Peter wants to stay on the mountain. But Peter has a problem: he’s full of it. He’s a fake. He claims to have left everything for Jesus, but he can’t stay awake an hour. He claims he will never deny Him, but he curses the woman who recognizes his accent. He claims he will feed Christ’s lambs, but he tries to deny the end of the dietary regulations. He wants to stay on the mountain with Moses and Elijah, but he has not earned that place. He wants to pretend as though he loves Jesus when he really just wants to save his own skin. He is a phony.
We are all phonies. We all calculate to deceive. We all tell other people’s stories as our own. We all exaggerate. That is what drives urban legends. We tell the stories, and we even get angry when we’re called on it. What is so wrong with us that we lie like that? We pretend we did and said things we didn’t. We deny what we did say and quibble about what we meant. We spend more time worrying about appearances than the truth, more interested in our own public relations than with our neighbor’s reputation. We say what we think we are supposed to say and hope no one can see into our hearts where we even lie to ourselves. We’ve lied so much we can’t keep track. Repent. Go and lie no more!
Peter was a phony. But Jesus loved him anyway. Moses was a murderer and a coward. But Jesus loved him too. Elijah was full of self-pity and despair, but Jesus still loved him. Here is the truth: God is love. His mercy endures forever. He paid the price to redeem them. He paid the price to redeem you. He laid down His life in your place, to set you free and forgive your sins, to make you whole and give you hope. Peter’s bravado and posturing did not stop our Lord. He loved the real Peter, the one that Peter was afraid to let men see: the lying, cowardly, lusty, greedy, lazy Peter. Jesus loved him and wanted him for Himself. He wanted Peter to be His perfect son, His immaculate, clean, and innocent Bride, to be with Him forever in a new paradise, free from Satan and temptation, free from his own betraying heart. Jesus also loves you, despite your lies and your faults. He loves you no less that He loves Peter, Moses, and Elijah.
But that love will not be accomplished by staying on the mountain. God in the flesh must go to Jerusalem and face the full force of man’s hatred and brutality. He must endure the lies of the Sanhedrin and the cowardice of Pilate. But this is why He came. He has taken man’s flesh to be a sacrifice. The serpent must bruise His heel. The Messiah must pay with His life. And Moses and Elijah love it. They rejoice in it. This is what they longed to see, what they had preached and prayed for. This is how God loved the world, how He showed mercy. The crucifixion of Jesus is where He draws you to Him. This is where the serpent that bit Eve’s heart is overcome.
Do not let this make you feel sad or guilty. The Son of Man has authority to lay down His life. No one takes it from Him. This is who He is and what He wants. This is the will of His Father; this is the work of the Spirit; this is the love of the Son. The day He dies is a good day, the best day. For the day He died, He took death to the grave. That is why the dead emerged from their graves on Good Friday. Death lost its hold. The serpent’s head was crushed. The battle was won.
This is no myth. This is no exaggeration. This is reality. This is the truth. And this reality changes you. Peter, despite his flaws and weaknesses, is now, by grace in Jesus Christ, Saint Peter. He is forgiven, perfected. You, also, by the grace of God, bear that same title, written upon you in the waters of Holy Baptism. And by the grace of God, you will bear that title forever. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.