Life of Peter, by N.E. Rhodes Jr. — No. 10


Matthew 17

One of the major questions of religion is the oft debated matter, “Do the dead live again?” The man who could present sure proof that they do could command an audience any time. What would you give for an opportunity to meet Abraham Lincoln, or better still, the Apostle Paul? Perhaps then you can imagine what it would have meant to a first century Jew to see Moses or Elijah.

To a More Spiritual Outlook

Simon Peter has had some trying lessons. Jesus has warned him that the kingdom will hardly be what he expects. He has been told that the Christ must suffer and die. Most recently he has seen the crowd of fair weather disciples melting away. Now it seems that the only [ones] following Jesus are the sick and poor and distressed. These do not look like a very potent army. Prospects are not good at all. Yet Peter has met the test gallantly. As we have seen, he has not only stuck with Jesus, but spoken out for him. His action has probably helped to persuade the rest of the twelve to do likewise.

Now Jesus evidently decides that Peter is ready to take a more spiritual outlook. Without telling them why (he rarely did), Jesus calls Peter, James, and John aside and leads them off up a mountainside. To people raised in hilly country there is something wonderful about a mountain. I still love to climb to the top of a high hill. The air seems fresher and cleaner. There is a solitude and a loftiness as one looks down that puts a certain peace in the heart, while it puts a tingle in the blood.

Shining with a Heavenly Radiance

At last they reach the peak of the mountain and no doubt Peter is wondering why the Lord has brought him here. He knows there is probably a reason, for Jesus seldom acts without one. Suddenly, before his amazed eyes, Jesus begins to change. A strange light seems to come from him. I think Peter would have instantly thought of the light he saw that night on Galilee when Jesus came to the disciples walking on the water. He stiffens with anticipation. He knows that something wonderful is about to happen. The face of Jesus now is more than human. It has a beauty indescribable. No artist could have painted it. Even his clothing is affected. He stands before them, shining with a heavenly radiance.

Can you imagine what it must have been like to have been Peter in that moment? If it be that Peter suffered martyrdom, as tradition says, here is something which would make even martyrdom bearable. Then, when it seemed that their eyes were beholding all the glory that a mortal could stand, two figures appear out of nowhere and stand beside the wondrous form of the transfigured Jesus. They were men that Peter had never seen, but instinctively he knows who they are. They were men he had heard about all of his life. One of them is the greatest prophet of all. He was the leader of his nation; the prince of Egypt who threw away a kingdom to lead a bunch of slaves. He is the man who met God at Sinai and gave to Israel the tablets of stone with the law.

Will the Dead Live Again?

But now comes another and amazing thought. This man is dead. He has been dead for centuries. All his life Peter has heard a debate rage between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. It was a debate concerning whether or not the dead ever lived again. It will never be a question to Peter again. Moses, who died centuries ago stands before him.

And there is Elijah‑‑he who stood for God and fought a king to do it. It is he whom the ravens fed. Here is a man who never died; the man Elisha saw swept away to heaven in a whirlwind.

How long they talked with Jesus the record does not say. I doubt that Peter ever knew. It must have been one of those times that seem to last forever, and yet seems suddenly ended. It was one of those times that render time itself meaningless. Then a great thought occurs to Peter. Why not hold this glorious moment? He speaks. “Lord, it is good for us to be here: If thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

An Upward Step for Peter

I can sympathize with Peter here. Most preachers condemn and even ridicule him for this remark. Yet although the suggestion was rejected, Peter was not rebuked for having made it. It demonstrated an upward step for Peter in spirituality. He wanted to stay on the mountain. For the time being at least, he had forgotten about a great temporal kingdom. Honor, reputation, wealth, and power had lost their significance. In a moment of awful import, Peter had drawn near to heavenly things. He had caught a glimpse of the things that be of God. From this day on the things that be of man would seem less important.

Peter is lost for the time in adoration. There is no wealth on earth that could buy from a man one moment of a mood of pure adoration once he has known the full glory of it. This is the highest happiness God gives us on this earth. A few times in my life God has lifted me to the mountain top of adoration. It was a moment of time when my attention was wholly taken by the glory of the things that be of God. The men who laugh at Simon Peter for wanting to stay there merely reveal the fact that they have never been there. What mortal human could find it in his heart willingly to leave an experience like that? This was an experience that Peter needed and one that he was ready for. It was not, within itself, a saving or a meritorious experience. A man may have a great experience of adoration and still be a weak man, even a wicked man at times. But such an experience leaves its mark. He will never be exactly the same man again. His values will be changed. This world will never look completely real to the man who has come in contact with reality. There are preferences, prejudices, tastes, and opinions which once seemed so important but will begin to seem trivial after an experience like this. But though the desire to perpetuate adoration is understandable, it never, on this earth, seems possible. We want to build our tabernacles and remain. But God never permits it. It is easy to see why he doesn’t. It is sweet to stay on the mountain but there is need in the valley below.

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