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.
Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
Have you ever had one of those moments of sheer terror at being caught? I mean the total anxiety panic of knowing… there is no way out of this. If you know what I mean, it was probably when you were younger? Though maybe not, contrary to what we like to think of ourselves, the youth do not corner the market on stupid decisions.
Whatever it was you were doing or did, I’m sure it was very attractive. The thought of all you could gain from going down that path was irresistible. It was so simple, required so little effort, and the benefits, well, they were pretty amazing. I’m guessing that the thought of being caught or the consequences never actually entered your mind. Maybe you had to think about one or two ways to smartly keep it hidden, but the fact that it was just wrong never really was part of the decision-making process.
At least, until you were caught.
You were… not so clever as you thought. Or you over-reached out of greed and arrogance. And if you’re remembering that moment from your life right now just like I am, you can feel the panic. Feel the fear grip your heart as you face whatever might be coming.
And that might be the worst of it. You don’t know what might be coming. I suppose it depended on what it was, how old you were and the like? Maybe privileges would be taken away. Maybe it would just be the shame of letting someone else down. Maybe it would break a relationship. Maybe it would be legal action. But the fear of knowing you’d been caught and there was no getting out of it, that tightening of your heart… that’s what I’m talking about.
Now why… why would I make you relive something like that this evening? It’s bad enough when those memories haunt us at quiet moments during the day or night. Why drag them up on purpose?
Well because that is exactly the feeling I want you to think of when you picture what it’s like to stand before God almighty and try to justify yourself to him.
To better appreciate this evening, I’d like to walk you through… well it’s a metaphor. This isn’t really how things will happen at the end, not literally. But the truth of it holds. So, imagine with me. Imagine the moment comes. Your earthly life has ended, and you are waiting to see what happens next. You’ve heard that Heaven is the place to be and Hell, well not so much.
Though there is some nervous anticipation, you’re feeling – pretty good about what’s to come. You’re a good person. You were a good son or daughter, a good spouse or a good parent. You did right by the people around you. You worked your job, you went to church, you helped those in need. This should go well.
And the time comes that your name is called. You are escorted from a waiting area into a courtroom. There is no jury, only the judge. And there are no witnesses, only the judge. God. One look from his piercing stare and it all comes crashing down. The intensity of that gaze opens your own eyes and you know. You know, and you remember everything he knows about you.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way;
The façade of goodness that you wear becomes as flimsy and fragile as tissue paper. All the selfishness that backed all those “good” deeds. All the times that the cost of doing the right thing was a little too high for you so you just walked by on the other side of the street. The secret thoughts, the greed, the lust, the selfishness, the anger, and more than any of that all the times you just thought you knew better than God.
That’s the panic moment. You’re caught, there’s nowhere to go, and you are utterly guilty. You did all of it, thinking no one was looking, no one would notice, but he saw it. There’s nothing to say in your defense. Anything you could think of in your own mind falls so flat that you can’t even utter the words.
Is there nothing to be done? You survey the crowd. Surely someone could speak up on your behalf and ask for leniency, mercy, or just to ask the judge to let this one go? Someone some authority or power or charisma or money could maybe do something for you…
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
A man does step forward. Not the one you were looking for. He is not wearing anything fancy. He has no regal bearing about him. You do not recognize him as anyone rich or influential. He instead looks like someone in as much need of help as you are. If you were not simply frozen by the terror of the moment you might motion for him to blend back into the crowd.
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,
He draws the judge’s attention. The man speaks.
“I did it.”
“Every charge you are about to read. That was me. I openly confess to every one of those crimes. I did it.”
“You are aware of the punishment?” the judge asks.
“I am. It was me.”
The confession is accepted. The man is bound and led away. What could you do? It might seem dishonorable to let him go in your place, but the terror of what waits at that end is too much to face. You let him go.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
You know what it means for that man. You know what you were expecting. The terror of hell itself. That the mercy and grace of God would be completely cut off from you. Absolutely lost in the outer darkness where there is no light and no hope and nothing but terror and pain forever. Maybe you didn’t grasp it before but you do now. That’s death. To be cut off from the source of life and creation is death.
