Welcome to our 22nd “Boost from the Bible,” as we delve into the depths of God’s Word to find sustenance during this strange, COVID time. Let us begin!
Picture this: Christ and His disciples are getting closer and closer to the end – closer to that time when, as Jesus had just recently prophesied, He would “undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed….” The disciples were disturbed by this prediction.
Perhaps speaking up for all of them, Peter at that time had rebuked Jesus…just minutes after Peter had proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah. Peter said: “God forbid this, Lord! This must not happen to You!” Jesus replied, chastising Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Then Jesus, hinting at the method by which He would be killed, said to the disciples, “If any want to be My followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.” And then, just a few moments later, we find Jesus telling the twelve, “There are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”
I’m sure the disciples wondered what Jesus meant by that. I tend to the opinion that Jesus was referring to what three of His 12 disciples – Peter, James and John – would, a short 6 days later, witness on a mountaintop – the Transfiguration of Jesus, in which Jesus appeared with Moses and Elijah, and in which Jesus appeared as He would appear at His Second Coming, the “coming of the kingdom” – “His face shining like the sun, and His clothes…dazzling white.”
Peter, dazzled by seeing Jesus together with Moses and Elijah, and, in his flesh, overcome by this spectacular and impressive “light show,” then made a proposition to Jesus, saying, “Lord, it is GOOD for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what Peter was trying to do. Peter had earlier tried to stop Jesus from going to Jerusalem. Here was a kind of “back-door” way to keep Jesus FROM death there – keeping Christ on this mountain, where the crowds would come to Him, not Him to them. Come to the show! Come see the razzle-dazzle of the Christ of the Cosmos! With guest stars Moses and Elijah!
We all love razzle-dazzle, don’t we? One of my favorite old 1960s songs talks about our love for the glitz, the bright lights, the crowds – “Downtown,” by Petula Clark: “When you are lonely there’s a place you can go to that will never close – downtown. When you’ve got worries, all the noise and the hurry seems to help, I know – downtown. Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city – linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty – how can you lose? The lights are much brighter there, you can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares and go downtown!” and so on.
Peter wanted, as our flesh often wants, to go where “the lights are much brighter,” where we “can forget all” our “troubles…[and] cares.” But, you know, the funny thing about that is that Christ offers a different way from that; Christ points us not AWAY from trouble, but rather TO trouble, where we can bear our crosses and in some strange and mysterious way find “the abundant life” that Jesus talked so much of. So Christ said “No” to Peter’s mountaintop suggestion, and led them all back down the mountain – back to a difficult reality.
We know about living in a difficult reality. Of course there are times when it is good to get some outdoor recreation and find ways to decompress and reduce stress during this COVID time, but many times “stress” and “distress” is where real “ministry” IS – where real ministry takes place. Sometimes living in the darkness and chaos is when we see God most clearly at work in our lives.
But BEFORE Jesus led the three off that shiny mountain, it became, well, UNshiny, or, at least, seemingly Unwelcome, first! Here’s the description of that – which is our “Boost from the Bible” for the week: “While Peter was still speaking [Peter’s proposal to stay on the mountain], suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is My Son, the Beloved; with Him I am well pleased; listen to Him!’ When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ And, when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone.”
“No one except Jesus alone.” Hmmm. We might ask, “Why were Peter, James and John so scared by what happened in the first place?” Well, for one, it ruined their revelry with Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Two, it freaked them out that God was talking directly to them. And three, they were being “overshadowed,” which I take to mean these three were “swallowed up” within a Divine Presence that was strange, overwhelming, and new to them.
You and I can relate to this, can’t we? For many months now WE have been enveloped in a strange, overwhelming, and new development in OUR lives on earth. Peter, James, and John, like us, like to be in control, right? We like things to go our own way. We don’t like crazy new challenges. Think about what Peter, James and John had to confront in the space of a week: first, Jesus announces His upcoming suffering and death (they ignored His prediction of His resurrection)…second, Christ calls on them all to take up their own crosses…third, then they see Jesus in His divine garb, talking with Moses and Elijah, two spiritual giants of old…and THEN the Voice of God speaks from an enveloping, overpowering, fear-inducing cloud…a Voice that tells you to listen to a Jesus that seems all of a sudden to be filled with a death wish. So Peter, James and John fell; by all of this, they were brought to their knees.
Who wants to be brought to our knees? We don’t like to feel forced to bow to God, forced, in desperation, to ask for God’s help. Many have been, at least in their souls, brought to their knees by this virus crisis: the dead, the badly ill, their family members and close friends, the suddenly unemployed, the isolated and alone. But is it such a bad thing to be brought to our knees?
One time the great Christian C.S. Lewis consoled a friend from America named Mary who was going through great suffering. Mary had written to “Jack,” as Lewis was known, that things were so bad in her life that she was upset, as she put it, to have to “depend solely on God.” Lewis agreed that we humans hate to depend solely on God – “It is,” he told her, “what we all dread most. Of course,” he went on, “that just shows how very much, how almost exclusively, we have been depending on…‘things.’ But trouble,” Lewis added, “goes so far back in our lives and is now so deeply ingrained [that] we will not turn to [God] as long as He leaves us anything else to turn to.”
That’s what Peter, James and John experienced. They were not happy, falling to the ground in fear on that mountain. But did you notice what happened next? “But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ And when they looked up, they saw no one else except Jesus Himself alone.”
Isolated and sometimes afraid, brought to OUR knees…all we have, much of the time, is “Jesus Himself alone.” And that’s enough. Sometimes it’s good to realize that that’s ALL we need…that we do not need the crowd…that we do not need the razzle-dazzle and the glitz…that we do not need worldly power, but Christ’s spiritual power – the power of His loving presence and the promise of His loving care for the future. As C. S. Lewis suggested to his suffering friend, Mary, our faith in Christ may help us not be afraid when overwhelming moments come that turn us to God: “Perhaps,” he wrote, “when those moments come, [those people] will feel happiest who have been forced to being [reliant on God totally] here on earth. It is good for [God] to force us [to rely on Him],” Lewis concludes, “but, dear me, how hard to feel that it is good at the time.”
That’s part of taking up our own crosses and following our Lord Jesus. We take up our crosses and fall to our knees; we follow Jesus and abandon our plans; we give our worries to God and take on the service of helping others. And, through all of this, we find a smiling Jesus looking lovingly down upon us, His hand outstretched to pick us up and dust us off…just Himself, alone.
“In Christ alone our hope is found
He is our light, our strength, our song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
Our Comforter, our All in All
Here in the love of Christ we stand.” (Stuart Townend)
In this continued time of trouble, let us reach out to Christ and hold His hand, as He, who gave His life to us, helps us give our lives to others. Amen!
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