What's Holding You Back?
Transfiguration Sunday – B LSB #’s 414, 396, 924
Text – 2 Corinthians 3:17
Now the Lord is the Spirit, & where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
WHAT’S HOLDING YOU BACK?
“We hold these truths to be self-evident…” Powerful words from a momentous time in the history of the world, they helped to inspire men & women to strive for more than most of them would ever have expected was their right & due. In the minds of its authors the declaration of independence put forth the causes which impelled them to seek the freedom of our nation.
They believed that the King of Great Britain was holding them back through an unjust tyranny over the citizens of the American colonies. They had patiently suffered through years of oppression & now the times called for throwing off the shackles of despotism.
“…that all men are created equal…” It does not say all men are equal. Look around you. It’s obvious that we aren’t. Sin has twisted & corrupted what our heavenly Father created such that inequality exists everywhere. Yet the founding fathers of our nation knew that all men are created equal. In God’s design, all people are equally free.
“…that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…” Not only did our forefathers acknowledge that human beings were created & equal, but they stated there was a Creator instead of a haphazard process of chance mutation supposedly producing life over billions of years. A random process of chaos does not assign unalienable rights to anything.
“…that among these are Life, Liberty & the pursuit of Happiness.” It’s the desire of our Creator that we enjoy the blessing of life, even here on earth. Sin has definitely made a mess of things, but God’s Word from Genesis 1 still applies, if we live by faith:
“So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male & female He created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful & multiply & fill the earth & subdue it, & have dominion over the fish of the sea & over the birds of the heavens & over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” (1:27-28 ESV) Life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness are not only the rights of the 1%, or of the Hollywood elite. Our forefathers, & God Himself, intended them for all mankind.
What is holding you back? Certainly that question can be answered in a general way with the word – sin. Yet, the Word of God makes clear that our Savior has conquered sin & removed the grip it had on our heart & soul. Jesus Himself told us:
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV) Then, St. John wrote, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.” (1 John 5:4a ESV) To believe in Jesus means that we put our faith in those words & promises.
The world cannot hold us back because Jesus has overcome sin, & death & the Devil. They have no power over you or me. As the Apostle James wrote, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, & he will flee from you.” (4:7 ESV) If Lucifer is not fleeing, what do you think is holding us back? Are we not submitting to God as we should?
In any case, it should be clear that the only thing which can hold us back is we ourselves. Our weakness & our fear, our wants & our desires, our refusal to surrender control of life to the heavenly Father, those are the temptations through which Satan lures us away from the freedom that Jesus won for us on the cross of Golgotha.
Yes, there is forgiveness for our sin, for our weakness, for our wanton desires, but there is also a great danger in refusing to acknowledge & submit to our Creator. St. Peter wrote about it in 2 Peter 2: “And when people escape from the wickedness of the world by knowing our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ & then get tangled up & enslaved by sin again, they are worse off than before.” (2:20 NLT) God’s desire & design is not simply to rescue us from our sinful choices in an outward way. He wants true freedom for us, so He doesn’t just slap a new coat of paint on us to make us look good. Our Lord desires to change your heart in the process. If you remember, Jesus criticized the ones who were only concerned with outward appearance:
“Woe to you, scribes & Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones & all uncleanness.” (Matthew 23:27 ESV) That, through Baptism, we are a new creation in Christ occurs from the inside out. In this life, the freedom given to us by our Lord is primarily an inward one.
In the context of suffering the effects of sin, St. Paul stated: “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16b-18 ESV)
The freedom Christ gives is eternal, yet, much of the time we allow the things that are seen, & are transient, to hold us back. Our home, our possessions, our time & money, even our relationships, all of them are at times valued above following Jesus. We’re afraid that if we allow Jesus to command our attention, then we’ll miss out on things we believe we deserve.
