The penultimate reading of Jesus’ passion history this evening will also serve as a primary basis for our message tonight. Chances are you’ve heard it before. You’re probably familiar with the grim picture it paints. Here is God himself, our savior, brought out after a savage beating and now put to death. Not because he did wrong, but because he didn’t. He would not toe the line with the corrupt religious leaders of the day and instead spoke the truth. Their jealousy drove them to this end. He came to help, and he was executed because they did not worship God, they worshipped themselves.
Of course, it’s easy to point that kind of finger at the events that surround the cross. How dare they attack Jesus. How dare they put him to death for no reason. How loathsome. How vile.
Perhaps you remember some time ago when Mel Gibson produced his Passion of the Christ movie? Now I know he’s been the subject of controversy since then, but let’s put that aside for a moment. There was a stir of controversy around his movie at the time, as it included the biblically accurate line where the crowd, shouting for Jesus’ death, took responsibility for his death. “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” they shout. In compromise, the production chose not to subtitle that line in the film, leaving it only shouted in Aramaic. But what was telling was Gibson’s response to this controversy when interviewed. He was asked, point blank, who really killed Jesus.
His response? “I did.”
Whatever else you want to say about him, his answer was spot-on. The people of the day may have been responsible for carrying out the events that happened, but God orchestrated everything that happened, Jesus allowed jealous men to put him on the cross. But it was my sin that made him go. It was my failures he suffered for there. It was because of me that he did this. It was because of and for me that he died.
The payment made on the cross is universal. Jesus suffered for all at once. Yes. But it is also personal. It happened because of you. It happened because of me. I often like to remind myself that if, in all of creation, I was the only one who ever sinned…Jesus still would have done this. Just for me. Or just for you.
It is a grim spectacle, and a testimony to just how awful our sins are. The defeat of death that plays out here is vicious, and it is difficult to look at, but it is a necessary reminder of the seriousness of our crimes. This is what should have happened to us. Listen, as God goes in your place:
As they were going out of the city, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon. They forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. They came to a place called Golgotha, which means “The place of the skull.” They offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. After they had crucified him, they divided his clothing among themselves by casting lots. Then they sat down and were keeping watch over him there. Above his head they posted the written charge against him: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
At the same time two criminals were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. People who passed by kept insulting him, shaking their heads, and saying, “You who were going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!”
In the same way the chief priests, experts in the law, and elders kept mocking him. They said, “He saved others, but he cannot save himself. If he’s the King of Israel, let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now, if he wants him, because he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” In the same way even the criminals who were crucified with him kept insulting him.
From the sixth hour until the ninth hour, there was darkness over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “This fellow is calling for Elijah.”
Immediately one of them ran, took a sponge, and soaked it with sour wine. Then he put it on a stick and gave him a drink. The rest said, “Leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”
After Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. Suddenly, the temple curtain was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and rocks were split. Tombs were opened, and many bodies of saints who had fallen asleep were raised to life. Those who came out of the tombs went into the holy city after Jesus’ resurrection and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those who were guarding Jesus with him saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they were terrified and said, “Truly this was the Son of God.” (Matthew 27:32-54)
There’s a detail in the passion reading that may have blown by you with everything that happened, and I’d like to focus on it this evening. But to understand its significance, we have to go back. Way back. Hundreds of years back to the earliest days of the Israelite nation, on their journey away from Egypt, wandering in the desert.
Back then, the primary place of worship was the tabernacle of the Lord. It was built exactly as God prescribed to them. The Temple of the Lord built in Jerusalem built centuries later would simply be a larger-scale version of this same house of worship. The space was laid out like 3 cubes set side by side by side. The first two formed a single space, the Holy Place, where the majority of worship was done. The last cubic space was separated from the rest by a curtain. Not a lot of detail is given about the curtain, except that it was thick enough that you couldn’t possibly see through it, and that it covered the space entirely, making it 15 feet tall by 15 feet wide.
The last space was called the Most Holy Place or Holy of Holies. Here was where the ark of the covenant sat, containing a number of holy relics God instructed the Israelites to store there. But what is more significant is that God said his presence would dwell in the Most Holy Place. Of course, we know from our Lenten series that God is everywhere, but he was making a point here, that his presence dwelt there in a unique way, and so to enter this space behind the curtain was truly to come into the presence of the living God.
In this account from Leviticus, God establishes a festival called the Day of Atonement. And in it, he impresses upon the people just how ridiculously difficult and dangerous it is to approach a holy God as a sinful human being. Aaron’s two sons had already died for not treating God’s presence with the proper respect. Listen how strictly God defends his holy presence and how difficult it is for a sinner to approach him. Only with blood could Aaron make this one, tentative approach to God on behalf of the people once every year.
The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron’s two sons, who had died when they approached the presence of the Lord. The Lord said to Moses, “Tell your brother Aaron that he must not enter into the Holy Place at any time he chooses by going inside the veil which is in front of the atonement seat that is on the ark. This is so that he will not die, for I appear in the cloud over the atonement seat.”
This is how Aaron shall enter the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a whole burnt offering. He is to wear a sacred linen tunic, with linen underwear covering his flesh, with the linen sash as his belt, and with his head wrapped with the linen turban. These are the sacred garments. He must wash his body with water and then put the garments on. From the congregation of the people of Israel he shall also receive two male goats for a sin offering and one ram for a whole burnt offering.
Aaron shall present the bull for his own sin offering, to make atonement for himself and for his household.
After Aaron has presented the bull for his sin offering to make atonement for himself and for his household, he shall slaughter the bull for his sin offering. Then he is to take a full pan of glowing coals from the top of the altar, which is before the Lord, and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and bring them inside the veil. He is to put the incense on the fire before the Lord so that the cloud from the incense covers the atonement seat that is over the Testimony, so he will not die. He is to take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger upon the surface of the atonement seat on its east side. He is also to sprinkle some of the blood seven times with his finger in front of the atonement seat. He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering of the people. He is to bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he had done with the blood of the bull. He is to sprinkle it on the atonement seat and in front of the atonement seat. He shall make atonement for the sanctuary to cleanse it from the uncleanness of the Israelites and from their rebellions and all their sins. This is what he shall do for the Tent of Meeting, which dwells in the midst of Israel’s uncleanness. When he enters to make atonement in the sanctuary, no other person may be in the Tent of Meeting until he has come out. In this way he shall make atonement for himself and his household, as well as for the entire assembly of Israel. He shall then come out to the altar that is before the Lord and make atonement for it. He is to take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat and smear it all around the horns of the altar. With his finger he is to sprinkle some of the blood upon it seven times. In this way he is to purify it and set it apart from the uncleanness of the Israelites. (Leviticus 16:1-6,11-19)
And here’s where we come to our point.
The Most Holy Place still existed in Jesus’ time. It was simply much bigger and was part of the stationary temple built in Jerusalem, and not a mobile Tabernacle that could be put up and taken down as needed. The linear dimensions were double that of the tabernacle, which means if you remember your volume equations, it was eight times larger inside than the previous model. The curtain separating the Holy from the Most Holy place would hang 30 feet in the air down to the floor.
The rules and promised consequence around the Most Holy Place still stood. No one could just approach God. You didn’t go in there unless you were instructed to and only if you did everything just right or literally being in God’s presence would kill you. Sin cannot stand in the presence of a Holy God. It is a stark reminder of how seriously we are separated from him.
But on this day:
After Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. Suddenly, the temple curtain was torn in two from top to bottom.
Thirty feet, top to bottom. This was not some damage as a result of the earthquake that happened here. This was a deliberate, miraculous sign. Jesus went to the cross for our sin, and he suffered there for it. It was ugly and he died. It looked like a miserable defeat. But then, the curtain was torn.
You see...the divide was gone.
Our sin, our un-holiness is what separates us from a Holy God. It’s what keeps us from being able to approach him. It divides us from him.
But it’s gone.
Your sins are paid for. They don’t exist to God anymore. You can approach him with confidence, because you are holy in his eyes now. The tearing of the curtain says, “Come on in.” As we sit here, day by day feeling cut off from the rest of the world, we have this privilege. We can approach God ourselves with petition and prayer, not needing any intermediary.
And at the end of all this nonsense, we go to him. Nothing stops us anymore. The curtain is gone. We leave here, we go direct to God’s presence, to be with him forever. This is our promise, bound up in the tearing of that curtain as Jesus gave up his life for you.
