The disciples have just witnessed another miracle. The feeding of the 4,000 was born out of Christ’s compassion and was driven by practical necessity. The Pharisees grieved Jesus to the core by asking for an encore performance of some miraculous sign. He sighed deeply and said,
“Why does this generation seek for a sign? Truly I say to you, no sign will be given to them.”
Friday, I shared this thought, “I believe discipleship (aka: Jesus’ life in us) happens in our everyday, ordinary lives. It happens in our sleeping, eating, working, and walking-around as we discover how radically differently God thinks.” This day in the disciples’ lives demonstrates my point. In the normal course of their affairs, Jesus tees up on this encounter with the religionists, saying, “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” Neither has it gone unnoticed to Jesus that the disciples are once again low on groceries and that they are troubled by this new, apparently impossible circumstance.
I have to assume that the leaven Jesus refers to is the hard and unbelieving heart that demands proof before believing. I believe Jesus is saying, “Don’t go down that road. That condition, like leaven, will just cause circumstances to seem more impossible in your imaginations.” Jesus nurtures the tender and growing faith in these men’s lives and he does not want the thought processes of the religiously correct to serve as toxic reference points. He confronts this situation for their faith’s sake. Once again, he shows them how radically different from them He thinks:
Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember…
What is Jesus trying to get across? Isn’t it this: that in simple childlike faith we can trust that he will meet our daily needs? If we are tempted toward unbelief, can we not remember one occasion after another where God supplied our needs (and then some)? I believe what Jesus is saying is simply, “Do not discuss in your own minds (or especially with others) the fact that you have no bread (or whatever you think you’re lacking). Instead, remember and discuss the fact that you have Me.”
Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God. 2 Peter 1:3-4 (The Message)
God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done. As one psalmist puts it, He throws caution to the winds giving to the needy in reckless abandon. His right-living, right-giving ways never run out, never wear out. 2 Corinthians 9:8-9 (The Message)
Father, Help us to each see our curriculum here in the school of Christ in which we are each enrolled. May we progressively enjoy that deep rest in Christ as we realize that not only are You near to us, but that our lives are also beautifully interwoven into Your own. Give us this day our daily bread and lead us away from all forms of unbelief. Amen.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3 NAS
Here’s a Bible reading tip that most have heard before but it so relevant here: “When you see a ‘therefore’ see what it’s there for.” What we’re studying is there because of Hebrews chapter 11: the great discourse on faith. Let’s review a few principles without listing the dozens of people who make up the great crowd of witnesses surrounding us, cheering us on.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen… By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible… And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him… All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. (from Hebrews 11 NAS)
I don’t know many people who have suffered through worst-nightmare circumstances such as those chronicled in Hebrews 11, but these folks are among us nevertheless. In this moment, people we will live together with in eternity, cherished of God, are saying goodbye to loved ones, to jobs and careers and to their health. In spite of the promises of smiling, handsome, eloquent TV Christian-types, such is life on earth. Have all those who succumb to the designs of evil men, time and gravity, failed to live by faith? Based on many pop-Christian teachings it would seem so. I think of this group as the the First United Church of Denial. (Don’t attempt an acronym here.)
The membership is united in their denial of Hebrews 11. They have moved on beyond the inferior revelation of scripture where loving God without seeing the promises had previously been thought of as running the race with endurance. They have put away childish things like loneliness, broken hearts, dark nights of the soul, paralysis, mental illness and a thousand other things (aka; suffering) as the unnecessary byproducts of weak faith. I think of the First Church of Denial as the place where the Whopper is served up fresh.
The Whopper does not use any secret sauce. It is favored with a very straight forward batch of half truths and blatant lies. That God is good and that He loves us is the sauce’s absolute truth but it is mixed with the notion that, because of this, we have been immunized from decay, if we will only believe and confess it.
The Whopper preaches well to those who are longing for health, wealth and prosperity in this life. It does not preach well in hospitals, nursing homes, orphanages, mental institutions and in occupied nations. It thrives in the West where Whopper Talkers can point to material blessing as proof of their faith. Somehow (with great labor it seems to me), they claim that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are the collateral for their abundant (material) life. They are the bona fide children of God. Jesus was the first born of their new race. When I hear this message (and I hear it in many forms) I cannot say. “Amen.” I want to say, “Are you kidding me! Have you even read the New Testament? Do you not see that you are adding to the revelation of Scripture!”
