Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may listen to your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.
One question is: What’s the picture?
This question helps, because many people learn and work visually. We like to visualize something in order to fully understand it. Then, when we understand the picture, the Scriptures aren’t just words on a page, but become real scenes and real people who live and breathe and still talk to us even today. Once we understand the picture, and even put ourselves into the picture, we can more easily apply it to our own life.
For example: in regard to this text, it can be helpful to put ourselves into the shoes of the disciples, who saw Jesus start glowing (which we’ll come back to later), standing with two men, who were understood to be Moses and Elijah, who hadn’t been around for hundreds of years! On top of this, a cloud suddenly appears and a heavenly voice commands them to listen to Jesus because he’s God’s own Son.
Can you imagine what that would look like?
With this picture in mind – and if you’re a little familiar with God’s Word – you might also start seeing some things which are more than coincidences. These things were happening on a mountain, and other important revelations of God have also happened on mountains, such as Moses receiving God’s commands on Mount Sinai, and Elijah seeing the back of God on a mountain.
Hang on! These men are the same ones who have heard God speak previously on mountaintops! Maybe it’s more than a coincidence these particular men are here! They’ve received God’s commands and God’s prophetic Word, and right now they’re speaking with Jesus about his departure. Or do they in fact use another word? In the Greek, they call it his ‘exodus.’
Well, that reminds us of the great salvation event in the Old Testament where Moses leads God’s people out of the land of slavery to the point of entering the Promised Land – that land which was flowing with milk and honey. And here they talk to Jesus about his exodus. Is he going to lead people from slavery into a new land of perfection and peace?
These are just a few examples on how all these pictures start coming together to help us understand more deeply what’s going on.
Another question pastors are taught is: What’s unexpected here?
This is important because for many of us who have heard God’s word for many years, we don’t find God’s Word surprising anymore. We’ve heard it all before. Sometimes we even consider it boring! We’re tempted to switch off and think about something else.
So, it can help to ask ourselves what’s so surprising in our text, and we don’t have to go very far before we realize something was happening to Jesus which would have totally freaked us out!
I mean, when was the last time you saw someone’s face start glowing? And I’m not talking about that proud glow of a pregnant woman, but a literal white glow coming from inside a person as if the sun was inside them!
Wow! No wonder the disciples didn’t know what they were saying, because we don’t usually have a ready response to seeing someone glow!
I mean, if someone sneezes, we might respond ‘bless you’, or if someone asks ‘how are you today’, you might respond ‘fine’ (even if you’re not), but because people’s faces don’t generally start glowing from within, we don’t know how to respond (except, you could say ‘hey, nice glow, man!’).
It’s unexpected. It takes us by surprise. It should still surprise us today because it doesn’t normally happen!
So, what does this glow mean? Does this mean Jesus is more than just a man? Was this glow to show he’s more than what meets the eyes? Did it show a glimpse of his divinity? And if so, why now?
And, how come Moses and Elijah were there? Weren’t they supposed to be dead? Or does this indicate God in fact isn’t a God of the dead, but a God of the living? Why were they there and not Noah, David, or Jonah? What do Moses and Elijah represent? What did they do which is similar to what Jesus was about to do? Why were they the people of the past sent to encourage Jesus on his journey to the cross?
You see what I mean? When you start asking what’s unexpected in a text, you start asking interesting questions. It’s like unlocking a mystery. You become curious and hungry for more because you want to hear some answers.
It doesn’t mean you’ll always receive a satisfactory answer, but in your digging and looking for what’s unexpected, you might find some hidden gems which lead you to grow in your faith and understanding.
Another question, which is helpful in devotion or sermon preparation is: what human problem is God speaking to here?
Well, one possibility is that we humans just don’t get it, and because we don’t get it, we miss the mark in our response to it.
Now, what on earth am I talking about?
Did you notice the disciple’s response to this most amazing and unexpected encounter with our God in human flesh and his deputies Moses and Elijah? What did they want to do? They wanted to build structures so this once-in-a-lifetime moment would last.
We humans just don’t get it!
No sooner does God give us a glimpse of his divinity than we immediately want to enshrine it. We want to capture it, keep it, and market it. The disciples thought this was a pretty important moment in history and wanted this moment to last.
We do the same.
For example, have you ever been on a holiday or camp and received such inspiring moments you wanted to bring it back into your daily life so you can receive a high whenever you want?
Have you ever visited another church, or heard a moving song, or heard some charismatic speaker and wondered why we can’t package them up and bring them here so we can experience this again and again?
Have you ever been disappointed whenever you’ve tried to re-create something and it didn’t work the way you hoped, and it may have even lost it’s ‘specialness’?
Then, if it doesn’t work like before, do you beat yourself up because you must have done something wrong, or you take it out on everyone else around you because it has to be their fault your special experience isn’t as great as it used to be?
Do you then unfairly judge and criticize people because they don’t want to do what you want and therefore they’re stopping you from receiving the spiritual highs you had previously?
If only we could capture the spiritual highs and re-create them with the right traditions, the right freedoms, the right buildings, the right speakers, the right music, and the right places! Why can’t we re-live our spiritual highs whenever we want?
Because we don’t get it. We think it’s about keeping a gift as if it’s ours to keep, rather than receiving it and thanking God for that moment and looking forward to his next surprising revelation.
Instead of enshrining this precious moment in history, what’s the one instruction God gave the disciples at the extraordinary event?
‘Listen to him.’
What do we struggle to do most in our life?
Listen to him.
We’d rather sing our favourite hymn or song than listen to him. We’d rather the sermons and readings were shorter so we don’t have to listen to him. We’d rather do something else on Sunday than listen to him. We’d rather read the paper or get on with our day than read the bible for a couple of minutes in the morning. We’d rather watch our favourite soap or the News or something else on TV than listen to him at our evening devotions.
We don’t get it, and sometimes we don’t want it. There’s a spiritual battle going on, and our faith is the casualty.
One of the biggest problems facing the church today is biblical illiteracy. This means those who come regularly to worship might listen to the readings and the sermon, and yet still don’t know the story of salvation. Many people have their own bibles (maybe even more than one translation), but hardly ever open them to see what’s inside them.
God said to his disciples, ‘Listen to him’, and unfortunately many good Christians fail that simple instruction! Most of us have lovely bibles at home, but not every page has seen the light of day!
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we believe all Scripture is breathed by God and is given to us for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16). The Word of God is our life-breath as Christians. As we hear what God’s saying to us in his Word, listening for what’s unexpected, understanding the pictures he gives us, and allowing the Holy Spirit to inspire us, we slowly start to get it.
We start to get what Jesus was about to do in his exodus; how he was going to the cross in order to die in our place and grant us forgiveness of sins through the shedding of his innocent and holy blood; how he was going on a journey to lead his people from slavery to sin through the wilderness of suffering and death into the Promised Land of eternal life with him in heaven; how he will sustain us in our own earthly journey through life by speaking to us through his Word; how he will also sustain our faith through his physical gifts of grace of Baptism and Holy Communion, which have been touched by his living and powerful Word; and how his Words still give us direction and comfort.
Can we all take up the challenge this coming Lenten season to listen to him? Can we dust off our Bibles, open them, read them, meditate on them, discuss them, and respond in prayer to what he’s saying to us? His Word is the life-breath for our faith and salvation.
May we all learn to listen to him so that…
the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.