Tonight, with reverence we humbly remember why this was necessary. We let ourselves be reminded what the stark cost of our sin really is. We feel the shame that it was my fault this happened. It is good to be reminded why we need a Savior. It’s good to look at the cost of our sins so we stay humble. But we should not wallow in this evening as though it were a loss. More than ever we need to remember that this was a triumph for God and for us.
Jesus went willingly for you and for me. He stayed there because he loves you. He died to pay your price. It looks ugly, but it was a victory. God did exactly what he set out to accomplish this night. The curtain is torn, the divide between us is removed. Defeat? No; victory!
This Palm Sunday is a bit different.
There’s loud trumpet music.
There’s a palm procession with kids waving palm branches.
Some little kid hits the other in the face with the branch.
There’s not a lot of room to sit down in church.
The church is packed full of people.
The ushers set up the extra chairs in the back.
And I’m amped up on 5 cups of coffee.
Today. It’s a bit different. (I’m still amped up on 5 cups of coffee, but…it’s a bit quieter.)
How do we celebrate Palm Sunday when we are so far apart?
How do you raise a righteous ruckus in a Quarantined Neighborhood?
Why would you raise a righteous ruckus in a quarantined neighborhood?
Today we’re going to hear from God’s Word for the answers. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Original Ruckus
The story of the very first Palm Sunday starts n Matthew 21. As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, telling them, “Go to the village ahead of you. Immediately you will find a donkey tied there along with her colt. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you are to say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” (v.1-3)
Take note of their plans. Jesus knew exactly what would happen. And keep in mind. Jesus couldn’t text the owner of the donkey to see if it’s ok. He couldn’t send him an email. He didn’t even set up a ZOOM account. Jesus simply knew. He knew where the donkey was and that the owners would lend it to him.
And he wants to ride on a Donkey. You and I might picture a king coming to his city on a white stallion or on a muscular black beauty. Even Aladdin, when he came to Agrabah as Prince Ali, he rode on the back of an elephant.
Jesus came on a donkey.
Making obnoxious noises.
The text Scripture tells us by quoting another part of Scripture:
This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: (v.4)
Look, your King comes to you, humble, and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9b)
And Jesus was their king!
And unlike any other king in history:
He wasn’t riding to Jerusalem in order to make the history books.
He wasn’t riding with the express purpose of trending in Twitter.
He wasn’t riding in order to take over Caesar’s throne and become ruler of the Roman empire!
He was riding…to die.
He was riding…to serve.
He was riding…for you.
Jesus riding into Jerusalem was a part of a prophecy over 400 years in the making.
But that’s not all the prophecy said:
Rejoice greatly, Daughter of Zion!
Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! (v.9a)
Because in Ancient Jerusalem, Jesus was something like a local celebrity.
He had taught with wisdom.
He had befriended the lowly.
He had silenced the Pharisees.
He had done miracle after miracle:
He had healed the sick.
He had made a man who was paralyzed to walk.
He had driven out demons.
he had walked on water.
He had stopped storms.
he had fed over 5000 people with a few loaves of bread.
He had raised the dead.
When people heard Jesus was coming, there were filled with excitement.
Scripture says that a very large crowd gathered.
You ever been in downtown Raleigh for one of their parades? Over on Fayetteville street? It can be tough to navigate. It’s like the opposite of social distancing. You bump into people on your right. You try to avoid people on your left. You have to watch out for that little kid that is twirling one of those light up spinny toys in front of you.
That’s the crowd on Palm Sunday.
It isn’t just family gathering.
It isn’t just neighborhood barbecue.
It’s a full-blown parade!
And the people begin spreading their clothing on road… (v.8b)
This is something that still happens today. Usually at the Oscars. What do the celebrities walk on? A red carpet. No one wants any dirt or bugs to get on their Armani shoes. (They take a couple thousand just to clean.)
The people didn’t have a red carpet.
So, they welcomed Jesus by laying on the ground whatever they had:
Even Unicorn Onesies.
Whatever they were wearing, they took it off so that Jesus’ donkey could walk on it.
And they began cutting branches from the trees.
Locally, these were Palm trees. So, think of this – Someone ran to their garden shed, grabbed some kind of machete, and began chopping down palm branches for them to walk upon. It’s like photosynthetic version of a red carpet.
But there’s more.
The Palm branch? It was the ancient symbol for victory.
Jesus didn’t have any victory yet.
The people were simply anticipating it.
The crowds who went in front of him and those who followed kept shouting,
Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest! (Matthew 21:9)
Hosanna is a Hebrew phrase.
It simply means, “Save us.”
Since they were shouting it at Jesus?
They were implying that he was their Savior.
II. Reason for a Righteous Ruckus
I don’t know exactly how y’all have been feeling lately.
But maybe you’ve been searching for a Savior.
And if you’re feeling lousy, you might find your Savior in a variety of places:
Hosanna, Coronavirus graph! Save me! Give me some hope that the social distancing is working.
Hosanna, Netflix! Save me! Save me from my stress and help me get lost in your plot devices and episodic storytelling.
Hosanna, bottle of booze. Save me! Make all my fears go away.
Do you remember that prophecy from Zechariah?
The one that says:
Rejoice greatly, Daughter of Zion!
Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! (v.9a)
At first, this a message for genealogical Jews.
Jerusalem was the capital of Israel.
Zion was another name for Jerusalem.
That means this is a direct call for the people the people that saw Jesus riding into town on a donkey to shout his praises!
But Scripture later says this:
It is not the children of the flesh who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are counted as his descendants. (Romans 9:8)
Did you catch it?
God’s children used to be a phrase that referred to genealogical Jews.
But now? God’s children are those who received God’s promises…by faith.
That means you are Jerusalem.
You are Zion.
You are the one that God is calling to REJOICE!
To SHOUT Hosanna.
To say, “Jesus Save us!”
Why raise a righteous ruckus? Here’s some reasons:
(1) The King is YOUR King.
“Look! Your King is coming to you.” (Zech. 9:9)
Every time there’s an election there’s a collection of memes and tweets that come out that say, “Not my president.” It happened for our last president, it happened for our current president, and it will happen for our next president.
Honestly, there’s some truth to that statement. Because it isn’t as if any president ever said, “Everything I do, all the laws I make, all the meeting that I attend, I will do so with YOU in mind Phil Kiecker. My presidency is dedicated to you.”
But that is the case with Jesus!
Jesus is YOUR king, if ever there was one.
He knows you.
He knows your fears.
He knows your anxieties.
He knows your struggles.
He knows your guilt.
And he was riding into Jerusalem on that donkey to do something for you.
(2) The King is Righteous!
We’ve seen it a lot lately. Leadership in our state and country as asking for some grace during COVID-19.
The rationale? Leader are people too. They aren’t perfect. They make mistakes.
I echo that sentiment. Thanks for your forgiveness as we navigate the crisis. We’ll probably make some mistakes on the way. We’re human.
But here’s the things about Jesus.
He doesn’t ask for your forgiveness.
Because he doesn’t need it.
Jesus is NOT some bumbling, stumbling, mistake-making, error-prone human being. He didn’t mess up at all.
He is righteous (Zech. 9:9)
His plan was perfect.
His plan is perfect.
His plan will be perfect!
(3) The King brings Salvation
In this time of isolation, it is so every exciting to get a delivery. Usually, it’s my dog Clay that bounces up and down with excitement, but now I’m feeling the same way:
Is it my pizza?
Is it a shipment of toilet paper?
Is it an autographed photo of Ted Danson from Cheers that I ordered on my phone last night at 3am?
When Jesus shows up, look at what he brings:
He…brings salvation. (Zech. 9:9)
Salvation means saving.
Saving from sin.
Saving from guilt.
Saving from shame.
Saving from fear.
Saving from sadness.
Saving from death itself.
Saving to a place where there isn’t social distancing, where there isn’t a need for hand sanitizer, where no one dies.
Saving to heaven.
Saving to eternal life.
Saving to His kingdom.
(4) The King is Humble.
You might expect a king like this to show up very brazenly.
To kick off his boots.
To throw down his sword.
To put his feet up on the table and grab a giant turkey leg:
“Y’all should be thankful I am here.”
“You’d be lost without me.”
“Grab me a beer and I’ll get to saving you sometime tomorrow.”
He is humble and is riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (v.9b)
“Don’t worry. I am here.”
“And let me get to work.”
“I need to suffer.
“I need to be arrested.”
“I need to be falsely convicted.”
“I need to be crucified.”
“I need to die.”
“Next to criminals.”
“It’s a tragic end.”