As we prepare to celebrate Christ’s resurrection, we should calibrate our thoughts with His. He was our example and he did not come as a merchant seeking an equity stake in this world. I believe Jesus was saying, “Take care. The balance sheet is misleading. The income statement is a lie.” Jesus was teaching that in and of themselves, financial statements are false bench marks. Seeing them in black ink, as evidence of faith, is an encumbrance that will entangle us with the world, greatly effecting our friendship with Him. Jesus was not just saying that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. With His His life and death, He was trying to say, “I AM the Reward.
Father, deliver us from every evil half-truth that has impaired our vision, every blatant lie that has dulled our hearing and every whopper that has blunted our hearts. Amen.
Answer: Biblical references to discipleship = 0. References to discipleship w/o biblical references = 8,440,000. In my repentance, I will substitute the appropriate ‘biblical’ phrase in place of ‘discipleship.’
Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?” Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light. (John 9:1-5 The Message)
I believe discipleship (the life of Christ) happens in our everyday, ordinary lives. It happens in our sleeping, eating, working, and walking-around as we discover how radically differently God thinks. Our passage today illustrates this idea.
As Jesus and His disciples were doing their everyday walking around, they encountered a sad situation: a man who had been blind from birth.
In the course of their conversation the perceived cause of this man’s circumstance comes up. The disciples, to a man, trace this poor beggar’s curse of blindness to sin—his or his parents’. Jesus chides them and says they’re missing it. He informs them that this illness is not a sin problem and that there are no humans to blame. Jesus implies that their wrong thinking will lead to bad decisions. (If you want to explore this story in greater depth, you can go to the archives of MwM and check out “Listening To God (Saturday) – 2 Chronicles 7:11-22.”)
Jesus brings them to a fork in the road. One sign points to the left; it says, “Blame It on Man’s Fallen Nature.” The sign that points right says, “What God Can Do?” This intersection was further complicated because there was another fork whose signage read, “Somebody Else’s Problem.”
We may not always be conscious of it, but, in light of God’s intimate awareness of our lives, discipleship (Christ’s life) is always underway—or at least it can be if we have ears to hear. Again, whether we are conscious of it or not, I believe we each have an ongoing conversation with God. He sees to it that we always encounter impossible situations and that, in each one of them, we make a decision. So let’s review four principles of discipleship (living in Christ) our passage flushes out:
1) God is intimately involved in the ordinary stuff of our lives.
2) Better listening permits us to join the conversation.
3) God invites us to intentionally engage our personal Missions Impossible.
4) It is Father’s way to bring us to crossroads where our decisions are our responses to Jesus as Lord.
There is another word in this passage that should greatly impact the choices we make. It is the word “we.”
We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light. (John 9 The Message)
Jesus’ use of “we” effectively rules out the Somebody-Else’s-Problem trail. He was trying to say that blindness and human suffering are our problems and that dealing with them is the work of Jesus and his disciples. I think it would be fair to say that Jesus’ life was our illustration of what it looks like when he answers the prayer: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In other words, healing is a work of God that we need to energetically pursue while the sun still shines. Jesus is telling us that He and His disciples (which can include us) are living within a window of opportunity:
When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light. (John 9:4 🙂 The Message)
I see many who have taken the trail that limits the Holy Spirit to being the interpreter of scripture. This path applies scriptural principles to the fallen nature of man as if this is the primary business of God in the earth. While I love and respect this part of the family, I can’t follow this trail because Jesus said it would be expedient that He send us a Helper when there was, as yet, no Bible. So the Spirit’s helping must have been in the doing of all the works that Jesus demonstrated. The Spirit didn’t sit around waiting until the canon of scripture was formed so he could finally get to work interpreting it.
Is it possible that redemption is providentially hidden in the seemingly random circumstances of our lives? Is it possible that, where evil and impossible circumstances seem to abound—that grace and redemption are actually present—even in the potentially impossible circumstances, in the all-the-more capacity Jesus’ promised?
When will our night fall? Will it be as we draw our last earthly breath or when we are snatched up in to the air? We don’t know the answer, but Jesus’ point is that as long as we are drawing breath, our window of opportunity to do the works of God is still open. The Holy Spirit, who remains in the world, provides plenty of light for the remaining works we’ve been called to do. He’s the world’s light and He resides in us. Let the work continue.
