“Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it’s good for us to be here. Let’s set up three shelters: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’ – because he did not know what to say, since they were terrified. A cloud appear, overshadowing them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to him!'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever been around someone who is a nervous talker? That’s always an interesting experience. Nervous talkers express their anxiety with words. The words may not be about the anxiety itself, but the higher their anxiety level goes, the more words come out of their mouths. They’ll talk about anything. Really what you’re getting is a kind of stream-of-consciousness as they do everything they can think of to reduce their nervousness. The trouble is, when words are coming out in a flood, sometimes those words aren’t well thought out or particularly suited to the situation. In most situations when we feel overwhelmed, the best thing to do is not to talk, but to listen. Peter had to be reminded of that here. Let’s learn the lesson with him this morning.
When we read things like the story of Jesus’ transfiguration today it is tempting for us to think something like, “Wow, I wish I could have been there!” We think, “How cool would it have been to see Moses and Elijah standing there talking to Jesus.” After all, those are two of the three most consequential figures in human history and the three most consequential Biblical figures. Who wouldn’t have wanted to be there? Well, the three disciples Jesus had brought with Him for starters.
Had you and I been sitting there on that mountain with Peter, James, and John, we would have been terrified beyond sense right along with them. We have a category for the things that were happening because we’ve read this story in the Scriptures many times. They didn’t. This was all totally new territory for them. And they didn’t have the science-minded bent we do that would have been looking for some rational explanation for what we were seeing. They saw a display of divine power from someone they understood to be the Messiah, but didn’t yet understand to be God in human flesh. And it terrified them.
Peter in particular didn’t have any idea what to do with what he was seeing. He was also apparently a nervous talker because he opened his mouth and started rolling. “Rabbi, it’s good for us to be here. Let’s set up three shelters.” The question here, of course, is what Peter was thinking. There is a fairly robust debate on exactly how to understand him. Some argue he was trying to preserve this mountaintop experience (which is usually paired with the admonition that we have to go back down the mountain into the real world at some point). Some argue he was trying to show honor to the three distinguished individuals standing before him. Some argue he was just spouting off the first thing that came to mind because he didn’t know what else to do.
My take is that while this third idea is probably the closest to the truth, it was driven by some combination of the first two. I think that this was also a cry for help to a certain extent. Jesus and Moses and Elijah were standing before the three disciples having a conversation. Luke tells us they were talking about “his departure,” that is, the crucifixion. Peter and the guys wanted help from Jesus. He was their only lifeline. Peter may have spoken up in part to get Jesus’ attention. “Rabbi, it’s good for us to be here,” was really, “Hey Jesus, don’t forget about us. We’re terrified and we need some help processing what we are seeing.”
And no sooner were the words out of Peter’s mouth than things got even wilder. A cloud descended on the scene. This was a pretty standard display of God’s presence. He appeared as a cloud many times in the Old Testament. This would have immediately tipped off the trio that they were in the presence of God. Then the voice: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him!” In other words, “Shut up and pay attention.”
This is where we had indeed better pay attention. When we are in the midst of a situation we don’t understand, our tendency is to try and do or say something. Moving is better than not moving. Speaking is better than not speaking. Words or actions have the potential to solve the problem. We may not use the right words or actions, but at least we’ll be doing something. The trouble is, in most situations like this, doing or saying something just to be doing or saying something is the exact wrong thing to be doing. When we are endeavoring to follow Jesus and don’t know what to do, the best course of action is to stop and listen. Then, we listen some more.
We have a God who wants to lead us. He is happy to be in charge. But, in order to lead us, He has to know we are following Him. Sometimes when I’m leading my kids through a store, I’ll be out in front of them, helping them see where they need to go. Every now and then, though, I’ll look back and they’ve stopped to look at something else. When that happens, I don’t just keep going. I stop and call to them. I wait for them to realize they’ve quit following me and move to catch up. God does the same kind of thing with us. If we keep moving and don’t stop to listen, we’re not going to get where He’s trying to help us go.
When you are in a place that you aren’t sure where to go or what to do, stop and take stock of who’s leading you. Stop and listen. Wait to hear what God has to say. It may take longer than you want, but it will always get you moving again in the right direction.