Presented on The Lutheran Hour on February 15, 2015 By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker (Is Life Change Really Possible?) Copyright 2015 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Mark 9
"After six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and He led them up on a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. ...they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, "This is my beloved Son; listen to him." And suddenly, looking around, they saw no one with them but Jesus only."
Christ is risen; He is risen indeed and the transfigured Lord Jesus Christ is the One that is going to the cross so that we might have life and salvation in Him. Amen.
It's the Sunday of Transfiguration today for millions of Christians around the world. Now, if you aren't a Christian, what does that mean for you? Well, today, Christians come to grips with just who this Jesus is who came into the world to save sinful humanity. Today, they celebrate the fact that He is both God and Man, come all the way to the flesh level of life with godly power to save all who put their faith in Him. In fact, today is a day when people who love Jesus, really begin to understand the miraculous depth, and power, and fullness of what real love is, because Jesus is God's love to the max for all who believe.
Love.... all you need is love....Jesus is love.....Jesus is all you need. But, I don't think that many others are thinking about Jesus and love today....why? Well, because it's Valentine's weekend. People are thinking about love, yes, but I'm not sure that Jesus is in the center of all that. Now I think that's kind of sad because with Christ in the center of our love for each other, even Valentine's Day can be one that you will never forget.
So, let's just start there with a Valentine's discussion. We'll get to the question about how your Transfiguration celebration, how is that going, but let's start with Valentine's Day questions first, right? So, how did it go? Was Valentine's everything you'd hoped it would be? Are you already planning for next year? Why? Why not? For many people, this is an important day because they think it's about love. Did you know that Americans spend an average of $130 per person, per year, on Valentine's Day gifts? That's the average, so most people spend much more. Why? They're trying to make sure that the one they love really knows for sure that they love them!
So every year, it's roses, candy, romantic dinners, even diamonds and pearls; all to say, "I love you!" Right? Oh how I wish that sharing the depth and the power of love were that easy. Unfortunately, Valentine's Day, for many, often gets in the way of real, meaningful, lasting love in a person's life. In fact, for many, and they've shared this with me over the years, Valentine's Day is often a day filled with pain, not joy; with regret, not deep affection; a time of loneliness and heartache from real past heartbreaks. Yes, love, sharing love, proclaiming love is something we all desperately need, but it is much grander than merely a yearly, focused day of romance even at its best.
And that's what Transfiguration is all about. If you are looking for love that lasts, love that can empower all other loves in life, then look on this mountain where the disciples see Jesus, the Christ, transfigured, metamorphosized before them. You see, this lesson is about why Jesus is the only One who can be your Savior. He is God's love in action for you. Up until this time, the disciples saw Jesus as a wonderful Teacher, a unique Leader, One to follow at all costs.
But today, they see that this servant Leader, this humble Teacher, is greater than Elijah and Moses, He is God in the flesh, the beloved of the Father, the One who brings love and life into the world, God in the flesh. They get a glimpse of the resurrected Jesus just before He journeys to the Cross of Calvary. They can't fathom the depth of His upcoming suffering and they sure can't fathom the depth of His resurrected glory, and neither can we, ultimately, but today they, as we, get a glimpse of the fullness of that love in the person of Jesus. And that loving Lord Jesus saved them; He saves you. He saves me.
For a moment on top of a mountain, the disciples got a glimpse of just who this Jesus is for them. He is their Savior, the One who brings love to their life, to your life, and to the life of those we love. He is the One that is the answer to all your prayers. As the Father said, "This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!"
On this week of love in action, let me say it clearly, Jesus Christ is God's love in action for you. Wow! And His love impacts our love, impacts those we love. In fact, the Bible teaches that we as believers in Jesus "Are to love others the way that He loves us!" Period.
That's why I think Valentine's Day can be helpful in this regard. Valentine's Day truly shows how difficult it is even for sinful people in love to really communicate that love to one another. Amidst the flowery romance of February 14 is the reality of broken marriages, infidelity, heartbreak, and even struggle in committed marriages. A lot of people aren't even looking for real love today. They're just hoping to have a good Valentine's-like experience once in a while. For many, we've been so jaded that we aren't even willing to open up ourselves to those who even love us.
