Readings: 2 Peter 1:16-21
Our preaching rotas have always been random, so it’s only by chance that this will be the fourth time in my twelve years at Christ Church that this Gospel Reading about the Transfiguration of Jesus has fallen to me. I looked over my previous efforts and it would have been very easy for me to change a few sentences or paragraphs and just do one of those, or a mixture of them to talk to you about this morning.
But I’m of the opinion that most if not all of you will be well aware of what happened on that mountain, when the appearance of Jesus became blindingly bright and his closest disciples actually saw Moses and Elijah speaking with Him. If not, then just have a look at this morning’s Gospel Reading. Jesus was always talking to His followers about the Scriptures, so they may well have been recollecting that when Moses spent time with God, his face used to glow. So much in fact that he had to put a veil over it so as not to frighten the people, who couldn’t bear even to look at such brightness (Exodus 34:29–35).
So, for a change, I’m going to have to look at our other reading, from a letter written by Peter to the new followers of Jesus. He mentions that time on the mountain with Jesus, James and John. There was a specific reason Jesus had taken his closest disciples up that mountain. He needed them to witness the glory given to Him by His Father — and so they did. If you’re trying to convince someone of your belief in something that had occurred, which is more persuasive — to say, “A man who was there told me about it”, “I saw it on the TV”, or “I was an eyewitness to this happening”? And that’s exactly how Jesus gave the greatest strength of argument to Peter, who could honestly say, “but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (verse 16). He could even tell them that God actually spoke to him, saying, “This is my own dear Son—listen to Him!”(Matthew 17:7). There are of course other times in our Bible, when God has realised that someone’s faith needed a boost, when they were feeling not up to the job.
Moses fled from the wrath of Pharaoh after killing an Egyptian who’d been beating a Hebrew (Exodus 2:11–15). He was an exile for many years until God called him by appearing in a burning bush. God told him that he was destined to free His people, Israel, from their slavery in Egypt. How did he rise to meet this challenge? He said, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11 NIV). He said that even his own people wouldn’t believe him so God gave him three signs by which he could convince the people but even then, Moses wouldn’t go until God agreed that his brother, Aaron, could do the talking to Pharaoh (Exodus 3:1 – 4:17).
Elijah had just overseen, and in fact orchestrated, the slaughter of 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Ashera, the worship of whom was enforced by the evil wife of King Ahab, Jezebel (1 Kings 18:20–20). When her husband told her what Elijah had done to her prophets, she sent a messenger to Elijah saying, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” Elijah was afraid and ran for his life (1 Kings 19:2, 3 NIV).
To say Elijah was in need of a boost to his faith is an understatement. Yet we know from his earlier clash with those prophets, his faith had been tested and vindicated and he’d also vindicated God in full view of all the people. He’d probably felt really uplifted, until he got that message from Jezebel. Fear is one of the strongest of our feelings. It can overcome almost any of our worthier inclinations. It certainly brought Elijah down to earth with a bump. So he ended up hiding in a cave, far from his adversary. He’d already passed the stage when he asked God to take his life (1Kings 19:5). He desperately needed a boost to his faith.
And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” We know that this wasn’t true. Obadiah, a devout believer in the LORD, had told him earlier that he’d saved a hundred prophets of the LORD by hiding them in two caves (1 Kings 18:4).God ignored Elijah’s exaggeration and said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” (1 Kings 19:9–13 NIV). How much more of a boost to faith can anyone ask for, than for God to reveal His true image to them? We might remember how there was then a mighty wind, followed by an earthquake, followed by fire but God wasn’t found in any of those. After those came a gentle whisper and Elijah knew that God was there. God then gave His instructions to Elijah, knowing that his faith had been restored.
Another instance we might remember is how patient God was with a young man named Gideon. One day the LORD appeared to him and said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12 NIV). Now I’d imagine that most of us wouldn’t consider ourselves to be “mighty warriors”. Gideon was even more self-deprecating. He asked the angel, “… how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family” (Judges 6:15 NIV). Gideon then asked for a sign to prove that he was indeed chosen for this task. This is frowned upon even to this day. Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:16 when he said to Satan, “It is written, ‘Do not put the LORD your God to the test.’” (Matthew 4:7 NIV). He also said, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” (Matthew 12:39 NIV). So Gideon was really being disrespectful but the LORD allowed it, not once, but three times when Gideon asked for a fleece to be in various conditions with dew. He could tell when Gideon’s faith had been sufficiently boosted to carry out the task ahead (Judges 6:11–40).
Even Paul had his fears about the sin which lodges in us all — it’s called human nature. In his usual, sometimes enigmatic, way, he described it like this. “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” (Romans 7:18-20 NIV).
So we’ve heard about three giants of our Bible. There are many others but, in common with these three, we often share one problem — self-doubt. And who doesn’t from time to time. Many of us have self-doubt about whether we can do what others may expect of us. But probably most of us experience self-doubt regarding how we’re doing in our own personal walk with God. We see others whose journey seems to be almost ethereal, so close to being angelic.
