Speaking of Life 3012 | Shining Out of Darkness Cara Garrity Were you ever afraid of the dark? Many of us have had this fear at some point. Oftentimes, the darkness congers our nightmares, causing us to see things that are not there. Generally speaking, complete darkness can be disorienting. We feel more vulnerable in the dark because we cannot see the pitfalls, obstacles, and dangers in our path. For several summers, I worked at a Christian camp that was based in a beautiful wooded area. My first summer, I made the unfortunate mistake of forgetting my flashlight one night. I had to walk the long path back to my cabin in the dark with the sounds of the woods around me. The path is easy to navigate by day, but at night… Let’s just say I became very acquainted with a large bush on the side of the path! It is fitting that the Bible uses darkness as a symbol for separation from God. According to scripture, disconnection from Jesus causes us spiritual blindness, and we stumble through our lives like a person trying to navigate a dark, unfamiliar path. Spiritual darkness can cause the same kind of disorientation and vulnerability as we try to figure out the way forward in our lives. When we are in spiritual darkness, we struggle with our identity because we cannot see the One in whose image we were made. The good news is that Jesus can find us in our darkness. Not only can he find us, but he has the power to chase away the dark because he is light. Notice what Paul said: And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God's glory displayed in the face of Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 This week, Christians all over the world will be celebrating the transfiguration—an event where Jesus revealed his divinity by shining brighter than the sun. Jesus not only revealed that he is God, but he showed us the kind of God he is. He is pure light and in him there is no darkness. He is a powerful God, who uses his limitless strength to save, rescue, and redeem. Jesus lives to chase away our spiritual darkness, and he has the power to make us children of light. And, Jesus will keep working until the entire world is filled with light. Because Jesus shines, we will never again have to fear the dark. I am Cara Garrity, Speaking of Life.
Psalm 50:1-6 • 2 Kings 2:1-12 • 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 • Mark 9:2-9
This week’s theme is the transcendent power of God. God’s power is beyond our imagination, and he has no rival or equal. The call to worship Psalm sings praises to the “mighty one.” In 2 Kings 2:1-12, God shows his power through the miraculous last days of Elijah. In 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Paul explains God’s power to shine the light of the gospel through the darkness of this world. In Mark 9:2-9, we see God revealing Jesus’ power and divinity through the transfiguration.
If you have any familiarity with Superman, you will know that his alter ego is Clark Kent, a mild-mannered reporter for the Daily Planet newspaper. Working for a news organization allowed the Krytonian to interact with the people he was protecting and to hear about situations that may have required his super attention. The Clark Kent persona would also allow for comic relief. Not knowing they were talking to Superman, people would often underestimate Kent and say things to him they would never say to the Man of Steel. It was all the more silly because Superman’s “disguise” was a pair of horned rim glasses. How was anyone fooled? With all Superman’s power, you would think he could come up with a better disguise! Or, at least he could spend the cash for some hipster designer lenses.
The way people underestimate the disguised Superman is similar to how people underestimate God; however, when we underestimate God, it is not always funny or cute. Sometimes we think about God as if he is less than what he is. We think about him like he is capable of cruelty and neglect. We think about him as if he were not good. When things are going our way, we sing God’s praises. But when our situation is challenging, we question God’s ability to deliver us. Why do we underestimate God? And more importantly, how do we stop?
Today is Transfiguration Sunday, commemorating the day when Jesus, on a mountain, was revealed evidence of his deity to three of his closest friends. On that day, Jesus shone brighter than the sun and showed that he was more than just a good teacher. He was and is something far greater. From a theological standpoint, the Transfiguration, as we call it, is important for us because it helps us understand Christ’s nature—fully God and fully human. However, I believe there is more to the Transfiguration. I believe the story of the Transfiguration can help us avoid underestimating God. Let’s look at the Mark’s version of the transfiguration story.
After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters — one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. (Mark 9:2-9)
For the purpose of this message, I would like to focus on Peter’s response. Prior to this story, Peter had one of his best moments. In Mark 8:29, Peter proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah, knowledge only God could reveal. It was a huge spiritual victory for Peter. Less than a week later, on that mountain, Peter is getting yelled at by a cloud! I love Peter, and I do not think I am a better than the apostle. But you really have to mess up if a cloud is needed to straighten you out! I have done some bad things, but nothing “cloud bad!” I am joking, of course. It was God speaking through the cloud. God had to lovingly and firmly correct Peter in that moment because his thinking was way off.
First, Peter called Jesus “rabbi.” A week earlier, Peter called Jesus the Messiah. Now he is calling him “rabbi,” or “teacher.” Keep in mind, Peter is speaking as Jesus is shining and talking with two dead heroes of faith. How does one go from “Messiah” to “rabbi” in that moment? We will get back to this question.
Next, Peter proposed building three tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. There was a belief in Peter’s time that divine beings dwelled in tabernacles, or tents, and scholars believe Peter wanted to extend the Transfiguration phenomenon. He wanted to honor the three beings by creating places of habitation for them, which also facilitated the continuation of the experience. Peter had good intentions, but he was “cloud wrong.” Peter was inadvertently putting Elijah and Moses on the same level as Jesus. Perhaps he saw Christ as a great prophet like Moses and Elijah. Without meaning to do so, Peter had diminished Jesus in his own eyes. He underestimated the Son of Man as his Lord and Savior and he somehow imagined the Eternal Son would be pleased to stay in a tent made by human hands.
