August 30, 2015

Luke 9:28-36

A tale is told about a small town that had historically been “dry,” but then a local businessman decided to build a tavern. A group of Christians from a local church were concerned and planned an all-night prayer meeting to ask God to intervene.

It just so happened that shortly thereafter lightning struck the bar and it burned to the ground. The owner of the bar sued the church, claiming that the prayers of the congregation were responsible, but the church hired a lawyer to argue in court that they were not responsible.

The presiding judge, after his initial review of the case, stated that “no matter how this case comes out, one thing is clear. The tavern owner believes in prayer and the Christians do not.”J.K. Johnston, Why Christians Sin, Discovery House, 1992, p. 129.

One thing is clear from Luke’s Gospel: Jesus believed in prayer and at least up until chapter eleven, the disciples did not.

At every point in his ministry, Jesus is found praying, but not the disciples. It’s not until chapter eleven that they even ask Jesus to teach them to pray.

Thus far in our journey through Luke, we have seen Jesus praying at the beginning of his ministry as he is baptized; when he is tempted; when faced with a major decision of choosing his twelve apostles; and in a critical hour as he discerns his future which will involve death on a cross.

The question for us today is, “Do we believe in prayer?” Do we believe in prayer enough to incorporate it into crevices of our days and into the major parts of our week and lives?

In today’s text, Jesus once again faces the prospect of his own death. This isn’t the last time that his forthcoming death preoccupies his prayers. The most well-known passage is yet to come, which is the passage about Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, asking God to spare him from the suffering that is imminent.

What we learn from this is that we shouldn’t expect to always pray about something one time and be done with it. Sometimes we can discuss a matter with God and set it aside, never to worry about it again but there are other times when issues continue to plague us and for that reason we must continue to carry those issues to God in prayer.

When Paul wrote to the Christians at Ephesus he spoke to them about taking up the whole armor of God so they could stand firm. He mentioned the  “belt of truth, and the breastplate of righteousness.” He said to put on shoes for your feet to make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. He said to take the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

In addition to all of this armor, Paul said to “pray in the spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication.” (Ephesians 6:10-18).

Paul must have heard that this is the way Jesus lived his life.

So Jesus is high up on the mountain with three of his disciples. He has gone there for the purpose of praying.

Jesus is intentional.   Jesus is very aware of a spiritual battle that is going on inside of him which Peter, John, and James do not seem to understand.

Why did Jesus take them along?

Perhaps he wants the support, the company, the camaraderie, the brotherhood, as he goes to deal with issues that weigh heavily on his heart. However, these men seem to have no clue what he is dealing with.

Prayer is like this sometimes. It is an intimate dance with God where we engage in matters of the heart that are so personal that we might not ever be able to share them with another soul or if we do, we have to select a precious few that we believe we can trust and who might really care what is going on inside of us.

Dr. Fred Craddock said this passage marks a crucial turning point in the gospel, a place some have called a shift from the Galilean Spring Time to the Jerusalem Winter. It is a shift from where Jesus had been met with great popularity to the road where he will eventually walk up Calvary to be crucified.

Jesus is aware of this approaching change and he is talking with God about it.

Every one of us deals with approaching change in life. Sometimes change is welcome but most of the time, we don’t seem to be ready for it: children are born; they go to their first day of school; they start dating; you become empty nesters; you retire. Change occurs when we lose something or someone of great value: we bury a child, a spouse, a parent, a friend. We lose our job, our health, our independence, our home, our friends, or our money. Change occurs when we move, when our environment is no longer the same, and when our health begins to fail.

Jesus shows us that the proper response to change and approaching change is prayer. Instead of simply waiting for change to happen and then react to it, Jesus shows us that if we pray, then we can be in a better position to meet change as it happens and even influence it as it occurs.

Jesus knew that more change was coming in his ministry and through prayer, Jesus was determined to be prepared for it.

If Jesus believed that He needed prayer as change came to his life, shouldn’t we need it more?

Abraham Lincoln said, “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me seemed insufficient for the day.”Lincoln.

Perhaps part of our problem is that we arrogantly believe that our wisdom is sufficient for the day and perhaps that is the reason we do not pray more than we do. Could it be that the turning point for us comes when we realize, as did Lincoln, that our wisdom is not sufficient and we must lean on a source much higher than our own?

Luke teaches us that Jesus had this wisdom from the very beginning of his ministry—that he needed the presence and wisdom of the Heavenly Father. He didn’t wait until there was a crisis. He cultivated a prayer life from the beginning so when the more difficult times came, His prayer life sustained him.

We don’t wait till there is a crisis to save money. We save a little each week so we will be prepared in a crisis. We don’t wait until a crisis to pray.

We don’t wait till there is a crisis to prepare for a fire. We have fire drills and firemen are trained, trucks and hoses are ready so when there is a fire we can extinguish it. We don’t wait until there is a fire to pray.

There was no single event that had to occur for Jesus to be convinced that he needed the guidance of the Father to carry out the unique role as the Son of Man. He was aware of it from the beginning.

It may be true that the intensity of his prayers increased as he approached death. This is the real meaning of this experience Jesus had on the mountain that is often referred to as the Transfiguration.  This experience is really about Jesus’ upcoming death.

That is what makes this moment on the mountain such an intense time of prayer for Jesus, not so much for Peter, John, and James.

In fact, arriving on the mountain, apparently, they went to sleep and let Jesus pray.

These are loyal disciples. They made the trip, but they are tired. For them, this was a long hike that Jesus planned. He was always planning these kinds of things, but they were not into these intentional prayer things. They went because they were asked. They were into the sleeping thing.

