The transfiguration can be understood as a fulfillment of Jesus’ previous word that some would see him coming into his kingdom. Before Peter, James and John, Jesus shone like the sun and his clothes became white like light. Elijah and Moses also appeared with him. When a cloud enveloped the three disciples, a voice informed them that Jesus was his beloved son, then the disciples fell down in fear. However, after Jesus touched them and they looked up, Jesus was alone with them. His first words to them were not to be afraid. A similar response is seen in Revelation, when John encountered Jesus standing in the middle of the lampstands. When John fell down as a dead man, Jesus touched him and told him not to be afraid. Throughout Scripture fear is a common response to God’s presence in our lives. While the sight is obviously overwhelming, Jesus’ common response to the disciples not to be afraid reminds us that it is not necessary or even pleasing to God for us to fall down in fear at his appearance. Moses and Elijah also had similar responses when they encountered the presence of God. Although they did not fall down in fear, they did hid their faces. We need to remember the type of fear that the disciples exhibited is not the same as what we are taught in Scripture as “the fear of the Lord”. “The fear of the Lord” refers to respect and honor, which are appropriate, but not terror which overwhelms us and our strength abandons us. Although it may be a normal reaction for us to be overwhelmed and fearful in the presence of God, we should remind ourselves that Scripture teaches us that perfect love drives out fear. While it is appropriate to fall down in worship, fear has no part of that worship. In other words, because of Jesus’ great love for us there is no longer any need for us to hide ourselves from him. Fear and shame have been defeated!
The episode of Jesus and Peter walking on the water illustrates how we often live our lives. After sending the disciples in the boat to cross the lake, Jesus sent the crowds away and retired to a mountain to pray. In the middle of the night, as the disciples were struggling to cross against a contrary wind and waves, Jesus began walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Jesus, they assumed he was a ghost, but Jesus reassured them, telling them not to fear and to have courage. However, Peter called out to him saying that if it truly was him to call him out so that he could walk to him on the water. Jesus commanded him to come, so Peter stepped out of the boat and began walking to Jesus. While Peter looked at Jesus, he walked on the water, until he began looking at the waves all around him and he began to sink. When he cried out to Jesus to save him, Jesus reached out and pulled him up, asking him why his faith was so little.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to live our lives in communion with him; however Jesus warned us that we would encounter tribulation, literally pressure in our life, but to take courage, because Jesus has overcome the world. Courage is what Jesus tells us to have and it is what he told the disciples to have that stormy night. As long as we practice what Jesus said, that we trust him and exercise courage as we daily live with him, we are fine. However, we tend not to do that, we tend to look at the problems, or the tribulation as Jesus put it, and we become anxious. We begin running all kinds of “what if” scenarios over and over in our minds and our anxiety increases. This is what Peter did as he walked on the water, he began looking at the waves, which in this case was his problem, and he began to consider what might happen to him. Then he began to sink. That is also what happens to us when we begin to focus on the problems around us. Our problem is not really the problem itself, but our focus is misplaced. It is not that we are unaware of the problems, rather we don’t focus on them. Instead we keep looking to Jesus and expecting the solution to come from him. As we learn to live in this manner, anxiety is greatly reduced in our life. More than that, the more that we mature to the point of actually believing what Jesus said, our trials can become points of excitement as we see them as opportunities to see Jesus’ power revealed in the solutions to those trials.
When Jesus healed a demonized blind and mute man, the people wondered if he was the son of David, that is the Messiah, but the Pharisees shut them down saying that he cast out demons by the power of Beelzebub, the chief of demons, that is by Satan. Jesus easily demonstrated the error of their argument. First, if Satan were casting out Satan, then he was destroying his own kingdom. Second, if Jesus cast out demons by Satan, then by what power did the Pharisees also cast out demons? Jesus, implied that the Pharisees themselves accessed the same power he did in order to cast out demons. Then Jesus revealed how it was done. The strong man, Satan, had to be bound first, before his house could be plundered. Jesus implied that Satan had already been bound, so that Jesus and others could cast out demons. Finally Jesus explained the consequences of the Pharisees’ conclusions, that they were committing blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. They thought they were only criticizing/condemning Jesus, but in fact they were attributing the activity of the Holy Spirit manifested through Jesus to Satan himself. Jesus clarified that this sin would not be forgiven, while all sin against Jesus himself could be forgiven. The question of this is why?
