This past week I went on an excursion to the local shopping market for some shopping.
Yes, I know, not exactly the sharpest of attention grabbers, is it?
Well, while there is nothing new in people going shopping… I can tell you that something happened there that surely is worth a listen…
You see, I believe came away from the shopping village, with quite a bit more than just bread and milk and some other foodstuffs….
Here’s what happened.
As I was waiting for a car to pull out of a parking space, so that I could park there, I became aware of a confrontation between a man standing on the sidewalk, handing out flyers, and a group of school children.
The man was silent throughout, but the children, and one boy in particular was shouting stuff at him, nasty stuff, among others:
“Jews for Jesus…bah!” “Jews for Jesus sucks” – “Jews for Moses!”
“Go away Jews for Jesus!”
And all the time the man just stood there, never responding, still handing out his tracts. (The tracts, incidentally, was spelling out how throughout the Old Testament, the prediction of Jesus as Lord-of-all, could be traced.) But that just by the by…
By the time I had parked the car, the boys had moved on.
I went up to the man later and asked for one of his flyers, and I tried to speak an encouraging word to him.
But the funny thing is – It was me who left there encouraged.
And not only that, but I left there with a firm affirmation again of who Jesus was - and is - and forever will be…
But, I will admit, did not come to this affirmation, this moment of truth,
before one of those moments of introspection,
one of those moments when we look into ourselves, truthfully,
and consider, or reconsider,
our understanding of our faith … and all that it implies:
In a strange way, that little Jewish upstart, did me a world of good!
Brothers and sisters, what do we believe, about our faith, about Jesus and God’s Kingdom to come?
And specifically, how does our faith manifest itself in our lives, in our lives within our communities,
be that in our Church community
or in St Ives
To come to an answer, in my reflection of the events at the car park, I approached the questions, against the backdrop of my own life as a Christian: how do I live my life as a Christian?
Perhaps some of you might identify with the answers I came up with.
You see, by the grace of God, I have grown up in a Christian family.
I was baptized as a baby, did my confirmation of faith when I was sixteen, as was the custom then;
I was always a regular Church attendee….
But here’s the thing: I have recently come to realise that I for long felt safe in my own private little religious world.
I would go to church Sundays, sometimes twice, and sit in my favourite spot, usually in the least conspicuous place, listen intently to the sermon…and go home, my heart aglow - but when I left from there, going back into the world and the community I dwelt in …I went back to a whole different world than my religious world. I was living in two worlds, one might say.
If I were to read myself into the passage from which we have taken our text, we could say that I may be seen to be like like either Peter or John or James, going up onto that mountain, and experiencing the most wonderful truth – Jesus is Lord! And being there with Jesus, is all I want to do. That is what it was like for me on Sundays as I sat their in my quite corner in Church. I was at God’s feet, and the World at large made no difference to me. I could stay there forever…
Which isn’t all bad, you might say?
Brothers and sisters, it is good to go to church and to focus our minds and our hearts on the Gospel, the good news that Jesus is our Lord and Savior … but I want to suggest in this sermon this evening, that there is so much more to being a Christian, a follower of our Lord Jesus the Christ.
And I want to further suggest that it is only when we really realise who Jesus is,
that we may come to understand that there is more to being a Christian.
Or, to put it another way, unless we understand who Jesus is, we will not be true Christians, true followers of our Lord Jesus.
And now I will be very brave and make one last suggestion here: …even Peter and James and John, did not always understand who Jesus was, and certainly, when we meet them here in our text, they are still not quite clear on who Jesus is – they are still very much under the influence of the sinful world!
Luke, you will remember, is writing especially to the gentiles, to convince them that Jesus is Lord of all, of the Jews and the Gentiles alike, and that through faith in Him, all who believe will share in His kingdom.
In our passage, another dimension comes to the fore again…that that Kingdom, has already been established.
Luke is saying that at Jesus’ death and resurrection, the New Heaven and the New Earth has already come!
To zoom in to our text, Luke, writing in retrospection of course – he says so himself as he writes the introduction to his gospel - is clearly showing that Jesus is Lord, and that all that He set out to achieve, namely the establishment of His kingdom, has now been delivered and confirmed:
he does so by looking back, as we will see, all the way to the Old Testament,
and he confirms it by pointing forward, to the death and resurrection of Jesus.
And he is saying, whether you are a Jew or a gentile, you have to be really foolish to keep on kicking against the nettles,
like many of course still did when Jesus climbed towards the heights of that mountain with Peter James and John on that day…
and as many still do today, in spite of 2000 years of evangelism and teaching and so many signs and miracles, even today….
Luke, by the way, for the sake of our better understanding, is here again writing a travel narrative, as he so fondly does
– he constantly relates the gospel to where Jesus finds himself on a particular journey, starting off with the foretelling of Jesus birth in Chapter 1, and Jesus’ journey culminating in Jesus’ walk to the Cross.
