Sermon: February 19, 2023

The sermon is not on YouTube for this week.

“Strolling With The King”

Matthew 17:1-9
1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. 4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Dr. Fred Craddock, a giant in the preaching profession who has gone on to be with the Lord, shared a wonderful story about a young minister, newly graduated from seminary, and serving in his very first church. He gets a call telling him that a church member, an elderly woman who has given her life in service for the church, is in the hospital. She’s so weak she can’t even get out of bed, and the doctors don’t hold much hope for her. Would he go and visit her? Well, of course he will, and he did.

All the way to the hospital he’s thinking about what he will say to this Christian lady, what words of comfort he can give her to prepare her for her eminent death. I’ve been in that place myself a few times—even calling Pastor friends for advice as I drove to the hospital or nursing facility.

So, he arrives at the hospital and goes up to her room for their visit. He sits and talks with her a few minutes, just small talk really, nothing earth shattering. When he gets ready to leave, he asks if she would like him to pray with her. “Of course,” she answers, “that’s why I wanted you to come.”
He then politely asks, “What exactly would you like me to pray for?” “Why, I want you to pray that God will heal me,” she answers in a surprised tone of voice.

Fumbling over the words he prays just as she wanted that God would heal her, even though he’s not really sure that will happen. When he says “Amen” at the end of the prayer the woman says, “You know, I think it worked! I think I’m healed!” And she jumps out of bed and begins to run up and down the hall of the hospital shouting, “Praise God! I’m healed! Praise God! I’m healed!”

The young minister—in a stupor—stumbles to the stairs—walks down five flights—makes his way to the parking lot and somehow manages to find his car. As he fumbles to get his keys out of his pocket, he looks toward heaven and says, “Don’t you ever do that to me again! It’s not supposed to happen like that!”

Well, to his credit, this young minister got one thing correct—he knew who was responsible—he knew who to credit for the healing. He realized that he was just a passenger on this bus—he realized that he was just along for the ride—and he realized that he was just a bit player in the grander scheme of things.

This morning, Jesus chooses to take three bit players, Peter and the Zebedee’s (James & John), with Him on a little stroll. This isn’t the first or the last time that Jesus asks these three to accompany Him. I like to call them the “inner three.” You know what? Jesus wants to take you with Him on a stroll. Just you and Him alone or in a group of friends or even a group of strangers—Jesus desires that you join Him—that you follow Him!

We know that Peter loved Jesus, he told Him so three times on the beach in John 21. We know that Jesus loved John because John reminded the other disciples of this constantly referring to himself as, “The one Jesus loved.” And we know that James, the other brother Zebedee was the first to seal his testimony with his blood. They were men of enterprise; men who wanted thrones and places of power—mistaken as that was.

On four special occasions it would be these three that Jesus would ask to accompany Him. At the raising of Jairus’s daughter in Luke 8:51 they were granted a preview of the Lord’s mastery over death. In our lesson today, on the mount of transfiguration they would gain a clearer insight into the importance of Jesus’ impending death. Later, on the Mount of Olives (Mark 13:3), they marveled at His Prophetic discernment. And finally, in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:37), they got a glimpse at the sufferings of the Savior and the true cost of their salvation.

I said a couple of weeks ago that sometimes to understand Scripture we have to read backward to get our bearings. I came across a quote this week that I used to have written on a white board in the office at my last church. It’s a quote from Soren Kierkegaard, “Life must be lived forward, but it can only be understood backwards.”

Matthew begins our text this morning by writing, “After six days.” If you are like me your first response might be, six days after what? It was six days before this when Jesus asked the disciples who people were saying He was—and then who THEY said He was. It was six days after Peter boldly proclaimed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. It was six days after Jesus told His disciples that He must suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law and eventually die yet be raised back to life on the third days. And if you go backwards even farther you might find, “When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called Moses from within the cloud” (Exodus 24:15-16).

So, Jesus and His “inner three” go for a stroll and end up on a mountain. Where or which mountain this is isn’t clear, but does it really matter? It is there that they meet up with two other individuals. If you were here a couple of weeks ago, going backward again, in His “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).

The two dudes on the mountain are guys from the Old Testament who didn’t obviously die and get buried. They were mountain men, like Christ, familiar with such mystical moments on this high place. They’d been on that very mountain, they knew its perils, the trembling before the mystery, surviving the annihilating presence.