Sadly, it's impossible to communicate love in the midst of that kind of reality. When we are so closed in on ourselves, so sure that our love will be abused, or that someone will only hurt us in the long run, even when real love is standing right before us; we tend to dismiss it right out of hand. Receiving love is tough when we're already closed in. Have you ever felt that way?
Or, have you ever experienced the other side of this challenge, you know, the reality of communicating real, lasting love? That's even tougher to do. You know that it takes more than an occasional gift of roses and candy, nice cards and candlelight dinners, to share lasting, heart to heart love, right? You know that loving words and actions throughout the year, coupled with commitment that is sure, that can be counted on even in the midst of struggles, that's the power of love that even undergirds those Valentine's Day joys.
In fact, real love is even more than our best efforts. Because, as sinners, we're always going to have days of failure, days of insecurity, days of ineptitude when it comes to what others really need from us, as well as what we really need from them. That's the kind of love we need. But that love, it just sounds impossible.
Well, on our own, by ourselves, the Bible says it is. And that's why the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus is not about you doing something for God, even out of love; it is about God's love in action, in the flesh, living the life of love we should have lived, dying a death we deserved for our lack of love to bring God's love back into the lives of every person in this world. He brings His healing to our brokenness, His wholeness to our fracturedness, His love to our lives!
So, on this weekend of love, wouldn't you agree that this message from God, the fullness of God's love in Jesus Christ is necessary, is vital? I pray that it is. One of the things that I hear about people today in general is that many feel lost, unloved, and alone. Many, even with material blessings or career successes, they are beginning to doubt that love exists or that their life has meaning. In our sterile reasoning, scientific arrogance, even in our limited emotional laden experiences, we seem to be looking for love, but never finding it.
We seem to be searching for love and life in all the wrong things in all the wrong places today. It reminds me of this crazy search for ET, extra-terrestrial life? Have you heard about all of this? Have you heard about the SETI Institute? They are scientists "Searching for Extraterrestrial Life." Now, I've got my opinion of why, but that's another sermon. We're spending millions and millions of dollars listening to the radio waves, hoping to detect a signal with signs of intelligent origin, signs of life. With no luck there, SETI is now tuning their instruments to the stars themselves; pointing their instruments at a distant sun, feeding the pulses of electro magnetic radiation into their computer sound cards, hoping to understand the voices of the stars! I think you can go to their website and even listen in!
SETI scientists are pursuing the long-shot possibility that perhaps some advanced civilization has learned how to cause their sun to pulsate in a way that could be discerned as a type of beacon or Morris code to send out a message. So far, though, they've struck out. No signals. None at all.
That seems to be the way of humanity. On our own, we eventually strike out, we miss the point, we even miss love and life when it is standing right in front of us. Transfiguration Sunday has a simple message. For love, life, forgiveness, fresh start, eternal life, and purpose, don't look to the stars, to the sunsets, even to the joys and wonders of this world for the evidence of God's love in your life; don't even look to the love of other sinful people for that; look first and foremost to Jesus Christ Alone. He is God's love in action for you. He is the beloved Son of the eternal Father, the text says, who has come to give you life and salvation. Listen to Him, follow Him, receive His love, share His love, live in Him for others; because that will change your life!
Now that's a bold statement, isn't it? But, the Transfiguration is laying it all on the line. It's as if the Father is saying this is it. He's the One. He's Light amidst darkness. He's Life amidst death. He's God in the world to save it.
The text says, 'And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came from the cloud, "This is my beloved Son; listen to him." And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus alone.'
No one but Jesus. I love how the event starts to close. Moses was there, Elijah was there, the voice from the Cloud - God the Father in Heaven, was there, the disciples were there, Peter, James, and John; if all of them would walk among us today, we would all stop and marvel; we'd be amazed. But the point of this text is when it all stops, we are to see Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus as the One to put our faith in, our trust in, our hope in for life and love.
So how should we deal with this event today? We could look at the disciples, how they handled it. There was a lot of emotion on the mountain that day. The disciples were terrified, never had they felt so small and insignificant. Then they were overjoyed, even wanting to keep all this heavenly goodness in Jesus to themselves. But, overall, in this case, they don't provide much help in terms of what we should do in response to this incredible news that Jesus Christ is God's loved and loving Son come to save and redeem us.