(See chapter beginnings)
…here in the beginning of this section of Chapter 9 of Luke, he is taking the three disciples up a mountain and showing his readers, (showing… rather than telling, because his story will become very graphical) showing his readers who were there when it all happened; what it was that happened on that mountain…and what it means.
In this chapter, right from the beginning, we see in Luke’s tight writing, his attention for detail, when he places his narration within a set timeline: and this is important…
Remember, he says, all of this is happening “eight days” after Jesus said something very important:
a week before all of this, Luke says, Jesus said…
23: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? 26 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”
Now Peter and John and James would still have remembered these words.
And here they are now, in Jesus’ presence, and they are about to experience something quite remarkable:
Remember, they are probably still trying to figure out what it meant when Jesus said “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
They know what the cross means: it means pain and suffering and even death…this is what they will have to consider suffering if they want to follow Jesus.
But, to understand the full implication of what this means, they have to fully understand who Jesus is.
And, let’s be frank, like in our minds so often, the disciples, in their minds, may be followers of Jesus, but the Messiah is still some future vagueness, a promise still to be fulfilled …so they do not have to think to hard yet on what it will mean to follow Jesus the way he wants us to follow Him! That’s stuff for the future, when the Messiah is actually here among us, isn’t it?
And then they see Jesus praying, and suddenly, his face and clothes became gloriously, brilliantly radiant! This, brothers and sisters, is no natural phenomenon!
And hardly has that happened – they are still blinking their eyes…
and now Moses and Elijah appear …
and they start discussing with Jesus …his departure….
meaning, also, the dawning of God’s promised Kingdom.
But before that happens, Jesus would have to suffer immeasurably!
Can you see it? Jesus has spelled out the suffering that can be expected of those who want to follow Him, those chosen by God in His mercy…and the things that are happening here now seems to be pointing to them and what awaits them as much as it does to Jesus being the Messiah!
And the moment becomes a bit more than Peter and James and John can bear…
and they duck off to go and have a nap…
Meanwhile, Jesus is in talks with Moses and Elijah…
The full meaning of the importance of what they are discussing, namely His departure, does not come through as effectively in the English translation of Luke’s gospel.
The NIV says they were discussing his departure
(the King James version says…His “decease”)
but it is in the Greek that the full meaning of what is actually being discussed here, comes to the fore:
the Greek word refers rather to Jesus’ Exodus…and this is significant in two ways:
for one, it refers back to the Exodus from Egypt, when God set Israel free from slavery;
and for another, it refers obviously forward to Jesus’ Passion, as is immediately reinforced by verse 33, where Luke explains what they were talking about when he says “which He was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.”
Moses and Elijah are in talks with Jesus with the advantage of 20/20 hindsight: they now understand what the Exodus from Egypt was all about, the setting free of God’s people for His glory alone … but they also understand that Jesus will have to go all the way to the cross and beyond for God’s final purpose for all of creation, namely to His glory and honour and us as His subjects in a world once again free from sin and suffering.
That is what they are discussing with Him.
They are there, no doubt, encouraging Jesus! For if Jesus does not go to the cross – exactly the outcome Peter and James and John are hoping for when Peter suggest they build three huts and remain there on the mountain - then God’s purpose will not have been achieved. And the devil would have celbrated!
In this regard, verse 33 links to verse 22, where Jesus is speaking the important words previously mentioned, and saying then: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
Can you see it brothers and sisters, Luke is spelling it out that Jesus is the Messiah, and that even the great Peter and James and John, may be missing the point.
And now Luke is begging his readers not to miss the point, too.
Now might be a good time to ask…but why it is Moses and Elijah that are here with Jesus:
As always Luke foregrounds the significance of the presence of these two by moving them well up into this section. And he places added significance in them by putting them there on that mountain exactly when Peter and James and John are there and who sees them.
They become. In effect, witnesses of the gospel.
Luke is, with other words, again saying something of who Jesus is:
this is the Messiah, long awaited by the Jews, now finally come for the salvation of the gentiles and the Jews alike – Jesus! Lord of all!
You see, according to Jewish tradition, Moses and Elijah were expected to return before the advent of the kingdom. Peter and James and John would have known all about this.
Luke’s readers would have understood this. They would also have understood the reference to Jesus’ “exodus”. Within the context Luke’s readers would have known it refers primarily to His passion, but also, that the resurrection of Jesus is also implied, thus, and as such, the advent of the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom so long already expected by the Jews.
What follows in this very concise chapter, is an interesting glimpse of how Peter and James and John, still very much under the control of Satan, try to resolve the problem…
When the three return from their nap, Moses and Elijah are just about to depart again. And now Peter, who you will remember not too long ago was the one who thrice confirmed his love for Jesus, realises he may have missed something rather important and he does some damage control.
