Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Luke 9:18-36

There are three strong themes in this section: revelation, testimony, and challenge.

In each case -- with the disciples in a private conversation, with the crowds as Jesus is teaching, and on the mountain as Jesus is transfigured -- Jesus is / has been revealed in his authority. In each case there is a testimony to his identity, and finally there is a challenge to those who experience his presence.

There is a significant danger for those of us who have been around Christianity for any length of time. We can get jaded to the amazing presence, character, and power of Jesus. We become like a man who has worked in a nuclear reactor for years and just takes all that awesome power for granted. Can we allow ourselves to confront Jesus in a new way? Can we be awed, amazed, inspired by him again?

The disciples have been with Jesus, have worked and walked with him. He asks them to testify -- first about others' opinions, but then about their own. They cite the answers they've heard whispered in the crowds: a prophet, Elijah, etc. Then Jesus asks them, "What do you think?" Peter speaks what the disciples have begun to realize -- he verbalizes the awesome realization that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, God's chosen one, not just another prophet (great as that would be) but totally unique, one of a kind. Matthew's version of this story includes Peter naming Jesus as "the son of the living God" as well. In the first century the idea of sonship was much more about authority, of being the rightful heir, than it was about genetics. In any case, Peter voices what the disciples hardly dare think: Jesus is God's chosen agent, his authorized son, sent to enact God's plan for the Jews and for the world. Nuclear reactor indeed!

The crowd has a less intense, less clear experience that parallels what the disciples have realized close-up. They are drawn to Jesus, eager to know more about him. Have you noticed that Jesus has this effect on people? If people begin to dig into who Jesus is, he is fascinating, magnetic, and he draws people to himself.

Nowhere is this more true than on the mountain when Jesus is revealed in his glory, transfigured before Peter, James, and John. How could they look away from Jesus, let alone the fact that he is standing and talking with Moses and Elijah, the greatest heroes of their faith! As the conversation is winding down, Peter begins to babble, eager to make something a bit more permanent -- can we just capture this intense moment, this revelation, this glimpse into the hidden things of God?

But note what they've been talking about. Jesus is talking with Moses and Elijah about his "departure" -- the Greek word here is "exodus" -- which he is about to accomplish at Jerusalem. While we'd love to know what the conversation was like -- was Jesus sharing strategy, or were Moses and Elijah encouraging him? Or was there something else happening? We can't know -- it is critical for us to learn something about the crucifixion itself and all that goes with it. Luke and the rest of the New Testament writers draw a specific, explicit parallel between the Exodus in the Old Testament and what Jesus accomplishes in the New. Jesus' crucifixion is about freedom, breaking of the chains of bondage, new identity, defeating the powers spiritual and secular, death and new life, baptism and resurrection, an escape into the wilderness and God leading his people into a Promised Land. This is hardly just normal old Jesus that we've always been used to. Rather, this is a nuclear reaction of God's power to set his people free so that we might live in intimate, loving relationship with him and with one another. We get a hint about what the Exodus looks like from God's perspective in Exodus 19 when he tells Moses what he has accomplished -- he has brought his people out of bondage on eagles' wings and brought them to himself. That is God's agenda for the crucifixion of Jesus and his resurrection as well -- to set us free and bring us to himself. This is the essence of the kingdom Jesus came to proclaim, the new wineskins we've been watching him enact all along: not some future heaven that only happens after we die, but an intimate relationship with God that begins here and now, a sense of his loving authority, his gracious kingship that transforms our spiritual lives and our daily relationships. There's nothing humdrum about this at all.

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