“When this happens to me?”
You will be saved.
III. How to Make a Ruckus in a Quarantined Neighborhood
I know we’re all separated.
God still calls us to raise a righteous ruckus.
He has given us good reason to raise a righteous ruckus.
The only question is how to do it.
I think there are some tips from the OG Palm Sunday crowd.
(1) With Your Families
On that first Palm Sunday, it wasn’t just “the adults” who were making this ruckus. There were kids there too.
In fact, that’s why the Pharisees were so mad. They could handle adults following Jesus. That felt like there choice…even if it was stupid.
But kids!?! Kids were young. Kids were impressionable. Kids could be brainwashed!
In fact, it’s just a little bit later that week that they confront Jesus:
“Teacher, do you hear what they are saying?” Stop them! (v.16)
Yes,” Jesus told them, “Have you never read:
From the lips of little children and nursing babies
you have prepared praise?” (v.17)
In other words:
Yes. Kids do believe what you tell them.
So…Tell them the truth.
Tell them about Jesus.
And I feel for you parents.
You’re getting emails every day filled with resources and things you should be doing for your kids during the pandemic.
You better teach them math.
You better hook them up to this LIVE violin lesson.
I don’t even have kids in my home, yet I received an email yesterday telling me to remember to stock up on Organic Brussel Sprouts during the pandemic.
I’m sorry. Brussel Sprouts are the last things on my mind.
But it’s a real deal.
All these stores telling you what to do with your kids.
It can make you feel overwhelmed.
Jesus says this.
Don’t be overwhelmed.
Just tell them about me.
Because I’m the one thing that lasts forever.
Today here’s what you can do.
Cut out some of the Palms.
Wave them up and down.
Blast some of the worship music.
Blast some kids worship songs.
Teach them what Hosanna means.
Teach them that we say it to Jesus.
Then, challenge them to see who can shout it the longest, the loudest, and the most boisterous!
Throughout this coming Holy Week – you have a chance to make it like Jesus unlike any other time in your life.
Through Bible readings.
Through family worship.
Through whatever way you can think of to teach your kids about Jesus.
Raise a righteous ruckus in your family.
(2) In Your Neighborhood
Because wouldn’t have happened if people had not passed on the word to others that Jesus was here.
It wouldn’t have happened if people had not shouted loudly enough for their neighbors to hear.
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, asking, “Who is this?” And the crowds were saying, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” (v.10-11)
What should you do? Go outside and bang pots and pans?
But you could take advantage of the conversations you have.
The truth is that you might not have a lot of interactions each day.
Take advantage of them.
Whether the conversation is….
Over the phone or over the fence.
Over the counter or over the computer.
Over a text message or over the property lines.
Take advantage of conversation to steer your neighbors towards Jesus.
Here’s a way to get two sermon “What Nows” with one stone.
Get together as a family – with your children– and think about unique ways you might share Jesus in your neighborhood.
That’s raising a righteous ruckus in your family and in your neighborhood.
Unless, the way you plan on doing it is through the internet….
Because then you’re killing three WHAT NOWs at once.
(3) On the Internet
The crowds were pretty ingenious.
They grabbed their cloaks.
When they ran out of cloaks, they tossed down branches.
They used whatever was available to them to give Jesus glory.
Friends, we need to do the same.
We need to use whatever is available to us to Plant Jesus in North Raleigh.
It’s Facebook messenger.
It’s the internet.
Here’s how you can help:
Invite others to Come and See
This is our best chance to get people to hear the message of Easter. Because think about it:
One of the main reasons that Easter worship is so populated is because people come together to worship as a family.
Without that family invitation…they’ll probably sleep in.
Have your family join you.
You can do this on Facebook. You can hold a watch party for our Sunday service. Then, you can interact with others in your family as you attend online worship.
In fact, here’s a simple way.
Today is Palm Sunday. We are planning a Palm Processional Challenge. It’s as simple as this.
Use some of the links to this worship page in order to help you make your own palm branches.
Video record your family waving the branches or take a photo.
Then, post online with a message pointing people to Jesus!
It’s that simple.
Go and Tell.
Because now more than ever we may need to do more than simply invite others to come learn about Jesus.
But to actually bring the teaching of Jesus to them.
Do the same.
You know someone who is struggling.
You know someone who is fearful.
You know someone in need of the Gospel.
Tell them that Jesus died.
Tell them that Jesus rose.
Tell them that in Jesus there is VICTORY.
In fact, look at verse 12 of Zechariah 9.
I will bend Judah as my bow, and I will load it with Ephraim. (v.12)
Remember that Judah can often be understood to be believers.
God says that you are his bow and arrow.
He loads you into weapon.
He takes aim.
He sets you to fly.
This Easter who are you aimed at?
Who are the people who need hope?
How will God work through you to bring them the message of Jesus?
Raise a righteous ruckus.
We are finishing up our sermon series by looking at one of the most visually incredible miracles in the Bible. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Peter’s Problem
The miracle itself is recorded in Matthew 17. But for a bit of context, we’ll start at the end of Matthew 16.
At this point, the disciples had seen Jesus do a plethora of miracles. As they sat down near a campfire, I wonder if they didn’t imagine the next ones:
What if Jesus suddenly made these rocks into delicious Steak dinners? Do you think I should ask him?
How about if he turns all the Roman soldiers into a bunch of chicken?
Speaking of the Roman empire, maybe he could take us to Pontius Pilate’s palace, and he could make it disappear!
I’ve got a better idea than that! Maybe he could make, you, Andrew, disappear!
Whatever they thought Jesus might be planning to do, it’s doubtful any of them considered what Jesus had planned:
Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (v.21)
You can cure leprosy.
You can banish demons.
You stopped the weather!
Why would you let these humans beat you up?
Why not give them leprosy?
Why not send the demons after them?
Why not cause a storm to take place within the walls of the Pharisee’s hideout!?!
But Peter was the boldest.
Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” (v.22)
The disciples didn’t get it.
It didn’t make sense.
Jesus did all those miracles…
…so he could die?
To human reason, Jesus’ use of his power can seem ODD.
It’d be like going to a magic show where the magician has already levitated, sawed someone in half, and then, escaped a hyperbolic chamber filled with water while he was strapped into a strait jacket and then .for his final act, he pulls a quarter from a little girl’s ear.
How could death be Jesus’ final act?
I was talking to a friend the other day who whose aunt was very sick with cancer. The test results weren’t positive. The doctor’s predictions weren’t good.
So, the believer said this:
Isn’t this what Jesus is for? Isn’t the point of his POWER to help his people?
I wish I could talk to God. I’d set him straight on how he should be using his POWER.
I’d tell him, “NEVER Jesus! This shall NEVER happen.”
You ever thought something similar:
Jesus you’ve got power.
Here’s what you should do with it.
You should heal my aunt’s cancer.
You should fix my marriage.
You should end my job hunt.
You should give me more friends.
You should give me a child.
You should give me a husband.
God, if you don’t do that, you’re not doing a very good job with your power.
But do you know how Jesus responded to Peter’s rebuke?
He didn’t say, “Goodness, Peter. You’re right. Your sinful, imperfect, incomplete human reason has bested my sinless, perfect, all knowing divine reason.”
“Get behind me Satan! You don’t have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (v.23)
REBUKING Jesus’ use of power leads to Jesus’ REBUKE.
Because rebuking Jesus’ use of power is sin.
It’s like being a back-seat driver. If your spouse is driving, you may find yourself on occasion telling them where they are driving incorrectly:
Turn on your blinker sooner.
Speed Limit is 65.
Your hands aren’t at 10 & 2.
But can you imagine doing that to a professional race car driver? Like 2019 NASCAR Cup Series Champion, Kyle Busch?
Excuse me, Mr. Busch. But…I think you’re taking the turns a smidge tighter than you should.
Kyle Busch is better at driving than you.
And God is infinitely better at using his power than you.
It’s why he’s God and you’re not.
And if you’re telling him what to do, don’t be surprised if his response is simply:
Get behind me Satan.
II. The Miracle
Six days later…
Six days of Jesus’ words echoing in Peter’s ears.
Six days of cooling off.
Six days of thinking about what Jesus had said about his “death.”
Then, …Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John…and led them up onto a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured in front of them. (17:1)
The Greek word for “Transfigured” is “morphe.” It’s where we get the word Metamorphosis. It refers to a transformation or a change in one’s essence. (Like a butterfly, the Animorphs, or even the Mighty MORPHIN Power Rangers.)