But he is caught up in the here and now. He does not understand the full implication of the Transfiguration.
So what does he do….?
Peter suggests building three booths for the great men who are present!
That’s Peter’s short term plan.
And a plan not without merit, one might add, just before we snicker at Peter…
You see, in Peter suggesting that they build the three huts, he wants to ensure that they will stay there on the mountain for as long as possible, and the disciples would of course stay there with them – like a private little future Kingdom, so to speak.
Yes, he says, lets build three huts, one for Jesus, one for Moses, one for Elijah – and hurry, because they are about to leave
– what better way to sidestep the world with all of its sin and toil and strife... safe in the arms of Jesus up on that mountain with the sinfull world somewhere below them!
We may see some of this in ourselves ... when we find a place where we are removed from problems and strife, we too are inclined to want to stay at that place, aren’t we?
When Peter contemplates the design of those huts… he misses the significance of the event that he is witnessing, on two fronts:
Firstly, the point is that Jesus is absolutely superior to Moses and Elijah. Jesus is the Messiah. By suggesting three huts, Peter is putting Jesus on a level footing with Moses and Elijah…and Jesus is Lord, not a great prophet from the past, not the great law giver, but Lord of all, even Moses and Elijah
– that, by the way, is why they Moses and Elijah, will soon depart again. They do not have to…they cannot bear the sins of the world like Jesus will have to do.
They are not God!
But Jesus is. God’s own voice confirms this when he commands them to listen to Jesus, stressing again that Jesus is God’s final and definitive revelation.
And this scene reminds strongly, of course, of Jesus’ baptism (Luke describes it in chapter 3:21–22), where Jesus is also called God’s chosen Son.
But Peter misses this…
What else does he miss?
He misses the fact that Jesus is Lord of all, not to be monopolized by a few who think their faith to be something they may lay claim to as being from themselves;
or as if, because they have faith, God, becomes their personal god, one whom they may house in a hut of their own making;
No!, Luke is saying. To serve our lord Jesus, we have to be like Him – not Him like us who dwell in houses (Remember…the foxes has holes, but the Son of Man…).
To be like Jesus, we will have to be prepared to sacrifice of ourselves for the sakes of others, and for that we need to go back into the world – not remain on the mountain – we have to come down from that mountain again, just as Jesus has to come down from that mountain to climb to the top of another Mountain, Golgotha, paying for the sake of many with His own blood on the cross.
This is the love I expect of you, too.
Remember Peter…remember John, remember James…What did I say barely a week ago, asks Jesus by implication in the context of this passage within Luke? “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
You see, as long as we are on the mountain (and a great place it is to be) we do not have to come down again, to the world at large again, to serve our fellow beings, our neighbours, even our enemies, we need make no sacrifices...
For us to share in this Kingdom, it is impossible to stay on the mounatin, or to stay in our little corner of our religious expereince, our little corner of our little church, that safe little corner that so much resembles a hut from where we don’t have to speak to one other, do not have to take more than a casual interest in each other – no! says Jesus!
“To follow me you must serve one another. This is who I am; this is how I want you to be. Do you not recognise me in being like this?”
“Then, perhaps, you don’t really know me?”
And that, brothers and sisters, is what was revealed on the mountain: it is in a sense a summary of the gospel of Luke, writing in his usual travel narrative style.
It is story of the journey that Jesus walked, starting at his birth, stopping along the way at places where he would do miracles, places where he would teach the people about the glory of God, the Love of God, and which will end with Jesus departing to be with God from where He is preparing a room for you and...
In conclusion then…
Brothers and sisters, by the grace of God, we may know who Jesus is; No, we do know who Jesus is (even as well as Luke knew who Jesus was):
isn’t it time we come down from the mountain ...and go into the world again.
Jesus did come down from the mountain.
And he did so while many people were hiding, are still hiding, in their huts and on their own mountains.
And look around. Many have slammed the door to their huts shut!
They are blocking their ears and covering their eyes for the truth of the love of our Lord for us, who wanted us to be loving and caring towards each other, just like He was towards us.
Will we cover our eyes for the hardship of others? Will we block our ears for the many
who by the very way their live their lives cry out to get to know Jesus ... like the boy who challenged that Jews for Jesus?
We are part of a community brothers and sisters, we cannot escape that truth.
We are part of the community of the Kingdom of God, and as such we should live our lives according to the constitution of the Kingdom of God, which says, quite simply – to love God above all…and to love our neighbour as ourselves.
May God give us the wisdom to travel often up the mountain towards a full understanding of Him, wanting to be with Him;
And May God give us the strength to come down from the mountain again…and to serve the community of our Lord Jesus.
If we do, we may surely know that God will be there for us when the time comes, to welcome us into his kingdom, to welcome us forever back into his presence on that most glorious mountain of all, where our huts have already been prepared.
May this happen quickly.