Readings: Exodus 3:1-15; Mark 8:27 – 9:8
What does it take for God to get your attention?
How are you with hearing voices?
We had this interesting conversation in home group this week as we looked at the boy Samuel in the temple hearing a voice but not knowing who it was calling him. You remember the story in 1 Sam 3? Three times he goes to the priest Eli thinking that he was the one calling.
- Do we need a quiet time to hear God?
- A retreat?
- Do you need to be in a temple or church like Samuel?
- Or at a conference (like yesterday’s?)
- A mountain top experience?
In both readings today the voice of God is heard when they are up on a mountain.
- In Moses’ case he hears a voice from a bush that appears to be on fire but doesn’t burn up. (Here in this church the congregation looks at a picture of that burning bush every week when they look at the person reading and speaking from here. It’s the visual motto or logo of the Presbyterian Church – here on this lectern.)
- For Peter, James and John, the mountain top experience is pretty unique. They see dead guys talking to Jesus and he looks like he’s been plugged into a power source. Whiter than white he is.
The old KJV in Mark 9:3 has this fascinating language:
- And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. The fuller there of course is a launderer.
- The ESV has: and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. This is the “whiter than white” washing powder advert kind of thinking.
- The NIV has: His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.
It’s not surprising they were terrified.
Seeing dead people does that anyway. I’ve only had that happen once – and it was prescription medication that caused the hallucination. I wasn’t fun.
- The voice on Mount Horeb to Moses becomes a conversation as he is commissioned to liberate his people from slavery.
- The voice on the mountain of transfiguration – is a one liner that should have helped assure the three key disciples.
“This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him.”
It must have been quite amazing. A real high. But they came down to earth pretty quickly.
YOU CAN’T LIVE ON A HIGH
Life is full of contrasts.
- You can have a brilliant day and it can end badly.
- Terrible circumstances can still have good outcomes.
If you follow the characters we have been looking at so far – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and sons, Joseph, Moses and today Peter, James and John – you get enormous contrasts – great successes and serious failures.
One would hope that when certainty is reached in the way that we would sometimes like it – a voice from heaven telling us what’s going on (e.g. Peter) or a voice telling us what to do (e.g. Moses) – that things would be steady and stable.
But no – there’s always a shaking. Something that brings you down to earth.
Take the various scenarios where there are voices from heaven in the Bible:
- At Jesus baptism where he is anointed by the spirit and his ministry is launched – where a voice from heaven affirms him. In the next verse he is propelled into the desert to be tested by the devil. (from baptism to battle ground)
- Moses – From the encounter with God in the burning bush to the conflict with a stubborn hard hearted king. (from bush to battle ground)
- Peter – Confession that he is Messiah (revelation) to rebuke of his devil like behaviour – it’s like going from saint to Satanist. (from revelation to rebuke)
- Peter James and John – Mountain top camping to a real life-threatening road to the cross (glory to gory if you like.)
The danger of wanting to stay on a high – spiritually emotionally or “conferencially” – is that it can be disappointing. And while you are on the mountain top is not always easy to think straight anyway.
Peter may well have been so overwhelmed to make sense of the vision of seeing Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus that he wanted them to camp out there – what else could he have thought of?
Most of us would have probably wanted to capture the moment. Stay with that buzz of affirmation. (Think of your childhood holidays, when you had to leave a regular holiday destination to go back home – and you may get a glimpse of the feeling.)
But as a good colleague and friend pointed out in our discussion on Friday – self-gratification – our sinful nature – sometimes leads to sensual selfish spiritual experiences – wanting a high all the time. We are at risk of depending on those highs – it can become all about me – about us. Like those who at the end of a conference say “when’s the next one?” Feelings can drive our train, rather than facts and faith. We need another spiritual fix!
It’s no coincidence that Transfiguration is followed by Lent in the Church Calendar – a sobering 40 days.
And when Peter is less than thrilled by the idea of Jesus being killed, it’s not really surprising that he would try to stop it.
- This is Jesus the Messiah who has been revealed. There was an expectation of success from messianic figures – they are supposed to win the battle and overthrow the bad guys!