Jesus’ metamorphosis beats them all.
His face was shining like the sun. (v.2a) Not just reflecting some morning sunlight off it. His skin was luminescent. It was shining so brightly that the disciples must have had to squint to look in his direction.
His clothing became as white as the light. (v2b) A bit odd, since Jesus’ desert clothing would have contained a bit of desert dirt stains on it. A yellow or light brown. But instantly it transformed to a bleach white that was so bleach white it twinkled – like the light.
And as the disciples squinted in Jesus’ general direction, they noticed two other figures standing there with him.
Moses. A prophet through whom God did incredible miracles: 10 plagues, the splitting of the Red Sea, and bread from heaven.
Elijah. Another prophet through whom God did incredible miracles: fire raining from heaven, birds delivering food, a young man brought back to life.
Two incredible miracles performers standing at the beckoning call of Jesus.
…they had both been dead.
Now they stood…alive.
And as Peter stood there looking at this ethereal, incredible, amazing sight, I think he came to one conclusion
Jesus’ miracles were only a HINT of his power.
The healing of incurable leprosy? Only a hint. Jesus could cure all disease with just a snap of his finger.
The enabling of the paralytic? Only a hint. Jesus could remove all paralysis with just a clap of his hands.
The resurrection of Jairus’ daughter? Only a hint. Jesus could bring all dead back to life, with only a whisper.
It’s like playing basketball, as a dad, with your 4th grade son. At first, you play easy. You let him score on you. You pretend to trip up. You only shoot three pointers.
But then, when your son gets a little cocky and starts to trash talk: “Your game stinks so much, you need a shower.”
So, the next time he goes for a layup, you swat it out of the air like Dikembe Mutumbo.
Just a HINT.
Jesus’ miracles were powerful.
But they were only a hint of his power.
Peter was so amazed.
He had seen snippets of Jesus’ power before, but now?
He was in full view of his glory.
Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you want, I will make three shelters here: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (v.4)
This whole face shine thing is pretty amazing
And I wouldn’t want it to go out because of a gust of wind and a bit of rain.
I’ll get some sticks.
I’ll get some leaves.
I’ll get you some protection from the elements…
While he was still speaking, the elements started to be controlled. A bright cloud overshadowed them.
It surrounded him.
It covered everyone else.
Till all Peter saw was bright cloud.
Then, a voice…
“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him.” (v.5)
Jesus is GOD’S own SON.
That’s been the point of the miracles this whole time.
They were SIGNS pointing to the fact that Jesus was God!
Curing the incurable? Only God could do that. Jesus did that. Jesus is God.
Eliminating paralysis? Only God could do that. Jesus did that. Jesus is God.
Banishing a legion of demons? Only God could do that. Jesus did, so Jesus is God.
Walking on water? Only God could do that. Jesus did that. Jesus is God.
Developing bread out of thin air? Only God could do that. Jesus did that. Jesus is God.
Raising the dead? Only God could do that. Jesus did that. Jesus is God.
III. A Two-Fold Reaction
All of this was overwhelming to Peter and the other disciples. When the disciples heard this, they fell face down and were terrified. (v.6)
They were trapped in the middle of a Divine cloud.
They were in the presence of God himself.
God was POWERFUL. They were WEAK.
God was DIVINE. They were HUMAN.
God was HOLY. They were SINNERS.
They hit the floor. Hoping that God wouldn’t be able to distinguish between them and the dirt.
Jesus’ power leads to FALLING DOWN in TERROR.
Yet, I don’t know that this happens all the time in church.
When you get ready for church in the morning, what do you think about?
I hope that one guy is there that I like to give high fives.
I hope that we can get in and get out in an hour.
I hope that the cookies are pretty good after worship. I’m starving.
Those are common things.
Things that I’ve thought of myself.
How often do you think?
I’m about to encounter, the face shining, clothing glowing, surrounded by dead prophets and a brilliant cloud, God.
Because it’s true.
In fact, the disciples were encountering that God long before being on the mountain.
Peter and the disciples had been walking with the divine Holy God himself for the last two years.
When they stopped for breakfast? It was God who stopped with them.
When they needed a break from walking? It was God who took a break with them.
When he complained out loud about not trusting God? It was the God whom he was complaining about that was in earshot.
And you encounter God, too.
You encounter ALL POWERFUL God when you gather to worship.
You encounter SIN HATING GOD, when you approach the Lord’s Table.
You encounter the ONE WHO CONTROLS THE CLOUDS, when you pick up a devotional book and spend 5 minutes reading God’s Word.
It’s why the disciples were lying face first on the ground.
waiting for the inevitable lightning bolt.
They felt a hand.
Jesus approached and as he touched them, he said, “Get up, and do not be afraid.”
They opened their eyes.
No brilliant light.
Jesus’ mercy leads to STANDING UP in CONFIDENCE.
Yes, you are standing in the presence of ALL HOLY, SIN HATING GOD.
But you are also standing in the presence of your ALL MERCIFUL Jesus.
Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn the world.
But to save the world.
He didn’t come into the world to condemn us.
But to save us.
He didn’t come into the world to condemn you.
But he came to save you.
He is the Savior.
IV. The Aftermaths
As they disciples were walking down the mountain, they began to conclude that Jesus was the Savior after all. But one prophecy didn’t add up. It was a prophecy from Malachi that said Elijah would come before the Messiah. And since, they had just stood in the face of all holy God and not been destroyed, they were confident enough to ask about it:
Elijah is coming. (v.11)
In fact, he already did. (v.12)
They didn’t recognize him.
And instead killed him.
Just like they’ll kill me. (v.11-12)
There’s one more note about this interaction. It said that the disciples realized “Elijah” was a reference to John the Baptist.
Who had to come.
Who had to be killed for prophecy to come true.
But they were still missing one point.
Jesus had to suffer.
Jesus had to die.
For prophecy to come to true.
Jesus’ impending death was NECESSARY.
This was the whole purpose of Jesus’ coming to earth.
Not to do miracles.
Not to heal everyone.
Not to defeat the Romans.
Not to do impressive feats of strength.
He came to suffer and die for your sins.
To conquer guilt.
To conquer shame.
To conquer death itself.
In fact, this Mount of Transfiguration, it’s pretty glorious. But it isn’t the mountain on which God showcased his greatest glory.
Because on Calvary, Jesus suffered.
On Calvary, Jesus died.
On Calvary, Jesus displayed his greatest glory…
…and saved you.
So…LISTEN TO JESUS.
You’ve got to imagine that plagued Peter for a bit.
He hadn’t listened to Jesus.
He had rebuked the Divine God, to HIS FACE.
And now that thundering cloud’s voice rang in his ears.
“Listen to Him.”
Do the same.
Even when it looks silly.
Even when it looks odd.
Even when it looks like God is calling you to do something that doesn’t make sense…
Be baptized? Listen to him.
Take and eat? Listen to him.
Worship an invisible God? Listen to him.
Stay faithful? Listen to him.
Jesus poses two questions tonight as he gets at an issue so important for our spiritual health. The topic we’re digging into is: being neither hypocritical in action, nor paralyzed into inaction. Take a listen. Jesus tells us:
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."
Do you agree with this statement? “Hypocritical actions are one of the great damaging forces in our world.” I’m thinking especially of damaging to relationships, like friendships. Do you agree? Any disagreement?
Okay, now let me focus the statement in a little further: “Hypocritical actions are one of the great damaging forces in our world …and within churches.” If they are present, if they are allowed to go unchecked, do you agree? Yes.
We might be led to ponder adopting the minimalist approach that is popular in our culture today, namely “I’ll just keep myself from commenting on anything that anyone else does, to avoid the impression of being unlovingly hypocritical.” But before you go there, or if you’ve bought into that thinking to some degree, I’ve got an additional statement for us to consider:
“Inaction is also a great damaging force in our culture in our age.” Make the statement specific to when someone else with whom you are connected – family or close friend – is involved in something harmful. Adopting an “I’ll do nothing, say nothing, in order to avoid the impression of being unloving or hypocritical” approach, results many times in a great deal of damage impacting lives. Do you agree?
Let’s pinpoint the type of toxic effects for relationships that are in play with either one of the problematic approaches we’ve identified: being hypocritical in action, as well as being paralyzed into inaction. And keep in view there is more than our relationships with one another involved here. There is also the relationship for each one of us, as Christians, with our God that is connected here.