But we don’t have a God that measures such things the way we do. He’s pleased when we do or say something that points to our heading in the right direction but that’s only because that would make life easier and more rewarding for us, not for Him. In our three examples, we heard about the boost God sometimes gives to a person in order for them to perform a particular task. What a boost God must have given to Paul’s faith, when it became obvious that the ship he was aboard was about to be wrecked. He not only had the faith that God would save him but to share that certainty with the others, that they too would be saved (Acts 27:22–25).
And of course a boost would be really helpful if we get the chance to share our faith with someone. Our reading this morning was taken from Peter’s second letter. In his earlier one, he’d written, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV). Remember the old adage, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” We all know deep inside that Jesus wants us to tell others about our faith, in order for His Church to grow. And what do many of us say to that? Like Moses and Gideon, do we say “Who am I that I should undertake this task?” If that’s our answer but we know what we should be doing, that’s when we need a boost to our faith. How do we get that inspiration? By doing what Jesus and Paul, to name just a couple, were always doing – praying to God for help and guidance and reading the Scriptures.
When sharing with others, it would be helpful if we could quote an instance in our own experience, when we think that prayer has influenced an outcome in our life. Or how, in some way, it was obvious to us and should have been to anyone, that God’s hand was so clearly on a particular situation, then that should strengthen our case and our own conviction that what we are saying is true.
Another help for us as we speak to others is to be able to tell them what God really thinks or says about something. That would take some knowledge of the Bible. It needn’t be from constant, deep study. In some instances, it might only be one thing that you know such as, “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:39); “Do not put the LORD your God to the test” (Matthew 4:7 NIV ); or “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Every churchgoer will have heard these simple phrases many times but it helps to fix them in your mind if you look up in the Bible the context in which they’re used.
Thinking back to our first reading, we see that, because Jesus gave him that disciple experience on the mountain, Peter was “even more confident of the message proclaimed by the prophets” (verse 19). I spoke a few weeks ago about the importance of the prophecies being fulfilled by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Moses told the people that there was only one test to see if a prophecy came from God or Satan. He said, 21 ‘You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord? 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed”’ (Deuteronomy 18:21, 22 NIV).
I’ve read that over 1200 biblical prophesies have already passed this very specific yardstick (J. Barton Payne’s Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy), with the rest yet to be tested, so surely the prophets need to be viewed with some respect, if not awe. What would our weather forecasters give for that kind of accuracy. So, Peter already had confidence in the prophesies of the Scriptures but, because of his experience on the mountain, that belief had become a blessed assurance. It was also interesting what he wrote about prophesy in our reading. It was a message for them and also one for us. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (verses 20 and 21).
We all know that the early Christians endured so many awful, life-threatening situations during their often short lives (2 Corinthians: 16–33). Where on earth did they get the courage to carry on? Well of course they didn’t get it from earth, they got it from God in the form of the Holy Spirit. They needed a guarantee about their eternal life and He gave it to them. So perhaps a couple of quotes from the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews about assurance for us might be appropriate.
“Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings” (Hebrews 10:22 NIV).
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV).
I looked up a few definitions of assurance but, in this context, I liked this one the best: Insurance cover against an eventuality that (sooner or later) must occur; death of the person covered under a life insurance policy being the common one. Well, we all know that one thing during our time on earth is absolutely certain. No, it’s not taxes. Some people have found ways to avoid that but they won’t avoid death — that will come sooner or later and not only to the old. If during our lives we ever need faith in the promises of the Scriptures, impending death is the time when we need the unequivocal assurance given to us by Jesus that He’s erased our sins. Best meaning of unequivocal? – leaving no doubt; unambiguous. I tell you; if I didn’t believe Jesus had deleted sin from the story of my life, leaving no doubt, I’d be absolutely terrified of dying. But in the hymn “Blessed Assurance” [10.30 - we’re going to sing later] I can sing, “Blessed assurance Jesus is mine.” And that I’m a purchase of God, as I’m “washed in His blood.” Surely those words alone are enough to dispel the fears that death might hold for us, if we believe them in our hearts. “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”? What a Friend indeed.
Have you at any time been able to make a stronger argument because of your presence at, or involvement in an occurrence that had contentious opinions about what happened? (Isn’t it frustrating when those more forceful, or with better contacts, still manage to have their way)?
Have you ever refused a challenge at work/at home/in your church etc., because you didn’t feel up to it, even though others believed you were?
Can you recall a time when you believe you received, or may have received, a boost from God?
Have you ever doubted the depth of your faith or compared it favourably/unfavourably to others?
Thinking of the Blessed Assurance we have due to our faith in Jesus, how strongly do you feel that Jesus asks each one of us to help others have that?