It should’ve been you, but it wasn’t. What he suffers is of your making, no mistake. You earned and created the hell he is suffering now. You can’t help but stare at the door they led him through. It’s conflicting. You’re haunted by what he suffers in your place but there is still relief that it won’t be you.
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
As you muse, the judge speaks again.
“The guilty party having confessed and punishment rendered, the accused is declared not guilty. With no outstanding accusations, you are free to enter the Kingdom of God.”
Dumbfounded, you step forward. Heaven? You started with confidence you had no right to. It was quickly crushed and for what seems like an eternity you stood there with no hope, trying to accept the fact that you were going to die. And now so quickly that has changed to heaven? It seems so impossibly unlikely, but it’s happened.
You walk to the exit of the courtroom and the entrance of the kingdom. The reward is not just a perfect kingdom, it’s a perfect you. The last remnants of evil within yourself are stripped away and now you not only live in a place that will never cause you pain – you yourself will not be the cause of your own pain anymore.
This is your end. The eternal, loving, unchangeable God as your perfect king. The one who cares for you perfectly. You, made perfect, and living the life you were meant to live from the beginning. All the things from before that gripped your heart with fear are just… gone. There absolutely cannot be a better end. And this is your end.
And what of that man that so boldly confessed to your crimes? The one that was led away to die in your place?
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
He lives. He is your king. He is the judge. He is your God. He died. He lives. You live.
Today we want to learn about the events of Palm Sunday. Our goal is to better understand the big celebration then and now… 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. The Story of the Shouting
The lesson we are looking at is from Mark 11:1. As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany…Jesus said to his disciples, “Go…you’ll find a colt…bring it here.” (v.1-2)
Geographic note -- Jesus wants his disciples to stop near before they get to Bethany and Bethphage. Both are located a few miles outside of Jerusalem. Which is a bit strange. Why not finish the journey and get to Jerusalem?
The answer – a colt.
Now remember: Not everyone owned a car back then. In fact, no one did. They weren’t invented yet. You either walked or rode a camel or a horse…or a donkey. And when you weren’t riding that donkey, you’d park it on the side of the road and tie it to a nearby post.
So, do you understand what the disciples are hearing from Jesus? It’s like the Fast and the Furious – only Slow and not so Furious – and instead of Vin Diesel? Jesus. (Less tattoos – more miracles).
And...if anyone asks what they’re doing, because it’s a small town and everyone knows what type of animal everyone else rides. It’s like Ms. Ethel who lived near me in the town I grew up – and also knew that I drove a red Chevy Minivan and also that I drove a bit fast down the road last Tuesday evening. “If anyone asks you why you are doing this, tell them: ‘The master needs it.’ “(v.3)
Imagine you were one of the disciples. How would you feel about this request?
Does Jesus know the guy?
Is Jesus trying to test them?
Is this some kind of hidden camera show?
Jesus is the guy who told the blind guy to see….and he did.
Jesus is the guy who told the lame man to walk…and he did.
Jesus is the guy who told the dead girl to come back to life…and…she…did.
The two of them walk into the city. They notice the donkey tied near a pole in front of the house just as Jesus had told them. They also the neighborhood watch (aka nosy neighbors) looking on.
They make they way over as nonchalantly as possible. They act like they notice some litter on the ground; they start to untie the rope; one of them starts sneezing as a distraction.
It doesn’t work. The people surrounding begin to question: “What do you think you’re doing? That’s not yours! Hey Ezekiel! I think they’re stealing your donkey.”
Suddenly, the owner – I imagine a bigger, muscular man – shows up from around the side of the building. He happens to have a few chains in his hand – which he’s pulling tightly together as he walks. The other bystanders – also decently sized – make their way over to the scene until they’ve surrounded the disciples and cut off escape routes.
What do you think you’re doing? That’s my donkey.
The disciples look at one another.
One of them drops the rope and mutters:
“Get ready to run.”
“Ummm…the master needs it, sir.”
“Oh. Jesus? Why didn’t you say so! It’s yours. I hope he has a wonderful time on it.”
