We seem to all understand that we are part of something larger than ourselves. Except for atheists, I’m not sure what they do or don’t believe. All other religions understand that life is more than just existence for a brief moment in time. We are more than ants marching through a meaningless life. There is something cosmic, larger than life, and we are part of some grand.
We spend our lives trying to figure out what that cosmic something is. We find answers through our religious faith. As Christians, we know that we were created by God who created everything and set it to a harmonious cycle of birth, life, and death. We know that sin marred the Divine image in humanity and God reconciled us to Jesus Christ. We have heard and believe in the promises of eternal life. We know who created us and we know what shall come after death, but we need to find meaning for the in between.
We look at the world and have a lot of questions. How does the sun know to rise every morning? How do the birds know to migrate each winter? Why do we have to die to have eternal life? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do good people do bad things?
When the task of finding meaning seems too exhausting, we escape reality to books, TV, movies, and music. I think there is one theme that transcends genre that is the good guy always wins. We can look at westerns, mysteries, crime shows, and dramas. No matter what the struggle, the good guy wins. I think so many dramas are popular because we want to know that the bad guys can get caught and brought to justice by the good guys in one hour. At the heart of our meaning-making, we need to know that good will triumph.
We spend our lives seeking the answers to unanswerable questions. We seek meaning for the time between birth and death. We want to know that in the end we will have lived a life worth living. We turn to Jesus for the meaning and purpose of life so we can live life well.
Peter, James, and John, and the other Disciples all struggled with those same questions…while walking the streets with Jesus. In the Gospel of Matthew, we are again and again told that Jesus is the Son of God. Matthew wants us to know who Jesus is. I don’t think that’s really what the Disciples and Jesus’ other followers wondered. I imagine that questioned: what does it mean that Jesus is the Son of God?
Peter, James and John are invited to go up the mountain with Jesus. Perhaps they thought they might get some answers. But, they find themselves in an even more confusing situation. Peter, James, and John go up the mountain with Jesus. Suddenly, Jesus is changed.
Last week, in Sunday school, John said that the writer of Revelation was using the best words he could to describe what he saw but what he saw was beyond words. I think that’s what the writer of the Gospel of Matthew was trying. Peter, James, and John told Matthew the story of being on the mountain top. They used the best words they could come up with to describe what they saw, but what they saw was beyond words.
Jesus was transfigured or changed right before them. His face shone bright like the sun and his clothes became as white as light. I am reminded of Moses seeing God and his face was radiant because he had seen God (Exodus 34). Somehow Jesus’ face was radiant and shone bright like the sun. The only other place in the Bible where clothes are described as white like light is the description of the angels outside the empty tomb. Jesus shone like He had seen God and is dressed like an angel.
On top of that mountain, something happened. Down below, Peter, James and John didn’t know what it meant that Jesus is the Son of God. Now, on top of the mountain, Jesus is transfigured into something indescribable.
As if Jesus’ transfiguration wasn’t enough, Elijah and Moses show up to talk to Jesus. This was really beyond Peter’s comprehension. Not knowing what it all means or what to do, Peter offers to build tents in case they all want to stay awhile. When a guy doesn’t know what to do, he builds or fixes something. When a woman doesn’t know what to do, she makes food. Building tents was Peter’s attempt at staying busy while he figured out what was going on.
Before Jesus can respond to Peter’s offer, a bright cloud covers the mountain and God’s voice speaks from the cloud, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!”
“This is my Son.”
God says, “This is my Son” after Jesus is baptized. Here, God tells the Disciples, “This is my Son” before Jesus sets out for Jerusalem to be crucified. The Disciples a few times proclaim Jesus is the Son of God. Peter confesses Jesus is the Son of the Living God (Matt 16: 16). The centurion at the cross, upon Jesus’ death, says, “Surely, He was the Son of God” (Matt 27: 54).
What does it mean that Jesus is the Son of God?
What does it mean that He died and was raised?
What difference does it make that we are believers?
I think those are questions we all ask ourselves. We believe that Jesus is the Son of God. We believe that he was crucified, died and was raised again. We believe our sins have been forgiven. We believe that we have been promised eternal life.
Ephesians 4:1 says to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” What difference does that make in how we live our daily lives?
Jeremiah 29:11 says God has plans for us. How should we live our lives so that we fulfill God’s purpose for our lives?
It is difficult to make sense of life and how things work and why things happen. It no wonder we escape to TV, music, books, and movies. We’re really not escaping the task of meaning-making. We’re looking to someone else to answer the questions through their writing, their wisdom from their experience. We are comforted by the notion that the good guy wins, usually within an hour long episode or 2 hour movie. We may find some intriguing insight in how a character handles a situation. We may commiserate with a character’s experience and know we’re not alone in what we go through. For a brief time, we find relief from our constant search for meaning.
Then, we are confronted with something beyond comprehension. Someone dies too young. A friend is diagnosed with a terminal condition. Something bad happens to someone good. And, we don’t know why. We find it necessary to say something. And, we say, “God needed an angel.” Or, “its all part of God’s plan.” Or, “its my cross to bear.” Or, “the devil is attacking me.” Or, “God is testing me.”
I really wish we could stop saying things like that. I really wish we could stop with the clichés. I wish we could stop with the so-called “wisdom.”
I wish we could be honest and say what we’re all really thinking, “Why does God allow these things to happen?” “Why didn’t God spare her life?” “Will God save his life?” “Why do I have to go through this?” And, not try to answer with platitudes.
God is beyond our comprehension. His ways are a mystery. He is beyond what our words can describe. We may not fully realize what this life is all about until we stand face to face with Him in Heaven.
In the meantime, in this time between birth and death, we are left asking what it all means. We find the only answers possible when we look to God to find our purpose and reason for living. From time to time, we’ll have a mountaintop experience when we know beyond doubt that God is with us. Most of the time, we trust He is there; sometimes, we question if He is there. Whether we’re in the light of a new dawn or the shadow of a cloud, we can know that God is there, God is guiding us, and God loves us, even if we don’t understand.