Living in the Timeout

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And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Matthew 17:4).
Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!
Lord, it is good to be here. It is good to here at St. John’s/Trinity/Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church. It’s good to be here to worship with you. It’s good to be here to hear God’s Word with you… to sing God’s praises with you… to come to the Lord’s Table with you… to share a Sabbath rest with you.
Rest is good. Rest is important. Rest is necessary for our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. But rest is hard to come by, isn’t it? There is so much these days to keep us busy. If I projected a community calendar up on the wall here we’d all see how busy we all are. There are meetings, community events and family activities. Add to all this busyness our children’s schedules: play dates, basketball games, soccer, dance class, karate, play practices, music contests. How many miles have you put on your SUV or mini-van this year? How many meals have you sat down to with your whole family in the last month?
And it’s not much better for you retirees. I can’t tell you how many people have told me they’ve been so busy in retirement they were thinking about going back to work just to get a little rest.
There is so much to do, sometimes we just want it all to stop. Sometimes, we all need a “timeout.” A time to catch our breath, a time to recharge, a time to stop and just be still and listen. Like in basketball. Timeouts are important in basketball—perhaps more than any other sport. Especially when a game is close, and there’s lots of tension and the outcome is uncertain. The players are at a fevered pitch, battling for control of the ball, giving all they have for a good shot.
A good coach knows when it’s time to call a timeout. Early in the game, he takes one when he notices his team is losing its focus or to stop the opponent’s momentum. Near the end, he’ll gather his players for a last-minute strategy session. It’s only a few seconds, but during that time, life goes into slow motion. The ball bounces slowly to a stop on the floor. The refs talk about the weather and last night’s NBA scores. The players breathe deeply, rehydrate, and recharge their batteries for the final push. Then the buzzer sounds, the players return to the floor, and the game picks up again. Some of the players are more focused than they were, maybe just enough for an advantage in the final seconds of the game.
Today is Transfiguration Sunday. It’s a kind of a timeout in the Church Year. We are still with the lingering joy of Christmas and Epiphany. But this week begins Lent, a contemplative season when we think about our sinfulness and the great cost that Jesus paid for us. Standing here right now and looking ahead, it’s good to be here for this brief timeout.
Jesus and His disciples took a timeout, too. He had been instructing them about what was ahead of them: sorrow, suffering, and even His own death. And the disciples were left scratching their heads, trying to understand. Everything had been going so well: the authoritative teaching, the miraculous healings, and feeding of thousands. It didn’t make sense for all of that to change. Good coaches don’t take timeouts when their team is on a roll, when they’ve got the momentum going.
But Jesus knew what lay ahead. So He gathered Peter, James, and John and headed for the hills… for a timeout. That’s what they needed: Time to recharge, time to reflect on what had happened, and time to focus on the task ahead.
I don’t know what the three disciples expected, but I’m willing to bet that it was not what they saw: “[Jesus] was transfigured before them.” Jesus’ face glowed bright, and His clothes did, too. And God’s representatives appeared—Moses and Elijah. And they were talking to Jesus.
Peter said: “Lord, it is good that we are here.” And he was right, though not necessarily in the way he thought. The Lord wanted Peter and James and John to be there with Him as witnesses. He wanted them to see Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus about His exodus. He wanted them to see the brightness of His divine glory. He wanted them to hear the voice of the Father from heaven declare: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” He wanted to reassure and encourage them: “Rise, and have no fear.”
You’ll notice Jesus didn’t scold Peter for his exuberant words. After all, the disciples were seeing Jesus in way they had never seen Him before. His divine nature was shining out. Here on this holy mountain, we see that Jesus is really and completely God. His face shines like the sun. It is an internal light, not a reflected light. It is part of who He is, not something that He gets from somewhere else.
Jesus did not normally reveal His whole self in all His glory. He humbled Himself and set aside His glory. If He had not, He could not have suffered and died. Just as they fell down with one word in Gethsemane, brave Roman soldiers would have run in terror rather than beat Him mercilessly and nail him to the cross. The chief priests and Pharisees would have bowed in obedience without argument. And Pontius Pilate would never have assumed the authority to put Jesus to death.
Here on the mountain, we see Jesus as He is: God and man together. God in human flesh come to earth to save human beings from their sins. And not only that, but we see the ultimate end: Jesus will go to the cross and die, but that cross is victory for Him, not defeat. As Jesus stands on the mountain with Moses and Elijah, we catch a glimpse of the glory of His resurrection.
While we’re pondering the divine mystery of the Transfiguration, we shouldn’t think that because Jesus is God that the cross was nothing. Don’t forget we said that Jesus isn’t only God; He is fully and completely human. In order to win our salvation He had to be both God and man.
