The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
Have you ever been around someone experiencing a stroke or going into diabetic shock? Have you ever been around someone who was high on drugs or alcohol? In all of these instances, one of the first tip-offs that something isn't right is the fact that the person is speaking incoherently. They're saying things that just don't make sense. This can be a very distressing time; a very scary and confusing time. "What's wrong here? What's going on? Are they going to be alright?" As many of you well know, this can also be a very trying, difficult time, especially when you're attempting to get important information from the person in distress. "When was the last time you've eaten anything? What medications are you taking? Have you taken your medications today? What family member do I need to call? What's their phone number?" You're trying to get to the bottom of a very serious problem and the patient is off in la-la land, babbling incoherently about leprechauns and grandma's catfish recipe.
It is with this concrete understanding of incoherent babbling that we turn our attention to the Gospel lesson for this morning. "And as Moses and Elijah were parting from Jesus, Peter said, 'Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah'—for he didn't know what he was saying." He didn't know what he was saying. It's amazing how many different explanations have been given regarding these words of Peter. Not surprisingly, the number-one explanation is that Peter was babbling incoherently, either because of fear or because of drowsiness or a because of a combination of the two. I have to admit: babbling incoherently, either out of fear or a lack of sleep or a combination of the two is not exactly a bad hypothesis. After all, Matthew and Mark are very upfront in stating that the disciples were terrified over the miraculous events transpiring before their very eyes. Luke tells us matter-of-factly in his Gospel that the men were heavy with sleep. It is interesting to note that the Greek word Luke uses to speak of extreme drowsiness is also used elsewhere in Scripture (e.g. Daniel 8) to refer to the heavy sleep that comes about because of sheer terror and fear; the sleep of fainting or passing out and becoming like a dead man because you've just been shocked with fear and terror.
Alright…problem solved, right? Peter, James, and John were rightly scared out of their gourds and had basically passed out because of the intense fear over being in the presence and glory of Almighty God. As they were coming to, they realized that being in the presence and glory of God was a good thing that they didn't want to end so Peter starts running at the lips, but due to grogginess and mental cobwebs, his words don't make much sense and he's basically babbling incoherently. "Hey…I have a great idea! Let's build tents for the three of you!"
My friends: I know that this is a nice and neat explanation, but it's not entirely correct. Yes—the men were scared. Wouldn't you be too? Yes—the men were heavy with sleep, which means that they probably did faint out of fear. I've seen people pass out over a lot less terrifying sights! However…all of this doesn't mean that Peter was babbling incoherently. If you read the text carefully it says that Peter didn't know what he was saying. There is a difference between speaking ignorantly and babbling incoherently; a huge, theological difference.
Look at how the passage begins. We're told that about eight days "after these sayings" Jesus took the three men up to the mountain to pray. "Those sayings" that are referred to here were very important in terms of faith and trust. Jesus was preparing these men for the painful and tumultuous events that were still in store for them. Unfortunately, the disciples let the words go in one ear and out the other. Like teenagers, they heard their Lord talking, but they didn't listen. Just a few days earlier Jesus had asked the disciples who they say He is. Peter responds with one of the most profound confessions of faith ever recorded: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus immediately teaches the disciples what that means.
Being the Christ—the Messiah—means that Jesus will necessarily have to suffer persecution and even crucifixion. He has to die! Without His death there is no atonement; there is no redemption. Without His sacrifice the ransom for our lives and our salvation is not paid. He will rise again three days later in victory, but in order to rise from the dead, He must first die. Jesus was very clear in teaching these men that His victory—their victory and our victory—over sin, death, and damnation included a bloody cross. In fact, that was the only way victory could be achieved. Jesus also didn't sugar-coat the cost of following Him to His cross and beyond. In this same timeframe of teaching Jesus was very blunt in stating that those who follow Him will bear crosses as well. Discipleship in Christ doesn't mean easy street. In fact, it means the exact opposite. "The world will hate you because they first hated Me."
Now, with these sayings in mind, you would think that something would have stuck in Peter's mind as, just a few days later, he was listening to Moses and Elijah, the representatives of all the Law and the Prophets, talking to Jesus about His impending exodus. Yes…I said "exodus." That's the original Greek word that Luke records for us here in describing the divine conversation between Christ and Moses and Elijah. I want you to think about that for a moment. They were talking about Jesus Christ—Son of God and Messiah—willingly going into our proverbial sinful Egypt for the purpose of suffering our deadly bondage and death. Christ's salvific exodus also included a victorious procession out of the bonds of sin, death, and damnation and into life eternal in our heavenly promised land; an exodus He still leads us on through His Word and His sacraments. However, you can't have exodus out of bondage unless you're first in bondage.
Guys: This is why Luke tells us that Peter didn't know what he was saying when he offered to build the three tents. He wanted that glorious mountaintop experience to never end. He didn't want to have anything to do with the Good Friday mountaintop experience. He wanted the victory without having to run the race. He wanted the empty tomb of Easter Sunday without having to go through the bloody cross of Good Friday. As I said earlier, it doesn't work this way. This is not God's way. This is how we would write the script, but this is not the way of the cross.
Now comes the big question: What about us? It's easy to look down our noses at Peter's faithless—not incoherent—ramblings, but it's quite another thing to look in the mirror and recognize the same sort of foolishness staring back at us, isn't it? Truth be told, we all fall prey to this same faithless "theology of glory" from time to time. Nobody wants to suffer. Nobody wants misery in their lives. Are there people who "deserve" some pain and suffering? Sure, we reason, but that's not us! We're good, God-fearing Lutherans, right?! This isn't how it's supposed to work out! Life is supposed to be great and wonderful and peaceful, free of all pain and suffering and crosses to bear. Says who? Not Christ—not ever! You know what, though? I'm not going to belabor this point. We all have our moments. We all have those times when—yes—we, too, don't know what we're saying. I don't need to beat this to death.
Instead, as we now prepare to close out this season of Epiphany and enter into the solemn, penitential season of Lent—our exodus to Calvary—I simply point you to Almighty God's own Word, which tells us, just like Peter, to stop talking and listen to what Christ is saying. As I've said before, listening doesn't mean simply waiting quietly for your turn to talk. Listening means not talking so that you can hear and inwardly digest what the other person is saying.
May God, through the working of His Holy Spirit in His almighty and life-giving Word, keep you steadfast in the one, true faith unto life everlasting, even when your world seems to be crumbling all around you and things aren't working out the way you planned. May He open your ears of saving faith so that you may be able to not only hear, but truly listen to the words of your Lord and Savior, which assure and comfort you with the sure and certain knowledge that your salvation—your victory—is found right here in the cross of Jesus Christ. For when this faithful listening takes place, faithful proclamation is sure to follow. As Jesus said before, "what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart."
May your heart, mind, and soul be filled with the peace that surpasses all understanding; the peace of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected for you.
Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people.
Send Pastor Jason Zirbel an email.