By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
February 27, 2022
Luke 9:28–36 (ESV)
28 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. 30 And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” 36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.
Luke 9:37–43 (ESV)
37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 39 And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him. 40 And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41 Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42 While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astonished at the majesty of God. But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples,
Today, we are again meeting together during a time of confusion and fear. We do not know what our future holds, we do not know what the kingdoms of men will do. We do not know. This confusion, this lack of knowledge, this lack of direction can allow fear to grip our hearts. I want us to recognize that fear in our own hearts. I want us to acknowledge that we are in fact afraid. I want us to realize that at times we will make decisions and act out of fear and how often those actions are contrary to our testimonies as Friends of Christ.
I must admit that I succumb to fear. This week has been a difficult one for me. As I look at the news my heart has been torn. As many of you know I spent time teaching English in the nation of Ukraine. Some of you may also be aware that one of my favorite authors is from Russia. And most of you know that I love my own nation. When I look at the news my emotions are mixed. My heart is pulled in multiple directions. And I can barely think.
Along with all the turmoil the kingdoms of men are causing, I am also aware of the things that are happening in our own lives and even in our churches. We have this intimate desire to fight, to be right, to be in charge, and control the future destiny of our lives. I have engaged in the arguments. I have engaged in the verbal battles of ideas, and I must repent of my own strong headedness. But I do this for one reason, there are people loved by God on all sides.
Today we meet Jesus in the most fascinating scene in all of scripture. This is a mysterious and almost frightening scene. It gives great hope, while at the same time it is just weird to the point scholars just do not know what to make of it. I say this because the words used in much of this passage allude to things and yet they do not. Luke in this passage uses words that he does not often use. Is he speaking of Old Testament fulfillment or is he speaking into eschatological shadows? This passage is shrouded in wonderous mystery.
It begins, “And now about eight days after…” How many of you know the significance of the eighth day? The eighth day is often regarded as the future day of the Lord, the day of new creation. When I was getting my master’s degree from Friends University in Wichita, we had to obtain several very odd books to study from. Many of these books were difficult to find and even the university book story struggled to keep them in stock. But there was one bookstore in town that had them all. The name of that bookstore is Eighth Day Books. I love this store. I try to visit it every time I go back to Wichita, because it is not just a bookstore. Yes, it is, filled with shelves of books. But these books are not what you would find at Barnes and Noble. There are classic books of literature, there are political science, philosophy, and history books. But along with these are books of theology and Christian spirituality. They have works from every corner of Christian thought from the various branches of Eastern Orthodox thought to Quakers. Yes, they have Quaker books. And they have Orthodox Icons. It is like you walk into a sacred library when you go into this place. But I always wondered why it was called Eighth Day Books. This bookstore is owned and operated by a very devout Orthodox Christian, and the reason he called it Eighth Day is because of his deep faith. Many believe that God created the world in six days, and on the seventh day he rested. We get the rhythm of the sabbath from this creation narrative. But this keeps cycling from one to seven and back to one. Many believe also that this narrative speaks of ages instead of days, and that what we regard as human history is the era of the seventh day, God is at rest. The eight day is when God becomes active once more.
About eight days after, Luke begins. Is this alluding to this theological concept of new creation of God’s return to active participation in the temporal affairs of Earth? We do not know. Some scholars believe that this is why Luke uses the term eight, because usually they would use the word seven instead. While others simply believe that Luke is saying just over a week later. Just over a week from what?
The gospel accounts as most of us know are not the same. This troubles some people. It troubles them because we have perpetuated a flawed understanding of inspiration of scripture. Many believe, like me that God has inspired the writing of Scripture. But if God has inspired it, shouldn’t everything be accurate? This illuminates the flaw in our understanding of inspiration. God did not dictate scripture, he inspired. God used the unique perspectives of devout disciples to reveal himself to the world. The fact that Mark and Luke differ in how things are presented does not mean that scripture is not inspired it simply means that Mark and Luke are two different individuals that were inspired to write different things. In Luke Jesus had just fed the multitude in the region of Bethsaida, this is just north of the sea of Galilee. After the disciples had finished cleaning up after this massive feast and gathered the twelve baskets of leftovers. Jesus asks them a question. “Who do the crowds say that I am?” The disciples answer Elijah, John the Baptist or one of the prophets. And after this starts the conversation, Jesus asks a follow-up question, “Who do you say that I am?”
