March 2, 2019- Jesus in All His Glory- The Transfiguration- Luke 9:28-36

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Now about eight days after these sayings he (Jesus) took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen. Luke 9:28-36 (ESV)

The Transfiguration gives us a sort of preview as to what our post-resurrection life will look like. We see Jesus revealed in His glory and we see Him as the one foretold by Moses and Elijah and the other prophets.

Witnessing this event gave the disciples no choice but to make the connection as to the truth of who Jesus claimed to be.  They no longer had the option to question the veracity of Jesus’ claim to divinity. Jesus clearly was neither Moses nor Elijah, but the greater one they had both prophesied of.  They could not write Jesus off as a nice guy or a moral teacher.  All three Persons of the Trinity manifest here- the voice of God the Father, the dazzling appearance of the Son in the flesh, the breath in the cloud of the Holy Spirit.

As we as Jesus’ people prepare for the somber, penitent season of Lent, it is good to remember who Jesus really is.

Jesus is greater than the prophets, and is the one of whom Moses and Elijah spoke of.

Jesus is God in human flesh, fully God and fully man.

Jesus came down from heaven to take on and become our sin and to suffer the punishment we deserve for our sins in our place.

Martin Luther, in his Explanatory Notes on the Gospels makes it very clear what the Transfiguration accomplished:

Very much is contained in this history.

First, The resurrection of the dead and the future glory and brightness of our bodies are shown. For this was something very remarkable, that Christ was transfigured while yet in the mortal body, which was subject to suffering. What then shall it be, when mortality shall have been swallowed up, and nothing shall remain but immortality and glory?

Secondly, There is added the appearance of Moses and Elijah, who prove by their appearing that they had never really died, and that there is yet another life, besides the earthly life, from which they were transferred.

Thirdly, This appearance teaches us also that we should despise death, and look upon it merely as an emigration or a sleep. In short, this appearance proves that this life is nothing at all in comparison with the future life.

Fourthly, This appearance proves that sin is overcome. For it necessarily follows as an incontrovertible conclusion, that, where death is overcome, there sin is also overcome.

But he permitted those three mentioned apostles especially to see this appearance, in order to guard them against the coming offense of his cross and crucifixion. Yet he accomplished little thereby, for they all were offended with him. Yet this appearance had its advantage after the resurrection, and served to strengthen their faith in Christ, that he was the Son of the living God, and that his kingdom must be regarded in a spiritual sense.

The whole holy Trinity appears here to strengthen the believers; namely, Christ in his transfigured form, the Father in the voice, and the Holy Ghost in the bright cloud.

Moses and Elijah appear in order to testify that Jesus Christ is truly the promised Messiah, according to the law (i.e. Moses,) and the prophets, (i.e. Elijah.) Compare Romans 3:21-22, and on the meaning of this transfiguration 2 Corinthians 3:7.

 

Oh, death, where is thy sting? May we keep our eyes and hearts on this glorious vision of Jesus.

 

January 30, 2019 The Words of the Prophets- Behold the Lamb of God-Zechariah 9:9-13, Matthew 21:1-11

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Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.
For I have bent Judah as my bow; I have made Ephraim its arrow. I will stir up your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece, and wield you like a warrior’s sword. Zechariah 9:9-13 (ESV)

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Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

 “Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” Matthew 21:1-11 (ESV)

When the church confesses the words of the Nicene Creed, we affirm that God the Holy Spirit has spoken through the prophets.  As a child I thought that a prophet must be some kind of microphone because it was the only theory that would fit into a five year old’s understanding. Logically, one who wants to be heard speaks through a microphone to amplify his or her voice, so God must have had some pretty powerful microphones to speak His Word down through the ages!

While the prophets were not microphones, their purpose was very similar- to amplify and spread around the Word of God. The prophets did not make up and broadcast their own words.  Like microphones, they simply amplified what God spoke through them.

Being a prophet was not generally a way to gain popularity or to enjoy long life. Jeremiah was left to die in a cistern.  John the Baptist was beheaded. False prophets were subject to the penalty of death, but even true prophets were sometimes doomed to die horrific deaths.  So if you claimed to speak for God, right or wrong, you weren’t going to have an easy life.

