If the New Testament had already been written and he had already read it, maybe at that moment Peter was thinking, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). Or perhaps verses from the psalms which he had memorized as kid flashed through his mind, “At Your rebuke, O God of Jacob, both rider and horse lay stunned. But You, You are to be feared! Who can stand before You when once Your anger is roused?” (Ps. 76:6-7)
Whatever Peter was thinking, when the cloud descended and the Voice thundered, all he could do was hit the dirt in fear.
Poor Peter. For a guy prone to a ready-fire-aim approach to life, after seeing the transfigured Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah all he could think of was, “How can I help? How might I make this more special? What can I do to enhance the glory?”
Really? Jesus is lit up like the sun, the veil having been pulled back which has cloaked His heavenly glory. What’s more, Moses, the great deliverer and friend of God, is standing there with Him. And so is Elijah, the one who was taken up into heaven in a whirlwind, death’s transport superseded by chariots of fire sent to escort him home. Talk about “heaven came down and glory filled my soul!”
But to take it in with silent awe was kind of beyond Peter’s natural makeup. And so he offers to make three tents, one for each of them. Wouldn’t that be a nice add?
Really? Yeah, that’s kind of how Peter rolls.
And God interrupts Peter’s good intentions but misguided efforts. And more glory descends upon the mount in the form of a bright cloud. And a voice thunders from heaven, “This is My beloved Son . . . listen to Him.”
When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.
(Matthew 17:6 ESV)
And maybe Peter’s thinking, “At Your rebuke, O God, both rider and horse lay stunned. Who can stand before You?” But regardless of what he was thinking, without a doubt we know they were terrified.
Too much glory. Too close an encounter of the divine kind. Sensory overload. God had spoken and now Peter was face to the ground in fear. God had addressed him specifically, and he was terrified.
Terrified. It’s kind of what happens when mere mortals encounter the eternal God of all creation. That is, until they feel the touch.
But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
(Matthew 17:7-8 ESV)
But Jesus came . . .
Another encounter of the divine kind. Still mortal man up close and personal with eternal God. But now it’s not terror they feel but His touch. Now, instead of being compelled to go facedown, they are told to rise up. Now, instead of being terrified, the Voice says, “Have no fear.” Now it’s not some bright-shining ethereal cloud they see, but Jesus only. Jesus their Master. Jesus their Shepherd. Jesus their Savior.
The terror and the touch. There’s a place for both. A place for remembering that our God is Jehovah, the great I AM, an awesome God and consuming fire, One to be feared. But a place also for us to wonder afresh that our God is Immanuel, God with us, come in flesh, come that we might know His touch. And knowing His touch through His abiding Spirit, we rise in full assurance of faith. His perfect love casting out all manner of fear. When we lift up our eyes and see Jesus only.
We respect the terror. But how we long for the touch.
Such is His sustaining grace. Ever for His shining glory.