The scene has similarities throughout the various gospel accounts but the location is not always specified. In Mark, this conversation happens further north than Bethsaida, in Caesarea Philippi. I do not want this to cause questioning, because in Matthew, Mark, and Luke they all have this conversation happening after Jesus fed a multitude around Bethsaida. Luke just does not mention that Jesus and his disciples moved further north. All three mention the feeding, the conversation, and after this conversation Jesus is found on a mountain praying.
The conversation that occurred just prior to today’s passage happened at a particular place that has a long history. A history that reaches to the pages of Genesis. So often we think the reason the world is corrupt is because of the fall in the Garden of Eden when our first parents ate from the tree God commanded them to not eat from, but this is just part of the story. Later in Genesis we find an odd story just prior to the flood narrative about Sons of God lusting after the daughters of men. This story in our bible does not have a great deal of context, but in the ancient cultures surrounding Israel there is a great deal of context. It is the site of divine rebellion and spiritual warfare. Those spiritual beings that rebelled against God and prompted the fall of humanity continued to deceive our ancestors. And some ancient writers believe that these Watchers, or rebellious spiritual beings, came down to Mount Hermon and gave them forbidden knowledge and became intimate with humanity. We know that the story of the flood can be found in the writings of other ancient cultures, but there is another story that can also be found. The story of the gods visiting humanity and producing the great warriors of ancient days. We see glimpses of this the mythology of the Greeks, Babylonians, Persians, as well as in the Hebrew bible. The offspring of this union were the giants, the titan, or the gods of ancient mythology that were thrown into hell after a spiritual battle. And in the region of Caesarea Philippi, around Mount Hermon there is a cave that was believed to be the portal to place these giants were imprisoned. We would call this the gates of hell.
Jesus asks the disciples who do they and who do you say that I am, and Simon confesses, “You are the Christ.” And after this Simon was called Peter, and Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
I mention this because we are not alone in our battles. We are fighting against forces seen and unseen. We are being influenced by powers that may come from human and spiritual places. I am not a charismatic teacher, but I believe scripture. Paul says we do not struggle against flesh and blood only but powers and principalities. There is a war going on that transcends what we see. A war. A war that started over the jealousy of spiritual beings over the creation of humanity and God’s desire to dwell with us in the garden. A battle that still wages because each faction of humanity wants to believe that they are the ones that have God’s divine favor.
After the flood, there was a third rebellion in Genesis, the tower of Babel. From that rebellion God scattered the people of the earth and confused the languages. We are told that he divided the earth among the powers and that he maintained Israel as his allotment. It is through Israel that God chose to reveal the truth. It is through Israel that the word of God is given to humanity.
A week after the conversation about who Jesus is occurs, Jesus withdraws to an isolated place to pray. I cannot fully express the importance of prayer in our spiritual lives. Prayer is where we are given strength. It is through prayer that we are given direction. It is in prayer that we join and commune with God. As Friends prayer is our expression of communion how we express our union and devotion to Christ. It is through the prayer that we join with God in his kingdom, and in prayer that we are guided into ministry. Jesus goes to the isolated place to pray, and he takes his three closest friends with him.
While Jesus is praying, something profound happens. Luke tells us that the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became a dazzling white. The English does not do this justice. We say dazzling but this word in Greek means to flash like lightening. Jesus is praying and before their very eyes, they see power. They see energy. They see the unshrouded divine nature of Jesus, clothed in the pure energy that was the first cause, causing the creation of the world. They saw a glimpse of the Big Bang! I want us to imagine this scene. The images we have seen in art have Jesus in white clothing but this does not do it justice. Jesus was flashing lightening, clothed in the brightness of the sun. The disciples are looking at God.
And something else happens. Two men are seen talking with him as he prays. Moses and Elijah. And they catch waves of the conversation. “Who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” I want us to consider this for a moment. Who are these men? Again, scholars find this to be a mysterious scene. Some will say that it is a foreshadowing of the two witnesses of Revelation, so liken this scene to the eschatological fulfilment yet to come. Yet others see this as being a symbolic representation of God’s revelation to humanity, the law and the prophets speaking to the true word of God which is Christ. I like the later view personally. John tells us, “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of will of man, but of God. And the Word become flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
John in his introduction to his gospel I believe speaks of this encounter. He speaks of light and the word. He speaks of his own people, and the world. He speaks of dwelling among his people and children of God. He speaks of knowing and not knowing. John is speaking of this divine battle between the powers of rebellion and God. Everything goes back to the beginning and the end. Everything revolves around God’s ultimate plan and design.