Father, help us to see our destinies as Your Kingdom agents called to reconcile this world to Your rule. Help us to expose the bullying administrators of darkness, who press their lie upon us that not all things are possible with You. Help us to see the lies beneath futility, bad theology, and all hopeless circumstances. Help us to be those who energetically work the works of God. Thank you for sending us the Spirit to work in and through us while the sun still shines. Amen.
Note: I have only recently caught my error. I would like to disavow my use of the word ‘discipleship’ and apply ‘Christ’s’ life retroactively to MwM. While ‘discipleship’ sounds right (after all there were disciples) there is a great risk that one or more (or all) of the 8,444,00 hits will imply that a mature Christian is the byproduct of some patentable process. I don’t believe the original 12 ever thought about their experience with Jesus or the Holy Spirit as ‘discipleship’. We probably shouldn’t either. My supplemental prayer is…
Father, may the life of your son, in all its mystery and majesty, eclipse every man made notion of Christianity. All to your glory, forevermore. Amen.
For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. 2 Chronicles 16:9 NAS
We are not in the kingdom of Judah, and we’re not the king Asa, but their God has become our Father, and the Old Testament was written for our benefit. My ambition is to derive some of that benefit for others and myself. While the covenants are different through which we relate to God, there is a common theme to both. He wants all of our hearts. This morning I want to explore this all-ness. Let’s get some backstory first.
In Asa’s early reign he did not act foolishly. Listen to his heart, “O Lord, You are our God; let not man prevail against You.” The consequence: peace in the Land because the dread of the Lord had fallen on Judah’s enemies. God works like this:
The Spirit of God came on Azariah the son of Oded, and he went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Listen to me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: the Lord is with you when you are with Him. And if you seek Him, then He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, then He will forsake you.
More old covenant if-then’s. (For more on those, check out last Saturday’s post from II Chronicles 7:11-22)
Listen to this:
They entered into the covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart and soul; and whoever would not seek the Lord God of Israel should be put to death, whether small or great, man or woman. II Chronicles 15:12-13
There was a significant cost for non-compliance with God’s commands about all–ness. When men failed to give themselves to God, there was trouble and death, for God troubled them with every kind of distress. Yet when they sought him in the midst of trials, the outcome was radically different:
The Lord is with you when you are with Him. And if you seek Him, then He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, then He will forsake you… But you, be strong and do not lose courage, for there is reward for your work. from 2 Chronicles 15:1-7 NAS
In our passage, Asa, the king of Judah, displeased God because he relied on the king of Aram and not on the Lord his God. This gets us back to all–ness. All–ness is about reliance and trust in God over our other options. However, I believe all–ness and abandonment need revised to fit our context. What do these concepts have to do with us who live under the new covenant?
Many saved-and-going-to-heaven evangelicals immediately start backing up when they hear superlatives like all and everything. Sell all. Forsake everything. They know (or believe) they can’t meet this condition in their fallen nature so they retreat, not wanting to get any where near an altar call or commitment to all-ness. They may think, “Why set myself up for failure? All–ness is simply not possible.” And they’re correct if it refers to a completed condition of the heart. But, what if all–ness is more about a child-like orientation to Father, a process and not perfected work? I would like to share how I stumbled into what I call all–ness.
When I came to Christ (or probably more accurately, when he drew me to himself), I did not hear the classic gospel message. In fact, I did not feel any specific conviction of sin. I didn’t invite Jesus into my heart to just save me from my sins or to escape hell. My deepest conviction at that time was that I was utterly alone, lost, and that darkness had a vice-grip on me. The folks standing around me at the altar just wanted me to repeat a prayer, but I did not comply. Instead, I essentially told Jesus, from my heart, that He could have my life and do anything He wanted with it. I was wrecking it. To my best understanding I entered into a new covenant with God on that day. Since then, my understanding of it has been unfolding. Today, I think of this covenant simply as a relationship—but not a contractual one held together by ifs and thens. It was initiated by and is sustained by Christ alone.
In that moment, had I really succeeded in giving God my whole heart? How is that even possible? Can a fallen nature bent on having its own way really abandon itself to another? I believe we can because I did. I was absolutely thunderstruck at the changes Christ made in my life in a very brief span of time. It truly was amazing. Projecting forward with this supernatural trend in mind, I envisioned Christ and I walking hand in hand on a gradually upward grade until that day the trumpet would sound from the East and all my tears would be wiped away. Silly boy.
