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Transformation – March 18, 2020

Hi everyone. If you’re like me, getting a little (or a lot!) freaked out by this whole coronavirus thing, then this thought for the day is for you.

In our reading for today from Luke 9 Jesus is at a crossroads in his life. He told his disciples “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (v.22), which, according to Matthew’s parallel record, is the first time Jesus openly told his disciples what would happen to him at Jerusalem. It’s hard to imagine what it was like for Jesus at this time, knowing that shortly he would die a very cruel death. Every step he took he was getting closer to it and as we follow Jesus during this time as outlined in the gospel records we see the pressure and strain upon him increase. Mark’s gospel record brings this out very strongly. Read through Mark 6 through 9 in one sitting some time and notice Jesus’ stress levels. It must have been a hugely difficult thing for our Lord to bear and the mental agony would have been intense.

This is the time when Jesus took his disciples to Caesarea Philippi (as recorded in Matthew) and asked them “Who do the crowds say that I am?” (Luke 9:18). We learn from John’s record that he was losing popularity fast (see John 6:66) at this time, hence the question. Peter gives his famous rock confession – “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matt. 16:16, see also Luke 9:20) and while Jesus would have been delighted to hear this, it only added to the pressure. Jesus, knowing the Old Testament scriptures inside out, would instantly think of two passages which speak of the Christ as the Son of God. One is the promises to David where the seed of David is said to also be the Son of God, and the other is Psalm 2 where the “anointed” (Christ/Messiah) (v.2) is addressed as God’s son (v.7). In that Psalm the Messiah is portrayed as the king  who “shall break them with a rod of iron” (v.9) and “make the nations your heritage” (v.8). Jesus knew this was what he was called to be – the king to rule all nations. Combine that with the fact Jesus referred to himself as “the Son of Man” (Matt. 16:13; Luke 9:22) in this discourse. That title it taken out of Daniel 7 and the vision of the Son of Man coming in judgment. It’s also the passage about the four beasts representing the empires of the world. It is those empires that the Son of Man shall finally judge in righteousness and right now Jesus is with his disciples in Casearea Philippi. It’s hard to get a more Roman name for a city and it was emblematic of the occupation of the Promised Land by the fourth beast of Daniel 7.

So here is the one who knows he is the Son of Man, the Son of God and the Messiah, the seed of Abraham and David, the inheritor of all the blessings associated with the promises of God and the future king of the world. All of these thoughts would have rushed through the mind of Jesus as he spoke with his disciples, and that’s why he was so firm with Peter by calling him Satan (which would have sounded to Peter like Jesus calling us his enemies) when Peter told him he wasn’t going to die at Jerusalem as he said he would. What Peter said was exactly what the flesh wanted to hear. The temptation to avoid the cross and take up the crown was immense.

But Jesus got through it. Later in Luke 9 we learn “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (v.51) and they could see the determination in his face – “the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem” (v.53). He made his mind up. Just like in the wilderness temptation when he saw all the kingdoms of the world, and just like Gethsemane later, Jesus chose to do God’s will instead of his own.

How did Jesus do it? In between Jesus telling his disciples he must die, and then setting his face to go to Jerusalem, we have the Transfiguration (v.28-36), a vision of future glory but one which was presented to him in the company of Moses and Elijah. Why Moses and Elijah? Because they knew exactly how Jesus was feeling. They too were called upon to save a people, whether that was out of Egypt of the worship of Baal. Both of them performed great signs and wonders and it looked for a time that it was working. But both of them failed. Nearly everyone who was responsible Moses brought out of Egypt died in the wilderness. Elijah, despite bringing fire down from heaven, failed to convert the nation. Jesus is experiencing similar things as the people are stopping listening to the message and following him. So Moses and Elijah were sent to him to strengthen him, and it worked. “For the joy set before him” Jesus endured the mental stress and set his face to go to Jerusalem.

The lesson I get out of this is transforming (which is what “Transfiguration” means). While I don’t know what it’s like to go through the mental agony of knowing I will shortly be crucified, I get a small taste of it reading the news about the coronavirus. Even though only a very small percentage of people are dying, when you read that 475 people died just in Italy in one day, if you’re anything like me, your mental stress levels go way up. Combine that with society locking itself down and forecast of economic recession (or worse) and it’s easy to freak yourself out. So, I asked myself the question, why do I get so scared? Doing some introspection I think the reason is I am mostly scared about whether I am ready for the return of Christ. What’s happening in the world right now might not be a sign of the times at all. It might go away just as quickly as it arrived. But we have a window of time during events like this to do some introspection and to ask ourselves the question “am I truly denying myself, taking up my cross daily, and following Christ?” (Luke 9:23). If I am so scared about not being ready then what is the solution? Get myself ready! Put oil in my lamp while I still have time. Find in Scripture the Moses’ and Elijah’s I can relate to, learn from them, and keep that vision of the kingdom of God burning in my heart so I am focused on the right thing, preparing myself, my family and my brothers and sisters for the return of our Lord.

Now is not the time to be scared or worried or anxious. Now is the time set our faces towards Jerusalem and follow Christ! There’s such a wonderful hope for us beyond the cross of this life’s trials. So, let’s go through our own Transfiguration and do the only thing that will overcome the mental anguish we might be feeling. Today is the day of opportunity and instead of being scared, let’s rejoice that our God is in control and embrace his way by following Christ.

Richard Morgan,
Simi Hills, CA

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