March 3, 2019
This message is based on an outline provided by J.D. Walt for the Listen to Him Lenten study series.
A lot has happened since we left Jesus preaching on a level place last week. He has traveled all over Galilee, healing, casting out demons, preaching and teaching about the Kingdom of God – and it seems that everywhere he goes, the Pharisees are on his trail. They question him and challenge him. They invite him to dinner, and then criticize him to the other guests. Those Pharisees…
By the time we get from chapter six – where we left off last week – to today’s reading in chapter 9, Jesus has even raised a young girl from the dead. He has fed 5000 people and calmed a storm in the middle of the lake. He has sent out his apostles on their first mission trip, and explained that whoever wants to follow Jesus must deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow him. Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for his sake will save it.
And then he tells them something really amazing. Jesus says, “there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Kingdom of God.” (9:27) He isn’t predicting that some of the disciples will live until the second coming. He’s telling them about an event that is just around the corner.
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.
Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” — not knowing what he said.
While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. (Luke 9:28-36)
Today is Transfiguration Sunday, the last Sunday before the season of Lent begins. This is more than the marking of time. It is movement in a journey. This mountaintop event is not isolated as a stand-alone story. This is part of the larger story. It is intentionally connected to what came before in verses 18–27, where Jesus declares that he is the Messiah, sent to die, and following him requires the same from us.
Let’s get our bearings. It’s been a little more than a week since Jesus has had that conversation about taking up crosses and denying ourselves. But there was something else going on there that I didn’t mention before. This was also the conversation when Jesus asked, “who do people say that I am?” after his disciples got back from their preaching trips. You might remember that Jesus listens to all their answers, and then asks the zinger question, “But what about you … Who do you say that I am?” (v. 20)
It’s a good question for each one of us as we embark on this journey. Listen to him ask you this question, “Who do you say that I am?”
What do you say to him?
- “Jesus, you are my eternal life insurance policy,” or perhaps,
- “Jesus, you are my helper or my guide,” or maybe,
- “Jesus, you are my Savior,” or,
- “Jesus, you are my God.”
- “Jesus, you are my life, my all in all, my . . .”
Where are you with Jesus today? And why is this important? Because however we identify him in our life determines how carefully we will listen to him.
We begin today on the Mount of Transfiguration. But we cannot stay here. Jesus is on a mission that will lead him toward Jerusalem and, ultimately, to the cross. So let’s zoom out for a moment, to get the full picture.
Two men, Moses and Elijah, appear in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.
This scene immediately draws us back to key turning points in Israel’s history. Moses led the people out of Egypt and spent 40 days on the mountaintop with God (Exodus 20). Elijah represents all of the prophets who have spoken God’s truth. Elijah also encountered God on the same mountaintop where Moses met him (1 Kings 19:11-13).
Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the Prophets. The people of Israel would refer to God’s Word as “the Law and the Prophets” when speaking of his collected revelation to his people. Their presence is a symbol of all of God’s covenants and promises and wisdom. And here we see them stationed on each side of Jesus, the One they were pointing to all along.
The disciples were in awe of Moses and Elijah. Moses and Elijah were in awe of Jesus. He is the Word who is completion and fulfillment of every word that came before. The disciples will soon recognize that they have seen the glory of God revealed, just as surely as Moses and Elijah did.
Verse 32 tells us, “Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.” Other versions word it a little differently. Instead of “since they had stayed awake,” those versions say, “when they became fully awake, they saw his glory.” In other words, the disciples were getting drowsy, just as they would in the garden of Gethsemane. But something woke them up. It was the glory of God, revealed in their friend, Jesus.
. . . when they became fully awake, they saw his glory . . .
Even though they are in the presence of his unrestrained glory, they haven’t yet seen it. Because they are not yet awake. The glory is there. They are just not aware of it.
This journey of Lent is an invitation to become awake. His glory is breaking in all around us, all the time. Do we have the eyes to see it? What is keeping you distracted? What is numbing your senses? What is lulling you to sleep? What will it take to become awake?
I grew up in a pretty fundamentalist Baptist home. We believed ‘once saved, always saved’ but if you weren’t saved the way we were saved, you weren’t really saved. My best friend, Coleen, came from a Catholic family that lived at the other end of our block. We could walk to school together, because the Catholic school was right across the street from my elementary school.
One afternoon, on the way home from school, Coleen and I got into a fight. We were each convinced that the other one was going to Hell. Coleen was sure that I was going to Hell because I had not been baptized when I was a baby. I was just as convinced that she was going to Hell because she HAD been baptized as a baby, and that baptism hadn’t be a real baptism because her head had not gone under the water. You know, the way you’re supposed to be baptized.
