Mission Minded: Focus on the Future (Feb 14, 2021)

Mission Minded: Focus on the Future (Feb 14, 2021)

February 25, 2021
Benjamin Ehlers

Mission Minded: Focus on the Future

Mark 9:2-9

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Faith isn’t about what you can do. Big faith does big things, and little faith carries you through little things, but it’s not because of you. It’s all about God. God doesn’t accomplish great things because you have great faith. He accomplishes great things because he is great – and faith trusts that. Your faith isn’t in yourself. You don’t have faith in faith. You have faith in God. So faith just clings to God trusting that no matter the ups and downs he takes you through, he will accomplish his purposes. If your eyes are focused on your own faith, then they are focused on the wrong thing. They need to be focused on God – focused on the future that he promises.

As a Mission Minded congregation, we focus on the future that God promises. A future where he accomplishes his Mission. To help us do this, we get to Glimpse the Savior’s glory which will help us remain confident through challenges.

Jesus knew there were challenging times ahead – times where it would look like he was utterly defeated. But Jesus also knew the future. He knew about the resurrection to life and the hope of salvation. He knew he would make it through death – that he was strong to save. But he needed his disciples to know this too – to trust him. So he began by forewarning them. At first, it was a little subtle – “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (Jn 2:19). But as the day quickly approached, he was more direct, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again” (Mk 8:31). Notice that when he predicted his suffering and death, he also promised future glory – his resurrection. He always gave them something to hold on to – something to keep them going through dark days – anchors of confidence for their faith.

And then he did something spectacular. He led three of his disciples up a high mountain and gave them a glimpse of who he really was – who he has been all along and will continue to be. “He was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them” (Mk 9:2-3). That’s how Mark recorded it. The other Gospel writers used phrases like “His face shone like the sun” (Mt 17:2). And, “His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning” (Lk 9:29). How it looked is not as important as what was happening. This is God’s own glory! Jesus’ divine nature was allowed to shine through his humble humanity for a moment… for the disciples to glimpse.

This is the same Glory that God had revealed throughout history. And every time he did, it marked important events in salvation history. When the Lord appeared to Abram to establish his promise of a son, an heir, through whom the Savior would come, God appeared “in a smoking fire pot with a blazing torch” (Gen 15:17). When the Lord called Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt, into the Promised Land, “the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush” (Ex 3:2). The Lord led Israel through the wilderness “in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light” (Ex 13:21). At Sinai the Lord confirmed his covenant with Israel. “To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain” (Ex 24:15-17). When the Lord’s Temple that Solomon built was dedicated in the Promised Land – their permanent home – this same glory filled the temple so that “the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple” (1 Kings 8:11). When Jesus was born and the angel announced his birth to the shepherds, “the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified” (Lk 2:9). All of these events mark another important step towards the promise that God gave all the way back when humanity first fell into sin. “He will crush your head [Satan], and you will strike his heel” (Gen 3:15). And now, for one last time before that promise was fulfilled, Jesus revealed his glory to his disciples. And when God reveals his glory, be ready to be stunned by what he’s about to do!

Along with Jesus’ glory, “There appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus” (Mk 9:4). Luke adds the detail that “They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem” (Lk 9:31). These two stood as testimony that the Law and the Prophets pointed ahead to this future moment. The plan had been all along that Jesus would go to his death at Jerusalem. Both Moses and Elijah had lived faithfully under Sinai Law, yet both gave evidence that they and the world needed someone who would make the exodus to the cross to pay for the sins of the world. Jesus was that Savior. He would die and rise for their sins because they could not keep the law. He died and rose for your sins because we could not keep the law. And before he did, he revealed very clearly who he was. He gave his disciples a glimpse of his glory.

I wish we could see it. For the difficult days we face in life, for the times of doubt, I wish we could glimpse his glory. Well, sort of. Because there is a very similar reaction whenever the Lord appears in such a way – whenever God reveals his Glory. There is terror and trembling. Moses fell down and hid his face. The Israelites dare not approach the mountain. The priests could not perform their duties. The shepherds were terrified! Yet, with this terror is also mixed awe and wonder. There’s a juxtaposition of contrasting emotions seen even in the disciples here. They hid their faces in terror, yet wanted to stay and set up tents.