If we see someone in our family in Christ doing something harmful, if we do nothing we allow something toxic to go on working its damaging effects. Think about that proposition. It sounds silly! I’m sure you see the disconnect in that. We, as a family in Christ, want to help one another with identifying whatever is causing hurt or harm.
Doing that is important. And how we go at that goal is equally critical. If any “holier-than-thou” / any pride or self-righteous attitude is in the offering, the “help” being offered is actually likely to multiply the harm, rather than help remove it. Why? For starters, any correction offered with such an attitude is harmful to the one offering it. Pride or a self-righteous spirit would indicate some spiritual infection in thoughts and actions of that individual. And in many cases, the recipient of the correction too will experience additional hurt or harm. How so? Either they’ll see the self-righteous attitude for the hypocrisy that it really is, and be understandably turned off by it…. Or, there is this possibility: they can be potentially misled by the appeal of self-righteousness and pride. They may pursue the corrected behavior being offered, but if they do that with the wrong motivation of self-righteousness themselves, it is still spiritually harmful.
One word helps us guard against the immensely damaging attitude of hypocrisy when we step in to help someone else. It’s Jesus word: “first.” Matthew 7:5 - "You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."
Now as you see Jesus’ “first,” I want you to look at 1 Timothy 1:15, and see the apostle Paul use this “first” for himself:
This saying is trustworthy and worthy of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” of whom I am the first."
That “first” is a literal rendering where many English translations say “worst.”
As we place Jesus’ “first” in Matthew 7:5 beside the “first” here in Paul’s statement, we can each see a personal perspective for us to make our own. As we view ourselves - and everyone else in relation to us - I’m “first” among the sinners. If you’re standing “first” in line, seeing your sin, and then being on the receiving end of Jesus’ full and fully undeserved forgiveness and peace, - got it? - think of how that affects every interaction you have as you turn back to everyone else you face and encounter in your relationships.
Then you and I are not coming from any attitude of “holier than thou” or pride, but from an awareness of “here is a sinner who has received Jesus’ healing.” “Then” also “here is someone happy to share the healing medicine of God’s truth and love.”
Just think how different that is than if I were to be turning around to the people around me, without first standing before Jesus with the issue of my sin addressed… If I came to someone else to talk to them about their problem, but I go about that thinking I don’t have any problems myself or my problems are minor compared theirs… how much help am I going to be? That’s a recipe for turning them off (to disregard anything I offer), or tempting them to join in hypocrisy / pride themselves.
You could find example after example of harm done by those trying to correct others when they themselves have spiritual planks unaddressed.
Notice I say, unaddressed. But once addressed, don’t leave Jesus’ “then” undone. Jesus gives a 2nd part to his answer to the questions he poses here: “First… then.” How important is this “then”?
I’ve got another statement I want you to evaluate: “The opposite of love isn’t always hateful action. It is, maybe even sometimes more powerfully, felt in apathy.” Do you agree? Can lack of action cause such a negative impact in lives? Can it cause such negative kind of impact in a church, a Christian family?
Our Savior knows what He is talking about when he teaches us this “first… then” truth.
Hypocritical actions do harm in churches. Think of the conclusion people are likely to draw if such actions are left unaddressed.
Let’s follow Jesus’ direction. When we see / hear something wrong from someone in our group, let’s lovingly, humbly act.
Pastor Earle Treptow wrote an article entitled “Judge Me, Please!” I’m going to wrap up our topic with a few of his encouragements [2015/05/31/in FIC Features, Forward in Christ - Judge me, please! Earle D. Treptow].
While standing in line to board a plane, I noticed her tattoo. “No one can judge me,” it said. What struck me later about her tattoo was its placement. It was on the back of her neck, a place she probably didn’t see all that often. The words of the tattoo, then, weren’t really intended as words of comfort or encouragement for her. The tattoo meant to sound a warning to others. “You are going to judge me? Please! Who are you to talk to me about my attitude or my words or my actions? You’re no better than I am.”
We know exactly where she’s coming from! We don’t particularly care to have people question our attitudes or confront us about our actions. If they want to praise us for what we do, we are willing to listen. But should they wish to address some failing, we definitely don’t want to hear it.
That, however, is not the community in which the Lord wants his people to live. He brought us into his church and gave us our fellow believers for our benefit. Because he wants you to live with him forever, the Lord puts fellow believers into your life. He moves them to love you enough to judge you, to confront you with your sinful attitudes, and to rebuke your sinful actions. He does so for your everlasting good, to lead you to repentance and rescue you from death. Knowing our Savior’s love for our souls, we humbly ask our brothers and sisters in Christ, “Judge me, please!”
Or, to put that in terms of Jesus’ encouragement from Matthew 7… As we turn to one another after walking to the foot of our Savior, we say, “Please, help me see the ‘specks’ in my life.” May God grant this for His glory and for our good! Amen.
I’ve been experiencing some problems in my prayer life recently.
The things that I pray for don’t seem to be happening.
This has been going on for years!
I prayed for a pony when I was younger; never happened.
I’ve prayed for it to rain Doritos. Not once.
I’ve prayed for a couple million bucks to show up in my bank account. (I don’t know that there’s ever been a million that passed through the account since its inception)
On a more serious note – my wife and I have been praying for a child.
But…we’re about seven years in.
No little pastor.
No little Julianna.
Maybe the same thing has happened to you.
Maybe you’ve asked for something “good” and God has answered with something “bad.”
What’s the deal? Doesn’t God understand how prayer works?
Jesus has something to say on the matter. Check out his words from Matthew 7: “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?”
Think about it:
If your son came up to you with his big, tear-filled eyes and said to you, “Mommy, my tummy’s grumbling. Can I have a piece of bread?” Would any of you say: “Sure, son!” Walk away. Grab a plate, a knife and some butter and then SLAM a big old rock onto the plate. “Bon Appetite!”
If your daughter really wanted a pet and said to you, “Daddy, I want to get a gold fish and name it Princess.” How many of you would say, “Sure, honey. Anything for you.” Get into car, you head to the pet store, and come back with a poisonous King Cobra. “Here you go sweetie. Although…I don’t know if we should name him Princess.”
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (v.11)
If you then, though you are an imperfect, sin-tainted, selfish human being, know to give a good gift to your child…
What do you think your perfect, holiness-radiating, selfless God will give to you?
God can ONLY give good gifts.
So…what’s the rub then? Why does God’s answers to our prayers sometimes seem disappointing? Two reasons. And they both involve inaccurate assumptions on our part.
(1) Assuming Your Request is Good
Think back to the Doritos prayer. I thought raining Doritos would be good.
It would also ruin the ecosystem, result in my digesting all kinds of germs, and probably ruin the Cool Ranch flavor!
Your child may think they know what is best. They may truly believe that staying up late and eating ice cream is what’s best – it’s certainly what they want most at that moment. However, a father who truly loves his children knows that staying up late and eating ice cream will result in children who don’t feel good shortly after and will have a following 12-hour period of crabbiness. The father looks at the whole picture, and knowing better than his child, may tell his child no – out of love!
The same is true for some of our real deal, difficult requests…
They may not always be centered in ‘goodness.’
They may be centered in “our sinful, imperfectness.”
Back to the prayer for a child.
One of the main reasons that I am praying for one?
I want one.
I want to be a father.
I want to teach them how to play catch.
I want to teach them how to ride a bike.
It sounds nice…
Did you hear what I was praying?
I want…I want…I want.
What about what God wants?
What about God’s desire to increase his eternal family?
What about planting the message of Jesus in the Heart of North Raleigh?
What about God’s desire to shape and mold myself and my wife and grow our faith as we dig deeper into His Word for answers?
What about the fact that I might not know what is good – eternally, absolutely, perfectly…good?
Friends, I don’t know your prayer requests.
But I know you too are an imperfect, broken, human being.
Could it be that our imperfect, broken human heart requests imperfect, broken things from our Father?
Thank God he doesn’t give us exactly what we want.
Thank God that he gives us exactly what is good.
Thank God that when I ask for a snake…God gives me a fish.
Thank God that when I ask for a stone…God gives me some bread.
(2) Assuming God’s Answers Can Be Bad
Because sometimes at the end of your prayers, God’s answer may be, “Yes. Your boyfriend is leaving you.”
Sometimes at the end of your prayers, God’s answer may be, “Yes, you will lose that job.”
Sometimes at the end of your prayers, God’s answer may be, “Yes. It’s confirmed. You have cancer.”
The temptation might be to say, “God, bad answer.”
The reality? God doesn’t give bad answers.
We might not always know how.
We might not always know why.