We know from Scripture, that no one can come to Jesus without the drawing of the Holy Spirit, but if that very drawing and testimony is viewed to be of Satan, then it is impossible for that person to repent, because of the magnitude of their deception. In other words, if a person sees the light, but concludes that it is actually darkness and therefore rejects the light he remains in true darkness. By so doing, that person prevents himself from actually living in the light. This is what the Pharisees were doing, by their rejection of the light of the Holy Spirit, they were choosing to remain in darkness, hence their sin would not be forgiven.
What does this mean for us? There may be times when we fail to comprehend what the Spirit of God is doing. Before placing judgment on that activity or what someone may be doing, we should seek to gain further understanding. This might mean further study of Scripture and will surely mean seeking wisdom in prayer to understand or at least know how to respond to what is taking place, rather than declaring something demonic or heretical just because it doesn’t fit with our theological paradigm. Throughout church history much damage has been done to the body of Christ, because one group of Christians has condemned the practice or beliefs of others, simply because they didn’t agree or didn’t understand what the Spirit of God was doing.
The Pharisees’ claim that Jesus cast out demons by the power of the prince of demons reveals the absurd lengths to which unbelief will go. Jesus’ response demonstrated the absurdity of this explanation. If Satan were attacking his own forces then how could his kingdom stand? One’s forces are only attacked by an opposing force, which in this case was Jesus. Jesus’ power over demons demonstrated that the Kingdom of God had come and was establishing its power over the kingdom of darkness. The people understood this, but the educated refused to accept it. This is often the case, because the educated are invested so heavily in the status quo. A change in the status quo meant that their positions were now at risk. In opposing Jesus, these Pharisees were actually promoting the continuation of Satan’s domain, rather than joining Jesus in bringing it down. This is the problem with the educated, who become comfortable with their situation that they fail to see how change can bring about something unprecedented and good, because they fear losing what they have. In so doing, they can end up supporting what they once opposed to keep what they currently know and have.
If we are to continue to grow, it also means that we must consider the possibility that our current understanding is inadequate and in need of growth. As the Pharisees illustrate, it is comfortable for all of us to maintain the status quo in our lives, because we have grown accustomed to it. Change requires effort and exploring the unknown, which can and often does produce discomfort, but growth is also one of the great joys of following Jesus. While he does lead us into the unknown, he will not lead us their by ourselves, he will go with us. If the great joy of the Christian life is knowing Jesus, and it is, then allowing Jesus to lead us into unknown territory will also provide us a new opportunity to know him better. Therefore we should never allow the discomfort of change or the realization that our current understanding of God’s kingdom is inadequate to stop us from continuing to follow Jesus.
After Jesus called Matthew to follow him, he went to his house and ate with him and other tax collectors. The Pharisees were offended by Jesus’ action, because they operated on an Old Testament paradigm that they would be defiled if they associated with sinners. With the coming of Jesus, that view became upside down. Jesus willingly associated with sinners; he touched lepers and others who were sick with fevers and other diseases with no fear of being defiled or becoming sick. Jesus’ example revealed the right-side up view of the Kingdom of God. It is never wrong to care for the needy or the sick, there is no longer any fear of being defiled by another person, because the only way we can be defiled is if we defile ourselves. This is what Jesus addressed in the Sermon on the Mount, that we are only defiled from our own hearts that generate wicked behavior. When Jesus addresses our hearts, then we no longer have to worry about our behavior, because our behavior flows from what is in our hearts.
Solomon advised wise counsel when he wrote to guard our hearts because it is the wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23). This is also why Augustine would later write, to love God and do as you please. While Augustine’s statement is counterintuitive is does reflect the transformation of Jesus’ Kingdom in our lives. Our love for God changes our heart’s desires so that what we please is also what pleases God. We can do what we please, because what we desire is what God’s also desires, because his Spirit has transformed and continues to transform our hearts. The Pharisees followed an outside to inside mode of transformation, which doesn’t work, because our behavior cannot transform our heart. On the other hand, as we cooperate with the Holy Spirit in heart transformation, our behavior is also transformed. Jesus revealed an inside to outside transformation, which then transforms our life and impacts those around us.
