God Speaks. Who Hears?

“God Speaks.  Who Hears?”

February 11, 2018

(Transfiguration Sunday)

By John Partridge*

 

2 Kings 2:1-12                        2 Corinthians 4:3-6                Mark 9:2-9

How many of you have your cell phones with you this morning?

How many of you spoke to someone on the phone, or texted, or emailed, or used your phone to communicate with another human being in the last 24 hours?

How many of you listened to the radio or watched television, or used the internet, or read a newspaper or even a book?

That’s probably almost everyone.

Today, communication is easy and fast.  We think nothing of exchanging messages with people halfway around the world when even a few decades ago, that was still a big deal.  As recently as World War Two, the Pentagon would be reading and interpreting information that was days or even weeks old but today can often watch events on the other side of the planet live from cameras on a spy satellite in orbit and from cameras mounted on soldiers’ helmets.  Communication today is so quick, so easy, and so commonplace, that we rarely give it a second thought.

Unless we start talking about God… and then everyone panics.

Atheists think the idea of talking to God is silly, unbelievers doubt that God talks to humans and even believers often think that our prayers are only a one-way thing.  We pray, God hears, and that’s the end of it.  Many Christian think that God might have occasionally spoken to a tiny number of select individuals, but when the prophets of the Old Testament died off, that was that.  But as we read through today’s scriptures, we might be surprised to find that that isn’t the case at all.  We begin in 2 Kings 2:1-12 where we hear the story of Elijah being carried into heaven…

2:1 When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.”

But Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.

The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho.”

And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went to Jericho.

The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” he replied, “so be quiet.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.”

And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on.

Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”

“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.

10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.”

11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.

I’ve read this story plenty of times before, but as I read through this for today’s message, there were a couple things that struck me.  First and foremost among these were the repeated references to groups of people that are referred to as “the company of the prophets.”  Like many of you, I have read about Isaiah, Elijah, Elisha, and other prophets who have books of the Bible named after them, but other than those few, I often thought that there weren’t many others.  In this passage, I allowed myself to think that this was sort of allegorical, or just a way of telling the story, or perhaps that these men were employed by the prophets or by the church in some way.  But as we read a little closer, we are forced to think differently.

There are at least two large groups of these men, there are the company of prophets in Bethel, and another at Jericho and fifty of these men watch from the far side of the river as Elijah and Elisha cross the Jordan.  From the text, it would even seem as if fifty is only a portion of those referred to as “the company of prophets at Jericho.”  And so, from this passage we see that there were a large number of those who were referred to as prophets of God.  What’s more, these men are not simply employees of the church because, in each case, well before Elijah and Elisha arrive, they already know why they are travelling together and that God has told them that this would be Elijah’s last day on earth.  All of these men, or at least many of them, know the future because they have heard it from God himself, and even though none of them had had written books of the bible, there were hundreds of them.

Next, we hear the story of Jesus on the mount of transfiguration in Mark 9:2-9 and, although we’ve heard this story plenty of times before, as we think about this idea of hearing from God, we might just see something we haven’t noticed before.

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “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.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Jesus is transfigured into something that is much different than his normal, earthly appearance and is likely more similar to how Jesus would appear in heaven.  And alongside of Jesus there appears two other men whom, we are told, are Elijah and Moses.  But before any introductions can be made, Peter already knows who they are.  Since these men lived and died hundreds and even thousands of years before Peter was ever born, there is no possible way that he could have known them.  Without photography, or video, or even pencil sketches, there is no way that Peter had seen so much as an artistic drawing of what they had looked like.  And yet, it would seem that at the instant they appear, Jesus’ three disciples know who these men are and they know that the voice that they have heard is that of God himself.

How did they know?

How did they know if Jesus didn’t tell them?

Maybe Jesus did tell them and it didn’t get written down in the story that was handed down to us.

Or is it possible that Peter, James, and John, at that moment, were given a revelation from God?

Before you decide, let’s take a look at one more passage of scripture this morning and read what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth (2 Corinthians 4:3-6).

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 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.

Paul says that the message of God is hidden by the god of this age, or rather, the ruler of the earth and its culture, whom we know is the enemy of our God and that is, Satan.  Satan blinds the minds of unbelievers so they cannot see the evidence that is right in front of them and so they cannot see the truth of the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.  But if that is true, and it must be, then doesn’t that mean that believers in Jesus Christ are themselves hearing and seeing messages from God?  Paul says that God has “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.”

At the very least, this means that when we read, and when we hear, the Gospel message, we are in fact hearing from God.  And whenever we share the message of the Gospel with others we are, in fact, sharing the words of God with them.  But I suspect that there is more to it than that because Paul says that “the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ.”  And, while that seems simple enough, we also know that the people that Paul knew weren’t reading billboards or watching CNN.  The people that Paul describes didn’t own bibles and unbelievers wouldn’t have been standing in the synagogue or in weekly gatherings in a Christian church or home.  The only light of the gospel that unbelievers would have seen would have been the evidence of creation in the world around them, direct communication by God in some other form, or the actions of Christian believers that they knew or who lived among them.

In the time of the Old Testament, God’s prophets numbered in the hundreds and perhaps even in the thousands.  God continued to speak to his people in the time of Jesus, and continues to do so today.  Our neighbors and friends probably won’t hear God speak from a cloud, but his light shines in your hearts so that they can see God’s glory.

As we celebrate and remember this Transfiguration Sunday, let us also remember that God still speaks to us today.  God gives us the light of the knowledge of his glory displayed in the face of Christ.  God is speaking today to our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers, and our families, not on CNN and not on the internet, but through you.

Let your light shine.

 

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

 

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