We might not always know much of anything.
But we do know one certain and sure reality:
God’s answers are only good.
Because God is only good.
Case and point? The cross.
We asked for a Savior.
We asked for God to send someone to help us.
We asked for God to get rid of our guilt, grief, and shame.
We probably pictured some type of superhero-looking guy.
A modern-day Avenger.
With an epic Thor like weapon and luscious, Chris Hemsworth looks.
We didn’t get that.
We got a carpenter’s apprentice.
A guy without a home.
A mild mannered dude who got roughed up and physically beaten on more than one occasion.
He was cursed at.
Arrested, convicted, bloodied, and killed.
And it’s easy to look up at the cross.
At his broken, bloodied, beaten body…
And say, “This can’t be any good. God, you didn’t answer my prayer. God, you don’t know what you’re doing!”
But we’d be wrong.
Because three days, later…
Three days later, Jesus didn’t just beat evil.
He didn’t just destroy sin.
He didn’t just wipe out death forever.
He guaranteed eternal life to you.
Do you see it? God answered your prayers.
Praying for a better life? God answered.
Praying for removal of guilt? God answered.
Praying for a Savior from all the junk you’re dealing with? God answered when he sent Jesus.
And Now? God keeps giving good gifts.
God isn’t hit or miss.
His gifts are always good.
That boyfriend? Could lead you away from faith.
That job? Could distract you from teaching your kids about their Savior.
That cancer? It’s will draw you closer in faith to me AND allow you all kinds of opportunity to witness to your family and friends until you join him in heaven apart from cancer…forever.
Because that’s the ultimate good.
Brothers and sisters, God’s answers all always good. Trust Him.
Whether he gives you some bread, some fish, or an eternal Savior…
God’s answers are always good. Amen.
Guest Preacher Pastor Tom Glende
Life-changing questions. Identity & purpose. Matthew 5:13-16.
It’s a question that might sound deceptively simple if we just kind of get surface deep. If salt loses its saltiness, what good is it? And you’d answer, ‘well, none.’ But the question proves to be huge when we actually dig in, and see the deeper truth to which Jesus’ question is attached, namely: our identity and purpose in life. That’s what we want to meditate on tonight.
This is a rather light example to begin with, but I want to use it to lead into our deeper issue. Has anyone konmaried their home yet? Konmari is a pretty big movement. Marie Kondo wrote the best-seller, the Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. It has spun into a Netflix show. And she has even been named one of Times 100 most influential people. There’s organizational elements to her method, like folding clothes so that they stand vertically for storage, and thus are all easily seen and accessed. Sounds intriguing. And when you get to the part about what to get rid of… The tactic used in Konmari is: hold each item, and evaluate its worth by answering, “does it spark joy?” You keep only those things that bring joy.
I think this could really help one de-clutter. But it might get taken too far. If none of your socks spark joy when you hold them, you might still want to hold on to some. (Please, if not for your own sake, then for the sake of us all.)
Pastor James Hein in a blog picking up on these limits of the “does it spark joy” method of decluttering life commented: “If you’re holding a screaming, poopy-diapered baby in your arms, it’s unlikely that unmitigated joy is running through you.” It wouldn’t be good to just discard everything in life, and every task in life, that doesn’t spark joy.
He went on to talk about the bigger picture of life…
“The method itself is logically too simplistic to be a significant life tool. Though the method’s popularity is clearly tapping into a public sentiment – i.e. in a postmodern, subjective, ‘you do you’ world.”
Think about that outlook, or worldview: a ‘you do you’ approach to life. Do you hear any indication of what an individual’s purpose in life is going to look like, if this is the focus? It’s a view that our sinful flesh could leverage to a lot of harm.
In contrast to that, as we hear Jesus tonight asking the question “what good is salt if it has lost its flavor,” we are directed to the kind of purpose he gives to our lives as Christians. And from purpose, we’re going to get back to the issue of identity as well.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. - Matthew 5:13-16
Jesus makes the statements: “You are salt. You are light.”
With these examples Jesus describes a very different outlook for us. What salt and light have in common is: they stand out. Jesus talks about us being distinct and different in the world, with the ultimate goal being that people would be directed to God, our Savior.
You are salt. You are light. Now those talk about purpose you have as a Christian. But… and this is huge to keep this distinction in view… these statements, connected to Jesus’ question about salt, don’t tell the story of what made you a Christian. If you want to see what made you – and what makes you – a Christian, you have to look back further.
Where does your identity come from?
Earlier in Matthew 5 we hear the very telling description of “the poor in spirit.” That’s you and me when we recognize our sin. We lack holiness. We “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” We turn to the Lord. We plead for His mercy. We trust in Him to make us right.
That’s what we gather in the Lenten season to hear and see.
Now rewind to Jesus’ words to us: You are salt; You are light. Being salt and light describes the purpose God has for us as His people, but it doesn’t speak to how we become – and how we remain – God’s children.
Do you see how important it is to keep that distinction in place?
Where would we be left if our identity would come from what we do, from how well we are salt or light?
And that is precisely what enables us to be salt and light.
In a really great book on this topic, “Through the Looking Glass, Your Passport to Identity,” it states it like this:
“Not ‘living up to’ requirements, but ‘living out’ our identity in Christ describes the Christian’s life.” &
“True humility is knowing that in Christ you are everything you could ever be, have everything there is worth having. You have nothing to prove, nowhere to climb. From that position of strength you, like your Savior, can find great joy in serving.” – Through the Looking Glass, Your Passport to Identity.
To wrap up, just think about how much this issue of identity plays into our day-in-day out lives.
Teenagers, and even you children who are younger, this topic - “where do you and I look to find our identity” – is important for you too.
Where do you look for your identity? In other words, does your identity ever seem tied up with… a) how good of a student you are (heading toward a career goal you have targeted); b) having good friends & being a friend, or another way maybe to view that is how much positive social interaction you have; c) being successful at an activity – whether that is as an athlete, or a musician, or some other interest? Or if you’re a little older, some additional possibilities may arise: d) a relationship with that special someone; and even, e) how your children turn out – if they’re stable, productive, successful.
It’s good for us to look closely – do some evaluating – to see: have I slipped and shifted from seeing my identity coming from Jesus, and turned my attention to other things for answering the question of where my identity comes from?
You might score 32 on the ACT, you might be the varsity sports star, you may end up making a six figure salary with the profession you arrive at, you may be adored by the special someone or be appreciated for your role in the family. But none of that determines your identity of what makes you who you are in God’s sight.
You might work your best to get average grades, you might get cut at the tryouts for the sports team, you might have a blue-collar job at a trade that will never get you to a six-figure salary. But none of that touches your identity. None of that changes the fact of where you stand with God.
Think about the joy and relief to be able to come time and time again back to the truth: your identity in God’s sight is entirely based on Jesus. He has made you who you are: holy, forgiven, loved by him, with His truth planted in your heart. And from that position, you get the wonderful purpose in life: to be a reflector of His love. You’re enabled to pass on what He has given to you: His Truth, love, forgiveness, self-less service. This is Jesus’ life-changing truth for us. Amen.
What do you value?
Maybe even your God?
Let me ask again: What do you value?
And I don’t mean what SHOULD you value?
Or what do you think that I AM expecting you to say that you value.
But…reflect…what do you really value?
Sometimes my wife and I have a hard time deciding what we value. For instance, on a Friday evening we might be trying to figure out what we want to do. We could head over to Gonza’s Taco and have a delicious Mexican food style evening, or we could head to the local Pho joint for some delicious Vietnamese soup.
And I say, “I Don’t care.”
And she says, “You pick.”
And I say, “It doesn’t bother me.”
And she says, “I don’t know.”
So…what we do is we throw fingers. It’s a game used to decide what to do – kinda like casting lots. I count to three (1-2-3) and then we both hold out any combination of fingers (1, 9, or maybe 3). Then, we add up the total between the two of us. If the number is even, we go out for Vietnamese; if it’s odd, we go out for tacos.
It usually works.
But sometimes, what happens is that we throw out the number, it’s odd and I say, “Good. We’re going to tacos. It’s settled.”
But Julianna says, “Yes, but…can we go for Pho?”
Isn’t how much you value a “thing” best revealed in your reaction to not having the thing?
It’s the difference between missing out on your morning orange juice and missing out on your morning coffee.
It's the difference between missing a non-Conference game AND the UNC/Duke showdown.
It’s the difference between missing the “women tell all” episode of the Bachelor and the “After the Final Rose” episode.