Peter, James, and John saw Jesus fully and clearly. They saw him speaking to the law and the prophets, they saw him as the fulfillment and the true word of God. They saw the rebellion perpetrated on that mountain and they saw that God was about to reverse all that had happened and restore creation to its rightful place. They see this and they are confused. They are unable to fully understand what is occurring around them. And in this confusion Peter says, “Let’s make three tents.”
We look at this statement as Peter wanting to dwell or stay in this mountain top experience. I have even spoken from this position. We have all had times where we feel extremely close to God and we desire to keep this going. How can we keep the spiritual energy flowing when we come down from the mountain? Peter says let us build a tent. I have thought that as well at times. I personally often have great spiritual experiences when I go to the mountains of Colorado. I am fully aware that if I were offered a ministry position in the mountains, I would struggle to say no. I would want to stay because in my mind I would be closer to God in that place. But life must go on. We come down from the mountains and the struggles of daily life come back into play.
But Peter sees something that we often miss. He wants to build a tent not only to preserve the spiritual experience but also to restore Eden. The tent or tabernacle in ancient Israel was where God dwelt with them in the wilderness. Peter desires intimacy with God. He desires the restoration and reconciliation. He might not have understood what he was saying completely but God sees through our intentions and reveals the truth.
At that moment, a cloud came and overshadowed them. What is the cloud? A cloud overshadowed the mountain when Moses received the law. The cloud entered the tabernacle in the desert and entered the temple of Jerusalem. The cloud is God’s tabernacle. And through the cloud they hear a voice. “This is my Son, my Chosen One, listen to him.”
Peter made a confession, and God confirmed his confession. Jesus the embodied word of God came to dwell with us. He pitched his tent among us. He did this so that we could be restored to our rightful place. From the beginning of time God’s only desire was to dwell with his creation not because he needs us but he wants us to dwell with him.
God desires to dwell with us, but the war rages on. Just as the full nature of Jesus was shrouded, the origin of our desires and will is shrouded. We are not always aware of where our ideas come from. Are they from God or the kingdoms of men? Where does our help come from? And can we be deceived? We are surrounded by spiritual powers and desires of this world. Where is our attention?
Peter had his heart in the right place, and yet in his desire to follow Christ he opposed the will of God. He wanted God to dwell on earth. He so desired this that he was blind. The glory of God and his desire to be close caused him to forget the ultimate mission. We have always been called to make the world around us like Eden, the kingdom.
And we come back to the eighth day. God created the world and commissioned us to make the world like Eden, while He rested on the seventh day. The eighth day all things are restored. Peter wanted to jump to the eighth day without fully completing the mission set before us. And Jesus shows them this. The next day they went down and continued to minister. They pushed back the forces of darkness and reflected the light of God. I ask if this is where we find ourselves?
In our desire to be close do God, do we pray that the Lord will return? I know we do, how could we not. It is our greatest desire. In that day, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. But the reality is that God so loves the world that he does not wish that even one person will pass into eternity without knowing him. As we wait for that day, God also waits. And as time continues to move forward the distractions get greater. And we are called even more to love God, embrace the Holy Spirit and to live the love of Christ with others. God revealed the truth, and he called us to listen to him. But will we listen? Will we enact? Will we participate in the prayer of Christ that His kingdom come, His will be done on earth as it is in heaven?
The world around us is filled with fear and turmoil. In the kingdoms of men, we find only uncertainty and postures of power. We like to say that we are the good and they are the bad, but the reality is that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. God does not want Christian governments, he wants us. He wants his people, those that believe in him to reflect the divine light he shares to those who are in the darkness. This Transends the kingdoms of men and extends into the heavens. But that does not begin in Washington DC, or Kyiv or Moscow. That begins right here. It begins in our hearts. Will we stop looking at the kingdoms of men and begin to live Eden in our communities. Will we stop waiting and pitching tent, and instead share the hope that we have in Christ. Will we listen to Him?
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