The healing of the paralytic was a sign to skeptics that Jesus and men had authority on earth to forgive sins. The scribes who questioned Jesus’ statement that the paralytic’s sins were forgiven, were said to have had evil thoughts. Jesus told the scribes that they would know that the Son of Man had authority on earth to forgive sins, when he told the paralytic to pick up his mat and walk. When the former paralytic did so, it was a sign and proof that Jesus, the Son of Man, had authority on earth to forgive sins. Questioning and then judging the work of the Holy Spirit is evil. We may not understand it, like the crowd who responded with fear and glory to God, but we should avoid skeptical condemnation, “this is blasphemy” which is evil. We are to cooperate with the work of the Spirit, not judge or condemn it. The problem with these scribes was their hardness of heart, which blinded them to the work of the Spirit. In place of spiritual sight, they substituted knowledge of the law. It can be the same for us, who study Scripture or theology, we spend so much time studying that we fail to hear and see what the Holy Spirit is doing and so judge (and maybe condemn) what we see with our knowledge and our own interpretation of Scripture. We need both a knowledge of Scripture and a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s working. Jesus said that true worshipers worship God in Spirit and truth. These scribes only had truth, but lacked a knowledge of the Holy Spirit’s work and so their thoughts became evil.
So what are we to do? We need to make sure that our pursuit of knowledge is not merely intellectual, but is motivated by a desire to know Jesus and our Father more deeply. We are to pause, ask and listen to discern what the Holy Spirit is saying to us through the words of Scripture, rather than building up our knowledge of Scripture or theology as an end in itself, while assuming that our own interpretation of Scripture is 100% correct, leaving no room for us to learn and grow.
There is a bit of irony in Jesus’ calming the wind and the waves. As he was sleeping, the disciples came to him, awakened him and out of fear called to him to save them for they were perishing. Jesus got up and first rebuked their little faith, then he calmed the wind and the sea. What is ironic about this account is that the disciples were amazed at Jesus’ power and authority. Sometimes we underestimate the power of Jesus and are surprised when he does what we had never imagined. The disciples probably expected Jesus to join them in their efforts to escape the storm, because it never occurred to them that Jesus would actually calm the storm. When he did calm the storm, they were utterly shocked.
Shortly after we moved to San Diego, my wife, Donelle, and I were visiting neighborhoods and exploring the area. I remember walking around a particular neighborhood standing by a community pool and looking at the homes across the street. At one point, Donelle mentioned that this would be a lovely neighborhood in which to live. I agreed that it was lovely, but I thought to myself that it was more than we could ever afford and didn’t give it another thought. Several months later, we received a large and unexpected inheritance, which enabled us to purchase a home in that very same neighborhood and swim in that pool. Now, when we go to that pool, I am reminded of my “little faith” in what Jesus could do.
The response of the religious leaders after Jesus’ death reveals a curious phenomenon that takes place in those who do not believe what Jesus said. The day following Jesus’ death and after he was buried, the religious leaders went to Pilate requesting that the tomb be guarded and sealed. Their reason? They remembered that Jesus had earlier said that he would rise from the dead after three days. Although they didn’t believe Jesus’ words, they understood them and remembered them, so that they took action. They feared the disciples would come and steal Jesus’ body in order to make it look like Jesus had risen from the dead. The leaders also feared that the disciples then would go and preach his resurrection to the people to deceive them. The religious leaders took action in order to prevent this from happening.
The irony is that those who didn’t believe Jesus took to heart his words and took action, while those who did believe in Jesus completely forgot the words that Jesus had given them, to give them hope, and instead wallowed in despair and unbelief. What turned out, in spite of all the religious leaders’ precautions, was that Jesus did rise from the dead; he changed the disciples’ despair and mourning into joy. Then they went out and preached Jesus’ resurrection and turned the Roman world upside down. For the first time to that point in history, the powerless in the world’s eyes prevailed and transformed the powerful. Even today those who advocate for the rights of minorities and powerless groups reveal that they have been influenced by Jesus’ message, even though they may deny believing him. Up until Jesus, no religion or society advocated for women, children or minority groups. After Jesus, those cultures impacted by his message have seen some people in power advocating for the weak, rather than abusing them.
