Summary: Jesus’ transfiguration is recorded in the gospels to embolden the disciples and their converts down the ages, as they face discouragement on the way to God’s Kingdom.
When you feel like quitting
On July 4, 1952, a young woman named Florence Chadwick waded into the water off Catalina Island. She was setting out to swim the channel from the island to the California coast. This was no novice undertaking. Florence Chadwick had already been the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions.
The day, however, was very foggy. And, the water was numbingly cold on that day. In fact, the fog was so thick she could hardly see the boats moving slowly alongside her. In addition to the coldness, and the blindness caused by the fog, Chadwick knew that she was attracting sharks. Several times during the swim, people in boats alongside her were firing at the sharks with rifles to drive them off. Nevertheless she swam for more than 15 hours before she asked to be taken out of the water. Her trainer tried to encourage her to swim on because they were so close to the land. But when Florence looked, all she saw was fog. So she quit. When they pulled her from the water, she was only one-mile from her goal, a goal she did not reach. [hat tip: sermon central illustration bank]
This is a dramatic and heart-breaking sort of failure when it happens. I imagine all of us can remember something similar that we have seen in our own lives, in the lives of family members or friends – when we quit, when they quit, so close to the goal, but they quit because they had lost all hope that they would ever get to the finish line.
The Old Testament and Gospel lessons for today show us something about discouragement, why it happens, and what God provides for us to overcome it.
Let’s consider, first of all, Elisha, for the situation in which we find him in 1 Kings 19 has many parallels with Florence Chadwick’s failure to swim the Catalina channel back in 1952. Like Chadwick’s victory over the English Channel, Elisha had a stunning victory – he had recently bested 400 prophets of Baal in a mighty contest, and he had slain all of them. And, like Chadwick who was threatened by sharks, Elisha was threatened by something far worse than sharks – the Queen Jezebel, who had sent him a message that she was going to do to him what he had done to her prophets. And, like Chadwick, who could see only fog, Elisha could see nothing either.
After Elisha had fled Jezebel’s murderous agents and had come to a distant mountain in the wilderness and hidden himself in a cave, God asked him, “What are you doing here?”
And, this is what Elisha told him: “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”
As far as Elisha was concerned, that recent victory over the prophets of Baal amounted to nothing. Why? Because even after that, what could he see as far as Israel was concerned? Nothing good. The people of Israel had torn down God’s altars, they had killed God’s prophets with the sword, Elisha was now the very last who showed any faithfulness of the God of Israel, and everyone – not just Jezebel – was seeking to kill him.
God gave him a rather spectacular object lesson which has generated untold numbers of sentimental sermons about the small still voice. First the Lord paraded before Elisha great and mighty tumults – winds so powerful that they ripped apart the mountain in which Elisha was hiding. Then an earth quake, and then a roaring fire that swept the countryside. And, after the fire had passed, Elijah heard a small still voice, so faint he couldn’t understand it. He went out of his cave, and then he could understand. It was the Lord’s voice, of course, and it told him two things: it told him some things to do, and it assured him that in spite of his feeling utterly alone, God had preserved a remnant in Israel who had not worshiped the false god Baal.
Now, let us go several centuries after Elisha to the events recorded in Mark 9, today’s gospel lesson. What has this got to do with Elisha and his discouragement? Well, parallels are simply this: Elisha was profoundly depressed and discouraged in his service to the Lord. That service was difficult, demanding, tedious, dangerous, and it looked very much to Elisha that there was no point to any of it. In the final analysis, nothing good was going to come out of it.