Mark 9:2-8 – Shining the Light on Our Fears

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“Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him. They went up on a high mountain, where they could be alone. There in front of the disciples, Jesus was completely changed.  And his clothes became much whiter than any bleach on earth could make them.  Then Moses and Elijah were there talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, it is good for us to be here! Let us make three shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’  But Peter and the others were terribly frightened, and he did not know what he was talking about.

The shadow of a cloud passed over and covered them. From the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, and I love him. Listen to what he says!’  At once the disciples looked around, but they saw only Jesus.” (Contemporary English Version)

The transfiguration of Christ was a glorious experience on the mountain.  But we are told that Peter, James, and John, the inner circle of Christ’s disciples, were terribly frightened.  Peter, always the extrovert of the group, nervously babbled-on without making any sense because he was so nervous and afraid.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus would take three of his disciples with him to experience such an incredible vision?  Why did Jesus show these men something so otherworldly that they nearly soiled themselves?  I will tell you why I think Jesus put his close disciples in such a position as this:

Because the way to see Jesus as our only hope, we must face our fears, insecurities, and anxieties squarely without hiding.

Jesus did not relieve their anxiety.  He let them feel the full impact of their fear.  His glory shone show brightly that they couldn’t hide from what was happening to them and what was in their minds and hearts.  Only through shining the light on the shadowy place of our fears and insecurities will we accept that we need a savior.  That savior is Jesus, the light of the world, the Lord over fear, anxiety, and discouragement.

The invitation which Jesus extends to us is to move further into our fears so that we can see how desperately we need him.  Nobody seeks a savior when they don’t believe they need deliverance from anything.  But the one who sees what is truly inside of them – the fear of connection; the scary prospect of confrontation; the anxiety of what will happen; or, the discouragement of failure – is the one who is then able to hear the voice of God and listen to Jesus give the answer to our most pressing life issues.

Jesus Christ wants to change us from the inside-out.  He helps us by showing us not to avoid the fears which cause us to be beside ourselves, but through confronting those anxieties with him.  You and I are never alone; we always have the glorious presence of Christ with us as we walk through dark valleys and ascend high mountains.  It is the wonderful existence and omnipresence of God in Christ through the Spirit which makes all the difference.  We were created for connection with the divine, not for separation and loneliness in our fears.

Glorious Christ, you love me with a grace and mercy which always has my best interests in mind.  Help me through my most pressing fears and failures so that I might see your glory, hear your voice, and know your constant presence.  Amen.

Transfiguration Sunday

            Are you a good listener?  I don’t find many people who describe themselves that way.  That’s probably because listening is a developed skill.  It doesn’t come easy.  It takes hard work to actively listen to another person.  But if you and I, as well as the entire church universal, fosters and nurtures the ability to listen, then we just might encounter the glorious.
            The last Sunday before Ash Wednesday (the beginning of the 40 days of Lent, leading up to Easter) is traditionally celebrated for an event found in the New Testament Gospels as the Transfiguration of Jesus.  In this event, the glory of God shines brightly on Jesus to the degree that he is changed, transfigured, before Peter, James, and John (Mark 9:2-12).  This encounter on the mountain is meant to prepare us today, all these centuries later, for the listening posture we are to have for the six weeks of Lent.
            The voice of God the Father spoke on the mountain in the presence of the disciples and said, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!”  Listen to Jesus.  Every word he speaks is to be heard.  We are not to be distracted from hearing and listening well to all that Jesus says to us.  Perhaps we need to still ourselves, break away, enter a time of solitude, and confess that we have not listened well.  We cannot have ministry for God until we adopt the assignment of hearing the Lord.  Perhaps some confession is in order:
Great God of the Transfiguration, you meet me in the ordinary as well as the extraordinary moments of life.  I seek you in the valleys and on the mountaintops.  Yet I admit that too often my eyes are blind to your glorious presence, and my ears are too often deaf to your call.  When you reach out to me through the cries of people in need, I’m too busy to listen.  Forgive me, I pray, and set me free to hear your voice so that I may love and serve you in the lives of people who desperately need to experience you, Jesus.  Amen.
 
            If we want to listen to Jesus as individuals, and as ministry organizations and churches, we need to take the following stances toward listening:
Listening must be a priority.
 
Unless listening is a top tier value for you, it won’t matter how loud God speaks – you won’t be able to hear.  In other words, you need to put yourself in a position to listen.  Leave multi-tasking for some other endeavor.  Listening is important enough to focus all your faculties on hearing what God has to say to you.
“The Lord came and called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’  And Samuel replied, “Speak, your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:10, NLT)
 
Jesus said, “Let the person who has ears, hear.” (Matthew 11:15, CEB)
 
Listening requires us to stop talking.
 
Most of us are better at talking than listening.  We have no problem expressing our thoughts, opinions, and sharing our experiences.  But talking needs to take a back seat to listening.  You’ve got to determine that you will not interrupt God with what you believe he’s got to hear from you.
“Understand this, my beloved brothers and sisters. Let everyone be quick to hear [be a careful, thoughtful listener], slow to speak [a speaker of carefully chosen words and], slow to anger [patient, reflective, forgiving].” (James 1:19, AMP)
 
“Let a wise person listen and increase learning, and let a discerning person obtain guidance.” (Proverbs 1:5, CSB)
 
Listening happens in a distraction-free mind.
 
