While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him! – Matthew 17:5
Peter, James and John were about as close to Jesus as anyone could get. Not only were there times that Jesus would pull his entire band of disciples away from the crowd, but on certain occasions he would pull these three only. Their relationship was special, and if anyone should have had this “disciple-thing” down, it was these three.
Jesus allowed Peter, James and John to see something that no one else was privy to – on the mountain Jesus was changed – glorified. Before this they had a sense of who He was. Peter even declared that he was the son of the living God (Matthew 16:16), but this was different. Now they saw Jesus in a way they had never seen before. If that wasn’t enough, out of nowhere Moses and Elijah, two of the most powerful and celebrated people in their history, appeared and began talking with Jesus. This was definitely something for the record books.
Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here…” – Matthew 17:4a
Peter was right. It was good for them to be there, but not for the reasons he was thinking. Peter, you see, had locked in on the experience before him, and was satisfied, having seen what he saw. Truthfully, it was too much for any person, so the fact that he was able to express himself in the context of this experience says a lot. The problem though was that he was prepared to just stay in the experience.
…if you wish, I will put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah – Matthew 17:4b
Peter in the midst of this wonderful experience and revelation of Jesus, got stuck. He was in a time warp of his own making, and it took an act of God to bring him out of it. Peter is not alone – if we are not careful, we can let not only trials, but the blessings and positive experiences of God lock us into a cycle of living in that moment over and over again.
Those in the know will recognize those initials right away, especially if they ever went to the midnight screenings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. A cult comedy musical that brought otherwise normal people out to theatres brave enough to show the movie. People would dress in character, say and sing every line, and experience the wonder and mystique of every part of the show. The song “Time Warp” was one of the most notable parts of the show, but for those who were fans, it was only part of the whole. They experienced it every weekend, some year after year.
These type of experiences are great fun, but what happens when they are the only thing we live for? When our lives are defined by reliving the same experiences over and over?
Let’s look a little more about how we can get stuck in our life of discipleship.
Harsh or unexpected situations
John (the Baptist) had a unique calling. From the time he was in the womb he was aware of the calling and role of Jesus. John had one goal: to point people to the Messiah. He dedicated his life to this, and when the time came, Jesus emerged and John was ready
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” – John 1:29
Pretty solid. There was no doubt in John’s mind that Jesus was the one. John even saw the Spirit of God descend on Jesus. If that wasn’t enough to go on, nothing was. However, fast forward to John being in jail. Even that was not so much an issue for him. What was, though, was the fact that the Messiah wasn’t acting “Messiah-like”
When John, who was in prison heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him “are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” – Matthew 11:2-3
The very one that was proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah was stuck in his own expectations of what Jesus should be doing as messiah. Jesus responded to John with some realistic expectations of the messiah (the blind receive sight, the lame walk…), but then followed up with an interesting statement
Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me – Matthew 11:6
Being a disciple can be hard because it requires that we follow, and that we do so when we don’t understand what the teacher is doing. It is setting aside our expectations in the teacher’s presence so we can be free to learn from him. When I was in college I had a philosophy professor who told us on day one “Philosophy is about questions for which there are no answers”. Most of the class struggled, not because the content was hard, but because they were not willing to set aside their expectations and be disciples of the teacher. When their personal expectation was challenged, they were stuck and for many, the only way out was to quit the class. Unfortunately, the same thing happens with many who call themselves disciples.
Do you remember when…? Memories are good and powerful. Over and over in scripture God instructs his people to erect memorials so when they saw them they would remember the good that God had done on their behalf. Sometimes, though our memories and experiences speak louder than the voice of God for the day. We want God to move in the way He did last week; to speak like He did last year; to touch us like He did the day before. We even can find ourselves trying to set up the situation hoping that by replicating the experience God will show up in the same way.
Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of Jesus over those who were demon possessed. They would say “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out” – Acts 19:14
These were people who either were accomplished exorcists or those who had experienced a move of God through the hand of Paul. Either way, the experience was so powerful for them that they got stuck in the experience, and not in the active presence of the spirit of God. Trying to replicate what God was doing through Paul, they found themselves in trouble, not having the authority or ability to command the spirits they were trying to cast out.
Our situations may or may not be that extreme, but the end result is the same – we try to stay in that good situation, and lose sight of where God may be actually moving on our behalf. Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great: Why some companies make the leap, and others don’t” is quoted saying the very simple but powerful phrase, “Good is the enemy of great”. As disciples, we know that every good and perfect gift comes from God, but like manna (Exodus 16), it is good for the time that He is giving it. If we are willing, we will see good being given over and over again, and we will not have to try to hoard it, getting stuck in what was.
