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May 16 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

May 15, 2011

And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming. And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Luke 9:29-31 (read verses 28-50)

INTRO: Do you find it irritating when non-Christians try to explain, define, or describe Christianity?

– inevitably they miss something important and usually it is the essence of knowing Jesus
– they make this mistake because they stand outside of Christianity and are trying to prove a point

It is equally irritating when some Christians try to define contemplative prayer
– because they stand outside of it, they have only a superficial understanding of it
– that is why their observations sound nonsensical to those who take waiting on God seriously
(For example, “The purpose of contemplative prayer is to enter an altered state of consciousness in order to find ones True Self, thus finding God”)

To pray is to enter a conscious communication with God
– that communication is fluid; it can take many forms–e.g., confession, requests, intercession, etc.
– and prayer does not always involve us talking (Ro. 8:26)

Throughout the history of Christianity, believers who devoted their lives to prayer discovered that a shift sometimes occurred as they prayed
– they would bring a scripture to prayer, asking God to open it up to their heart, mind and soul
– next, through patient concentration, they would be given an insight into the meaning of the passage before them
– then sometimes–certainly not always–the shift would occur: From seeing a insight about God to having a living experience of God who revealed himself through the insight

Nor was this experience unique to mystics
– through their studies and meditations, theologians (like Thomas Aquinas) and Christian philosophers (Blaise Pascal) also experienced moments of coming into direct contact with God
– it was a shift from observation to experience – from a concept about God to an encounter with God
They referred to their awareness of God in the present moment as contemplation

In the spiritual tradition of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the breakthrough into contemplation is related to the light of Jesus’ glory in his transfiguration
– without a doubt, the transfiguration of Jesus was the most intense revelation of his person during his lifetime

Most scholars consider verse 51 the turning point in Luke (from here on, Jesus is headed toward Jerusalem and the cross)
– but it seems to me that the transfiguration is the turning point
– the story of Jesus’ ministry rises to this mountain and then descends to the cross
– it is his transfiguration that sets the stage for his journey to Jerusalem

Verses 28-36, A radical answer to the question, “Who is this?”

In verse 28, Jesus and the three “went up on the mountain,” and in verse 37, “they came down from the mountain”
– Luke not only reports their literal movement, but the “up” and “down” also create a mood
– they first climb upward, toward an encounter with heaven
– both Moses and Elijah had God-encounters in which they witnessed his glory on a mountain, so they seem like the right characters to be with Jesus in this scene

“And while He was praying . . .”
– Luke saw prayer as a doorway to spiritual revelation
– Acts 10:9-11; 22:17-18

The change in Jesus’ appearance was not a change in Jesus
– he was not passing into a new stage of union with God
– this glory that suddenly burst our had always been there, hidden beneath his skin

Jesus knew this was going to happen when he climbed the mountain
– he knew it would reveal his identity and answer the question, “Who do the people say that I am?”

For the disciples, being there was a gift
– they did not plan it or try to climb the mountain to get it
– in fact, they had to be awakened to witness it
So even if prayer is a doorway, we never control the encounter
– it is always God’s decision when to open the door

The cloud that formed around them reminds us of God’s presence revealed in the temple
– God spoke to Jesus at his baptism; here he speaks to the disciples

The whole work of God is to bring us to this moment, to this truth

For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Cor. 4:6)

Moses and Elijah sum up the Scriptures that lead up to Jesus (Lk. 24:27)

But now comes the clumsy part of contemplative prayer
– in contemplative prayer, we not only find that God is present, but we are present too
– and the thoughts and reaction that immediately occur to us are almost always wrong:

  • paralyzing fear
  • I don’t belong here (Lk. 5:8)
  • I have to do something (v. 38)

Only some time later Peter realized all he had to do was witness the event

. . . we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”–and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. (2 Peter 1:16-18)

But this raises an important question: What effect did this encounter and revelation have on the disciples?

Verses 37-45, They re-enter the “real-world”

It is not just that they had to eventually come back down to earth

– but that is where we are supposed to be
– it is here that we walk with Jesus among the needy and oppressed

v. 41, “generation” in this context does not refer a group of people as defined by their ages
– rather, it refers to people who share particular characteristics
– in this case, people who are lacking faith and twisted (in their thinking)

We can hear the exasperation in Jesus’ voice – “how long?”
– they were not getting it
– why does Jesus say this? What was it they were not getting?
– what should they have known?
Luke doesn’t say – and for good reason
– he wants us to see, even though we (the readers) think we know more than the disciples, we may not be getting it either
– it may not be clear to us what Jesus expected from them

What happened next? Total grace: “Bring your son here”
– “Bring the problem to Me”
– what else can we do? We’re slow-learners, we lack faith

And before the dust settles, Jesus drills a word into his disciples
– 45, this is the problem at the heart of this whole chapter

Verses 46-50, Status, privilege and position

The disciples’ total lack of understanding is revealed in their argument

– their behavior was normal in an honor-shame culture

A child was the most insignificant member of society
– helping one offered absolutely no path to honor
– Jesus completely demolishes the driving force of their culture

  • Receive the insignificant person
  • Make yourself an insignificant person

John must have seen the connection with Jesus’ teaching and a recent encounter
– I think he suddenly realized he might have done the wrong thing
– he tried to squelch the exorcist because, “he does not follow along with us”

  • John assumed a role of authority
  • he tried to exercise control over someone else’s ministry
  • he created rules as to who could and could not use Jesus’ name

Jesus’ response: A simple rule of thumb

CONC: I asked earlier what effect witnessing the transfiguration had on the disciples?

It was the high point of the revelation of Jesus

– was it a high point for them too?
– do they go away transformed?

  • Peter wanted to put up three tents and stay there
  • the disciples were powerless to do what Jesus had empowered them to do
  • the whole crowd was unbelieving and twisted
  • the disciples were not understanding or perceiving
    instead, they competing for honor and trying to control others

Remember: There is no single experience that permanently changes us

At times, Christians make it seem like the church is a failed experiment
– don’t despair over this, just stop looking at Christians, just return to your contemplation of Jesus and his glory
– don’t lose faith, as if God doesn’t have the power to make something out of

  • powerless disciples,
  • an unbelieving and twisted generation,
  • or thick-skulled and thin-skinned Christians

Everything–the high points and the failures–goes into our spiritual growth

Jesus rescues the church from its nonsense by presenting a child to us and giving us the job of caring for those the world ignores
– we always come back down into the world of human need
– but we come with a story, a hope, a renewed energy, and with a Savior

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