- Jesus lights up whiter than white on the mountain. Moses and Elijah are seen – the representatives of the key sections of the Hebrew Scriptures, the law and the prophets.
- And then this: Mar 9:9 As they came down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has risen from death.”
I am sure they felt – death should not be on this list. Imagine a presidential candidate or political leader saying to his or her followers – vote for me. I’ll be killed and you’ll all run away. It was less than thrilling.
During Lent there is time for us to reflect on the challenges. Jesus calls people to a cross.
Great expectations – followed by this amazing declaration: the voice of clarity: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him.”
And this gloomy prediction: Mar 9:30 Jesus and his disciples left that place and went on through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where he was, Mar 9:31 because he was teaching his disciples: “The Son of Man will be handed over to those who will kill him. Three days later, however, he will rise to life.” Mar 9:32 But they did not understand what this teaching meant, and they were afraid to ask him.
How do you stay in the centre? I don’t mean like the grand old Duke of York and his 10 000 men where the song goes “and when they were only half way up they were neither up or down.”
I mean not like an emotional yo-yo. Crazy highs and lows.
Mind you. it’s not that easy if you get flicked from one thing to another like a ball in a pin ball machine. We will have highs and lows.
- We need the highs, like the conference we went on yesterday. They embolden us for the lows and the long slow obedience of level ground.
- We need the lows – the challenges – because they strengthen us in a different way. Building resilience and character and faith. Resistance is required to build core strength (just look in on a Gym).
- MOST IMPORTANTLY – we need the relationship – all of these people sought God’s direction or adopted it in the context of a daily relationship of some sort with God.
- We also need the sense of calling and purpose. Without that we will not really want to get out of bed in the morning.
- And like them we need to be seekers. Again and again in the bible is the ones who diligently and seriously seek God that are rewarded. (See Deut 4:29; 1 Chron 16:10-11; 2 Chron 7:14; Psalm 9:10; Psalm 27:8; Psalm 63:1; Psalm 105:4; Prov 8:17; Isaiah 55:6; Jeremiah 29:13. Hebrews 11:6;)
When Jesus rebukes Peter he lays it out clearly to the crowds. this was for all who were listening too, not just his close disciples:
Mar 8:34 – 38. Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
It is a call to risk and faith after all.
- And at the end, Jesus would have remembered those affirming voices at his baptism and on the mountain of transfiguration – when hanging in agony on the cross.
- Peter would have remembered his great confession of faith at Caesarea Philippi when he hung upside down on his cross. That confession made at a place named after a Roman Emperor – he confessed his faith in the Christ – for whom he would die too. Peter didn’t falter then.
- God willing, on our deathbeds I pray that his words of affirmation to us will be in our minds and on our lips. After all we are brother and sisters of Christ our elder brother the beloved. We too are dearly loved children of God (See John 1:12; 2 Cor 5:17; Romans 8:16: John 3:16).
MESSAGE (Sunday 1) Reading: Luke 9:28-36
It’s a great passage – I love it.
- It reminds us that the Law and the Prophets (Moses and Elijah) are fulfilled in Jesus.
- That Jesus is greater than the prophets (or a prophet) and the greater teacher (than Moses)
- It’s a foretaste of heaven, and heaven and earth meet here on this mountain
- It’s a powerful description of the transformation of the face of Jesus – and the brightness of his appearance
- It reminds us that we have mountain top experiences – and that like Peter we want to stay up there on the mountain with those wonderful experiences! Of course we don’t stay on the mountain tops!
- And that it was in prayer that Jesus was transfigured (verse 29) – reminding us that we too are transformed in prayer! (Only Luke mentions that this was in the context of prayer. Yay for three gospels!)
But here’s the thing. There’s one of those voice from heaven passages – and it’s a great reminder that God speaks!
That this is all about God revealed to us!
The cloud (verse 34) is about the presence of God! That’s what we need and that’s actually the privilege of access we have (access in Ephesians is referred to in chapter 2, verses 7-8 – He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. And in Romans 5:1-2 – Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. We have a new place of grace to stand before God! By grace!
