Text: Matthew 17:1-9
Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Just keep on going towards that little light. Maybe “going to the light” doesn’t seem like a good idea, but as I rode my bike through the darkness that is what I kept telling myself, just keep pedaling towards the light. I was riding through a tunnel, a mile long tunnel, near the border of Idaho and Montana. It was an abandoned railway line that had been converted into a fairly popular biking trail. The main attraction of this biking trail was the tunnel. There were many tunnels along the trail, but one of them stood out above and beyond the others. It was THE tunnel. The one mile long descent into darkness.
I’m not afraid of the dark or anything, but the darkness in that tunnel could be a little overwhelming. It was real darkness. Complete and total blackout. You couldn’t really even see the walls of the tunnel which were just a few feet on either side of you. You needed to have a light on your bike to ride in there, but all that did was stop other people from hitting you. A little bike light did not stand a chance against that kind of darkness. That darkness was all consuming. The dampness of the tunnel probably didn’t help, but it was almost like you could feel the darkness as you breathed it in. After just a few minutes in that tunnel I was ready to be done and make it out the other side, but it just kept going. All the way all along all you could see was this little speck of light at the end of the tunnel. That light was my hope, my goal, my joy, my salvation from that deep darkness. The light at the end of the tunnel.
Every time I read or think about the story of Jesus’ transfiguration that light at the end of the tunnel, that glimmering speck of hope on the horizon, comes to mind for me. The story of Jesus being transformed and shining forth in all His glory is like that speck of light at the end of the tunnel. As Jesus brings Peter, James, and John up on the mountain with Him and as we hear these words from them as eyewitnesses about what happened up there we are given our own, eternal, everlasting light at the end of the tunnel.
The disciples are about to set off on what is going to be a dark journey. They are going to follow Jesus to Jerusalem where He will “suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed” (Matthew 16:21). And Jesus tells the disciples that if they want to follow Him it will involve taking up their cross and following Him. The suffering He is about to endure will be real and they will suffer too if they follow Him faithfully. This is the nature of following Jesus.
But before they set off on that journey and descend into what is going to be some very think and profound darkness Jesus sets before their eyes this light. Peter, James, and John, the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples, climb the mountain with Him and see Him in all His glory. This is their light in the darkness. This is the light at the end of the tunnel. This light can and will sustain them in the dark days to come.
It would be easy to underestimate what those disciples saw that day. We read this story and Matthew tells us all the details so quickly without much fanfare. Jesus was “transfigured,” he says, “His face shone like the sun and His clothes became white as light.” Suddenly then Moses and Elijah appear too and are standing there talking with Jesus. We know this story, we’ve heard it before so none of this surprises us. Matthew doesn’t give us any in depth details so maybe it doesn’t see like such a big deal, but what Jesus shows to Peter, James, and John on the mountain is truly remarkable.
I think that the best way to describe what happened and what the three disciples saw that day is heaven on earth. They saw Jesus in all of His glory, the way that we will see Him when He comes again with glory to judge both the living and the dead. The way we will see Him when we dwell with Him in eternal paradise. They saw the full blown divinity of Jesus, the fullness of His godliness. Not only that, but they saw two of the heroes of the faith, Moses and Elijah, great prophets of old, there with Jesus. They saw saints, men who had gone before them in the faith, now standing there with Jesus. This was heaven on earth.
That is why Peter comes up with the idea to stay there. “Lord, it is good that we are here!” he exclaims. Why would they ever leave? We can be hard on Peter and the other disciples sometimes when they just don’t get it right, but I think we can relate to them here. If we saw what they saw, if we were standing there looking at what heaven, eternity looks like would we want to leave either? I doubt it. But what they saw there saw only the light at the end of the tunnel. Once they had traveled through the darkness of the tunnel they would get to see the fullness of the light. They would see Him rise from the dead in the fullness of His glory. And with us they will see Him come again on clouds of glory to take us to our eternal home.
We travel through the darkness too and Jesus shows us this light as well. This week we start our own annual journey with Jesus to the cross in Lent. This is a darker time in our Christian year. We tone down the celebration a little bit and take some time to reflect on our own sinfulness that caused our Lord to go to Jerusalem and suffer at the hands of the elders, chief priest, and scribes. When we think about our own sin darkness is the best way to describe it. Our lives are darkness and our lives of darkness caused our Lord to bear the cross and die. But at the end of that darkness we have the light at the end of the tunnel, the light that we see on the mountain at the Transfiguration, the light of Christ risen from the dead. The light that the darkness cannot overcome.
Lent is not the only time we see the darkness though. There is plenty of darkness in our lives day by day. The well-known words of Psalm 23 come to mind: “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” We usually take those words to apply to times when we or people we love are dying, but it is talking about much more than that. It doesn’t say “when” we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but “even though.” We walk through the valley of the shadow of death right now. This world is the valley of the shadow of death. It is a dark place.
This darkness manifests itself in so many ways. Like that mile long tunnel it can feel like the darkness will never end. It can get so bad that it feels overwhelming and every breath we take feels heavy because of the darkness we see all around. Sometimes it’s the darkness of grief, of mourning, of pain and anguish. Other times it could be a darkness inside ourselves like depression, anxiety, and fear. It could be darkness from outside too, hurt and injury caused by others, neglect, lovelessness. The darkness is there all around us. The darkness is sin and the results of sin.
But again here Jesus shines His light into our darkness. On the mountain He shows us the light at the end of our tunnel of darkness, He shows us the glory of what our eternal life will look like and gives us a glimpse of heaven on earth. He lifts us up out of our valley of the shadow of death and shows us the eternity of life that He has won for us with His death. He is risen and we shall arise. The darkness of sin and death in this world cannot hold us.
And again, right here, today, as we speak, He gives us heaven on earth again. That is what Jesus is doing as we gather here today. This is heaven on earth, the light at the end of the tunnel. As we sang “This is the Feast” (words taken straight out of Revelation 5 which John heard sung by the hosts of heaven), as we sing “Holy Holy Holy” like the angels in Isaiah 6, as we come to the Lord’s table to be fed and nourished by Jesus, we get a glimpse of heaven on earth. It is happening right here around you. Jesus has opened heaven to us. What happens here on a Sunday morning is a little, tiny glimpse of eternity in the presence of Jesus. This is light at the end of the tunnel.
So take heart in the darkness wherever you may encounter it, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that light is Jesus. He shines in the darkness for you with forgiveness and new life beyond this darkness. The darkness has not and will not overcome Him and it will not overcome you either. Christ is risen and we shall rise. In Jesus name. Amen.