinds of experiences as Christ followers and sometimes collectively as the fellowship of believers. You know those time periods when you are in the sweet spot with the Lord. Things are going well. You are having a positive impact on the world. Your ministry efforts are producing great fruit. You feel closer to the Lord than ever. And there, too, are those singular moments of being a Christ follower where you just wish you could live in that moment forever. Times like that have happened for me on occasion. Any time we do our Thanksgiving Meal Giveaway at church, those are awesome watershed moments of being a Christ follower. I come away from those moments on a spiritual high. Other moments are ones that I experienced on our first mission trip to Haiti. There, during a weeknight prayer service, in a room full of people praying out loud in Haitian Creole, a language loosely based on French that I do not pretend to understand. It was there that I truly felt in a palpable way the presence of the Holy Spirit. I could not understand a word these people were saying as they prayed but you just knew that it was praise to the Lord, it was heartfelt supplication to our Creator, it was real. It was honest. It was raw prayer. There were at least 75 people there all praying at the same time in audible voices. Everybody was praying a different prayer, their own prayer. It was a cacophony of the sounds of human voices. It was a moment to be savored. It was a moment where you felt the warmth of the Holy Spirit literally wash over you. We all have those events or even time periods where we see, hear, smell, feel and taste the presence of the Holy Spirit. Those moments are real and are to be treasured just like a snow day for Southerners. However, we cannot live there. Those moments are there to give us validation but God does not intend for us to live in that moment forever. Some of us feel as though as we are not as close to God and get frustrated when we are outside those moments. Like a kid returning to school after several days off for snow, we get frustrated with the mundaneness of life returning after we have had a spiritual high. Some of us think that spiritual highs are what being a Christ follower is all about. We seek the spiritual highs out just like a junkie looks for his next fix. We leave churches because “this church just no longer does it for me.” But the reality of being a Christian is not the spiritual highs but being a Christ follower in day to day life. The reality of being a Christ follower is making tough choices about moral issues in our day to day existence. The reality of being a Christ follower is seeking God in the normal routine of life. We spend more time there than we do on spiritual highs. Being a Christ followers is as much about making God honoring choices when no one is looking as when we are on a spiritual high moment or stretch of time. I am not saying that we should not have spiritual highs. We need them for validation of the closeness of God. However, we cannot live our entire existence in those moments. Spiritual highs are highly personal and we have interpersonal work to do as Christ followers. We have the gospel to spread. We have disciples to raise up. We have widows and orphans that need our help. We have work to do showing others how we honor God in everything we do including our work. We have mundane things of life to do that make a difference. As administrative pastor at my church, I am not in the limelight of the stage but without the skills that God has talented me with, my church would be less efficient with its resources. Some of the work is mundane – making sure that HVAC units have their filters changed, making sure light bulbs get replaced, making sure that our church has policies and procedures in place so that we are consistent in how we treat people and situations, building budgets, managing the financial reporting process. It is all very mundane, but I have to remember that my contributions of talents makes my church stronger. As Christ followers in general, we spend more life in the plains below the mountain than we do on the mountaintop. But we must recognize that the both the mundane and the spiritual mountaintops are part of the total experience of being a Christ follower. It is not solely the mountaintops alone.

We do not need those mountaintop experiences though after weeks and months and sometimes years of doing the work of the church and following Christ daily. Those mountaintop experiences are refreshing. Those mountaintop experiences are refueling. They validate the hard work of being a Christ follower day to day. It’s a tough job being a Christian in day to day life. It’s a tough job being a Christian leader. As my senior pastor recently said to me that there are so many more times that people are negative toward you as a pastor as those moments when they shower you with love. It is a sad fact of life that leadership can be lonely but particularly so in pastoral leadership. But my pastor also said that there are those moments that make all the negativity was away. There are those moments when you assist the Holy Spirit in leading someone to Christ – a mountaintop experience. There are those moments when you see someone have those a-ha moments as they mature in Christ – a mountaintop experience. There are those moments when you see a Christ follower become ready for leadership in the fellowship of believers, after you have spent time investing in them – a mountaintop experience. Those moments when you see fathers being great spiritual leaders to their families, when you see one of our church members accept the call to ministry, when you see someone who you’d never thought would go on a mission trip, go on a mission trip. These are those priceless mountaintop experiences that make ministry leadership worth all the negative things that you often have to endure. It is like being a parent at times. The parenting job is a thankless one and it is tough, tough going sometimes but there are those moments when your child makes you full of joy that makes all the tough, tough going worth it. Without all the hard work of being a Christian in general and being a Christian leader in particular, we cannot truly appreciate the mountaintop experiences. The mountaintop experiences validate and sustain us for the next round of hard work for His kingdom. We have work to do daily in being glory to the kingdom where we live, work, and play. We have work to do daily in raising the banner of Christ while we are at work on the factory assembly line or in the front office. We have work to do in raising our families in biblically centered, Christ following, God honoring homes. We have work to do in sharing the gospel both in action and in word to our neighbors and to strangers. The mountaintop experiences are there to give us fuel for the long trip. The mountaintop experiences are there to pack our bags for the long hike. The mountaintop experiences are there to give us nice, cold Dr. Pepper on a hot day of working in the yard. Life is lived on the plains below the mountain but the mountain experiences are there so that we can taste the presence of God. We need one for the other. We need the mountaintops to sustain us in the plains. We need to come down from the mountaintops and start working on the plains below and continuing the work Christ has called us to do.

Mountaintop experiences and life on the plain. They are part of the full picture of being a Christ follower. We want our Christian walk to be a mountaintop experience all the time but that is just not reality. We must not confuse mountaintop experiences with how deep our Christian walk is. We spend more time in life on the plain. We spend more time where we have to make conscious choices to be a Christ follower than we do in those magic moments of worship, those magic moments of service, those magic moments of prayer. Christ following is as much about thinking as it is feeling. Christ following is making Christ like choices in the mundane stuff of life. Christ following is making Christ honoring choices when the cameras are not on you. Christ following is doing the right thing when no one is looking. Christ following is honoring God because you love Him that much not because of trying to impress others or curry the favor of the pastor. Christ following is seeking Christ in every day situations as much as it is enjoying the heightened sense of His presence in those emotion-laden spiritual highs. We need both. We need those spiritually close moments so that they can sustain us when we are battling in the trenches of everyday life.

Peter wanted to stay on the mountaintop. Southern kids want the snow to stay on the ground forever. But we cannot stay in either place. Peter had to come down from the mountain because there was much that lay ahead. Southern kids have to watch the snow melt and life returns to normal and they have much to do and much that lays ahead. You and I as Christ followers must treasure those spiritual high moments so that we can keep them in our heart as we push forward with the everyday business of being a Christ follower in a world that needs to know Him badly. We do the work. We appreciate the high moments so that we can do the work.
Amen and Amen.

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