And the voice! This is so important! Listen to verse 35 again:
35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”
Are you listening to Him?
That’s the key to all of this really.
I remember being taught – if you haven’t a clue where you are in life and what God’s will is for your next step – go back to the last thing He told you to do! And do it! Listen!
I was reading one of George Whitfield’s sermons on this passage! I love it! This short interesting Anglican of the 18th century who preached to tens of thousands at once in England and America!
I want you to listen to what he said to his hearers:
I can now only mention one thing more, and that is, Did the Father say, “This is my beloved Son, hear him?” then let every one of our hearts echo to this testimony give of Christ, “This is my beloved Saviour.” Did God so love the world, as to send his only begotten Son, his well beloved Son to preach to us?
Then, my dear friends, hear Him.
What God said seventeen hundred years ago, immediately by a voice from heaven, concerning his Son upon the mount, that same thing God says to you immediately by his word, “Hear him.” If ye never heard him before, hear him now. Hear him so as to take him to be your prophet, priest, and your king; hear him, so as to take him to be your God and your all. Hear him today, ye youth, while it is called today; hear him now, lest God should cut you off before you have another invitation to hear him; hear him while he cries, “Come unto me;” hear him while he opens his hand and his heart; hear him while he knocks at the door of your souls, lest you should hear him saying, “Depart, depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Hear him, ye old and gray-headed, hear him, ye that have one foot in the grave; hear him, I say; and if ye are dull of hearing, beg of God to open the ears of your hearts, and your blind eyes; beg of God that you may have an enlarged and a believing heart, and that ye may know what the Lord God saith concerning you.
Must have been great preaching in those revival days. In England and America.
They didn’t listen politely and go off to tea. They fell to their knees and wept in repentance.
Now I know that Presbyterians are not given to too much emotion!
But this preacher didn’t mince his words!
This is good stuff: “If you’ve got one foot in the grave – hear him! If you are dull of hearing – beg of God to open the eyes of your hearts!” Whitfield is preaching scripture here! Where is it from? Ephesians again! He’s preaching these truths: Ephesians 1:18-19 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, Eph 1:19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
And of course he wants his hearers to have enlarged and believing hearts! Again Whitfield is preaching from scripture – as Psalm 119:32 says this: (MKJV) I will run the way of Your Commandments, when You shall enlarge my heart.
And of course he wants them to know what the Lord was saying concerning them!
We’ve watched a video about the response of some Lutherans in America on this passage – have a look at this:
VIDEO: Bible story jam video Luke 9:28-36 http://vimeo.com/58940441
Interesting how different people read and responded to this text.
I liked the last man’s comment about “this I can do” – listening to his voice. I can do this – if I work on it!
And also my thought was – listening to what he has to say to us and about us.
If the Father says to the Son: “my son whom I have chosen” in Luke’s record. In Matthew the writer says: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5). And then Mark puts it this way: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7)
We get three versions – and of course it’s not surprizing as Matthew Mark and Luke were not up there – only Peter James and John. The passage ends with these words: “The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen.”
I don’t know about you, but they’re all rather encouraging are they not? Chosen, Loved, well pleased. While they are directed at the disciples (‘This is my son’, not ‘you are my son’) the Father still encourages the Son in this amazing time of prayer! Apart from the reminded of the voice there is the unique nature of the transfiguration itself. I’m not going to try and figure that out today.
I’m really keen that we listen to the Son!
As an aside – I suspect that the Father also wants to tell us as children (the younger brothers and sisters of this elder brother Jesus) how much he values us too! That’s a different issue of an affirmation of his love for us – especially where we face challenging times.
But here it’s about listening to Jesus – and that’s a life changing habit we need to work on in our prayers.
The conversation about this passage can continue.
- The Son still speaks! Please listen to Him!
- We must not ignore Him!
- We need to open His book (the Bible) and give Him time so we too can encounter him and He can speak to us!
Let this conversation continue as we reflect on it. Over tea, or better on our knees!