Its not only important to set-aside a consistent time and place to meet with God, it’s also necessary to be able to hear God in the middle of noise.  If we cultivate the skill of listening in times of solitude and silence, then we will learn to distinguish God’s voice in a sea of other voices crying-out.  Like the mother who can discern her baby’s cry in a room full of other voices, so spending extended time with God enables us to discern his still small voice, even when there is chaos all around.
“Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.” (Proverbs 11:15, ESV)
 
“Don’t stop listening to correction, my child, or you will forget what you have already learned.” (Proverbs 19:27, NCV)
 
Listening involves regular reading.
 
The Bible is God’s self-revealing of his basic character, nature, and purposes.  If we are to listen well, it will involve a daily regular regimen of reading God’s Word in a slow, meditative, contemplative way.  We learn to listen because listening is a skill.  That skill will only be fully developed for the Christian through consistent listening to God through the text of Holy Scripture.
Jesus said, “Therefore, everyone who hears what I say and obeys it will be like a wise person who built a house on rock.” (Matthew 7:24, GW)
 
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (Luke 11:28, NIV)
 
            Enlightenment, awaking to God, comes from taking a posture of listening well to the words and ways of Jesus.  Living in the light of Christ’s shining self on the mountain top can be experienced as we adopt hearing him as a high value.  Today, and every day, is to be a day of listening to Jesus.  Allowing his words to meld with our inner person results in loving actions for the sake of the church and the world.
How can you incorporate listening into the life of your church?
Do you allow for extended times of silence to hear from God?
What do think would happen if you made listening to Jesus, and not talking, a high value in leadership meetings?

 

Is Scripture read in all your gatherings? Is it read slowly so that everyone can listen well?

Christ’s Transfiguration

 
 
            The last Sunday before Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent has been traditionally observed for celebration of Christ’s glorious transfiguration.  In this transforming event we see a fuller glimpse of Jesus’ identity and his ultimate end of ascension and glorification.  It is possible that in focusing on this account of Christ’s metamorphosis that it all seems very strange, even confusing.  Maybe you just have no categories of thought to explain such an encounter (Mark 9:2-9).
 
            In a Peanuts cartoon Charlie Brown and Linus were lying on their backs looking at the sky.  Charlie Brown says, “Linus, do you see anything in the clouds?”  Linus said, “Yes, I do.  For instance, that one over there bears a striking resemblance to Michelangelo’s depiction of the Creation on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  And that one, there over the school, looks like a map of Scandinavia, see; there’s Denmark and Sweden.  And that one over there looks like a helix.  Do you ever see anything Charlie Brown?”  Charlie Brown replied, “Well, I was going to say a ducky and a horsey but I changed my mind.”
 
Perhaps your spiritual life seems more like Charlie Brown than Linus.  Compared to the experiences of others, you may not have had any defining moments of ecstasy, no shining Jesus right in front of you, or no spectacular vision of Christ.  Maybe your life seems rather mundane and ordinary in light of the many stories we have in the Gospels of Jesus doing the miraculous. 
 
Most of our lives are lived in the daily grind.  In the week in and week out monotony of life we need a bit of hope, maybe even a lot of hope.  In fact, we need an occasional mountain top experience because those are glimpses into the future of what it will be like someday when the kingdom of God comes in all its fullness.
 
The event of Christ’s transfiguration came after a hard frank discussion Jesus had with the disciples about his impending death.  Jesus clearly taught them that he must suffer, be rejected, and killed.  But in three days he would rise again.  The disciples did not want to hear that, and Peter even rebuked Jesus for saying it.
 
            In response, Jesus said this to them all:  “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).
 
Jesus identified himself as the Suffering Servant, as the One who must suffer and die.  However, he is also the One to be glorified.  For Jesus, there had to be suffering before glory.  And it is the same for us.  The Christian life is filled with the difficulty of walking through the valley of the shadow of death, but is also punctuated with mountain top experiences that give us hope to keep doing what Jesus did.  In other words, we must listen to Jesus and follow him.  The nature of our Christian walk is up and down; both the mountain and the valley are spiritual realities; both are important.
 
            Moses and Elijah were on the mountain with Jesus at his transfiguration.  In the Old Testament, Moses was the person used by God to deliver the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt and brought them to the Promised Land.  Centuries later, when the Israelites had been in the land for quite a while, Elijah was the person used by God to bring about a great repentance from Baal and a mighty revival back to the exclusive worship of the Lord.  As good as those guys were back then, having them with Jesus on the mountain meant that it gets even better with Christ.  Jesus is the Messiah, the True Deliverer, who saves the people from their sins.  What is more, Jesus is the Ultimate Revivalist, bringing the true grace and love of God to people and calling them from legalistic religion back to the true worship of God.
 
            Deliverance and revival were what Jesus was all about in his ministry.  And he expects all who follow him to do the same.  In the ministry of every believer, there will be suffering because we must take up our crosses; and, there will also be glory, experiencing and seeing the deliverance of sin that comes from genuine revival.         
 
            A voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love.  Listen to him!”  If you have had a mountain top experience with Jesus, let that encounter with him give you the drive and the hope to keep carrying the bucket of suffering through the valley, without living in the past.  If you have never been on the mountain, today is the day to listen to Jesus and follow what he says. 
 

 

The answer to all that is vexing us is not to be found outside of Jesus Christ.  Let us go to him, listen to him, and obey what he says.  Let us know the Word of Christ, and bank on it.  Let us understand that our light and momentary sufferings will result in praise, honor, and glory when Jesus is revealed.  Let our churches be shaped by a vision of Jesus, exalted and glorified.