Moses represents the law, or the Old covenant. He wrote the Pentateuch, and he predicted the coming of a great prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15-19). Elijah represents the prophets who foretold the coming of the Messiah (Malachi 4:5-6).

Wouldn’t you like to know what Jesus, Moses and Elijah were discussing? Don’t you wish we could eavesdrop on their conversation? Maybe get close enough for a selfie?

During their visit our text says that Jesus was transfigured in front of them. This word, transfigured, can also mean transformed or changed. And Peter wanted to build three structures for these three great men. Peter had the right idea about Jesus, but his timing was wrong. Peter wanted to act, but this was a time for worship and adoration. He wanted to memorialize the moment, but he was supposed to learn and move on. Remember, we live and grow in the valley—Peter wanted to remain on the mountaintop—but wouldn’t that be what we would want to do?

Jesus’ clothes dazzled, but so did His face, shining so brightly, enacting that classic benediction from Numbers 6: “May the Lord make his face to shine upon you.” And then the voice! Just as God’s voice in the cloud over Mount Sinai gave authority to the law given to Moses (Exodus 19:9), God’s voice at the Transfiguration gave authority to Jesus’ words.

Jesus is simply amazing—He’s fabulous—tender—brilliant—compassionate—wise—and holy! And He glowed! Not just any kind of glow but a glow that came from within.

When’s the last time you glowed? We have a tendency to glow when our children make us proud. And the glow becomes a little deeper when it involves our grandchildren. And all of this is okay. But what we should really do is ponder such moments—and then think about God. You can be proud—you just need to redirect it toward God—to pay focused attention to God—and then find ways to make it more of a habit than an accident of circumstance. We need to glow for God!

What if?

What if the church lived out its life in such a way others couldn’t help but see it?

What if Christians were so different that society became long-necked gawkers when looking to see the working of the congregation?

What if Christians were the people at which children and adults pointed their fingers and said, “Hey, look at that!”?

What if we so lived the love, salvation, peace, and hope of God that we seemed out of place in the world around us?

What if we were truly transformed into the very people of God?

Wouldn’t it be fun, exciting and wonderful if people were lining the sidewalks around our churches just to see what makes us so odd? (Bishop King quote)

When we take a stroll with Jesus and we encounter the living God it can be a deeply moving experience, but also threateningly fearful, as well as life-transforming. On the mountaintop Jesus doesn’t simply reveal Himself to His followers, but He demands that they follow Him, that they walk the path that He walks.

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday which is the beginning of the Season of Lent. For some it is a tradition to give up something they enjoy for Lent. In the past I have given up chocolate for Lent. One year I gave up carbonated drinks for Lent. I believe if you are going to do this you should choose something that you really enjoy to make it worth your while. For me, in both instances, whether the chocolate or carbonated drinks it was difficult for a few days but after about a week I really didn’t miss either one of them. The reason for giving up something is to force us to rely more on Jesus. Every time you have a craving for whatever it is you have given up you are to say a little prayer and ask Jesus to help you.

Something I started sharing a couple of church’s ago was that rather than trying to give something up for Lent you might try adding something. If you normally pray in the morning add a prayer in the evening as well. If you pray both morning and evening add an afternoon prayer to your schedule, or a prayer while driving to or from work rather than listening to the radio.

If you’ve seen my e-mails here recently you might try picking out a good friend or fellow church member and pray for them daily and after Easter, send them a note or give them a call to tell them that you prayed for them through the Season of Lent.

Add some additional Bible time to your schedule—spend more time in God’s Holy Word. And if none of these appeal to you, volunteer some of your time to your church or a community affair like the “Love Our City” event coming up next Saturday.

Now, please take this in the Spirit that it is intended, but, if you think you already pray enough—and already spend enough time in the Word—and don’t feel like volunteering or giving something up—please keep in mind what Jesus volunteered and gave up for you!

The three disciples that Jesus took on His stroll did not choose to go—Jesus chose them to go. The twelve disciples didn’t choose to be disciples—Jesus chose them to be His disciples. And this morning my friends, I want you to remember that Jesus has chosen you. When we follow Jesus, when we walk with the Lord, we are transformed, we are changed, we can go to the mountain top even though we live in the valley. Jesus chose to come to this earth, to feel the pain that we feel, to face the trials and temptations that we face, to experience rejection as we sometimes do, and to die on a cross so that we may know forgiveness. He did all of this because YOU have been chosen!

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