So, let me just leave you with a few simple thoughts. I think that this event is challenging anyone who reads it or who listens to it today. It is challenging us to get to know the Jesus of the Bible on the Bible's terms. That means, "No reading into the lessons what we wish Jesus would have said; no modern cynical name calling that prevents us from just hearing the very words of the text," No. Let's at least have the same passion as those SETI scientists. They aren't coming with any pre-conceived notions of what they should find; they're just taking in the data, recording it, listening to it over and over and over again, hoping to find life and love and laughter and purpose.
With the same passion of those SETI scientists who are looking for messages out of burning balls of gas in the sky, I say look to Jesus of the manger, the Jesus of Calvary, the Jesus of the empty tomb! Here in this text, the Bible tells of a spectacular, almost out of this world event that took place almost two thousand years ago when Peter, James, and John witnessed the very thing that SETI scientists are longing for today.
I guarantee you this, if you look at the Jesus of the Bible that way, you'll be amazed at Him. You'll never meet anyone else like Him and His Word will not leave you unchanged! Will you take that journey with me? It's not the electromagnetic pulses of a distant star; it's the loving, powerful words of a real, present Savior.
And let's learn something else today, especially if you are a Christian already. Peter was so overjoyed with this Jesus before him he never wanted it to end. He knew that it meant everything for him to be in Jesus' loving presence. Now all that is true for you and me too; but like Peter, we need to realize that this side of heaven, we're not merely to revel in that love, we're also to take this love from the mountaintop back down to the plain where people live amidst the brokenness and the sorrows of a world in pain.
In fact, often times, that's the only way that others will get to know this Jesus, when they see His love and His joy alive in our lives, as we care for others the way He does us. I love how Robert Louis Stevenson illustrates this kind of trust in this story that he told. He said it this way:
"A ship was in a serious storm and in grave distress. The passengers were alarmed. One of them finally, against orders, went up to the deck and made his way to the pilot. The seaman was at his post of duty at the wheel, but, seeing the man was greatly frightened. He turned to the man so that he could look him in the eye, and face to face, he gave him a reassuring smile. Returning to the other passengers the man said. "I have seen the face of the pilot, he smiled. All is well."
"I have seen the face of the pilot, he smiled. All is well."
And that's the point. In the midst of the storms of life, Christ comes with the very smile of God for us, "All is well." When He is put on the cross of Calvary, in agony, He still smiles upon us with God's grace, "All is well." When all hope seems lost as He lay in the tomb three days, the promises of God in the Bible screamed, "All is well." When He rose again from the grave, ascended into heaven to take His seat of power, "All is well." And when He comes again to judge the living and the dead, you will see with your eyes what your heart already knows this Transfiguration Sunday, all is well.
We get to reflect His face to others in the midst of the trials and struggles of their lives too; because, in Him, there is a love that lasts for us and for others. In Him, there is a message that will overwhelm all seekers with grace and love that is out of this world, yet in this world for them. And that's a love that believers are not merely here to receive with joy, it is one that we can share, one that we can never exhaust as we give it away again and again.
I have to admit I love Valentine's Day, but I love Transfiguration Sunday even more because on this unique day for Christians around the world, there's a communicated love from God in personal form in the person and work of Jesus, offering all who believe a love that lasts, a love that empowers all other loves. It comes in words, it comes in water, it comes in bread and wine, delivering the things of Jesus so that you can know this love of God in Christ is for you! That's a bouquet of grace worth receiving, that's a gift worth opening, that's an eternal love that is here for you in Christ now and forever. Celebrate that with me today, put your faith in that, share that with those who seek, and take this simple challenge from God the Father Himself, "This is My beloved Son, you listen to Him." Just like that day, when all was said and done, they were left only with Jesus, and that was enough. My friend, He is all you and I need too.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for February 15, 2015 Topic: Is Life Change Really Possible?
ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions. I'm Mark Eischer. Pastor, we all know people who are stubborn and set in their ways. Is positive life change really possible?
SELTZ: Wow, Mark, that is a big question and there's danger on both sides of the answer.
ANNOUNCER: Oh, could you explain?
SELTZ: Well, some would say people do not change, but that's not true. We believe and know that in Christ people are new creations; the old is gone and the new has come; so, because of what God has told us and shown us, we believe real change is possible.