The prophets serve a very important purpose in the Bible and they still speak to us. They give us warnings that we could see fulfilled time and time again in the history of God’s people.  The prophets proclaim God’s Law and what happens when we think we know better than God. Time after time it has been proven that we simply can’t follow the Law.

The prophets tell us what we earn and deserve- namely God’s displeasure and wrath, but that is not the end of their messages. The prophets’ main job is to point us to Jesus. “Here is your King,” Zechariah proclaims, “humble and riding in on the colt of a donkey.” Zechariah did not see a Caesar or a Herod, wearing a golden crown, carried on a litter, surrounded by battalions of soldiers, but a man riding on a young donkey- the God-Man, one of us, approachable, vulnerable and human.  He is the God-Man whose only crown would be of thorns, the God-Man who would become the curse who would go from His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Sunday to a brutal death by crucifixion on Friday.

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!

Even though the prophets point us to Jesus, do we see Him? Do we truly understand that He comes to us to fulfill the words of the prophets that God spoke through so long ago?  Better yet, the testimony of the prophets underscores the history and the veracity of Jesus’ claims as to who He is.  We cannot simply acknowledge Jesus as a good moral teacher, but we must recognize Him as the fulfillment of the prophets, the very Son of God, God-with-us.

 

December 22, 2017 – The Radiance of God’s Glory- Isaiah 7:14, Hebrews 1:1-3, Matthew 2:1-2

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Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways,  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.  The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. Hebrews 1:1-3 (NIV)

The prophet Isaiah tells us much about Jesus over 700 years before Jesus lived as a man here on earth. Most importantly Isaiah tells us about Jesus as God-with-us, that He will be one of us (see also Isaiah 53:1-5.)  Don’t look for Jesus high atop an earthly throne or sitting in a board room looking down from an ivory tower. Look for Him among the regular people, getting involved, getting dirty- in the working class, in the poor.  Look for Jesus in the human story.

The writer of Hebrews acknowledges that the words of Isaiah and the other prophets are fulfilled in Jesus, the radiance of God’s glory.

Because of Jesus, the radiance of God’s glory is with us and reflected upon us. We wait for the Savior to arrive, knowing that He is already with us, and His glory is being reflected from us.  When people look at us, do they see Jesus’ image in us?

Can we look to the arrival of God-with-us with anticipation and joy? Do we seek Him, and seek to be like Him?

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:1-2 (NIV)

 The saying, “wise men still seek Him” is true.

Are we still looking for His star, and are we still coming to worship Him?

October 24, 2017: The Office of the Keys: The Power of Intercession – 2 Chronicles 30:9, 17-20, Matthew 16:19, Luke 11:5-8

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For as you return to the Lord, your kindred and your children will find compassion with their captors, and return to this land. For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.” 2 Chronicles 30:9 (NRSV)

For there were many in the assembly who had not sanctified themselves; therefore the Levites had to slaughter the Passover lamb for everyone who was not clean, to make it holy to the Lord.  For a multitude of the people, many of them from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than as prescribed. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “The good Lord pardon all who set their hearts to seek God, the Lord the God of their ancestors, even though not in accordance with the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness.” The Lord heard Hezekiah, and healed the people. 2 Chronicles 30:17-20 (NRSV)

(Jesus, speaking to Simon Peter and a group of disciples): “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:19 (NRSV)

And he (Jesus) said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’  And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’  I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.” Luke 11:5-8 (NRSV)

The Office of the Keys– which is the authority of average believers to forgive others and intercede for others- is probably one of the least understood concepts in Lutheran theology, but it is a radical twist from the traditional teaching of the church of Luther’s day.  While the church hierarchy taught that forgiveness had to be earned- or bought- and that forgiveness could only be granted by an ordained priest, according to the Bible, Jesus taught that the authority to forgive and to pray for others (binding and loosing) belongs to every believer.

Jesus also taught that we have the authority in Him to go directly to Him in prayer concerning our own needs. We can and should pray for each other as well, but we are welcome and invited to approach Him with anything and everything.

In prayer, God has a dialogue with us- He changes our hearts and minds to be in agreement with His will.