All human beings, except Jesus, deserve God’s wrath for their sin. That’s a lot of sin, a lot of suffering, a lot of hell. But the perfect life, suffering, and death of the God-man Jesus is set in the balance against it all. Fully human, He was able to take our place, giving Himself into death and the torments hell as payment for our sin. Fully God, Jesus’ sacrifice was a sufficient ransom for all people. As true God, Christ was able to overcome death and the devil for us.  Fully God and fully man, Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice for our sins was fully sufficient.
And that brings us right back to the mountain where Jesus is shining like the sun. The Transfiguration is a little glimpse of the resurrection. The victory of the cross is shown when life returned to Jesus’ body in the tomb. It is no longer necessary for Jesus to hold back His divine nature. From then on He is just as He was described on the mountain: Jesus in all His glory, God and man in one person, still fully God and fully human, the One who conquered sin and death and hell.
No wonder Peter and the other disciples were overwhelmed. The truth is, in His state of humiliation, Jesus generally appeared too ordinary. This moment on the Mountain of Transfiguration may have seemed to the disciples as the pinnacle of their time with Jesus. I’m sure they reasoned, “It just can’t get any better than this!” In truth, it was only a timeout.
But they didn’t want the timeout to end. Peter says, “Lord, it’s good that we are here.” Let’s stay and never let this glory end. Let’s forget about all that You have told us is ahead—the suffering and death, denying oneself and taking up crosses. But all of those things that Peter wanted to avoid were the very purpose for which Jesus came. Without the suffering and death there would be no resurrection. And without the resurrection there would be no restoration of human beings to God. It was through pain and death that Christ would restore human beings to God, and through His resurrection that He would give them hope for the future. Jesus and His disciples couldn’t stay there on the mountain. God had a plan.
There are times when we all think like Peter. “It’s good, Lord, to be here… I’m satisfied with things just the way they are right now. I’m satisfied with my faith. I don’t really need it to grow beyond where it is right now. That growth may come with pain and suffering. It’s good to be here right now without it.”
“I’m satisfied with my prayer life where it is right now. I don’t need to speak to God about all that’s happening in my life. He knows more about it than I do anyway. I’d rather continue to deal with these things myself.”
“I’m happy drinking the milk of Your Word, Lord. I’m past the bottle stage, but a sippy cup suits me just fine. I don’t need to be in Bible study. I don’t want to have to chew on the meat. Some of that stuff just makes my head spin. Besides, I don’t really want You to poke around in my life, and show me sins that I’ve become comfortable with. I’ve got enough guilt and stress in my life already.”
There is always the danger of being satisfied with the status quo, of living in the timeout. Peter wanted to hold on to the glorious vision of Jesus on the mountain. Moving from there meant pain, suffering, and death. But, what God wanted to give Peter and his friends—what God wants to give us—is the greater glory of Christ. The glory we find in a stronger relationship with Him. A relationship begun when we are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection that lasts to eternity. When we want to stay in the status quo, when we want to live in the timeout, we are locked in our sinfulness instead of looking to the forgiveness Christ has won for us.
When the cloud came to the mountain, the disciples were faced with the presence of God. They fell to their faces in fear, realizing they were sinful people only deserving God’s wrath. The glory couldn’t be theirs without Jesus Christ and what He was about to do. They couldn’t stay there. Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” It was time to move forward to Jerusalem… forward to suffering and death… but also forward to Resurrection and Life!
The timeout is nice, but you can’t live in the timeout. You’ve got to get back into the game; at least until the game is done. God’s plans for your future require change. They may even include suffering. No, they will include suffering, for each of Jesus’ disciples must take up his own cross as we follow Him. But, forward you must go. Forward into Lent to contemplate what Jesus has done for you… forward to an uncertain future, but armed with the vision of the transfigured Christ.
In the meantime, it is good to be here each week for a short timeout, for a little taste of heaven here on earth. You come here to listen to God’s beloved Son, to catch another glimpse of Jesus’ glory. No, it’s not the dazzling brilliance of a transfigured Jesus shimmering in light. There are no Old Testament prophets standing in your midst. There’s no bright cloud overshadowing you. There’s no “mountaintop experience.” But Jesus, in His glory, is here just as much as on the day of His Transfiguration, though veiled.  
Where is this glory? You’ll find Christ’s glory in your Baptism, where God adopted you as an heir of His kingdom, washed away your sins, gave you His Holy Spirit, and gifts of the Spirit, like faith, salvation, and eternal life. You’ll find His glory hidden in, with, and under the simple bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, where Christ gives you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. You’ll find His glory hidden in the preached Word, the singing of the hymns of the Church, and in the liturgy.
You’ll find Christ’s glory hidden in the words of Absolution spoken by a man who is a fellow sinner, yet one who is God’s called and ordained servant. It is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ dealt with you Himself. So, I say to you, “Rise, and have no fear. Depart in peace. You are forgiven for all of your sins.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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