And the disciples breathe a sigh of relief. It’s amazing what people were willing to do for Jesus…
They make a few jokes with the crowd.
And they throw their coats on the back of the colt as a makeshift saddle.
And a crowd of people has gathered to watch them.
And the disciples walk out of the city towards Jesus…
And the crowd follows them.
And they get to Jesus.
And so does the crowd.
And Jesus sits upon the donkey.
And he begins riding toward Jerusalem.
And they follow.
And…suddenly, some of the crowd starts sprinting to get ahead of the processional. As they run, they are removing off their jackets and throwing them on the dusty Roman road. Others notice that the coats will only last so long, so they start breaking off Palm branches from nearby trees and ad them to the makeshift red carpet.
Meanwhile, people at the city gate hear the crowd coming and make their way to the road – adding their coats and joining the Palm branch road construction.
All the while, the people begin shouting: “Hosanna! Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
People start clapping.
People start shouting.
People start dancing and waving palm branches to the beat.
Some (like me) don’t quite get the beat.
But it doesn’t matter. Jesus is here!
And the commotion is loud enough that more and more people join the procession.
They drop their coats, grab palm branch, start dancing and singing Jesus’ praise: Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest.
Until it’s a mini-parade.
It’s a full-fledged parade.
II. The Story Behind the Shouting
It’s amazing what people will do for Jesus. The celebration is on the level of Mardi Gras and it’s totally spontaneous. What I mean is that when I go away from Raleigh for a while and then I drive back into town…the only thing that greets me is rush hour traffic.
But Jesus gets a spur of the moment parade?
Look at what they’re shouting. I think the answers are there.
1.Recognition of Jesus’ Authority
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. (v.9) In case you are wondering, “the name of the Lord” is not the name of tunic brand Jesus was wearing. He wasn’t “in the name of the Lord” like someone comes “in Gucci.”
The phrase means that Jesus is God’s representative.
It means that Jesus comes with God’s approval.
It’s like the Papa John’s delivery guy coming to your door. He comes in the name of Papa John’s. He comes with their approval and with their pizza. He can answer your questions based on what Papa John’s offers its customers – and his answers are as legal as if they were coming from Papa John himself.
It’s the same thing with Jesus.
He came in God’s name.
He spoke in God’s stead.
He came with God’s approval.
The proof? A hat with God’s insignia on it isn’t enough.
How about controlling weather with your hands?
How about producing bread out of thin air?
How about making a blind guy to see simply by telling him to?
That’s the stuff only God could do.
It means Jesus has authority from God.
2. Recognition of Messianic Lineage
In Matthew 21, the crowd is recorded as shouting, “Blessed is the Son of David!” (Mt. 21:29) David as a very famous king in the Old Testament. He’s the young boy who took a sling shot and defeated the giant Goliath with one stone to the head. He’s the guy who became king and transformed Israel into an Ancient Super power. He’s also the guy to whom God promised that one day the Messiah – the Anointed One – the Savior would come from his family line.
Jesus is David’s great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, grandson. That’s not important because he had a famous ancestor. It’s important because these people believed him to be the Messiah.
They knew that he was born in Bethlehem just like Scripture said about the Messiah.
They knew he was born of a virgin just like Scripture said about the Messiah.
They knew he made the blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame walk; just like Scripture said about the Messiah.
They knew he was the one who would save them – just like Scripture said.
3. They Recognized Jesus’ Kingdom
Check out verse 10: Blessed it the coming kingdom of our father David.
Granted – for some – they incorrectly thought this meant Jesus was here to beat up the Romans and put Israel back on top.
But for many – they saw correctly:
That Jesus would bring forgiveness of sins.
That Jesus would bring peace with God.
That Jesus would restore them to God’s kingdom.
That Jesus would bring eternal life.
That Jesus would bring each of them to heaven.
Cause that’s the kingdom of David.
It’s a kingdom in which there isn’t any political power struggle.
There isn’t fake news.
There isn’t bickering and fighting.
There isn’t violence and destruction.
There isn’t racism, terrorism, or elitism.
There is peace. There is joy. There is life.
Each of these statements is a statement of intense faith.
