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I made a statement last week to some friends about the things that seemed to elicit an angry response from Jesus while He walked this earth.
I think I said that it wasn’t so much the “sinners” who got Him upset.
The “sinners” seemed to be the very ones He went out of His way to hang out with: prostitutes, women caught in adultery, street beggars, shady little tax collectors who were on the take: these are a few of the people that Jesus went out of His way to spend time with.
He dumped a lot of “woes” on the heads of the super-religious/super-holy people of His day, the guys known as the Pharisees. (see Matthew 23, if you don’t believe me.)
He was not impressed, it seems, by their hypocrisy, and unwillingness to lift a finger to help others.
It was for them, and not for the “sinners” of His day, that He reserved not-so-happy little terms like “brood of vipers” and “hypocrites”
So, I thought I had this pretty well worked out in my head: Jesus, friend of sinners.
Jesus, angered by hypocrisy, self-righteousness, and arrogance.
So, it rattled my paradigm just a bit when last week, I came across this story from the life of Jesus that is recorded in the 9th chapter of Luke. In context, our story occurs right after Jesus’ apostles had returned from a preaching and healing tour of various villages in Galilee, in the north of Israel. Jesus had sent them out to not only preach the good news of the kingdom of God, but also with power and authority to heal the sick and cast out demons, as they went. They returned to Jesus to tell Him how well things had gone, but Jesus was surrounded by crowds. To teach his apostles one more lesson about the power of the One they were following, He fed 5000 people from five loaves of bread and two fish. Not only was everyone full, there were also 12 baskets of leftovers collected. And if THAT were not enough he took his besties, Peter, James and John up on a mountain top to pray, where before their very eyes, His face and His clothing became iridescent. They glowed like lightning.
Now I’m not a huge fan of religious art, in general, because I doubt a Jew of MiddleEastern descent would look anything like the Jesus in this picture, but when I was googling an image of the Transfiguration, this painting by Raphael came up. It was Raphael’s very last painting before his death, and was considered by many to be his finest work, and for that reason, I thought it might warrant a closer look. Sometimes a picture really IS worth a 1000 words, and in this case, this picture illustrates something that I’ve been searching for a way to say, about the story I’m in the midst of telling you. So, let’s take a moment and consider the artist’s work, here.
On top of the mountain, you’ll notice Jesus, glorified in radiant light, revealed in His divine nature. His face is serene, but the power in the clouds behind Him indicate the power at His command. Moses (Israel’s deliverer out of slavery, as well as her lawgiver) and Elijah (Israel’s greatest prophet) both have appeared, yet clearly rank as subservient to Jesus. Peter, James, and John caught napping again while Jesus prayed, are waking up to this glorious sight. The mountaintop contains a sense of serenity. All power belongs to Jesus.
Now let your eyes stray down the mountain, to the scene that awaited Jesus in the valley below.
As Luke tells the story, Peter, who is just waking up, gets pretty excited by the sight he sees, (and I’m guessing this is Peter talking before he’s had his coffee), and so Peter suggests that they get busy and build three shelters up there on top of the mountain: one for Jesus, one for Moses, one for Elijah. And then everyone will clearly see that Jesus really IS the Messiah promised by God. Jesus will be able to secure His power base amongst the people, and then, they can overthrow Rome as a unified nation, and the Messiah will reign from Jerusalem, and Peter will be His right-hand man, and this could all work out really well!
Sadly for Peter, a cloud in the form of a Supernatural Wet Blanket appears to spoil Peter’s beautiful idea, and the voice of the Eternal speaks from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen. Listen to Him.”
Total buzz kill for poor Peter.
In other words: “not YOUR plan, Peter. Listen to my Boy.”
But…oh, well…time to go back down the mountain, and see what’s going on down below. And what’s going on down below is what elicits the response from Jesus that is what I want to talk about today, and that is:
The Divine Face Palm
Take another look at Raphael’s art work. As your eyes go from the celestial scene of serenity at the top of the mountain, you come to what was going on in the valley below. And that, in a word, is chaos. The multitude below is an almost writhing torrent of despair, and human need. I am struck by the absence of light: the darkness of the background, and the troubled expressions on the faces of the crowd.
In the 9th chapter of Luke, the story goes on to reveal that there is a crowd waiting at the foot of the mountain following the transfiguration of Jesus, and a crisis has arisen. A father has approached the disciples with his only son who is apparently possessed by a spirit that seizes him, causes him to go into convulsions and foam at the mouth, and that this condition is destroying his son. The father tells Jesus that he begged His disciples to heal his son, but they could not.
And here, we get the response from Jesus that I confess was a little surprising to me:
“You unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you and put up with you?”
My initial response was: “Well, Jesus. That doesn’t sound very kind. Or polite.”
He kind of sounds…ticked off.
(But He does go on to heal the boy, just so you know.)
So, what was under Jesus’ craw in this story?
Well, if you remember, I mentioned that the apostles had just come back from touring the villages in Galilee, where HE HAD GIVEN THEM AUTHORITY to heal diseases and drive out demons. So…they actually HAD what they needed.
But this spirit possession that sounds a lot like epilepsy was a very feared thing within the Jewish culture. They called it being a lunatic or being moonstruck in Matthew 17:15. So maybe the disciples got really intimidated by the fearfulness of the circumstance that was facing them.
But the issue here, to me, is that Jesus is reprimanding them maybe not so much in anger, but more with a Divine Face Palm.
He’s reprimanding them for their unbelief.
Which, when I stop and think it about it, He could direct that same face palm toward me on just about any given day.
It is so easy to slip into the mindset that I Must Be In Control and Manage My Sin and Fix My Circumstances.
I so easily forget what I believe!
I forget that it is only the power of the Cross that can EVER defeat sin in my life – that I myself, by myself, am wholly unequal to that task.
I forget that He loves me with an everlasting love – (I imagine Him being disappointed in me).
I forget that in His eyes, I already AM holy, and dearly loved.
I forget that His divine power, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. lives inside of me- that whatever He calls me to do, that He is able to supply exactly what I need to do it.
The Bible says that without faith, it is impossible to please God. I think we see that borne out in this story, ever so clearly.
The faith of the apostles had wavered. They got the Divine Face Palm.
Unbelief = not trusting.
Where I want to live, how I want to live, is trusting my Father.
Trusting that whatever circumstances have come my way, that He is with me, in the midst of it, loving me.
I want to look for His hand, reaching out to help me, comfort me, and love me, there, in the midst of ferocious pain.
And when my belief falters, I want to cry out to Him, honestly, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!” And know that He will not turn me away.
“A bruised reed you will not break. A smoldering wick you will not snuff out.” (Isaiah 42:3)
If you find your belief faltering…take hope.
He loves you.
He is for you.
He wants you to invite Him into the midst of wherever you are, into whatever daunting circumstances you are facing.
He even wants to help you in the midst of your unbelief.
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