Encountering God

Year C - 2021-2022  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  30:49
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Luke 9:28–36 CEB
28 About eight days after Jesus said these things, he took Peter, John, and James, and went up on a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes flashed white like lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, were talking with him. 31 They were clothed with heavenly splendor and spoke about Jesus’ departure, which he would achieve in Jerusalem. 32 Peter and those with him were almost overcome by sleep, but they managed to stay awake and saw his glory as well as the two men with him. 33 As the two men were about to leave Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it’s good that we’re here. We should construct three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—but he didn’t know what he was saying. 34 Peter was still speaking when a cloud overshadowed them. As they entered the cloud, they were overcome with awe. 35 Then a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, my chosen one. Listen to him!” 36 Even as the voice spoke, Jesus was found alone. They were speechless and at the time told no one what they had seen.
Encountering God
Do you recall the last time you had a close personal encounter with God? It might have been when you were saved and Jesus seemed so very real to you that He was right there with you. Maybe it was when the Holy Spirit sanctified you, when He filled you with His fullness. It might have been a special worship service where it seemed like God just filled the place and you were afraid to breath or move, afraid that if you did the moment would be lost.
Have you ever felt that way? When was the last time? Was it a recent event or was it some distant past event?
There have been times in my life when God seemed very distant from me, almost as if He were at some far off distant universe from where I was at the time. Looking back now with the benefit of time I realize that those times when God seemed distant where times when I had allowed my love for God and service to Him to grow weak and cold.
There have been times in my walk with God that He seemed so close. Times when I didn't want to move from the spot I was in, just to relish in the moment. There have been worship services that I've been in that the Holy Spirit was so real, not in some type of manipulated sense but that He had come in spite of what was being sung or preached. You just knew that you were like Moses standing on holy ground.
There are times that I'll sit down at the piano and start playing and the Holy Spirit will come and envelope me and it will seem to me like I've been transported to a place where I'm playing a concert for God. Not that I'm particularly talented or good at it, but it's just how in my moment of worship that God comes near.
I remember one year when I had signed up to be a counselor at Teen Camp on the Virginia District and took a week of leave to go to camp. Before the evening service the counselors would gather to pray around the altar in the tabernacle for the teens. As the week progressed, the prayer times were great but I was beginning to feel convicted in my own life about where I was with my walk with God and it became harder to pray for the teens and my prayer turned towards myself.
On Thursday of that week after the evening meal we again gathered for prayer before the service. Even as we began praying you could sense the presence of God in that place. As I prayed I really sensed God speaking to me and in a nearly audible way He lovingly confronted me. And in a moment I fully surrendered to the Holy Spirit and to try to describe it is hard, but it was like a light and the glory of God filled that place and me, and there was such awesome sense of God's presence and a warmth that invaded me that I felt flushed by God's presence.
It was in that moment that I knew that was entirely sanctified, that I had been filled with the Holy Spirit. I knew that I was in the very presence of God. It seemed like our prayer time was extended that evening, I glanced up once and noticed all the kids waiting impatiently to enter the tabernacle. When we wrapped up the prayer time almost all the pastors and youth leaders mentioned the incredible presence of God that evening - we didn't want it to end.
What an amazing thing to be in the very presence of God. There've been other times that God's presence was so real but none compares to that evening in the tabernacle at the Virginia District campground when God came near.
When we gather to worship on a Sunday are we coming just to go through the motions of a worship service or are we coming with the expectation that we are gathering in the very presence of God.
As awesome as that experience was I don't want to just relish in the past. I want, I desire God to make himself known to us today in such a real way that our lives as transformed and changed.
In the scriptures for today we read about the Glory and presence of God. In our Gospel reading we're reminded again of that event that we call the Transfiguration. Luke writes that
Luke 9:28 CEB
28 About eight days after Jesus said these things, he took Peter, John, and James, and went up on a mountain to pray.
Matthew, Mark and Luke all relate this incident in the life of Christ and all three say that after a number of days that Jesus and those three disciples went up to the mountain. Luke says that after eight days - what had just happened?
If you go back earlier in the chapter you read about Jesus feeding the 5,000 men plus all the women and children. What an awesome event that must have been. To watch as Jesus took five small loaves of bread and a couple of small fish and he blessed it - he said Grace over it. The food was then distributed to the vast crowd. Not only was there enough to feed everyone, but there was twelve basketfuls left over.
How amazing that must have been to seen God work in such a miraculous way. Following that event we come to the place where Jesus asks the disciples who people are saying that he is. It's then that Peter makes that statement: "You are God’s Messiah."
Jesus response from Matthew’s Gospel was:
Matthew 16:17–19 CEB
17 Then Jesus replied, “Happy are you, Simon son of Jonah, because no human has shown this to you. Rather my Father who is in heaven has shown you. 18 I tell you that you are Peter. And I’ll build my church on this rock. The gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it. 19 I’ll give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Anything you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. Anything you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven.”
Immediately following that declaration of faith by Peter, Jesus begins telling them how he is going to die and be resurrected. Matthew tells us that Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him for saying such thing. How did Jesus respond to Peter? He said to him "Get behind me Satan!"
It's after all those events, after eight days that Jesus took Peter, James and John to the mountain. After all the highs and the lows of the past days He took even Peter up to the mountain.
There on the mountain, Luke simply records that "As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes flashed white like lightning.” We call it transfiguration.