It was not far long into my walk with Christ that I realized this world still had a downward pull on me. The battle was on. What had happened to my surrender? My temptations made me feel like a traitor. My sin made me feel like a mutineer. I was not yet married so I thought, “maybe I need to become a monk. I’m not a Catholic, though. Okay, I’ll just become monk-ish. I will wage a battle of discipline over my flesh, and I will prevail. I must!” I had surrendered to Him. I had made vows to God only a fool would break. Consequently, the broad, secure place of salvation quickly became a narrow path. In fact it would progress into something more akin to a tightrope, a religious one, to be precise.
In my struggle with sin had I broken trust with God? Yes, a thousand times and then some. But here is where we discover the nature of all-ness and see God’s ifs and thens in the context of grace instead of the Law:
If we are faithless, then He remains faithful. II Timothy 2:13 NAS
If we confess our sins, then He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I John 1:9 NAS
The battles I fight with sin do not negate my original and complete abandonment to God. My sin never has separated me from Him. It was always a matter of who was holding the title to my life. I handed that to God and I’ve never asked for it back. Why would I want it? Where else was I going to go? When I encountered temptations, when I sinned, when I found deep parts of me dull and unresponsive, I returned to the simple idea that I was His and He was mine.
When I first came to God, He accepted my all as my honest consideration into our covenant. That my all consisted of less than nothing is what facilitated my stumbling into all-ness. I inadvertently placed my entire reliance upon Jesus Christ. When we stumble (or find our way) into all-ness, we inevitably meet Christ as Lord. And when we add to Lordship, His sovereignty, His omniscience, and His power, we become his disciples. When it dawns upon us that His throne is actually in our hearts, where we work out our salvation, we discover the kingdom of God. His initial and ongoing work is to secure our reliance and trust for our own benefit. The Father is always inviting us into that place of rest where we truly abide in Christ and bear much fruit for Him.
We don’t have to be perfect to give ourselves totally to God. How many people are failing to know Christ as Lord because they have been intimidated by Christ’s command to take up their cross and follow Him. Giving ourselves to God is both a onetime and all-time, ongoing affair. Abiding is abandoning myself to His faithful keeping. It sounds like a grueling uphill trek when in reality it is simply learning how to rest in His ongoing mercy. He is faithful to show us how we behave contrary to abandonment. He is faithful to recall and honor our surrender. He loves the childlike trust that introduces us to the kingdom of God. Remember that He initiated your being completely His and that He will sustain you as you rest in Him. That is why Paul can say:
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6 NAS
Father, help us to become comfortable with the fact that we are never hidden from your sight and that it is with you with whom we have to do. Help us to be strong and to not lose courage. For those of us who have never abandoned ourselves to you, would you give us eyes to see that our surrendered status is actually the safest place in the universe to be? Help us each to discover that You yourself are our reward. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Job answered God: “I’m convinced: You can do anything and everything. Nothing and no one can upset your plans. You asked, ‘Who is this muddying the water, ignorantly confusing the issue, second-guessing my purposes?’ I admit it. I was the one. I babbled on about things far beyond me, made small talk about wonders way over my head. You told me, ‘Listen, and let me do the talking. Let me ask the questions. You give the answers.’ I admit I once lived by rumors of you; now I have it all firsthand—from my own eyes and ears! I’m sorry—forgive me. I’ll never do that again, I promise! I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor.” Job 42:1-6 MSG
Job no longer had to say things in theory about God because he now had experience with God. Instead of having a sermon, Job had a testimony. While the sermon may be the weapon of the preacher, the testimony is the weapon of the foot soldier. Foot soldiers are always being strategically positioned for the kingdom’s expansion. All they need is armament.
No one is better located than you and I are within our relational networks. But if all we have to say is, “Pastor says this or the Bible says that, and hey, would you like to go to church with me?” we are shooting with plastic bows and arrows. Our world is filled with Christian materials that the faithful regularly gorge themselves on; the world wants to know what all this knowledge has done for you and I. “Is your God real. Then, please, show me.”
In the midst of a message I was sharing a few years ago, a light came on: I had the keen awareness that I was an accomplice to a great crime. I had had a rich time in preparation. I had gained real nourishment from it. But, here I was, momma bird regurgitating what I’d digested to many who should have been kicked out of the nest a long time ago. To be fair, some were self-feeders. But many had been conditioned by the year-after-year, week-to-week servings from the pastor. The pastor would have better equipped these baby birds to not grow up dependent on him. The true equipper makes sure the babies learn to feed themselves. He would personally demonstrate how babies grow up to have their own firsthand stories of God’s involvement in their lives. He would teach them how to think and dream and live in the light of Truth, enabling them to bend a bow of bronze and enter into the battle in their own strategic theater of operations with their own strategic God-given weaponry.
