By Dick Koehneke
As Peter, James and John trudged up the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus, they might have been thinking about his words spoken in the verses right before the Gospel reading for The Transfiguration of our Lord (Luke 9:28-36). Speaking of himself, Jesus had said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things . . . he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Then Jesus had said these strong and challenging words: “If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Following Jesus can be tough going.
Maybe it was tough going for Peter, James and John, climbing up that mountain. Perhaps there was some slipping and falling, some bruised knees and scraped knuckles along the way. When they got to the top of the mountain, it wasn’t tough going anymore. Scripture says that as Jesus was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.
And to top it off, suddenly there stood Moses and Elijah, one of them personally buried by God and the other taken up to heaven in a whirlwind; Moses and Elijah, representing the law and the prophets of the Old Covenant; Moses and Elijah, standing there talking with Jesus!
What were the three disciples doing? Not much. They were taking a nap. They couldn’t stay awake on the mountaintop, and they couldn’t stay awake in the Garden of Gethsemane either. Neither the glory of Jesus nor his agony could keep them from taking their rest. But once they roused themselves from their slumber, Peter, James and John thought they had found a shortcut to heaven. They weren’t thinking anymore about denying themselves and carrying a cross. This was glorious! They wanted to stay there on the mountain. Peter suggested building a tent village. He didn’t know what he was saying.
Sometimes we don’t either. Sometimes our tiredness or boredom keeps us from paying attention to Jesus. Sometimes we become resentful and self-pitying when suffering and hardship come our way. We want to stay on the mountaintop, when Jesus calls us instead to follow him on the way that leads to the cross. Ash Wednesday and Lent and Holy Week remind us that the path to glory goes through Golgotha. The way to the crown is the way of the cross.
That’s exactly what Jesus, Moses and Elijah were talking about. The Bible says, “They spoke about Jesus’ departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” The word “departure” meant his death on the cross, as when someone “departs” this life. There on the mountaintop, they were talking about the cross. Speaking figuratively, the Transfiguration took place in the shadow of the cross.
But the cross was not the end. Jesus’ “departure” also meant his glorious departure from the tomb on Easter morning. The light that created the shadow of the cross was the glory of the resurrection on the other side.
Following Jesus can be tough going. For the Christian, the sufferings of life are not eliminated. They are illuminated by the glory that is to come.
That word “departure” also refers to the ascension of our Lord, his physical departure from this world. He says to all believers, “I am going to prepare a place for you. I will come again and take you to be with me, to behold my glory. Where I am, there shall my servant be also.” The struggles of today are experienced in the light of a victorious eternity.
At the Transfiguration, God the Father spoke from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I have chosen. Listen to him.” We listen to Jesus, the chosen Son of God, as he says, “If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
When you’re following Jesus, you’re crucifying your sinful self. That’s painful. When you’re following Jesus, the sinful world sees you as an enemy. That’s difficult. When you’re following Jesus, Satan wants to take you down. That’s dangerous.
Following Jesus can be tough going. Thank God, you’re not by yourself. Fellow Christians are walking with you, and Jesus is with you every step of the way to a victorious eternity.
If life sometimes seems dark in the shadow of the cross, remember: The light that is casting the shadow is the light of resurrection glory on the other side.