As I was walking in some local woods a few days ago I walked past this shelter and I began to think about the Transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17.1-9). On a mountain top, Peter, James and John saw the majesty of Jesus revealed as his face shone like the sun and Moses and Elijah appeared and began to talk with him. Whilst this was really a moment for stunned silence, Peter (who always had something to say) blurted out “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” His question got lost as God’s majesty continued to be revealed in increasing glory: ‘While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.”’
Was Peter’s suggestion driven in part by his Old Testament understanding of the temple or tabernacle as places where God’s undiluted presence could be found? As Peter sees the power of God in Jesus, Moses and Elijah, it must have seemed natural to him to offer to create some tabernacles so that the presence of God could dwell in a way that fitted with his understanding. Peter’s desire was to try to bottle the presence of God and in contrast to this Jesus leads them down the mountain. Jesus knew there was no need to try to ‘bottle’ or cling to the presence of God because it could be freely poured out again and again and again. Is our understanding of God’s presence closer to that of Peter’s thinking here than we would like to admit? We would all say that God is present everywhere and that he is at work in the world but the way we sometimes engage missionally implies much more of a tabernacle like understanding of God’s presence.
Peter wants to put Jesus in a shelter, but Jesus wants to take God’s presence into the world.
Peter wants to bottle the presence of God, but Jesus wants to see the presence poured out.
In the past month, churches have been turned inside out as we have been forced to take our approaches to discipleship completely out of church buildings. I wonder if in years to come we will look back and see this aspect of what we are going through as a blessing rather than a curse? This global Pandemic is horrendous and whilst I don’t believe that God caused it, I do believe that he is at work in it. I’m reminded of the first Christians who were told to go into all the world with the gospel but who instead settled in Jerusalem. A few months later and a great persecution caused the church to be scattered and as a result the gospel began to spread throughout the world.
Will we allow the lockdown we are in to reshape our thinking about God’s presence?
Are we open to hearing what the Spirit is saying in these troubling times?
If you watch the video, you will see that when we came to film that the shelter had been knocked down and I wonder if this a prophetic picture? I hope and pray that during these troubling times that any ‘come to us mentality’ that still influences our evangelism would finally be broken. May we embrace the truth that God lives in us which means that people can find God in and through us rather than having to go to a building. ‘We are temples of the Holy Spirit’ (1 Cor 6.19, Ephesians 2. 21-22), what does this really mean?
Peter never got to build his shelters. Jesus wasn’t willing to be put into lockdown, rather he chose to take God’s healing presence into a hurting world, and this is still his priority. Will we join Jesus in this pouring out rather than trying to bottle the presence of God just for ourselves?
I have produced a short video (just over 3 minutes) that also explores these thoughts.