Summary: Jesus is more than a great man. It is important for us to know the transfigured Christ--to see God in his glory and to respect (fear) him.
Matthew 17:1-8 “Fear of God Getting Out of My Box”
Times have changed. When I was growing up, my parents and I would arrive ten or fifteen minutes before the worship service—when we went to church. We didn’t arrive early so we could secure our favorite pew, but in order to prepare our hearts. (As a kid I thought this was “boring,” with a capital “B”.) When we were in the area of worship, we were very quiet, also, because we were in God’s house—and we didn’t want to disturb God.
Several other practices have changed. Only pastors or trained laity were allowed inside the kneeling rails. For hundreds of years only pastors could distribute communion. Pulpits, at one time, were the domain of pastors. If lay people addressed the congregation, they had to do so from the chancel steps. Lutheran pulpits were for Lutheran pastors, also. No one who was not Lutheran—even if he were the pope—could ascend into a Lutheran pulpit. All of these traditions were attempts to stress the holiness of God and the sanctity of the location.
We might think that these past actions are extreme, but it can be argued that we have gone to the other extreme. Rather than stressing God’s holiness, we have highlighted his friendliness. We sing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” and “He walks with me and he talks with me.” Jesus is our good bud.
Jesus defies description, though, and he is constantly breaking out of the boxes in which we try to contain him.
The disciples had been with Jesus for almost three years. They had heard Jesus teach, and they had seen him perform a variety of miracles. They considered Jesus a great prophet and a miracle worker. They may have even considered that thought that he might be the Messiah for whom they had waited for so long.
When Jesus led them up a high mountain, they experienced Jesus in a new way. Jesus was transfigured before them. His continence and clothes became dazzling white. It was obvious to them that Jesus was more than a mere man. They beheld his holiness. Their thoughts were confirmed when the voice of God spoke through the cloud and proclaimed that this was his son the Beloved, in whom God was well pleased. What they saw and heard caused them to fear.
Jesus was more than they had thought, even more than they had hoped. It is scary to know this to be the truth. For the disciples, they didn’t know what this meant and what was in store for them.
When we started this series on living fearlessly, we stated that all of us are control freaks. We want things to go our way. We want to be the one’s calling the shots. We are, also, the most comfortable when we worship a God that is in our control.
The boxes we use to control God are numerous:
• We worship a God that is confined to a specific building and a specific time. We sing our praises, pay our dues, and then leave only to visit him again the next week.
• We worship a God who answers our prayers, provides for our needs, and prevents us from experiencing extremely difficult times.
• We worship a God who doesn’t expect much from us and does not force change upon us.
These might be nice boxes in our eyes, but they are too confining for God. He breaks out of these boxes at the most unexpected times and in the most unexpected ways.
A TRANSFORMING GOD
God breaks out of our boxes and displays his holiness and glory. These are times when we can only stand in awe and whisper words of thanks and praise.
God’s holiness is beheld in a variety of circumstances:
• We behold God’s glory when God surprises us and brings something good from something bad.
• We experience God’s power when God surprises us and brings life after death.
• We see God’s holiness in forgiveness and in love.
Our fear turns to awe when we see God’s movement in our world and in our lives.
Peter wanted to stay on the mountain top and build places to worship God. This is a common response, but Jesus doesn’t allow it. Instead he leads the disciples down the mountain and into the valley. He leads from fear to courageous ministry. Amen