Each statement is a statement of belief in the invisible.
And yet this crowd shouts it!
Coats on the ground in unison!
The reason that these men and women do such a thing is that they believed.
They believed Jesus was from God.
They believed Jesus was their Savior.
Which is what we believe.
Why aren’t we shouting like that?
A while back, there was this guy who attended worship that whenever he attended worship, he looked like he was having the worst time in his life. He looked disgusted as he listened to sermons. He rolled his eyes during sermon parts. His signing of hymns sounded a lot like this: “praise…God…blessings…flow.”
I figured he wasn’t a very emotive guy.
I figured he wasn’t a very expressive person.
I figured it wasn’t that big of a deal.
Then…On Facebook…a post. He went to the UNC-Duke game.
And the excitement! The screaming.
The video in which he was filled with emotion, expressing his feelings and singing – a song – he made up – about how awesome UNC was!
What’s the deal? Because he’s not the only one like this.
I admit – I have times like this. When I’m just not that excited…
And I’m not just talking about the volume of a voice in worship.
Cause it’s easy to sing real loud here and then go out there – and never mention Jesus’ name except as a swear word.
You can be sure to invite all of your friends to the bar – but pastor has to pull teeth to get me to invite someone to worship.
You have no problem talking about why that team will win the Final Four – but grab a beer, chug it, and run away from the conversation as soon as “God” is mentioned.
What’s the deal?
(1) We don’t recognize who Jesus is.
In spite of all the miracles, all the prophecies, all the eye witness accounts written down for you and me. In spite of all the sermons, all the literature, all the New Testament passages explaining Old Testament prophecy. In spite of all times God has brought it before our eyes – we – even the best of us – even the pastors of us – we still find ourselves saying, “Hmm…He might be the Savior…”
Divine forehead slap.
(2) We don’t care.
This option is considerably worse. Because if you find yourself in this area, then you might even see that he’s the Savior. You might see how he fulfills prophesies. You might recognize that Jesus was something very, very, very special who deserves careful thought and attention.
But…you don’t care.
I gotta make money.
I gotta get in a relationship.
I gotta have fun.
Foolish. None of that lasts.
None of that gives forgiveness.
None of that gets you to heaven.
Thankfully – Jesus knew exactly who you were.
Have you ever heard of Nisan before? Not the car maker – the month. It’s the Nisan with one “s”. Nisan is the seventh month in the Hebrew calendar. It takes place in spring and it is a festive month. Nisan is the month that the Jews celebrate Passover.
Passover is a special meal in which the Israelites celebrate their freedom from Egyptian Slavery. Briefly – God sent a man named Moses to the Egyptian Pharaoh – and asked for the release of the Jewish people. When Pharaoh said no, Moses said, “If you don’t let the people go, God will send a plague.” And Pharaoh sent him away. What occurred next would send a plague – turning all the water of Egypt into blood, sending armies of locusts, frogs, gnats, hail, even lice.
And at the end of each plague, Pharaoh pleaded with Moses, “Please, pray to God to take the plague away.” And…Moses prayed, God relented, and the plague was taken away. Only to have Pharaoh say, “Just kidding. You’re still our slaves.”
Finally, God warned Pharaoh about a final plague. A plague in which he sent the angel of death to take the life of every firstborn son residing in Egypt unless he let the Jews go. This plague would occur to every family – and every firstborn son would die, unless you trusted God. Then, you would take a lamb…shed it’s blood…and paint some of that blood on a wooden frame. When the angel saw that blood – he would “pass over” that house and the child would live.
Passover was a celebration that remembered this important event.
But there’s another important day in the month of Nisan. The 10th of Nisan. Look at what God told the Israelites in Exodus 12: On the tenth day of this month each man is to select a Passover lamb to be a sacrifice for his family. (v.3)
Do you see the connection?
In the year of the Palm Sunday event, the 10th of Nisan is Palm Sunday.
Palm Sunday is the day of selecting the Lamb for the Passover sacrifice.
Jesus is the Passover Lamb.
Jesus died as a substitute for your sins.
Jesus died as a substitute for your failures.
