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).