It’s the difference between not getting a birthday present from an acquaintance and not receiving one from your spouse.
How much you value a “thing” best revealed in your reaction to not having the thing.
If that’s the case…
The biggest problem.
Not that it isn’t true, but that it reveals the things we really value…to. Our. Shame.
“Should I get some sleep or stay up late talking to my friend in need?” I choose sleep, because I value it more.
“I could go home and spend time with my kids, but…I want my boss to be impressed.” I value my career more.
“I could sit down and ask my spouse about their day…OR I could watch a rerun of the Office on Netflix…” I value it more?
Jesus has something to say about value. He says, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Mt. 6:25-26)
Birds don’t seem to have a lot of value.
They aren’t very big.
Most are the size of my hand.
They can’t get jobs in the tech industry.
They don’t often receive medical internships.
They aren’t even valued enough to get a job in fast food!
Yet…God cares for them.
He gets the nightcrawler out of the ground for the little robin to eat.
He reserves a few kernels after the squirrel’s ambush for the sparrow to be nourished.
He uses a few bread crumbs tossed by a three-year-old down at Lake Lynn to give the duck a kinda fat gut!
Birds don’t have a lot of value.
Yet…God cares for them.
And if God cares for birds of little value, how much more will he care for you…of great value!
He’ll feed you (and if you were at the Fellowship meal – he maybe fed you more than enough).
He’ll clothe you. (and it appears he did that for all of you today)
He’ll give you a roof over your head. (And we have one over ours right now!)
More than that – Jesus died for you.
Because Jesus didn’t come to earth to save sparrows.
He didn’t die on the cross to redeem robins.
He didn’t rise triumphantly to triumph trumpet swans!
He did that for you.
You are more than a body.
You are more than organs, blood and bones.
You are more than a temporal, physical vessel that will be here for 70 years – 80 if we have the strength.
You are more than evolved slime.
You are more than a smart animal.
You are more than just “the dominant species.”
You have a soul.
You have an eternal soul.
You have an eternal soul that God wants to spend eternity with – so much so that He is willing to shed His Own divine blood on the cross!
Do you get that? When God was faced with the choice between losing you OR losing his life…
He didn’t haven’t to throw fingers.
He couldn’t bear the thought of losing you eternally and so he gave up his life just to be with you.
So…What Now? Two things:
(1) Understand Your Eternal Value
Because it is easy to feel valueless.
It’s easy to feel worthless.
It’s easy to look at how other’s treat us, get in our head, and conclude: “I really, don’t have a lot of value. If any!”
When that happens, hear God’s voice.
Your value isn’t determined by how many hours a week you work.
Your value isn’t determined by how many pounds you can lift at the gym.
Your value isn’t determined by how many followers you have on Instagram.
Your value isn’t determined by how perfectly you parent.
Your value is determined by God.
And God was willing to die for you.
Because to God, you are invaluable.
(2) See the Eternal Value of Things
I used to collect baseball cards. I collected baseball cards because my friends collected baseball cards. It was the thing to do.
I remember that I was trading cards with my friends and I saw this card pop up: A Juan Beringer.
I thought he looked cool.
He looked intimidating.
Also – it was signed!
I offered to trade for it.
What would I give my friend?
I’ll give him the Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Card!
Turns out? Bad assessment of value.
Griffy Jr. Rookie? Worth over a hundred.
Juan Beringer? About five cents.
The more we understand our intrinsic, eternal value to God, the more we will value the things that have intrinsic, eternal value.
Things like a midweek Lenten meditation.
Things like personal Bible study.
Things like Baptism.
Things like Lord’s Supper.
Things like singing Jesus Loves Me with your kids.
Things like meditation.
Things like sharing the Gospel with your coworker.
Things like sharing the Gospel with our spouse.
Things like sharing the Gospel with our neighbor.
Friends, this is easier said than done. We live in a world that tells us to value anything but our Savior.
Best case it’s confusing, worst case – soul damning.
But tonight’s message is that Jesus values you.
More than His own life.
And you will have eternal life. Amen.
Today is a Transfiguration Sunday and we are celebrating the Transfiguration of Jesus. Yet – you might not have ever heard about that.
It isn’t a national holiday.
Nobody takes off of work.
There isn’t a Charlie Brown Transfiguration Special.
There isn’t a Transfiguration Sunday section of the Greeting Cards.
So, our goal today is simple: (1) understand what the Transfiguration is and (2) determine how it affects us. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. What is it?
First, we should define “transfiguration.” Because it isn’t a word that we use on a day to day basis. People don’t say things like “My Molly, you really have transfigured since yesterday!” If you did, Molly might respond by saying: “Take that back…you!”
The dictionary definition of transfiguration is this: “A complete change of appearance into a more beautiful or more spiritual state.”
The first thing I think of is the movie “She’s All That.” Remember that 90s movie with Freddie Prinze Jr? It’s about a guy who is challenged by his friends to turn the “geek” of the school into the prom queen. But…I don’t know how hard it is. Basically, all he does is have her take off her glasses and let her hair down and – voila – Prom Queen.
The transfiguration we are celebrating today is about whole lot more than letting your hair down and taking off your glasses.
It started out like a normal day. Jesus took a few of his disciples up a small mountain. He wanted to get some time for peace, quiet, restoration and prayer.
And when they get to the top, Jesus went over to the nearest rock.
Got down on his knees.
Propped up his elbows on the rock and immediately devoted himself to deep prayer.
The disciples follow suit.
They found their own rock.
They propped their own elbows up.
They began their prayers:
“Dear Lord, Thank you so much for your…ZZZZZZ.”
“Huh? I mean…thank you so much for the manamanamah.”
They were sleepy.
They were tired.
I imagine Peter enjoyed a pleasant dream of fishing on the Galilean Sea – and pictures himself holding up the prize-winning bass about 5 feet long.
A bright light.
It isn’t the camera flash of the Paparazzi photographing his fish.
The bright light isn’t coming from the dream world.
Peter opens his eyes and immediately is blinded.
Squinting cautiously, he tries again.
“It must be the sunset,” he thinks. “I must have been sleeping for a while.”
But Peter feels the warmth of the sun overhead.
That means the light isn’t coming from a sunup or sundown.
He squints harder.
It’s coming from the face of Jesus.
Like the sun.
But it’s not just his face! It was his clothing, too.
To be fair – Jesus wore a white tunic. That was common. But they had been out in a desert-like climate. Over time dirt affects pure whites. They start to yellow with some brown climbing up from the bottom of the tunic.
They hadn’t come up to do laundry.
And yet – Jesus’ clothes were a brilliant white.
A shining white.
A gleaming white.
Then, Peter’s eyes went to the right. Next to Jesus stood an older man with a long beard. I always picture him with two giant tablets of stone with what appears to be 10 commands written on them.
Peter thinks: “Wait. I know my Sunday School stories. That can be none other than Moses. The prophet God used to lead Israel out of slavery in Egypt. But…wait…isn’t he…”
Before he could finish, another man…a bit younger looking.
‘Elijah and I are excited to be here!” Moses said. “It’s amazing really! I lived thousands of years ago – Elijah lived hundreds. But both of us were doing our work, preaching what we did, telling the people about the coming Messiah. And that Messiah is YOU Jesus! We are so excited to see your work in progress.”
Peter listened as they continued.
He listened as they spoke about God’s plan of salvation.
He listened as they spoke about Old Testament prophecy.
He listened as they spoke about God’s love for his people.
Until…he couldn’t handle it anymore!
I’m…I’m…Peter. I fish!
It’s amazing to see you here! That you took time out of heaven to join us.
And Jesus – you’re glowing and shimmering and doing an incredible miraculous thing!
You can do anything!
So…um…I know you’re visiting from heaven, but…how I can help your stay more comfortable?
I know! I can build a tent for you out of a few olive branches! It’ll be just like you’re at home…
Before anyone could answer, a cloud began developing.
A thick, dark cloud.
It enveloped Elijah.
It enveloped Moses.
It enveloped Jesus.
It enveloped the other disciples.
It enveloped Peter.
He could no longer see Jesus, but a faint, glowing light from where he had been standing.
Then, the fog did something else unusual.
“This is my Son, whom I have chosen. You must listen to him.” (Luke 9:35)
Peter fell to the ground.
This wasn’t fun and games ANYMORE!
He was in the presence of the Holy, All-powerful, Sin-hating and sin-punishing God of heaven and earth!
And…he, Peter, was a sinner.
