After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (New International Version)
Fear is a universal feeling and experience. None of us has to work at being afraid – but we all have to work at being brave and having the courage to face our fears.
Sometimes, we adults teach children not to fear because we assume they are afraid of the dark, high places, and monsters in the closet. But I tend to think a lot of our own adult fear is projected on kids. Why? Because some of the bravest folks I have ever known are children.
Kids don’t understand near as much as we adults do, yet they conquer their fears every day by facing the world with courage. If you were to go to any children’s hospital today, I believe you would be amazed at the kind of courage you would find amongst kids. We adults have a whole lot to learn about being brave because we have become far too sophisticated in hiding our fears and avoiding courage.
This is why the most repeated exhortation is all of Holy Scripture is to not be afraid. We need courage to live the way God wants. Every day is a fresh opportunity to practice courage.
We need the courage to stand alone
Korah son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and certain Reubenites—Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth—became insolent,and rose up against Moses. With them were 250 Israelite men, well-known community leaders who had been appointed members of the council. They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?” (Numbers 16:1-3, NIV)
When Moses heard this, he responded with prayer to God – because he clearly understood that this was all a big power play by Korah, who got others stirred up to take action against him.
Moses stood alone. Out of the millions of Israelites, not one single person stood with Moses. To be sure, the majority of Israelites did not side with Korah; but neither did they come and stand with Moses. Why? They were too afraid to be involved and took the posture of bystanders.
God did a miraculous thing, never done before or since, by opening up the ground and having the earth swallow Korah and his followers. The Lord wasn’t only upset with Korah; God was also angry with the people for fearfully standing in the safety of numbers and doing nothing. In fact, God was so mad that he was ready to wipe them all off the face of the earth. But, yet again, Moses, in humility, prayed and pleaded with God to spare them – and God did.
There will always be someone opposing you when you are just trying to obey God and do the right thing. And there will always be a crowd of people who do not want to be involved because they are afraid.
The church everywhere needs to be what Jesus wants it to be, and not what a particular person or group of people want it to be. Courageous people need to stand up to people who want positions of power in order to lead in self-serving ways.
We need the courage to love people
Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person. (John 2:23-25, NIV)
Jesus did not get carried away with his own press. Whether people responded to him by the hundreds, or whether they refused him altogether and tried to throw him off a cliff, Jesus was consistently the same. He did not need people’s responsive affirmation in order to do his mission on earth. Christ loved people just because he wanted to, and not because he was trying to get them to love him in return, like insecure and fearful people do.
We need the courage to love the unlovely. And we must understand that perfect love casts out fear.
“We should not only love our brothers and sisters, but also not consider ourselves better than them. Instead, we should show compassion and acceptance to others. We want to have others strictly reprimanded for their offenses, but we will not be reprimanded ourselves. We are inclined to think the other person has too much freedom, but we ourselves will not put up with any restraint to our freedom. There must be rules for everyone else, but we must be given free rein. It is seldom that we consider our neighbor equally with ourselves. If everyone was perfect, what would we have to endure for the love of God?… for we cannot live in this world without adversity. Those who can suffer well will enjoy the most peace, for such persons are brave, courageous, not afraid of pain, have Christ as their friend, and heaven as their reward.”Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, c.1425, C.E.
It is no test of virtue to be on good terms with easy-going people. And, of course, all of us want to live in peace and prefer those who agree with us. Yet, in this mortal life, our peace consists in the humble bearing of suffering and contradictions, not in being free of them.
We need the courage to please God
The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” (Matthew 4:8-10, NIV)
Jesus is our model of courage. He sought to please the Father, and not anyone else. Jesus bravely resisted becoming someone other than he was called to be.
On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus courageously refused to remain on the mountain, instead choosing to go into the valley and undertake a new and risky ministry.
Christ fearlessly came to this earth in the incarnation and resisted the comfort of security. He valiantly confronted sin, overturned the money-changers’ tables, and did his Father’s will, instead of shrinking in fear about what people would think.
Jesus heroically faced crucifixion, even though he was terribly stressed about it, in order to offer forgiveness in the face of persecution. Jesus gallantly said “No!” to the power of sin by rising from death. And he boldly ascended to heaven and confidently passed the work of ministry to a motley group of people who did not show any promise to carry the mantle of his teaching.
The Son found his identity in relation to the Father. For us to please God, we need the courage to play to an audience of One.
If we need other people’s acceptance and approval in order to do anything, then we will never have the courage to act for God.
We must live by conviction, and not by sticking our finger to the wind to see which way popular opinion is blowing.
History is filled with men and women who said “no” to destructive fear and changed the world. But imagine if they had succumbed to the paralyzing effects of fear in their lives. Imagine if…
The Apostle Paul, fearing resistance or rejection, chose to stay home rather than embarking on the missionary journeys that took the message of Christ throughout the known world.
Martin Luther King Jr. gave speeches filled with gentle hints about the evils of segregation, because he feared pushing too hard.
Jackie Robinson refused to enter major league baseball so as to not rock the boat; or Branch Rickey, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, just going with the way baseball had always operated. But neither of them went that way. In the film, “42,” Robinson asks Rickey:
“You want a player that doesn’t have the guts to fight back?” “No. No.” replies Rickey. “I want a player who has the guts not to fight back. People aren’t going to like this. They’re going to do anything to get you to react. Follow a curse with a curse and they’ll hear only yours. Follow a blow with a blow and they’ll say the Negro lost his temper; that the Negro does not belong. Your enemy will be out in force and you cannot meet him on his own low ground. We win with hitting, running, fielding—only that. We win only if the world is convinced of two things: That you are a fine gentleman, and a great ball player. Like our Savior, you’ve got to have the guts to turn the other cheek. Can you do it?” Robinson replies, “You give me a uniform; you give me a number on my back; and I’ll give you the guts.”42 (2013 film)
Now imagine yourself, fully aware of the mission and vision God has placed in your heart to advance his gracious and benevolent rule in this world – and yet there is also present all the phobias, irrational worries, and destructive fears of failure, harm, or rejection. So I ask:
If you don’t fulfill the mission God assigned to you, who will?