I still would love to see this glory – the Glory of the Lord. But I’m content to wait until heaven. In the meantime, I’m satisfied with the glimpses of glory God still gives! In Bible class, I always ask for prayer requests before we start. And often, after we’ve prayed one week about something, we get news a few weeks later that our prayers have been answered – sometimes, even, against seemingly unbeatable odds. And so we go back in prayer with thanksgiving for the glimpse of glory that God has given us! Remember to look for the answers to your own prayers as well, and go back in prayer with thanksgiving.

Another Glimpse of glory that I’ve noticed and talked about to fellow pastors and members is the fact that we’ve added 7 new members to our church since last March – since COVID began. That, in and of itself, is worthy of praise and thanks. But I find it all the more striking that that’s exactly the number of people that make up our Mission Core Group – the ones from our congregation that we are sending to “a nearby village” as Jesus put it last week. It’s as if God wanted to say, “Don’t worry, I will provide for you. Focus on the ministry, and I’ll take care of the results.”

After holding that number of 7 before our eyes for a while, we continue to grow. Last week we had 48 people attend worship in person – along with those who attend online. That’s approaching our pre-COVID levels! We also had 10 in Bible Class. And, we began a new Sunday School program with 9 children and 3 teachers willing to help! God is good! It seems he might be giving us glimpses of his glory so that we can be confident during the challenges ahead.

There are always going to be challenges ahead. Life is full of highs and lows. For someone who doesn’t believe that God is behind it all accomplishing his purposes, these are completely random. But for the believer, the highs and lows go hand in hand. The highs prepare us for the lows, and the lows cause us to trust in God to bring us to new highs once again.

It’s often a temptation for us to want to “freeze the glory.” Like Peter when he said, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Mk 9:5), we often are tempted to preserve the glory when we have it. Our church attendance was high last week. We have many members. Our finances are stable. “It is good for us to be here!” Why should we “divide” our church to plant a mission? Why should we risk this glory and security when it likely means challenging times ahead? This is a strong and very real temptation. But understand what the temptation is. It’s a temptation to abandon or at least minimize Christ’s Mission of reaching the lost for the sake of preserving what we have now. It’s not taking into account the urgency of spreading the gospel. It’s true, we are healthy now. God is even blessing us by adding to our numbers! But why just add when God is giving us an opportunity to multiply? Why have just one outpost of the gospel, when we have an opportunity to start another? On top of that, it’s easy to be satisfied and grow complacent when things are going well. But, when faced with challenges, that’s often when people rise to meet the challenges. God builds us up through challenging times.

This temptation to “freeze the glory” was the same one that faced the disciples. But did Peter realize the implications of what he was saying? If they set up tents and remained on the mountaintop that day, sure, they would have a glorious life on earth. People would know that Jesus was indeed God. People would flock to see him, hear from him, and receive miracles from him. And the disciples would be honored as his closest friends – the King’s own right-hand men. But what then? They are so focused on the present glory that they lose focus on the future. What happens when they die, and sin has not been paid for? We would all be lost eternally. By focusing on the present glory, they’ve given up the greater future glory.

Yes, it would mean challenging times ahead. Yes, it would mean their dear friend Jesus would be betrayed, unfairly tried, beaten, mocked, crucified. It would mean, he would die. And don’t underestimate how great of a challenge it would be to go through that as a disciple. We know the end of the story, we have the eyewitness testimony of his resurrection. They should know about his resurrection. They were told it would happen. But how confusing it sounded. How well did they understand? And when they saw the blood stream down Jesus’ brow, and heard the labored breaths as he hung on the cross, where was the glory? What confidence did they have?

Before Jesus went down into the valley of the shadow of death, he went up on a mountaintop to prepare his disciples for this very moment. He gave them a glimpse of their Savior’s Glory so that they could be confident through challenging times. He was reminding them that he never changes. Though he took on mortal human flesh, he remains the Ancient of Days. Though he would soon die for sin, he remains the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Just as the sun remains even on a cloudy day, so Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

So, when dark clouds fill the sky – remember to poke your head up above the clouds and see the Light of the World. Remember that even when we are challenged, he remains the Lord of the Church. Forgive us, Lord, when we forget or doubt what you can do. When we are feeling hesitant to step into the unknown of being a Mission Minded congregation, remind us that it is by your mercy that we have this ministry. “For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord… For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:5-6). And although we are but jars of clay – mortal beings with flaws and weaknesses – “we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor 4:7-9).

Remember the mountaintops. Glimpse his glory. So that when you step into the valleys, you remain confident through the challenges with eyes focused on the future glory for you and for those you will reach as a Mission Minded congregation.