Over the past few weeks we have heard Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It has had some challenging commands like turning the other cheek and loving your enemy. We heard that being angry breaks the command “do not murder”. They were hard and challenging. Now we hear one more command directly from God himself. And while it may not seem that difficult on the outside, as we live out our lives it can become quite difficult and challenging. The command was: This is my Son; listen to him!”
There are times when it is easy to listen to Jesus. When he says things that we agree with like: God loves the world so much that he sent his one and only son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. When Jesus says – I am the resurrection and the life whoever believes in me shall not die but live forever. These are quite easy to listen to and take to heart.
But it was some of the challenging things in his Sermon on the Mount that made it difficult to “listen to him”.
Things like: Seeking reconciliation instead of revenge, Loving your enemies, Praying for those who hate you, Giving to the needy without expecting a reward, Not judging others. These are not so easy to “listen to him”.
The Transfiguration was to give Peter, James and John strength during those times when it was difficult to keep following Jesus and listening to him. How did it give strength? By revealing the true identity of Jesus as God’s Son by showing them his glory. So that despite what their eyes are about to see when Jesus is arrested and put to death; Despite what they themselves are going to experience after Jesus’ death including rejection and persecution – they know that what they believe in and what they are witnessing to is God’s power and glory that is hidden behind rejection and unbelief in the world.
From here the next step of Jesus’ mission journey was the walk to the cross. Peter had already signalled to Jesus that he did not want to go down that path – and who could blame him when Jesus told his disciples that he must be handed over to be put to death: Peter didn’t listen to Jesus. He wanted things to stay the same with the crowds cheering Jesus on.
He wanted Jesus to listen to him. “Never Lord – this shall never happen to you”! (Matthew 16:22). So too, when Peter experienced the Transfiguration on the mountain top seeing Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah he was more than happy to stay there: He wanted Jesus to listen to him. 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 (Matthew 17:4).
It’s easy to think like Peter and try to take a snapshot of life and stay there. And when life changes it’s tempting to look back and wish things were the way they used to be. Israel was a perfect example. As soon as their wilderness journey got difficult they complained wishing they had not listened to Moses and wanted to go back to Egypt. Even though the work was backbreaking slavery, knowing that their stomachs would be filled was worth it. Likewise, going forward for us can be difficult too.
Things are changing in the church – they’re not what they used to be. We don’t have the young ones taking up leadership roles. We don’t have the amount of people worshiping as we used to. We pine for the way things used to be. Do you remember when we had dozens in our Sunday School? Do you remember when we had big Confirmation classes? Do you remember when our children willingly came to church? Do you remember when we sang the liturgy every Sunday to the pipe organ?
It’s easy to become disheartened about the future when we pine for the past. It is so tempting to listen to other voices that sound so convincing about how things should be done. Those voices have been there from the beginning of time trying to convince us to go our own way rather than listen to God. It began with Adam and Eve who were tempted to not listen to God when Satan created doubt in them listening to God: “did God really say” (Genesis 3:1) It continued with the voice of Satan trying to get Jesus to listen to him – “if you are the Son of God turn these rocks into bread (Matthew 4:3). The voices continued and intensified as Satan pulled out every last trick to get Jesus to listen to him – “if you are the Son of God come down from the cross and we’ll believe in you” (Matthew 27:42). And the voices continue today which have led many people away from the church. “The church is irrelevant – you’ve got better things to do – you’re too busy – you can worship God without the church – the bible is 2000 years old – the bible is written by men, not God”
St Peter reminds us that we need to clearly listen to God’s voice over against what he calls myths. He says: We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, (2 Peter 1:16)
Notice he calls them “cleverly devised myths”. These are not voices that sound way out and farfetched. No, like the simple doubting question of Satan to Eve – did God really say, so too these other words can sound so tempting. Even words such as – “it’s the 21st Century” – “everyone’s doing it” – it’s not really that bad – just try it”.
We need to be, more than ever, attuned to God’s word so we can discern whether or not it is God’s word speaking to us. We need to immerse ourselves in God’s word so we know that it is God speaking and when it’s not God’s voice we’re listening to. So sometimes it’s not that it’s difficult to listen to Jesus but rather it is difficult to discern whether or not it is Jesus we’re listening to. And sadly many Christians today are reading a lot of Christian books but not their bibles – so it’s very easy to be led astray. The books are good because they write into contemporary times but we always need to keep going back to God’s Word which is also written for contemporary times as Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. It’s so easy to listen to cleverly devised myths and believe that it’s God speaking because it sounds so good and true.
But we need God’s Word to be the foundation because only God’s Word provides comfort and strength during times of difficulty. That’s why God said – Listen to HIM.
Peter and the disciples were not going to find their strength after Jesus’ death from a cleverly devised myth no matter how great it sounded. When we are going through the depths of despair and facing real difficult challenges in life, the latest words of inspiration from the latest guru are not going to help us. Just think over the years how many different programs and ideas and self-help programs have been introduced in the church that are sitting on our shelves with piles of dust on them. Sadly, too many of our bibles are also gathering dust and we need to get them out and begin reading them again.
The Transfiguration is about sending us back to our beginnings because we tend to go off track so easily. And so the message at the Transfiguration is identical to the message that was spoken at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry – his baptism; This is my son whom I love.(Matthew 3:17) As much as the world is changing and as much as the church is changing to keep its message relevant it also needs to be grounded in Jesus. And as much as we would like the church to remain the same it must also go into the world with its message. And so Jesus told Peter he couldn’t stay there on the mountain top. They needed to go back down into the valley where there was work to do. The work of bringing God’s word to the people.
And so too we come here each week to experience the mountain top presence of God in his Word and Sacrament and we do it to strengthen us to go out into the world. But Jesus doesn’t send us alone. Just as he went down the mountain with Peter, James and John, so too he comes with us. And that’s why God said – listen to him. Because he is with you and he wants you to listen to him as he encourages you and gives you hope.
There will be other voices competing but remember – those voices didn’t die for you. Only Jesus has your interests at heart. But to listen to him you need to be where his word is spoken – in his word – in prayer – in worship. As you begin your Lenten journey this week may Jesus’ voice guide you and strengthen you for your journey throughout the 40 days of Lent and always..