Again, how did Peter go from acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah to underestimating him in less than a week? In verse 6, Mark gives us important information about Peter’s state of mind. Peter “did not know what to say, for they were terrified.” Peter and his companions were afraid, and rightly so! Peter is better than me. After seeing Jesus shining and two dead guys walking around, I would have set the world record for fastest descent of a mountain! I would have felt a primal fear that would make me run like Usain Bolt! At least Peter stayed on the mountain, and I give him credit for that. However, Peter felt a type of fear that compelled him to speak. It was not just the primal terror that triggers our flight response. Some other type of fear was working in Peter that drove him to insert himself into the Transfiguration. We do not know what was going through Peter’s mind, but perhaps he felt he would be punished if he did not show the proper respect to Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Perhaps Peter thought Jesus needed to be reminded that the three disciples were there so they would not accidentally be incinerated by Christ’s power. Whatever the reason, Peter’s fear became greater than the image of Christ in his mind.
I am not picking on Peter, because all of us do the same thing. For example, if someone we care about becomes seriously ill or if our car unexpectedly needs a costly repair, it is natural to be anxious or afraid. However, if we are not careful, we can allow that anxiety or fear to spiral into worry. If the worry goes on long enough, the fear can cause us to accuse God of being cruel, uncaring, distant or some other negative adjective because he is “allowing us to go through this.” “If he loved me,” we might reason, “he would protect me from this hardship.” We end up underestimating God’s goodness and his ability to deliver us.
I wish I could tell you that my relationship with God is not affected by my circumstances, but I cannot. I sometimes allow my situation to determine my perception of God’s goodness. I let my problems affect my belief in God’s ability to save me. I make my fear a false god and allow it to erode my trust in Jesus. Ironically, the more I give in to fear and worry, the less I am inclined to bring my problem to God—the one who could actually help me. I somehow allow myself to believe the great Creator of heaven and earth, the one who holds all things together, the one who puts the very breath in my lungs, is weak. Lord, have mercy on me and anyone else who falls into that trap!
During the Transfiguration, when Peter underestimated Jesus, God told him, ““This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” In calling Jesus his Son, the Father is establishing Christ’s equality with himself. In speaking of his love for Jesus, the Father is stating his unity with the Son. In other words, the Father told Peter that Jesus is the Creator and the Almighty. Jesus is the one who caused the stars to shine and seas to roar. Jesus is the one who raised the mountains. Jesus caused the birds to sing and the flowers to bloom. Jesus created humanity in his image, and by his active will, puts air in our lungs, providing the very breath Peter used to underestimate him. We know the passage:
All things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Col. 1:16b-17 ESV)
God instructs Peter to listen to this Jesus—the real Jesus—not the Jesus of his corrupted imagination. Peter should have rejected the Jesus of his fear and bowed down before the King of kings and Lord of lords. He should not have presumed to know anything and looked to Christ to show him how to think and be. God’s admonition to Peter is important instruction for us as well. We cannot allow the circumstances of our lives to diminish Christ in our hearts. We are so prideful, thinking we know what God should do, and when and how he should do it. And, when he does not do things the way we expect, we tend to judge him and diminish our estimation of his greatness. Instead of submitting our will, emotions, and reason to him, we sometimes treat God like he is a corrupted human being.
The Transfiguration reminds us that yes, Jesus is our friend and brother, and he is the first new human, but his unity with humanity does not rob him of his majesty and divinity. Transfiguration Sunday should be a reminder that we cannot and should not underestimate our Savior.
If we fully trusted Christ, we would never underestimate him. Trusting Jesus involves not only believing in him, but also having faith that God is giving us what we need. It is trusting in his perfect timing. It also means that we trust his leading and believe he will tell us what we need to do to join him in the work that he is doing. Trusting God means following him despite a lack of understanding and without the full picture. Most importantly, trusting God means being content with what we have, knowing that God would only deprive us of things we do not need or are harmful to us. Peter did not have full understanding of what was happening on the mountain of Transfiguration, so he tried to interpret events for himself.
One way to keep ourselves from underestimating Jesus is to regularly put ourselves in a position to be overwhelmed by our great God. We need to put ourselves in the place where words fall short—the place where logic fails. We need to go to the place where all we can do is worship him.
For some of us, music takes us to that place. Praise and worship music helps us draw nearer to God. Experiencing nature is another way to be filled with awe. When we immerse ourselves in creation, we cannot help but notice its beauty, symmetry, and glorious complexity. It will inevitably lead us to the feet of the Creator who prepared such a beautiful world for us. Commit to doing whatever it is that makes you feel overwhelmed with wonder and gratitude on a regular basis. We need to create a space for Jesus to be transfigured before our eyes.
After the voice from the cloud spoke to Peter, everything else disappeared. Moses, Elijah, and even the cloud faded away. Only Jesus was left. He is all we have, and he is all we need. His greatness cannot be overestimated. There is none like him! Nothing else can satisfy like Jesus! No one else can save like our Lord! There is no greater love than that which flows from the heart of our Jesus! Let us make everyday Transfiguration Sunday because Jesus is worthy of all praise!
Small Group Discussion Questions
- In what ways is separation from Christ like being in the dark?
- In what ways does Jesus bring light?
- Can you think of a time when you underestimated God?
- Do you think Peter was wrong for wanting to extend the transfiguration experience?
- What makes you feel in awe of God? How can you encounter that on a regular basis?