Called to Grow: Lost in the Cloud
February 26, 2017
It was so unexpected.
And maybe that was the problem.
Yesterday, we went up a mountain to pray with Jesus. It was just James, John, and I (Peter). This was not a new ritual for Jesus. We were all comfortable with it. I was so comfortable that I got a teensy bit bored: I fell asleep. But not for long, however; because then something completely unexpected happened.
I don’t know if you will believe me when I tell you this: I opened my eyes and there was Jesus!
Ok, ok, ok… I have already told you that Jesus was there. But when I opened my eyes and saw Jesus he was different. His face had changed and his clothes were dazzling white. There were two men with him: Moses and Elijah.
THE Moses and THE Elijah.
Do you know who I mean? Moses: the giver of God’s law. And Elijah: the prophet proclaiming God’s promises. Do you know what it meant that that they were there with Jesus? They are the law and the prophets. We have been told that the Messiah will fulfill the law and the prophets. Therefore, Jesus standing there with them meant that he was the Messiah! He’s the one we’ve been waiting for to save us!
A week ago I told Jesus I knew he was the Messiah of God. The crowds following us had been murmuring about who Jesus was. So Jesus asked us disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” We told Jesus what we had heard: some of the crowd thought that Jesus was Moses or Elijah who had come back from the dead.
Then Jesus asked us, “But who do you say that I am?”
And I knew. I, Peter, knew. And I said, “Jesus, you are the Messiah of God.”
I knew then, and I knew now when I stood on the mountain with Jesus, Moses and Elijah. There was no doubt in my mind that that was true. Here he was! Jesus our Messiah! And he was here in glory. This is what a Messiah should look like: glory, power, and victory.
But then Jesus did something unexpected.
And it messed the whole thing up.
Oh, Jesus! He was talking to Moses and Elijah but he was talking about his “departure”. It was the same nonsense he was talking about a week ago when I first confessed he was the Messiah. Right after I blurted out, “You are the Messiah,” he started talking about how he was going to be rejected, and suffer, and even die.
Jesus said, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
That’s what Jesus said!
But let me tell you what I think: that’s nonsense! I don’t think Jesus understands what a Messiah is supposed to be! A Messiah is supposed to save people, not suffer and die! Who saves people by suffering and dying?! It just doesn’t make sense! I know Jesus does things that are unexpected, but to say that he is going to suffer and die as our Messiah is just crazy.
To cap it all off, Jesus didn’t stop there. He decided to drag us into the suffering as well. He said to us:
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.”
I don’t understand what Jesus was saying. And I know that Jesus does the unexpected. Trust me, I’ve been following him for a while. I’ve seen him heal lepers, and a paralytic. I’ve seen him calm a storm. I have even heard him teach about loving your enemy.
But in all these unexpected things Jesus has done he has brought life to people. So I do not understand why Jesus is suddenly talking about his death. I have seen Jesus bring life by raising a little girl from the dead. I have seen Jesus bring life by forgiving a sinful and broken woman. I have seen Jesus bring life by feeding over 5,000 people by using only five loaves of bread and two fish.
In his ministry, I have only seen Jesus bring life to people. Why is he now talking about his death and calling us to our own? This a whole new way Jesus is doing the unexpected. Can you blame me for being a little confused?
What do you think? Would you follow Jesus into suffering? Come on, tell me! How does it feel to have Jesus saying to you, “Take up your cross and follow me?”
It’s not pleasant, is it?
I didn’t think so.
Well I decided to leave all that unpleasant business behind. I decided to take matters into my own hands.
When I saw Jesus on the mountain in glory, I saw it as my chance to change things. Here was Jesus: fitting all my expectations of who a Messiah should be. He was standing with Moses and Elijah. He was full of glory. It was perfect. And I didn’t want it to change.
I wanted to build a monument to the moment. I wanted to memorialize Jesus and keep him there. I didn’t want him to go to Jerusalem! I didn’t want him to suffer and die!
That is a bad plan, Jesus!
Let me tell you what a good plan is: staying where God’s glory is! Not going into the suffering! We could just stay here in the glory and make it last somehow. We could build houses and have the glory of God dwelling with us forever! That is a great plan! It’s not like it would be that hard to build three houses! Jesus was a carpenter!
It was a perfect plan! But evidently, it was not God’s plan. I was so busy building castles in the sky of my mind that I was not paying attention to what God was doing on the ground beneath my feet.
But, suddenly, I was forced to pay attention. As I was telling Jesus my plans, a cloud descended on us. It swallowed me. That beautiful picture I idolized of Jesus’ glory began to fade from my sight. The weight of the cloud swirled around me, turning the light of glory into blackness. I became afraid.
Have you ever been in a cloud before? Or perhaps a really thick fog? It’s hard to see. Things get dark. You can only see what is right in front of you. When you loose your sense of vision, it can feel like you are lost.
I think I needed that cloud.
I had become so focused on my own vision of Jesus’s glory, that I was not seeing the full picture. I need to un-see, to let go of my own vision, so that I could truly see. So I could truly see God’s vision.
The cloud was a cloud of un-knowing.
That is a vulnerable place to be. Letting go of what you know, and want, and expect can be a debilitating, much like getting lost in the fog. No longer able to see what’s coming, you are forced to be present to what is closet to you.
What was closest to me was God. God was the mist, surrounding me, enveloping me, embracing me.
Talk about God showing up in the unexpected! And God was not even done yet! In the swirling dark mist of the cloud, God spoke.
God said: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
“This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
You know what’s funny about listening? Sometimes our eyes get in the way. We get so distracted by what we see, or can’t see, that we can’t really tune in our ears to what God is saying. I had gotten so preoccupied with the vision I didn’t hear what Jesus was saying.
Listening involves giving up our expectations and plans. It means letting go of our ideas of who God is and how God will save. Listening takes surrender, and vulnerability, and a deep trust.
To listen to the voice of Jesus is to hear the mission of God.
And God’s mission, much to my dismay, seemed to involve both Jesus’ glory and suffering. Yep, and that means it includes my suffering too.
So I guess the question is: What does it look like to take up your cross and follow Jesus?
To be honest, I don’t know.
· Maybe it looks like believing that God is with you even in the most dangerous and vulnerable places of your life, and not just on the mountain top.
· Maybe it’s believing that God is powerful and loving enough to show up in your suffering.
· Maybe it’s trusting God in the sorrow and pain, that somehow someway, new life will come forth.
I cannot tell you what’s coming ahead. I can only see what is directly in front of me. But I know, oh, I know, that the presence of God is with me in the cloud. That gives me strength to listen. And to follow wherever Jesus goes even if that means taking up my cross. Following involves trust, obedience, and listening when God does speak.
What gives me hope is clinging to what I do know. So far in Jesus’ ministry he has brought life. Maybe, somehow, Jesus will use his suffering and death for a greater good.
· Perhaps it will be like a caterpillar, who dies and becomes wrapped in cocoon before bursting forth into a butterfly.
· Or perhaps this looks like a seed that is buried in the cold dark soil before it grows into a flower.
Maybe, somehow, Jesus’s death will be like that. I’m not sure. But whatever happens, I do know that in Jesus there is fullness of life. And I can trust in that, even in the suffering.
I meant what I said last week: Jesus is the Messiah. I just don’t know how he’s going to do his saving work. I know it will not be my plan. I have to follow his.
In the unknown, I can hold unto what I do know. I can listen for the voice of God in the midst of the cloud: “This is my son, the Chosen One. Listen to Him.”
I will listen to you, Jesus. I will trust you. I will follow you. Because I know that you are the Messiah.