ANNOUNCER: After all, changed lives are God's specialty. We think, for example, of the radical transformation that took place in the life of the Apostle Paul.
SELTZ: Yes, and think about Zacchaeus and Matthew, despised tax collectors whose lives were completely changed by Jesus?
ANNOUNCER: But there are plenty of people who refuse to change, like the Pharaoh who hardened his heart against Moses or the Pharisees who opposed Jesus.
SELTZ: Yeah, that's correct, but we need to be careful here too. There are many who, though forgiven, still struggle with addictions and stubborn sins as well. Some folks don't want to change, yes, but others live in the gracious struggle of life; the ups and the downs, each and every day.
ANNOUNCER: And how does transformation work there?
SELTZ: Well, for those who are struggling, just the fact that they are facing their struggles, falling at the mercies of God, striving to change; that too is transformation, if you think about it. God may be using their struggle for His purposes as well. Now, for those who are stubborn, unwilling, the Bible proclaims God's fervent judgment against such a view because a graced life is meant to be lived for others.
ANNOUNCER: In that sense, there's also power for change in God's word of judgment, if it leads to repentance.
SELTZ: Exactly, there's always hope for life change when people are hearing God's Law and Gospel, His transforming Word. The Holy Spirit works repentance in people's lives. That is God's most amazing transformation. And that can lead to changed lives here too.
ANNOUNCER: The early Christians were surprised when God reached out to stubborn nations with the life-changing message of Jesus.
SELTZ: Yeah, they were, remember in Acts 11 where it says, "Then to the Gentiles also God granted repentance that leads to life" (Acts 11:18 ESV). Surprise!
ANNOUNCER: God's Word speaks over and over again about the kind of gracious change He works.
SELTZ: Yes, so don't be surprised, as a believer, a graced one in Jesus, when God begins to change your temporal life too. We're saved by grace for life in Him for others. Remember those fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Life change is not only possible; it is what God works through faith in Jesus by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.
ANNOUNCER: But, what is it, though, that gets people stuck, as it were?
SELTZ: There is stubbornness, of course, Mark. There are habits that have been ingrained in us over a long period of time. Addictions trap people in patterns of destructive behavior. There is also weakness. Some people are the "smoldering wicks" and "bruised reeds" the Bible talks about. And God doesn't snuff out "smoldering wicks." He will not break the "bruised reeds." We have to recognize that, sometimes, life change, it can mean a dramatic turnaround; but at other times, life change means the daily strength and restoration for someone who will struggle with things until Jesus returns.
ANNOUNCER: And with those obstacles you mentioned, what sort of life change is possible? SELTZ: It doesn't seem possible for us, but I want our listener to know that, with God, all things are possible. In 1 Corinthians, chapter six, the Apostle Paul spoke to people who seemed very unlikely to change. After talking about the areas where they were stuck, he said: "And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of Jesus and by the Spirit of God" (1 Corinthians 6:11 ESV).
ANNOUNCER: Change happened through the forgiveness of sins Jesus earned for them. SELZ: Right. Change happened as the cleansing water of His baptism gave them new birth with the forgiveness of sins and the presence of the Spirit. So, in the certainty of 100% grace from God, the gift of change, we can begin to reorient our lives to Him and to others. ANNOUNCER: The bottom line is there is hope.
SELTZ: Always. There is a great deal of hope. Let's be very clear. Every day, God works miraculous change in people's lives.
ANNOUNCER: But, the greatest change is faith in Jesus through the forgiveness of sins.
SELTZ: Yes, and even as redeemed people we can still struggle with sin. Nobody is perfect. The bottom line, though, as believers, you exercise discernment, you can look for and expect true life change because that's what God does best.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Gradual for Epiphany" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
Click Here to END subscription to St. John's Group Email.
The mission of St. John's Lutheran Church is to preach the Word of God in its purity and to teach this Word to all people. We do so through the means God has given us, the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.
What We Believe
The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod accepts the Scriptures as the inspired and inerrant Word of God, and subscribes unconditionally to all the symbolical books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as a true and unadulterated statement and exposition of the Word of God.
We accept the Confessions because they are drawn from the Word of God and on that account regard their doctrinal content as a true and binding exposition of Holy Scripture and as authoritative for all pastors, congregations and other rostered church workers of The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.