We were yelling at each other as we walked home together, screaming louder and louder that the other one was certainly going to Hell. We came to a corner where we had to stop and look both ways for traffic. Maybe it was because our feet had to stop, but we were suddenly both silent as we did the “stop, look, and listen before you cross the street” thing. And then Coleen said something that ended our argument. She said, “You know, we can’t both be right, and I don’t want either one of us to be wrong.” “Well, what if we’re both wrong?” I asked.
I suddenly realized that the way people are baptized isn’t nearly as important as deciding to follow Jesus in the first place. It was like waking up from a dream where you dream that you’re already awake. I think that’s what those disciples felt like. They thought they’d been awake, but they didn’t become fully awake until they recognized Jesus in his glory.
Are you fully awake? So many of us are living in a season of life where we find ourselves tired and so prone to drifting off to sleep. It’s easy to be lulled into a kind of stupor – we aren’t really asleep, but we aren’t fully awake, either. We let ourselves drift, and we can get caught up in arguments over things that don’t have anything to do with following Jesus, thinking we know the only right way to be a Christian.
The voice from Heaven is still saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen;
listen to him.”
To follow Jesus requires obeying him, which requires hearing him, which requires listening to him. As simple as that might sound, this is the heart of our journey together through the coming season of Lent. We will seek to listen to him. We will avoid the temptation of believing we know what he meant. We will lean in to what he actually said. We will hang on his words and ask them to challenge us, shape us, break us, and heal us.
To listen to someone means to pay attention to what they say—to their words. Over the course of our lifetime, we all do a lot of talking. How many words would you estimate the average person speaks in their lifetime?
Get a number in your mind. By one expert estimate, the average person speaks 860,341,500 words over the course of a lifetime.
Multiply that by your own family alone and you have an idea of the incredible volume of words floating into and out of our lives all of the time. Multiply it by the number of people sitting next to you this morning; or the number of people in the room today. In no time we are way into the billions and billions of words bouncing around us all the time. And that’s before we even turn on the TV or check into social media.
Now, how many words would you estimate are in the Bible? The King James Version boasts 783,137 words. Now, how many of those would you estimate are the recorded words of Jesus? 36,450. Very roughly speaking, if you take out the duplicated words as they are repeated across the synoptic Gospels, it gets us down to less than 20,000 words.
I want to be careful here, but studies show the average woman speaks approximately 20,000 words a day and the average man speaks approximately 7,000 words a day. That’s a whole different sermon series—it’s called “Listen to Her.”
All kidding aside, of the millions of words we will speak over the course of our lifetime and the billions of words we will hear, doesn’t it make sense that we would want to give the absolute fullness of our attention to the twenty thousand or so words spoken by the most significant person in the history of history—Jesus Christ, The Son of God? The second person of the Trinity—who among those 20,000 words said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Luke 21:33).
So let me offer you this challenge as we get ready to enter the season of Lent. Will you make a commitment to actively listen to Jesus, and then actively respond? I know that sounds simple, but it is a dangerous proposition. There is no way to predict how this might transform your life. Yet the Father cuts through the cloud and makes himself clear: “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”
Over these next six weeks, we will be walking together through the heart of Luke’s Gospel, from today’s passage through chapter 24. It comes to about 15,000 words total. Of those, around 11,000 are the recorded words of Jesus. Can we listen to him?
As we make our way down Transfiguration Mountain and begin this journey to the cross, which is the road to resurrection, I want to assure you of this fact: Jesus has something to say to you. What would it look like for you to raise the level of your expectation that this is so? How will you hear him? What will it take to get yourself to a place where you can hear him?
Steve Garnaas-Holmes writes:
Listen for the One amid the others,
the one who awakens something lovely in you.
If you don’t turn from this clanging world to listen
you won’t hear him.
Listen for the voice that calls you Beloved,
the voice that calls you to love.
Listen to the voice that speaks of Creation’s wholeness,
that beckons you to completion.
A voice that leads you toward others,
not your own rising above and away.
Listen to the song of the immense flowering within you,
the risk and passion you can dance to.
You will hear it in stillness, not in frenzy,
in silence, not in noise.
You will hear it from those who are belittled,
not those who are honored by this besotted world.
The Beloved will not speak of success,
but death and resurrection.
Listen for one who speaks with hope and delight,
listen to him. Listen to him.