The word for “transfigured” is the word “metamorphosis,” a word which means a change arising from the essential nature of His person, not an external impression.[1]
That word metamorphosis is what we use to describe the change of a caterpillar into a butterfly. When we begin seeing those caterpillars this spring and some of them a beautiful to look at, but there is more there than meets the eye. Within that caterpillar is a beautiful butterfly just bidding it's time to get out. Even though it looks like a worm with lots of legs, within it is a butterfly. That's what it is, that's it's essential character.
Over in Exodus the story was read of Moses going up to the mountain so that God could give him the tablets with the law and commandments written on them. The scripture tells us that the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. Can you imagine being Moses and entering into that place and experiencing the glory of God close up or even the children of Israel as they watch the cloud settle down on the mountain?
If you read further into this account in Exodus over into chapter 34 Moses comes down the mountain after his second trip up to meet with God. It was during the first trip that God had given Moses all the law and everything that the people were to do regarding the tabernacle. Over a period of 40 days God met with Moses there and during that time the people thought Moses had left them so they created and idol, an idol of a calf made out of gold and began worshipping it. Moses comes down, smashing the stone tablets and asks Aaron and the people why they'd turned their backs on God.
Moses makes his second journey up the mountain and has to write down himself all the law. He spends another 40 days there on the mountain with God and we read about Moses standing in the cleft of a rock while the Glory of God passes by him and Moses is changed because of that event.
The Bible tells us in Exodus 34:30
Exodus 34:30 CEB
30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw the skin of Moses’ face shining brightly, they were afraid to come near him.
With Moses there wasn't a transfiguration. Moses was just reflecting the Glory of God that he had been exposed to. Folks, when you've been in God's presence your life will be dramatically changed.
When Jesus was transfigured, his essential nature, the very nature that He had as God came shinning through, it came from within. He wasn't merely reflecting the Glory of God, but because He was God, who he was came shinning through. The Bible says that his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light.
Remember, when Jesus came as that baby in Bethlehem, he laid aside the glory of heaven to take on our form. Do you remember what Paul wrote to the Philippians?
Philippians 2:5–11 CEB
5 Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: 6 Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. 7 But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human, 8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore, God highly honored him and gave him a name above all names, 10 so that at the name of Jesus everyone in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Here on the mountain, in the transfiguration Jesus true nature as Paul describes it came shinning through.
Peter in his second letter attempts to remind his readers that what he has been telling them about Jesus is not just some made up stories but was in fact true. He wrote:
2 Peter 1:16 CEB
16 We didn’t repeat crafty myths when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Quite the contrary, we witnessed his majesty with our own eyes.
When the event first happened and Jesus was transfigured and Moses and Elijah were present there on the mountain. Peter was like in awe of what he was witnessing and the first thought in his mind was to build some shelters, some mini-tabernacles so that we can remember this and so that we can stay here on the mountain.
I almost think that Peter just wanted to camp out there and just relish in that moment. He didn't want it to be lost. We do that a lot in the church. When God moves in a mighty way we don't want it to end so we commemorate it or we tell every other church they need to do what we're doing and they'll see God move in the exact same way. Churches that have grown from a tiny congregation to some huge number host conferences and instruct the preachers who come to learn from them that if they'll do x, y and z then God is going to grow their church huge as well.
That's nothing but gimmicks and programs. What God is doing in one church in some community probably is not what He's going to be doing at another church in another community.
Peter didn't get very far with his idea of building those shelters when a bright cloud covers them God the Father spoke from heaven. The Father says Luke 9:35
Luke 9:35 CEB
35 Then a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, my chosen one. Listen to him!”
What was the response of Peter, James and John? They went flat to the ground, faces in the dirt, terrified because God had spoken. Peter reflecting on that event later wrote:
He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
Matthew wrote
Matthew 17:7 CEB
7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.”
Maybe you needed to hear that today. Do you need a touch from Jesus today? Do you need to hear him speak to you today? Do you feel beaten down by life? Hear him say to you today "Get up, don't be afraid".
As Jesus and the disciples head back down off the mountain, Matthew records that Jesus says to them:
Matthew 17:9 CEB
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Don’t tell anybody about the vision until the Human One is raised from the dead.”
I know it's a good thing I wasn't there because I'd be the blabber mouth. I'd want to run down off the mountain telling everyone what I had witnessed. How could you keep that to yourself?
What an awesome event that was for Peter, James and John to witness. In the church we commemorate it and celebrate it, but I wonder if the greater miracle is what Jesus doing in our life today? I don't think we can fully understand all that that event meant, but today Jesus wants to work in and through us by the mighty power of the Holy Spirit.
He was transfigured - metamorphosis. Isn't that the same thing he wants to do within us? To sanctify us, to transform us into his very image, the image of God? Looking back into the book of Genesis we read:
Genesis 1:26–27 CEB
26 Then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth.” 27 God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.
We were created in that image, the image of God. Sin broke and marred that image. Through salvation and sanctification that image is restored. God the Holy Spirit want’s to fill your life full to overflowing so that you reflect the very image of Christ to a lost and broken world.
We are not of this world, let’s live our lives so that people will see Jesus in us. When we leave this place, don't let your worship end when you walk out the door. Live each day to bring glory and honor to God.
[1]Augsburger, M. S., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1982). Vol. 24: The Preacher's Commentary Series, Volume 24 : Matthew. Formerly The Communicator's Commentary. The Preacher's Commentary series (18). Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc.
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