However, they wake up because they hear some people talking. When they wake up, they see Jesus involved in a conversation with two men, who turn out to be Moses and Elijah.   They must have been asking themselves, “Is this a dream? Am I awake? Is this really happening?”

As they listen, they discover that the three men are talking about Jesus’ departure, literally his “exodus,” or his death.

Then Moses and Elijah leave and Peter tries to explain to Jesus how good it is for them to be there. As he speaks a cloud appears and they hear a voice that says, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen, listen to him.”

Then it was all over. Jesus was by himself again. Peter, John, and James agree not to tell anyone about this.

I can’t say that I blame them. Who would have believed such a story?

And what are we supposed to get from such a wild story as this?

Have you ever noticed that we have almost none of Jesus’ actual prayers? What we do have are the occasions and circumstances surrounding Jesus’ prayers. The circumstance that surrounds Jesus’ prayers on the mountain is that Jesus needed direction as he moved into this next phase of his ministry.

Jesus had already told his disciples that he must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.  He came to believe that this was true, but it didn’t mean he was through struggling with it.

All of us come to realize that certain things are a reality, but that doesn’t mean we want to accept them.

The doctor says you need to lose weight, eat differently, or live a different kind of lifestyle.   You might acknowledge that he’s right, but that doesn’t mean you don’t struggle with following his or her instructions.

You might come to an understanding that you have an addiction problem but that doesn’t mean you want to accept the reality of it or that you will not continue to struggle what to do about it.

Jesus might tell us that we should forgive someone, or love someone, or incorporate a discipline, or follow a certain path to healing, but those are narrow roads and the wide road just looks so much easier to walk, so we struggle with the Great Physician’s prescription.

That is all the more reason we should be praying.

Struggle is not a sin. Jesus struggled with the cross. He wrestled with the thought of suffering.   It is pride, though, that causes us to struggle without seeking the help of God. When you are in the ring wrestling with an enemy, it’s good to bring along a tag team, some reinforcements.

Jesus brought Peter, John, and James.

When we are struggling with the demons, with decisions, with temptations that we know can pull us under, with struggles that keep us up at night and zap our energies through the day, it helps to have a few trusted friends who will share those things with us in prayer.

Jesus was struggling and he was looking for direction. He is praying and God gives him undeniable confirmation that he is headed in the right direction.

Elijah represents the prophets and Moses represents the Law Giver. Luke says in his Gospel that all that is written in the Law and the prophets is fulfilled in Jesus.

There on the mountain, Jesus meets Elijah and Moses. There they affirm that all that has been done throughout history is one continuous story that is coming true in him and his death on the cross will not be a contradiction but rather a fulfillment that he is the Messiah.

Jesus went up on the mountain looking for direction and he found it. He had Peter, John, and James who were there to share that experience with him.   It’s a great thing to share spiritual moments with trusted friends.

Did Jesus like what he found? Was he excited about it?

I tend to believe that if he was fully human as well as divine, that there wasn’t much about a cross that made that news very welcome. I don’t believe he came down the mountain celebrating, but I believe he came down the mountain with purpose and direction and the assurance that God was with him.

The disciples had been taught that anyone that was hung from a cross was cursed. The cross was a symbol of disgrace so they could not rationalize this idea as a God thing, which might explain why they didn’t say anything about it.   I think it was still a confusing time for them.

Praying for direction isn’t easy because we often go to God in prayer with a bias. We often go with a direction in mind that we want God to bless. Or, we might go to God bent on not going in certain directions, like Jonah, but then God changes our minds.

It’s a rare thing to find people willing to pray for direction and be totally open to going and doing whatever they hear God telling them to go and do. How can we be sure we have heard God correctly?

Jesus shows us that it is helpful to involve others as we discern what we have understood God to say.   That’s the role that Peter, John, and James played.   While they didn’t completely understand or grasp what Jesus understood, they could confirm what they saw and heard.

It is also helpful to feel that God has verified the direction we are taking from more than one source.   Many people have made rash choices because they believe God told them to do something, which later turned out not to be true.

On the contrary, Jesus demonstrates that his decisions were made as a result of a disciplined life of prayer shared in the presence of trusted friends.   Eventually, the disciples learned that too, and by chapter 11, they eventually asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

If you have not had a major crisis in your life arise where you were driven to seek God’s direction, that day will come. You may pray and have a clear understanding of where things are going, or you may not fully understand and comprehend the meaning of all that happens to you.

However, you will come closer to understanding if you have cultivated a daily prayer life as Jesus had.   You will come closer to understanding if each day you work to move through the day in a mindset of prayer.

That’s the difference between Jesus and his disciples. Jesus was intentional and focused. The disciples were merely reactionary.   Therefore, they came down without much understanding.

Today, I encourage you to use prayer as a primary tool that you use as you struggle with daily issues. Don’t wait until big problems arise before you seek to prayer. Confess to God that your own wisdom is not sufficient for even the easiest of days.

Invite God’s presence into your daily life. Cultivate a prayer life and allow God to give you the direction that you need.  Find intentional times to pull away and pray and make room for some time in your life where you invite a few close friends to pray specifically with you about some of the needs in your own life.

When the major crisis arrives, as the cross did for Jesus, after a period of struggle, you will be able to clearly hear God’s message for your life. Others will know that you are one of those that have learned to “pray in the spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication.”

They will know that you have been on the mountain with Jesus and back down again. Your prayer life will be a testimony by the kind of life you choose to live.