The idea that Jesus followers have the authority (not just ordained clergy, but everyday garden variety believers) to intercede for others is not a new idea. In the Old Testament, the prophets (such as Moses) and sometimes the kings (such as Hezekiah) stepped in for the people and asked God for mercy on the people’s behalf.  Today Jesus has expanded that authority to everyone- a concept known as the Priesthood of Believers.

Jesus encourages us to step in for others in prayer. He tells us to be persistent and not give up when we pray.  He tells us we have the power to forgive others which is another reason why confession is good for the soul, as it allows others to pray for us and intercede on our behalf.

Sometimes in the confusion and hopelessness in this world we find it hard to pray. We don’t know who to pray for or what their needs might be. We wonder if God hears our prayers at times.  Yet intercessory prayer is one of the most powerful ways that every Jesus follower can work to bring about God’s kingdom here on earth.

“You must learn to call on the Lord. Don’t sit all alone or lie on the couch, shaking your head and letting your thoughts torture you. Don’t worry about how to get out of your situation or brood about your terrible life, how miserable you feel, and what a bad person you are. Instead, say, “Get a grip on yourself, you lazy bum! Fall on your knees, and raise your hands and eyes toward heaven. Read a psalm. Say the Lord’s Prayer, and tearfully tell God what you need.” – Martin Luther from Faith Alone, A Daily Devotional

Prayer is for all Jesus followers at all times, in all things. We are encouraged to come to Him no matter what troubles our hearts and minds.  We are encouraged to pray for others because our persistence in prayer may be the difference between God-life or hopelessness and despair for them.

The other part of this is that prayer and coming before God is more about one’s heart and motive than about following the rules. Anyone who has read the Ten Commandments knows it’s not possible to Follow the Rules one hundred percent.  Following the rules doesn’t make us fit to come before God- the fact that Jesus told us to come to Him as we are, in our fallibility and humanity and to trust Him does.

Jesus, Who first interceded on our behalf, asks us to pray for others and to forgive the way He forgives us. We were put here on this earth for a reason, which just might include being the difference for someone else.

August 10, 2017 – God in the Silence 1 Kings 19:9-18

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At that place he (Elijah) came to a cave, and spent the night there.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

 He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.  When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”  Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram.  Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill.  Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” 1 Kings 19:9-18 (NRSV)

The Lord was not in the wind.

The Lord was not in the earthquake.

The Lord was not in the fire.

 

After the fire, a sound of sheer silence- then the Lord spoke.

Elijah was pretty depleted and worn out at this time- having just dealt with Ahab and Jezebel and the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:20-46 and 1 Kings 19:1-8) He was looking for God to come to him in a big and dramatic way, wrapped up in the whirlwind, but God waited to speak to Elijah in the calm after the storm.

Most of us have been in places where the storm around us is so intense that the breath is sucked right out of us, we fall to our knees, and we have no words with which to speak. God does not abandon us in those moments, but often He waits to speak to us until the storm is over- whether the storm is the shock of a physical injury or a sudden tragedy or the blow of a deep disappointment- or, like Elijah, when we are coming to the end of ourselves and what we can handle. He lets us rage and scream and bargain, and once we have completely emptied out our hearts and souls, God steps into that silent, empty space.  He speaks words of comfort and peace and healing, but after the storms, in the silence. He speaks through the silence so we can’t help but hear His words.

There is a strong theme of redemption and restoration and continuity in this passage as well. God reminds Elijah that he is not alone (even though he thinks he is the last man standing, he is not) and that God’s work will go on even after Elijah’s work is done.  In the silence after the storm, after God passes over Elijah’s fatigue and frustration and burnout, God spells out what Elijah has left to do, and who will carry on after he is gone.

Elisha will finish off and continue some of the projects that Elijah started. It’s encouraging to hear that, that the work we do for God’s kingdom is part of an ongoing endeavor.  We build on to the work of those who were before us, and God will ensure that there are people after us to build on the work we have done, even though sometimes when we are tired and burned out and overwhelmed by grief and sorrow , we think, “I am the only person doing anything for God.”