Jesus died – that God’s wrath against your sin would “Pass over” you.
Jesus died to save you.
HOSANNA! He saves us!
And now – God in heaven above, with all of his angels, and the witness of Jesus beside him shouts about you.
And they aren’t shouting sinner.
They aren’t shouting failure.
They aren’t shouting loser.
They shout FORGIVEN!
III. What Now?
You have been set free from sin! You are forgiven. You are promised to be a part of his kingdom. This is worth shouting about.
And I don’t mean that you increase the volume in a church service.
God wants you to unapologetically share the message of your Savior.
God wants you to unashamedly tell of His love for you.
God wants you to absolutely sing his praises in all of your life.
Even—if people start looking.
A few years back I remember watching a mom in Walmart with a kid that was being a bit loud. He was singing his song – “Jesus loves me this I know…”
And it was kinda loud, “For the Bible tells me so.”
And people were looking “Little ones to him belong.”
And his mom said, “Hey! That’s enough. People are listening.”
And the boy looked up.
And said, “Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?”
Shout like that boy.
Wave palm branches like those Palm Sunday people.
Give up your donkey like that donkey owner.
Shout Jesus’ praises – no matter what people think.
Picture the scene. You’re standing nearby. A friend of yours has someone come up to them who starts making all sorts of obnoxious, false statements targeting them. Afterwards your friend comes over to you and says, “Why didn’t you say anything?”
Picture another scene. You’re seated near your friend. A fabricated, false lawsuit has been brought against them. So there you sit in a courtroom as the case is heard. You’re not called on to say anything at the hearing. But after it is done your friend turns to you and says: “Thanks for your support. It meant the world to me.”
You didn’t say a thing in either case. You were just there. So why the different reactions from your friend?
Isn’t this true? That…
In both cases, we see an important truth: there are instances a person “speaks”/communicates without even opening their mouth. Agreed?
Now think of your connection to Jesus, and think of the ways you face attack – ways you’re under siege to follow the one (pointing to failure to stand) and give up the other (pointing to making a stand for what is true). That’s the issue we’re exploring tonight in our Disciple under siege topic of Silence. Sound like something relevant to our lives as disciples today? Yeah.
Let’s start with the narrative of our Bible section, then move on to make application in our lives.
As we hear our Bible verses listen for which one of the two kinds of silence (noted above) we observe here in John 18:15-18. I thought I had an answer for that. But I had to take a step-back from my presuppositions and ask: “What do we know for certain, based on what God reveals here?” Take a look for yourself: (Read John 18:15-18)
15 Simon Peter and another disciple kept following Jesus. That disciple was known to the high priest, so he went into the high priest’s courtyard with Jesus. 16 But Peter stood outside by the door. So the other disciple, the one known to the high priest, went out and talked to the girl watching the door and brought Peter in.
17 “You are not one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” the girl at the door asked Peter.
“I am not!” he said.
18 The servants and guards were standing around a fire of coals that they had made because it was cold. While they warmed themselves, Peter was standing with them, warming himself too.
Ok, for the following statements that I’m going to project, choose an answer: T, F, or WJDK. Everybody understand those options? T is for? True. F is for? False. WJDK is for? Maybe if we shorten it to the texting lingo “DK” it will help. DK is for? Don’t Know. So answer WJDK if there is something We Just Don’t Know. Ok, statement #1:
Answer: We DK. We don’t even know if it was John. Even if we take it to be John, which I personally think is the case, the other gospel accounts indicate that Peter’s denial in John 18:17 goes with the description in vs.18. │So though John is with Peter in vs.16, WJDK where John is at this time when Peter is gathered with others by the fire.
Let’s do one more statement – T, F, or WJDK:
Answer: WJDK. Though some come to this conclusion, others don’t. And one small word in vs.17, which I had previously overlooked, tipped the scale for me personally on how I’m leaning on seeing John’s “silence” during this time of Jesus’ trial.