With that attitude, we quickly become slaves to what otherwise is intended by God to be a blessing. We end up serving the blessing, rather than the giver, our gracious heavenly Father. Behind that fear of missing out is none other than the Devil himself, but it is you & I who choose in allowing fear to guide & direct our actions.
The dictator in North Korea rules by fear & intimidation. Jesus does not exercise dominion over those who belong to Him by the promulgation of laws & the pronouncement of judgment. Rather He does so by fellowship with sinners & by forgiveness. His lordship is not intended as a burden but as a help. He did not come to earth to be served, but to serve. You will be more useful as an instrument of God if you recognize what it is that’s holding you back. Why is it that you aren’t living life boldly for Christ?
The transfiguration is meant to encourage us so we live the freedom Christ has won for us through sacrificing His life in our place. Jesus was transfigured so His disciples could see a more complete picture of reality to encourage them once Jesus had risen from the dead. They had been living by sight, & would continue to do so until after the resurrection.
Living by sight, instead of by faith, was holding them back. They were so sure Jesus was going to take over as an earthly ruler; they were so looking forward to the day when He ascended an earthly throne that they forgot to keep on living in the present.
We do that too, looking forward to a wedding, or a graduation, or finally landing a job or buying a home. We can so look forward to our future that we forget to live in the here & now. It’s a blessing that our Lord is patient. He revealed His glory to three of the disciples & then told them not to tell anyone, until He had risen from the dead. That is being patient.
When Pentecost arrived the Disciples would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Then the Disciples would understand what the Transfiguration was about. St. Paul defends his boldness, in this reading from 2 Corinthians, in the face of criticism about, “Who does he think he is?” He used to imprison & oversee the murder of God’s children. Now he’s telling us to live boldly?
However, Paul bases that boldness not on himself as his opponents suggest. He bases it upon the new covenant set up by Christ. Faith is not simply trust in God in general. It is a specific trust that accepts the cross & has its foundation in the saving work of Jesus. Out of that trust grows boldness that has no fear of being ‘put to shame.’ It is a trust that fully grasps hold of the freedom we have in the cross. If we refuse to serve boldly in the name of Jesus, then we lapse back into slavery, because our will is no longer attuned to His. We either live according to the flesh because we believe we’re just going to die anyway. Or, we believe & live according to the Spirit because we know we will never die! We throw off the shackles holding us back.
God’s Word is a precious gift which leads & feeds its hearers unto everlasting life. People of God depend on that Word, & the Spirit of God working through it, for salvation, instruction, direction & preservation in the one true faith. That Word is true, & powerful, & it does what it says. Sometimes it is a Word that tests our strength of character, & our resolve.
God’s Word is not just sweetness & light. It is a fire, the Psalmist says. It melts the earth if it must; it abides forever; it creates weal & woe; it is what will never fail. Against it, who can stand? That Word can be very unpopular inside & outside the church, & too often, we do not speak or live its truth in love, as we ought.
There is something inside of us, some selfish beast of a subtle thing, that doesn’t like the truth at all because it carries responsibility, & if we actually believe these things we have to do something about them. But we do not stand alone. Whenever & wherever the Word of the Lord is spoken & lived out, there the Word made flesh is also present & active.
The Son of God came to earth in mercy & humility to fulfill the Word of God, precisely because we are not capable of doing so. And because of that singular reason you have nothing to be afraid of in following Jesus. You can live boldly. You can die boldly, because the power of Yahweh is at work through you.
No more lies or half-truths to hold you back. All your sins are forgiven. There is nothing to fear, not even fear itself. In Christ you are already holy in the sight of God. In Christ you know the truth & the truth has set you free. Amen.
Lift up your eyes in wonder – see, nations gather yonder from sin to be set free. The world has heard Your story; her sons come to Your glory; her daughters haste Your light to see. Your heart will leap for gladness when from the realms of sadness they come from near & far. Your eyes will wake from slumber as people without number rejoice to see the Morning Star. Amen. LSB 396:4-5.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet