I joined Twitter this past week. A pastoral leadership magazine told me to. I joined, but I wasn’t quite sure how a pastor might use it, so I followed a few famous pastors to see how they were using it.
One pastor with over 10,000 followers tweets Bible passages. On Tuesday he tweeted, John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him…will have eternal life.”
That’s sounds nice, right?
Then, I read the responses:
“Only he didn’t stay dead. He came back to life. So he only played dead. Foolish much?”
“Humans live to their low 100s at best. Eternal life? That’s a bit of a stretch." #Atheist #Atheism
“Stop feeding your people junk.” (Only he didn’t use the word junk.)
It’s a battle out there. It’s a battle on the internet. A battle in the media. A battle in our own personal lives. A battle during life on this earth.
Unbelievers taunt. The world tempts. The devil causes doubts. The past haunts. Death creates fears.
Maybe it's starting to wear on you. You're only human. It's tiring to defend your faith. It's exhausting to fight temptation. It's energy zapping to live your faith in God in a godless world.
Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll examine the Battleground that 21st Century Christians live in and look to Scripture for guidance.
But before we go through our strategy, it is absolutely important to become familiar with who our leader is.
If we don’t trust him, we can’t trust his plan. We might start to think: “What’s the point!?! Why not join the world? Why not give up on religion? Why not give up on Sunday worship, turn off the SNOOZE and sleep in!?!”
This is why NFL teams don't hire little league soccer coaches and expect that they'll be experts.
It's why Fortune 500 companies don't hire assistant managers at Burger King.
It's why military Generals need a better resume than simply, "I won a game of Risk once."
We're talking about our spiritual leader. In a world, where the physical is heralded and the spiritual is despised, we need a good one.
A Christian has chosen to follow Jesus. But...what are his qualifications? How is he a better leader than Ghandi, Buddha, or Mohammed? Why should we put all of our faith in him and devoted our lives to following him?
I imagine that the disciples were asking the same questions.
Right before our text from Matthew 17 takes place, the local religious leaders had increased their pressure on this tiny group. They were constantly being challenged and carefully watched in hopes that a political case might be built against them. The end goal being that Jesus’ and his followers be stopped.
But it wasn’t just these human leaders that opposed them. There were dark spiritual forces that were engaged in this battle. Not that long ago, they had horrifically watched as demons possessed a man and vigorously opposed Jesus. It was downright frightening.
Through it all, there had been a calming force. Their leader, Jesus, was with them. He was powerful. He spoke with authority. He was protecting them. But that was about to change. Jesus had just explained to them, for the very first time, that he would go to Jerusalem, suffer, and die.
Do you suppose the disciples began to question themselves?
“Why are we following him again? This is getting less and less fun.”
“People have gone from being annoyed with me to hating me. I don’t like it. I know it would change, if I followed someone else.”
“Life isn’t as peaceful as it was back when I would simply spend the morning fishing.”
“He’s going to die. Will that put me in danger? I’m out!”
They came to a mountain. Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him up a hill. Perhaps they thought that on top of the hill they could have a heart to heart and get some answers. They needed to be reminded why they had followed Jesus in the first place. They needed to be told who he was.
Immediately, Jesus began to clue them in.
1.) Scripture tells us that his face began to shine. Literally, it says that it looked just like the sun.
Remember this is before the days of the flashlight and glow in the dark face paint. There isn’t any kind of trick going on here. In fact, verse 1 tells us that Jesus led Peter, James, and John…up the mountain by themselves.”
This means there weren’t any tricks going on. Jesus’ face was literally shining so brightly that the disciples would have needed to squint and shade their eyes. If they had a pair of Oakleys, they might have slipped them on.
This wasn’t normal. It was divine.
2.) Scripture also tells us Jesus clothing became as white as the light.
Again Jesus is not appearing in some hidden camera commercial for Jerusalem dry cleaning. This isn’t the point in history when Clorox bleach was invented. In fact, I don’t know that Oxyclean could do as good of a job making clothes that clean.
Sometimes there are those little brown stains that appear on socks or under shirts or even around the collar of a nice church shirt, that just don’t go away without some good scrubbing.
Jesus had been walking in the desert! Think he got some dirt on him? And yet now, without doing any wash at all, his clothes were as white as the light. Almost blinding with cleanliness.
This wasn’t normal. It was divine.
3.) Finally, Scripture describes in verse 3 that then there appeared before the disciples Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
Now this isn’t like heading to Lake Lynn and coming across your buddy from art class who is jogging around the lake with his bulldog.
Moses had been dead for around 1500 years. Elijah went up to heaven 900 years ago.
And this isn’t anybody dressed up as Moss or Elijah waiting to play a trick on the disciples. Remember: They went up to the mountain by themselves. Jesus was talking with the heavenly world.
This wasn’t normal. It was divine.
Which leads us to put the clues together just as if we were reading an Encyclopedia Brown book:
Who could cause human skin to break out in radiant light?
Who could cause fabric to glow a majestically clean color?