We hear right away in vs.15 that this other disciple, we’ll take it to be John, was known to the high priest and obviously also to others there like the girl watching the door. But there is more known to those others about John than just his identity. He is known at the scene this night as being a disciple of Jesus. This makes sense, right? He was seen all over Jerusalem with Jesus. The high priest’s servant girl shows that she knew this about John. It’s in the question she asks Peter. It shows up in one little word: “too.” The NIV didn’t specifically bring out this word in its translation. You see, the servant girl wasn’t just asking if Peter was a disciple of Jesus. She knew John was a disciple of Jesus, and was asking if Peter was also one of his disciples.
And so, with that snippet of info in view, we might very easily come down on the side of viewing John’s presence during Jesus trial much like this conclusion I read: “it sets up John and Peter as two very different disciples [at this scene]. John is not at all secretive about the fact that he is a disciple of Jesus—even the high priest’s servant girl knew this about him!”
And even if you’re left wondering about how to take John’s presence at this scene – because we don’t have definitive word –, here’s a place to land. A place from which to move forward. The People’s Bible commentary on this section simply handles John’s presence by leaving us with questions to ponder, questions like this:
“And John – why did he tell this part of the story of Peter’s denial…?”
This seems to be the best approach to get at the application for ourselves. Leave the issue of John’s silence posed in the form of a question. What that really can encourage us to do is: ask the kind of questions that will make concrete application for our lives. When it comes to the topic of “silence,” what we do know – with certainty – are the ways we are under siege.
I said at the outset: Think of the ways you face attack – to follow the one (silence as a failure of friendship or of standing up for truth) … and give up the other (making a stand for what is true, even sometimes by presence).
I know the different paths I’m tempted to take, and I know where I’ve failed and fallen to temptation. What are the different junctures where you have encountered temptations to be silent? Take a few moments. Either jot down or come up with a mental list. If you’re with your child(ren), talk it through with them.
Did you have any examples like these:
Or more specific to tonight’s account: to be silent where untrue comments are spoken about Jesus - about truths we know from the Bible.
The prior topic in our disciples under siege series that I shared was “fleeing” from Jesus. “Fleeing” and “silence” that fails to stand up for what is true - both deal with fear. One does something in reply. The other does nothing in reply. But both have this in common: they are failures to follow God’s will. The one: doing something God forbids. The other: failing to do something God commands.
We can’t look at this topic without seeing and confessing the times in our lives when our silence has been sin. I could have spoken more often. I missed opportunities because I was scared of people’s response, because I didn’t want to receive ridicule, because I feared the potential tension it might insert into the moment or into future interactions with the person or people involved. I confess the good that I’ve failed to do – my sins of silence are one type.
Here’s the good news. We don’t walk away tonight weighed down by our past failures. What Jesus did this night (John 18) and the next day (Good Friday) assures us of that.
Read Mark 14:60-62. We heard earlier tonight a time Jesus was silent too. Jesus was silent in reply to the false accusations brought against him. His silence is for a different reason. He doesn’t run from God’s will. He doesn’t try to defend himself; he doesn’t try to step away from all the shame and blame and punishment coming his way. He is silent as he goes about his task. He only speaks up to tell the truth of who He is: God the Son. And then He goes to complete the work for which He came: to take our sin and curse of hell. He took that all without complaint, or objection, all so that… He may loudly proclaim us as FORGIVEN at his death and resurrection.
That’s the news that gives you peace. It means peace in your relationship with God: through faith in Jesus you have the complete peace of your sins all removed.
Something else brought about at the same time is this; it’s brought through the same assurance. When I keep that relationship in view, that reality in view of the peace I have with God, it puts me at peace as I go into the world and let my connection to Jesus show. I’m strengthened with the assurance that Jesus has provided me a security that is eternal and priceless.
Every time I hear God’s good news bringing that truth, it takes away the reasons I thought I had to fear. I’m freed from feeling that my security is dependent on what people think of me. I’m filled with joy to know my connection to Jesus provides my security. And I’m set free through that news to let shine my connection to Jesus and the joy it brings me. I’m given heart and strength to give voice for the world to know: the truth of what Jesus had done, the truth that I hold dear.
May the grace of our God give us strength, peace and joy that overflows in lives – lives that they shine with our connection to Him, reflecting His love and truth for all to hear and see!