Peter made himself as flat as he could to the ground.
Pretending that he was mud.
Because he felt like mud.
And he thought that if he blended in with the mud, God might just leave him.
Which would be better than being left a pile of smoke at the hands of God’s almighty wrath.
Things grew quiet.
The voice stopped speaking.
A bird cawed in the distance.
A hand gently patted Peter’s back.
“Peter, it’s okay. Get up.”
He looked up to see the warm smile of his Savior.
The cloud was gone.
The light was gone.
The prophets were gone.
It was only Jesus.
And Peter got up.
And Peter dusted himself off.
And Peter followed Jesus.
Nobody said anything about what they had seen.
Not James or John.
They just let things get…back…to normal?
II. Why is it Important?
This is the Transfiguration. Whether Peter knew the word or not, that’s what he saw.
And it’s not just “a transfiguration” because I don’t know that there ever is a more incredible, more divine, more fantastic change in one person’s appearance than THE face shining, tunic gleaming, heavenly people entertaining, cloud encompassing, divine voice speaking, Transfiguration of our Lord and Savior.
But why would God go to this trouble?
What message is He bringing to his disciples?
What message is He bringing to You?
A few things:
1) Jesus is Divine
Have you ever seen an episode of Scooby Doo before? At the end of the episode, after the kids in the Mystery Van have trapped the bad guy in some kind of comical, haphazard way – there’s the unmasking. Velma, the smartest of the group, walks over to the ghoul or goblin and grabs him by the scruff of their neck to reveal – it was the Janitor! (He would have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for those meddling kids).
In the Transfiguration, Jesus unmasks. Not that He is wearing any kind of mask at all. But for the majority of his lifetime Jesus appears to be an everyday, ordinary a human.
He eats like humans do.
He sleeps like humans do.
He grows like humans do.
He does humans things like humans do.
He is 100% human.
But along the way, every once in a while, he also does things that ordinary humans can NOT do.
He speaks to a blind man’s eyes, and those are instantly able to see.
He walks on liquid water.
He tells storms to stop and they do.
He changes water into wine.
He raises the dead.
Think of these miracles like glimpses into the fact that Jesus is not just human – but something else spectacular.
Someone else spectacular.
At the Transfiguration?
The mask is off.
He’s not just a human being.
He’s also true GOD.
He is divine.
He is able to make his face glow, his clothing gleam, souls from heaven appear, a cloud to envelope and the simultaneous voice of the Father speak.
That’s even what the voice says! The voice says, “This is my Son.”
When a human says that about a person, he is generally referring to a different person.
A human fathers another human.
But when God calls Jesus his Son.
God fathers God.
But since God is eternal.
And God is one.
Jesus is not a lesser God.
But the one true God who always has been.
Maybe stop with the logic of the situation and look only at the miracle of the Transfiguration.
Jesus is God.
And if you have been spending your lifetime looking for God…
If you’ve practiced yoga and drank tea to get in touch with the Spirit…
If you’ve read books and studied world religions to find the ONE…
If you’ve done experiments and tried to identify the specific God…
There’s no need to look any father.
Jesus is God. And he came to earth with a purpose.
Which leads to our second main truth about the Transfiguration:
2) Jesus’ Main Purpose was Dying for You!
Because you would think that once God was up on that mountain surrounded by people in awe of Him, he would love it.
He would tell Peter to build him a throne.
He’d tell James and John to go get others.
He’d sit up on the mountain, gleaming brilliantly and waiting for people to come and worship Him.
Jesus returns to his human appearance.
He walks down the mountain.
He begins his journey to Jerusalem where he will eventually die on the cross.
The Transfiguration makes it clear! Jesus’ death wasn’t unstoppable.
If he wished….
…he could have dazzled so brightly that the crowd coming to arrest him would have been blinded.
…he could have called down from heaven every believer who’d passed and handed them a sword of fire to vanquish the soldiers who came to arrest him.
…he could have swallowed the crowd of people who were going to convict him in the courtroom and had the booming voice of the Father speak to his accusers: “This is my Son! Let Him Go.”
He could have prevented his death.
But He didn’t.
Because His death didn’t happen on accident! His death happened because it was His main purpose was saving you.
Think about it: God could have remained up in heaven.
God could have said “Ya’ll messed up this world with your sin and the only thing I’ll send is a few lightning bolts to destroy you.”
Instead, God said, “I will send…myself.
I will live perfectly when you can’t.
I will die innocently in your place.
I will rise triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sins!
I will save YOU!”
3) Our Salvation is CERTAIN
If I could underline, bold, italicize and put in 160-point font and still fit it on the Power Point slide, I would. Because that is only a smidgen of the confidence that we have of our forgiveness.
Jesus is not just some nice guy.
He isn’t just a well-meaning friend.
He isn’t just some person who says, “Let me know how I can help,” but when you mention a way to help says, “I’m playing golf that day.”
Jesus is God.
God always helps.
He always wins.
He always saves.
And since Jesus is God.
He saved you.
And it is absolutely, 100% certain.
No matter what you think.
No matter what others say: “You’ve done a lot of wrong.”
No matter what the devil says: “You aren’t worthy of being helped.”
No matter what you might think in your darkest hour: “I am not loveable.”
God’s voice is BIGGER.
God’s voice is LOUDER.
God’s voice comes from within the ethereal, divine cloud and says:
This is my Son, Jesus.
I chose Him.
He saved you.
You are forgiven.
III. WHAT NOW?
1. Fear God, but Don’t Fear God
That might seem like an oxymoron. But it’s the tension that the disciples who were on the mountain had to live with.
Because when they were on top of that mountain, enveloped in the cloud, with the booming voice of God shaking the earth under their feet, they were terrified! They fell to the ground, hoping and pleading with God not to destroy them.
We need the same respect for our God.
When we gather to worship, it isn’t just to hang out with some people we like.
It isn’t just to sing some songs that we like.
It isn’t just to eat some cookies that we like.
It’s to come as sinners to worship the divine, Holy, Almighty God.
And yet…don’t be terrified.
Just like Jesus, who just revealed himself to be that divine Holy God, touched his disciples on the shoulder and gently said to them, “Follow me.”
God says the same to you.
You are forgiven.
You are at peace with God.
Come into his presence without fear.
Come without terror.
2. Listen to Him!
Do you know what Bible story comes right before this? About 8 days earlier, Jesus gathers all 12 of his disciples together and he tells them that he will very soon go to Jerusalem where he will be arrested, convicted, suffer and died.
And Peter’s response?
“ABSOLUTELY NOT! I won’t allow it. That’s a terrible idea Jesus, I have a better one.”
Fast forward eight days, to Jesus’ transfiguration, when the Father’s voice speaks to him: “This is my Son…LISTEN TO HIM!”
A few days later…when Jesus again gathers his disciples together and repeats: “We are going to Jerusalem where I will be arrested, convicted, suffer and die.”
Peter doesn’t fight him this time.
Do the same.
Even if you think you know better. Listen to Jesus.
Even if your friend tells you differently. Listen to Jesus.
Even if your society makes a sophisticated argument. Listen to Jesus.
Even if a university professor tells you they know better. Listen to Jesus.
Even if you feel differently than what Jesus is saying…Listen to Jesus.
Even if your own voice tells you: “You don’t matter. You are worthless. You aren’t valuable.” Listen to Jesus.
You do matter.
You are worthwhile.
You are valuable enough to die for.
Listen to Jesus.
3. Come Down the Mountain
Examine Peter’s only words on recorded on the mountain: “Let’s setup three tents – one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah.” Part of the reason behind that statement, is that Peter is in love with what he is seeing. It’s so encouraging. It’s so obvious. It’s so uplifting. It is so certain that Jesus is God – that he doesn’t have any doubts at all. And rather than go back down that mountain to the world where people doubt, where people question, where people make fun, where Peter isn’t feeling so confident…Peter would prefer to stay on that mountain.
But he couldn’t.
Jesus had a mission to do.
Peter had a mission to do.
And you can’t either.
You have a mission to do.
Because while it’s nice to hang out together…
And it’s wonderful to be uplifted by God’s Word...
And Jesus tells us to spend time together in His Word…
Eventually we need to go.
We need to leave the mountain.
We need to leave these walls and go on our mission to Plant the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh.
Guys – this isn’t my idea.
This is God’s.
The face-shining, tunic-gleaming, cloud-encompassing, divine voice-speaking Transfiguration of our Lord and Savior.
Listen to Him.
Come down from the mountain.
Share His Word.