Who holds the heavenly realm and interacts with its residents on a daily basis?
WHO ELSE BUT GOD HIMSELF?
So let’s be clear. The disciples as they followed Jesus were not just following some guy with some nice ideas about how to change the world. They weren’t just entrusting their livelihood to a good politician. They weren’t just being spiritually cared for by a Seminarian . They weren’t just putting their lives in danger for a good friend.
They were following God himself!
Take a moment to consider what that means for you.
Either way consider: How do those who oppose Jesus compare? Scientists are just people. Bloggers are only humans. Atheistic politicians. They are just people too!
The Jesus you follow? He is the divine, world creating, spirit world controlling, all cleansing, totally pure and all powerful God of heaven and earth himself!
Looking at Jesus’ divinity, Peter was impressed. All the fears, worries, and anxieties of following Jesus simply faded into the background as he gazed at his Savior. In verse 4, “Peter said to Jesus, “Lord it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
Ever feel that way about church? It’s a sanctuary. A place away from all the negativity that comes with being Christian. An oasis where traditional values are still preached. A place where the pastor doesn’t try to present ‘scientific’ documentation that God doesn’t exist. A place where you aren’t persecuted for your belief in God. A place where Pastor's goal isn't to get you to renounce your Christian upbringing. A place where your sins aren’t used to judge you, ridicule you, call you a hypocrite, and get you into trouble.
A place where you are encouraged. Inspired. Forgiven.
A place where you gaze at God’s glory in peace.
Who wouldn’t we want to be in a place like that?! Certainly, church is an awesome thing. And Peter was right, It is good for us to be here! But as the story continues, God teaches us a valuable lesson.
Listen to what happens while Peter is still speaking those words, “A bright cloud enveloped them and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
Again. This is no joke! There isn’t anyone dumping dry ice into the air and moving it across the top of the mountain with a portable fan. This isn’t the set for a rap music video. This is the glory of the LORD! A cloud of brightness very similar to the pillar of cloud that guided the Israelites during the day for 40 years in the desert appears and envelopes them!
In that cloud, God the Father speaks, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Then, God gives instructions. "Listen to him!”
Think of what that meant for the disciples. “Listen to what he has told you. Know that he will die for the people. Listen to the truth that he will rise again." Then, listen to his directive to “Go and He must go to Jerusalem and die. There will be hardships. Then, you will continue to spread this message.”
Think about what that means to us. Jesus words to us are very similar: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (i.e. “Tell your neighbor about Jesus.” “Explain to your husband the reason you go to church.” “Invite your co workers to visit church with you.”)
In other words, God is telling us that we can’t stay on our spiritual mountain.
WE MUST GO INTO THE WORLD!
That can be scary. No one likes to be called a bigot, a fool, or a moron. No one likes to be threatened. No one likes to be hated.
It certainly scared the disciples. Instead of saluting the voice of God himself, the disciples do what humans do when they are faced with the divine Word of the Lord. “They fell facedown to the ground, terrified.”
Faced with two options – obeying God and suffering at the hands of men or agreeing with men and disobeying the Almighty God. They were frightened.
I’m guessing you’ve felt that same fear.
That’s why what Jesus does next is so important. He doesn't berate them for their fear. Look at verse 7. “Jesus came and touched them."
Note that this isn’t a divine slap of God’s wrath like the disciples deserved. It was gentle. It was loving.
That is how God works! When we are terrified from our sins, from persecution, from temptation, from fear, he reaches out to us. He really reaches. With both arms stretched out as far as he can. He touches us with his love. On the cross, the actions say, “I love you. You are forgiven. Trust in me – God himself crucified for you!”
If you have lived your life against him up to this point, know this: He gave his life for you. Through these words, I pray, God touches you. "Believe: I love you. You are forgiven. I, God himself, have been crucified for you!"
Then Jesus gives gentle encouragement to his disciples, “Get up!” This is the same gentle encouragement he gives to us. Get up. I have work for you to do. But I will be with you. I will hold you.
Again, we know this to be true, there are people all over North Raleigh that need to hear about God crucified for them. They are right in our neighborhood.
I know, we’ve grown as a congregation in the past months, but we cannot be satisfied to simply let our church work be nothing more than “gather on Sunday, make each other feel good, and then go hide in our homes until next Sunday.”
God has a directive for us! Get up. Let that directive speak to you. Get up! Gethsemane! Get up! Get off of the mountain. You have work to do!
If that work is daunting to you, listen to the divine directive of comfort from Jesus. “Don’t be afraid.”
Yes, I know it is scary outside these walls. There are people who disagree with us. People who ridicule us. People who openly mock and scorn us.
But none of these people are God. God is on your side. God is the one enlisting you. God is the one that will lead you into battle! You have no reason to fear.
Brothers and sisters, as we leave here today and go out into the world. As we enter the battleground. Remember who your leader is. Remember he is God himself! Then, listen to your marching orders:
Get up. Get off your mountain. Share Jesus.