The church I was a part of called itself a sheep-shed. Given the importance of identity, I think that was unfortunate. I believe the status quo conditions us would-be warriors to remain as sheep. If we are an army someone is going to have to impart a greater identity to us than that of “witless creatures dependent on another to feed us and tell us what to do.” Granted some will remain babes and may always need bottle-fed; for most of us, however, our passivity and lethargy are due to the seconhand food we consume. (And we complain, we aren’t being fed well?) It’s not that the food wasn’t excellent fare when the pastor chewed on it; he got the lion-share of benefit, though–not the flock.
When I see what transpired in Job’s life to silence the babbler and encourage the listener, I tremble. How many of us would sign up for personal testimony class if we had to pay the tuition Job did? It might be a very small class since much of our spiritual diet has been laced with cheap grace. We have been preached a gospel in the west that says salvation is a free gift and it will cost you nothing. The Bible portrays the gospel of the kingdom which is free yet, mysteriously, will cost us everything.
Not only do preachers condition sheep—sheep condition preachers. If sheep hear a regular barrage of Jesus’ hard sayings, they will begin to complain about the diet. Giving and attendance may even fall off. When the amens die out, most pastors can project where this will lead and resume using words more pleasing to the ear (which indirectly stabilize the cash flow).
Once I taught on Job in an adult Sunday school class, and a sincere believer suggested that the book of Job should not be taken seriously because it did not fit well with the theology in the rest of scripture. He said, “After all, its only one book.” He could make this statement because his personal reflection had been flavored with pastor’s words, which focused on blessing, power, and intimacy. The possibility of suffering and any redemptive purpose in it had been surgically removed from the gospel in this setting.
Father… I admit I once lived by rumors of you; now I have firsthand knowledge—from my own eyes and ears. I’m sorry—forgive me. By your grace, I’ll never do that again, I promise. I’ll never again live on the crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor. Deliver me from trivializing Your majesty and mystery with my speculative babbling. Continue to teach me to let you do the talking and ask the questions. Help me to simply listen. Amen.
I would liked to have been Peter’s biographer. But since that’s not possible, I’ll use what I know about him from scripture to imagine a dialogue with him. Let’s say I’ve been permitted to interview Peter in his prison cell in Rome. We pick up at the tail end of a long afternoon of discussion.
Interviewer: Peter, you have told me many stories about the Lord, but we have not yet talked about the day He took you and the sons of thunder up the mountain. Would you be comfortable telling me that story?
Peter: You know… Jesus wouldn’t allow the three of us to breathe a word about that until he rose from the dead. By the way, we had no idea what he was talking about when he said “the Son of Man will rise on the third day.” But, yes, I would like to try to tell you this story.
Interviewer: Let’s set this up. Where had you just come from?
Peter: Hmm, you’re testing me now… give me a minute… well… there was the feeding of the multitude out in the country…. then, in Bethsaida he healed a man blind from birth. Yes, I recall now. We had just come from the Caesarea Philippi district where He had been pressing us about who He really was. He first wanted to know who the multitude said He was. We told him that they thought he was a great prophet like John the Baptist or Elijah. He then asked us, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ I couldn’t believe what came out of my mouth (as is often the case with me). I said what had been stirring in my heart, ‘You are the Christ.’
Yes, I remember this as if it were yesterday. It was one of the best and the worst days of my life. I knew He was pleased with my confession, but not an hour later He had to say to me, ‘Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.’ It’s almost humorous looking back. I was making suggestions to the Lord on how to be the Lord, and of all things I chose to counsel Him on ‘His suffering’. How brilliant! Oh the patience of God!
You really have to understand something. We really were clueless as to where things were headed. Practically every time Jesus opened his mouth He said something we did not grasp. It was always like that. I well recall what He had just told us before this mountain top experience. Let me see if I can’t quote him. He said:
‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?’
Interviewer: That’s pretty good. How did you remember that so well?
Peter: We had all been listening very carefully and playing back all his teachings over and over as we travelled, correcting each other until we all pretty well could recite anything he had ever taught us. After all, He had told us that He had words of life. No one had ever spoken like this. We believed Him.
Interviewer: Ok, if I understand you, Jesus had essentially said if you were going to follow Him it would be costly, even fatal? Did you think about turning back when you heard Him say things like this?