The Ones we follow
What I find interesting is one very subtle statement in Matthew 11
…he sent his disciples
Jesus had come, John had declared him, even stating that “He must increase and I must decrease”. Yet even while Jesus was gaining popularity, there were people who heard John’s message of who the messiah was, yet remained John’s disciples. It gets better…
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? They answered “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism”, they replied. – Acts 19:1-3
Were they disciples? Yes. Did they believe? Yes. Were they totally off? Yes, because they were stuck in John’s teaching, even though any quick examination of any of John’s teaching would have pointed to Jesus. And, this was long after John was dead. As disciples, we can get stuck in a teaching, a leader, a way of doing things, all of which are supposed to point us to the messiah, but if we are not careful, we will be advocating a “coming savior”, not realizing he is standing right in front of us.
Growing, Learning, Becoming
Disciples are students of a teacher. Disciples are learners. True disciples are not those who just hear the teacher – they learn and appropriate what the teacher is saying. A disciple should not just be a repository for the words of the teacher, but a person who is hungry for the next thing the teacher will say, knowing that it will transform them to being that much more like their teacher.
One of the challenges of being a Christian disciple is that we want to grow and learn based on a static image of Jesus. This is not what scripture teaches how we are to view him
And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again. So, from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer – II Corinthians 5:15-16
Imagine being one who had seen the Lord face to face. One who had a tangible experience of Jesus. While Paul was speaking to the Corinthian church, there were those still living who had, as John put it, “touched and handled the Word of Life”. Yet, Paul was saying that as great and powerful as that was, the current experience of Jesus was more important.
When God appeared to Moses on the mountain, he revealed Himself as “I AM that I AM” (Exodus 3:14). One of the translations of this is “I will become who I will become”. God was revealing to Moses that He is not static or stagnant, but a living, moving, becoming being. The disciple, therefore should not only emulate this characteristic by being a living, moving and becoming person, but should expect that the experience of God will also live, move and become – that it will change, simply because He is more than we can fathom.
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him” – John 3:1-2
Nicodemus, according to Jesus, was “Israel’s teacher”. Yet even though he called Jesus “Rabbi”, he didn’t come to learn. He came to declare. He might have been expecting validation of his statement, or praise that he recognized that Jesus came from God. Jesus’ answer threw him for a loop
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again
Nicodemus hadn’t asked a question, but Jesus knew he needed an answer. Nicodemus was stuck in his idea of what a leader and teacher was, and considered himself to be a teacher from God as well – maybe not to the degree of Jesus, because he was not doing those works, but a teacher in his own right. Jesus, on the other hand, gave Nicodemus a new reality. At this point, Nicodemus had to “hear him”, and not just acknowledge him. As disciples, we can run the risk of acknowledging the presence and person of Jesus without hearing what He really has to say. We have to allow him to get us unstuck from our expectations, our titles and our experiences, and even taking something that would seem so basic, allowing him to bring it to us as the teacher, and us being hungry for everything he would say.
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming back here to draw water” – John 4:15
As Jesus was conversing with the woman at the well, she was stuck. Stuck in her past, in her idea of what worship was to look like, of who the messiah was to be. She was even stuck in her knowledge of the well. Jesus carefully dismantled all of that so she could learn what real life was, and what was available for her. As disciples, we must have the courage to allow Jesus to dismantle our ways, our thoughts and our expectations so he can pour into us the newness he desires.
Listen to Him!
God interrupted Peter’s speech with an emphatic “This is the Son I love. Listen to Him!” Peter could have been offended that God didn’t allow him to continue, or didn’t encourage him for trying, but for God it was more important that Peter get unstuck. Similarly, it is important that we get unstuck so we can hear him clearly. On another occasion, Jesus challenged the disciples, to which Peter replied, “where can we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). As disciples, we must have the same mindset, expecting the teacher to speak at any moment, and that his words are for us eternal life. It is only in this that we will be able to free ourselves from the things that cause us to get stuck, and get our eyes off of the living God.
When God spoke the disciples hid in fear. Jesus then came and touched them telling them not to be afraid. The disciples looked up, and saw, not a cloud, not Elijah or Moses. They only saw their teacher. There was no lingering presence of the experience, except in their memory. The only thing in front of them was what they needed to focus on and give themselves to: their teacher. The command was given, and now the reality was before them. There was nothing else. Only Jesus. Only their teacher. Similarly for us as disciples, when it is all stripped away, we are left with two things: the teacher, and the command to hear him. As disciples, nothing else matters, because it is the only thing that can fuel our growth as disciples and make us like him.
– What has been your response to God when you expected Him to show up or reveal Himself in a particular way and He did not?
– What have you heard from God that has been new and fresh?
– Where are you stuck? Is it in something unexpected, or something good, but not the great thing that God wants to do in you?
– What have you struggled with that God has tried to teach you?
– Are you afraid of God appearing different than the image you have in your mind?