More Than A Messiah - Luke 9:28-36 (Wednesday Night Reflection)
Have you ever encountered something that you thought was just amazing…only to find out that when closely examined it is better than you even thought it was?
Maybe it was a birthday card that you opened and saw that it had a brand new hundred-dollar bill in it. You were thankful, knowing that you really needed it…and you set it aside to open other gifts. Only later that evening you look at the card again and take out the hundred only to find that crisp bill spreads out into five bills.
Maybe it was your husband telling you he is going to take care of dinner for Valentine’s Day. You are surprised, excited, and maybe a little nervous. You think about it for several days, expecting to walk in and find the kids running around destroying the house, the kitchen a mess, or simply a to-go bag from Wendy’s on the table. Only to walk in and find out the kids are at the neighbor’s…lights are turned down…candles lit on the table…and the smell of your favorite food coming from the kitchen…and peeking in you don’t see any dirty dishes…
We could go on, each of us probably thinking of another situation…a time where we were excited about what we thought we had, only to be surprised that it was even more than we were expecting…
Jesus had retreated to an isolated area and spent some time in prayer. As he concluded his prayer time, He turned to the disciples and asked, “who do the crowds say that I am?” (Now just to clarify because I understand that here “crowd,” here, could refer to just a couple of people that are together. When Jesus said this, he had just finished feeding a crowd of folks…all of those who had gathered on the hillside…we’ve mentioned before that it had to be in excess of the 5000 men that were present…now that’s a crowd…that’s more than four times the official population of Harkers Island.) Jesus, probably figuring that the disciples would have heard some folks talking as they walked about distributing the bread and fish and collecting the leftovers…maybe even intentionally entering into conversation with some of the crowd, would have noted what the people thought of Him. So Jesus asks, “who do those crowds say that I am?” Each of the answers that the disciples share indicate that the crowd believes that Jesus is one of God’s previous “big guns” raised from the dead…John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the other ancient prophets, like Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Ezekiel.
That being said, Jesus then turns and questions them, “Okay, forget the crowds, who do you say that I am.” Peter quickly says, “you are the Messiah of God.” Jesus quickly quiets them down and tells them not to spread that around…“there’s much work to be done by the Son of Man…and when it is all said and done, He, I, will have to undergo much suffering, endure torture, be rejected, and be put to death.” Luke doesn’t offer us the detail of Peter trying to denounce this image of the Messiah being arrested and put to death and Jesus’ rebuke of Peter…but giving that Matthew and Mark both offer it, let’s consider that it happened…
But let’s focus in on Peter’s proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah…just what did this signify? We automatically jump to Jesus when we hear the word Messiah, but we need a better grasp on the term. Messiah literally means “anointed one.” In the Jewish community, of which Jesus was a devout part, it would be understood as “one anointed by God.” Throughout the Old Testament we read the term “messiah” repeatedly used to describe those who were considered to have been anointed, either literally or spiritually, for special service to God. It was not until the Babylonian exile, during the time of Daniel, that the term became understood as a specific title of a particular leader of the people who was yet to come. It was then that the idea developed that not just, a messiah, but the Messiah, would come to deliver God’s people and reveal God’s Kingdom. The Messiah then came to be understood as this warrior king who would defeat all of the enemies of the Hebrew people and establish the Jewish Kingdom as the preeminent kingdom on earth to which all other nations would bow.
So with that in mind…eight days after this conversation in which Peter declares Jesus to be this Messiah, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John and went back up that mountain to pray. As Jesus is praying, Peter, James, and John are given privilege to an amazing event. Jesus’ appearance is radically shifted. His face changes, his clothes become a dazzling white, and suddenly with him are both Elijah and Moses. The appearance of these two confirming Jesus’ importance…as he, like Moses, has demonstrated his mastery over the sea and fed the multitudes…and like Elijah (and Elisha), Jesus has multiplied loaves, cleansed lepers, and raised the dead. Other scholars will point to the significance of Moses being the giver of the Law, and Elijah being the preeminent prophet of God’s people.[i] Either way, this Transfiguration of Jesus would have confirmed to Peter, James, and John the understanding that Jesus was indeed the Anointed One, The Messiah…
Peter, all excited, proclaimed, “let’s build three houses…one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah.” We don’t know whether these were to be monuments, such as we read frequently being erected in the Old Testament, to signify special events; or whether the idea was for homes to be built as temples for folks to come and worship; or whether it was to indicate that they never wanted to leave the mountain and so they wanted to erect permanent dwelling places; or whether they saw this as the location from which to launch Jesus’ revolution to overthrow Rome. Whatever Peter intended, Jesus ignored him…and then God proceeded to offer an even bigger surprise.
“This is my Son,” the voice of God booms out, “My Chosen; listen to him.”
It’s like going back and opening the card and seeing $20 is really $100…or that the meal on the table is not take out from Wendy’s but a five-course meal of your favorite foods. Yet those pale in comparison to what Peter, James, and John experience. They have just been shown that Jesus is more than just a messiah…in fact He is more than The Messiah…it is revealed to them that Jesus is, in fact, the very Son of God. Jesus wasn’t just someone singled out by God and touched by God, they were standing in the presence of the very the One who is the very offspring of God. Talk about an assured victory over the enemy…they were probably ready to draw up the battle plans right then and there.
And yet, after they left the mountain, for the time being, they didn’t tell a soul. Why? Matthew tells us that Jesus told them not to tell anyone about what they had experienced until “after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead”[ii] and in those words from God were the express directive to Peter, James, and John, and to all who would come to hear or read those words, to listen to Jesus.
Why would God stress the importance of listening to Jesus to those who were following Jesus? Partly because it was evident that they already hadn’t been listening. Jesus has already told them that the Son of Man…that He, Himself, would be arrested, tortured, and put to death, before rising on the third day. And yet, they weren’t hearing that…they still had their notion of who the Messiah would be…so God stresses, “listen to my Son.”
God knew that what Jesus would say and what He was about to do would run counter to everything they understood about who the Messiah was to be…He wanted them to hear and understand that as Jesus spoke they weren’t just to hear Jesus, but understand that in Jesus’ words they were experiencing the very voice of God speaking directly to them…for as the Son of God, His words carried the weight and impact and truth of His Father…The Father…God Almighty. So listen to Him!
My brothers and sisters, do we realize that Jesus is more than just a messiah. He is more than just someone picked and chosen by God? Do we realize that Jesus is more than The Messiah…more than a man who was selected by God to fulfill God’s promise to David? Do we realize that His Words are to have the very impact upon us as if God was speaking directly to us? Do we realize that when we read or hear the Words of Jesus and put them up against the unwritten rules of our current world, that like Peter and the other disciples’, our current understanding has to fall away…
God says listen to my Son…as he says, “Love your enemies…”
God says listen to my Son…as he says, “Forgive in order that you might be forgiven…forgive seventy times seven times.”
God says listen to my Son…as he says, “The greatest commandment is this, to love the lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul and all your strength. And the second is like it, to love your neighbor as yourself.” And listen to Him as he reminds you that your neighbor is not simply the person living next door to you, but that your neighbor is anyone you encounter, even those you don’t think you like.
God says listen to my Son…as he says, “If any want to follow me, they must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.”
God says, “He’s More than a Messiah…This is my Son…My Chosen…listen to Him.”
Are we listening?
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.