Peter: I suppose the thought had crossed our minds, but then again…not really. You would have just had to seen His eyes when he spoke. You couldn’t really doubt Him. Anyway… compared to what we had with Him, nothing was ever going to satisfy us but being with him. In a very real way He had ruined us for this world. Like sheep with their shepherd, we came to require his presence.
Interviewer: Ok, here is a question that has troubled me and I know it troubles others as well. Why did He choose just you three to go up the mountain with him? Why not all twelve of you?
Peter (laughing): Excellent question! I honestly have no clue. None of us ever knew why He did the things He did. As I said, we were the company of the clueless. We really had to get used to following Him in the presence of much we would have liked to know but never did. As we have reflected on His teachings, we now have come to think of our vast unknowing as “mystery,” the essential context where we each must work out our salvation, and might I add, with a fair portion of that fear and trembling my brother Paul is so fond of referring to.
Here is an embarrassing confession, though. We did speculate as to our status. Even though I was quiet in the debate, I was the chief of speculators. While the others would argue as to who would be the greatest in the Kingdom, I was aloof because I knew that as ‘The Rock” I was the superior disciple. Oh dear. Am I blushing? It really is humbling to recall how I had thought about myself before I was broken and then restored to Him. Mind you, it did not hurt either that I was filled with the Holy Spirit and power.
As to our hike into the mountains with Jesus… James, John and myself were elated to be invited. Every moment with him was like living in another dimension. We were also feeling special. It did not bother us, as we ascended, watching the other nine getting smaller and smaller in our vision. But then…
Interviewer: Yes, but then…what? Are you all right Peter?
Peter: Just give me a minute.
Interviewer: Certainly. Take your time.
Peter: Oh dear… I forget how hard it is to tell this story. I really don’t think my words ever do it justice. He told me it was OK, but although I have had permission to speak of it, I never feel I have the adequate words.
Interviewer: Peter, your disclaimer is duly noted. We will be grateful for your best stab at this.
Peter: OK. Here is how I remember it… I don’t know how else to say it. He was transfigured before us. His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them. And I kid you not, Elijah appeared to us along with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. I said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
Interviewer: Are you all right? You are white as a ghost.
Peter: I’ll be OK in a minute. Just retelling this takes it out of me. Think about it. It was as if we’d seen three ghosts! We saw Moses! Elijah! We were seeing into another world! (Or, perhaps it was seeing into us. I really don’t know.) And as I am jabbering away about building some tabernacles for them (as if this service were required?), an ominous cloud (I suspect from that other world) descended upon us and my little speech was interrupted (thank God) by a voice that thundered in our ears… “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!”
Interviewer (holding back tears and some laughter): Yes, I think I see what you mean. Words don’t quite get us there do they?”
Peter: Not at all.
Interviewer: What happened next?
Peter: Bear with me, but your word “next” seems out of place because, whatever had just happened took no time and yet it took all time. We didn’t know if a second or millennium had passed. In one sense, it was all over as soon as it began, and yet, in that second (if you can call it that) an eternity of impressions and details were imprinted upon our spirits. It seems anticlimactic but…all at once we looked around and saw no one with us anymore, except Jesus alone.
Interviewer: I’ve never heard anything like this. Looking back on this experience what are your reflections today some thirty odd years later?
Peter: Well…we both know what awaits me. I’m soon going to be absent from this body and once again immediately present to Him. Yes, what stands out to me is how His words have played out in my life. He made it perfectly clear to me and all who wanted to follow him: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
There have been many false gospels preached these past three decades (and I suppose in light of our enemy’s strategies, there will be many more). One thing they all share in common is the exclusion of the cross. I know this is difficult to understand, but when He calls us to Life, he bids us, ‘Come and die.’ My vision of the cross was initially fuzzy. It has grown in clarity over the years, but today, in these chains, it is abundantly clear.
Because He did leave us the Holy Spirit, he has been teaching us from within (where He dwells) what the cross means. As painful as it has been to have my will crossed so regularly by Him, I am so, so grateful. Because he has been discipling us, raising us like children — birthing his kingdom in us and through us—I can say today, I am not ashamed of Him and His words even in this adulterous and sinful generation. And I know He will not be ashamed of me when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels, one day very soon, to take me to Him.
Father, may you confront every false gospel of our age that has cheapened grace by excluding your cross. Teach us what our cross looks like and help us to embrace it as Peter and the disciples did. May Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.