What this story reveals is that opposition to God’s kingdom cannot stop it any more than the religious leaders’ efforts to guard the tomb could prevent Jesus’ resurrection. On the other hand, unbelief in believers does not stop the advance of the kingdom either. However, when believers do take to heart what Jesus said, they are spared great despair and are empowered to encourage others while they see God’s kingdom expand.
Jesus’ crucifixion reveals the sad and surprising degradation of man. Pilate realized Jesus was innocent, yet yielded to the jealousy of the leaders and perverted justice. Thinking to preserve his own position, he revealed how unworthy he was of it. In so doing, Pilate reveals the addictive power of an exalted position. Once attained a leader may do unwise, foolish and even evil things in order to preserve that position. The soldiers took advantage of an innocent individual because they didn’t believe or understand who he was. They perverted their power and used it to cause suffering on a person in a weaker position simply for their own entertainment. They reveal the common human tendency to use humor at the expense of another person. Often a person, who is not in a position to respond or clarify, but forced to laugh, while swallowing down the hurt. The religious leaders of the day, used their power and position in order to destroy a person whom they perceived to be a threat to them. They allowed their jealousy and anger to rule. Even today, we see people in positions of power attacking others seeking to destroy the reputation of those with whom they disagree, using ridicule and spinning the facts in order to discredit their opponents. As the common man ridiculed Jesus as they passed by, we need not look very far in today’s world to see people ridiculing others with whom they disagree. The people despised Jesus because they perceived weakness in his being crucified. When their own hopes for Jesus were not fulfilled they turned on him. They reveal to us the all too common response when people become disillusioned; they turn against what they thought would help them. The one thief crucified with Jesus poured upon Jesus his insults out of the bitterness of his own suffering. Only one individual, a thief dying with Jesus revealed a hope for humanity. As he died with all hope lost for this world, he placed his hope and trust in Jesus. While in one scene, we observe all the defects of humanity in the reactions of the people toward Jesus, we also see the one hope for humanity in the response of a dying man who had lived a misguided life. All those who should have believed in Jesus abandoned him, but one who should never have believed did. In him we also observe the mystery of God’s working in, through and with humanity. Even in the darkest moments there is hope! Even when the majority seems to have lost their collective mind, one small voice will continue to speak the truth. For that we can rejoice and be thankful.
On my last post, I concluded with a question: how do we live out Jesus’ instruction to pray this day for our daily bread? As I mentioned, Jesus’ instruction to pray for our daily bread completely transforms the reason for which we work. While God may use our work to provide for our daily needs, our reason for working is different. We work to expand God’s kingdom, according to what Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” Recently I was driving to work on a Monday morning and feeling blue, I pondered why I was feeling blue. If work was to be an opportunity to expand God’s kingdom, then why should I feel blue on a Monday morning or any workday morning for that matter? It occurred to me how far I still needed to go to change my own perspective of work. I realized that my view of work was still quite similar to that of the world. Back in the 1960’s a new restaurant started on the east coast, by the mid 1970’s it was also on the west coast. In college I worked at Sears, in the same shopping center where I worked this restaurant opened. It’s name? TGI Friday’s, meaning “Thank God it’s Friday”. That is an interesting name. Why wasn’t it called “TGI Monday’s”? Well, there is a good reason; probably no one would go to a restaurant with that name. Friday represents the last day of the traditional work week when people go out to eat and drink to celebrate the beginning of the weekend, when they don’t have to work. Monday is typically not a day of celebration. The celebration of the end of the work week has a very Old Testament view, related to man eating his bread by the sweat of his brow according to the curse on the land in Genesis 3. The TGI Friday mentality considers work to be burdensome, rather than invigorating, as Jesus transformed work to be. It occurred to me on that Monday morning driving to work, that the battle is not outside of me, but inside of me. This is why the apostle Paul instructs us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds and not be conformed to this world. (Romans 12:1-2) What I need is to be transformed in my thinking each day that I go to work. I need to rethink the way I consider work, and not just how I think about it, but in how I feel about it; it is an opportunity, not a burden. So how do we live according to what Jesus taught? One aspect of that is to take stock of how we think about our work and how we live out each day. Are we living in the present, focusing on the needs of that day or are we letting cares for tomorrow enter in? Jesus instructs us to stay focused on each day, because it has enough for us to think about. When we reach that point we can live, TGI Today.
I invite you on this journey with me being transformed by the renewing of the mind.