The truth is that God’s work will get done.  We as individuals aren’t called to do it all. The laborers might be few and the work intense, but God finds a way.  That doesn’t mean that we should just bow out and miss out on the joy of serving because “someone else will do it,” but it does mean that we are in this together.  Everyone has his or her purpose in God’s plan along with others.  Bringing about God’s kingdom here on earth is something we do together, not a solo effort.

Do we trust God that He does speak to us in the silence, and that we are not called to be-all and do-all, rather we are called to complete the purpose He created us for, to contribute a piece of an ongoing tapestry, to write a chapter in a never-ending story?

In the end, in the silence, God brings us rest. There will be a day when we will see Jesus and He will say to us:  “Well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”-  Matthew 25:21

August 9, 2017- When the Truth is Difficult (or Hazardous)- 1 Kings 18:1-16

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A long time passed. Then God’s word came to Elijah. The drought was now in its third year. The message: “Go and present yourself to Ahab; I’m about to make it rain on the country.” Elijah set out to present himself to Ahab. The drought in Samaria at the time was most severe.

Ahab called for Obadiah, who was in charge of the palace. Obadiah feared God—he was very devout. Earlier, when Jezebel had tried to kill off all the prophets of God, Obadiah had hidden away a hundred of them in two caves, fifty in a cave, and then supplied them with food and water.

Ahab ordered Obadiah, “Go through the country; locate every spring and every stream. Let’s see if we can find enough grass to keep our horses and mules from dying.” So they divided the country between them for the search—Ahab went one way, Obadiah the other.

Obadiah went his way and suddenly there he was—Elijah! Obadiah fell on his knees, bowing in reverence, and exclaimed, “Is it really you—my master Elijah?”

 “Yes,” said Elijah, “the real me. Now go and tell your boss, ‘I’ve seen Elijah.’”

Obadiah said, “But what have I done to deserve this? Ahab will kill me. As surely as your God lives, there isn’t a country or kingdom where my master hasn’t sent out search parties looking for you. And if they said, ‘We can’t find him; we’ve looked high and low,’ he would make that country or kingdom swear that you were not to be found. And now you’re telling me, ‘Go and tell your master Elijah’s found!’ The minute I leave you the Spirit of God will whisk you away to who knows where. Then when I report to Ahab, you’ll have disappeared and Ahab will kill me. And I’ve served God devoutly since I was a boy! Hasn’t anyone told you what I did when Jezebel was out to kill the prophets of God, how I risked my life by hiding a hundred of them, fifty to a cave, and made sure they got food and water? And now you’re telling me to draw attention to myself by announcing to my master, ‘Elijah’s been found.’ Why, he’ll kill me for sure.”

 Elijah said, “As surely as God-of-the-Angel-Armies lives, and before whom I take my stand, I’ll meet with your master face-to-face this very day.”

So Obadiah went straight to Ahab and told him. And Ahab went out to meet Elijah. 1 Kings 18:1-16 (MSG)

Obadiah was a guy in a hard place. King Ahab, his boss, had been looking for Elijah for some time.  Obadiah didn’t want to be put in the position of announcing Elijah’s presence to Ahab, because it could very well mean his hide if Elijah didn’t show up.

difficult before easy

Elijah does call upon God (before whom I take my stand) to give Obadiah the confidence to go ahead and tell Ahab. It might not have made Obadiah’s job a whole lot more comfortable, but at least he could trust that God would be with him and that when Ahab came looking for Elijah he would be there.

How many times do we have to tell people truths or reveal things to people that we know are not going to be well received?

When we are in the position where know we have to tell the truth and bring something out into the open that won’t be received well- or that may end up to be proven wrong- it can be frightening. Nobody wants to be the messenger when the news is bad news.  Nobody wants to be proved a liar when we claim to have seen someone or something and then someone or something disappears.

Even when we are the bringers of bad news or we have to reveal a truth that won’t be well received, God is with us. The Holy Spirit is there for us to call upon to give us discretion and the right words for even the most difficult of situations.

God is always there for us, interceding on our behalf. We can stand because He gives us what we need to stand.  He might not let us get out of being the bad news messenger, or get us out of delivering difficult messages, but He will get us through doing what we need to do.