Jesus Alone

(On the Transfiguration of our Lord)

Mark 9.2-8

Rev. L. Nishan Bakalian

Retreats are great! When people go on retreats, it’s a time for them to focus on things they wouldn’t normally have an opportunity to: to evaluate, to plan, to reflect, perhaps to have some new experiences. In particular, for the believer in Christ, spiritual retreats are crucial for our spiritual growth. At those times when you feel spiritually sluggish, as if you’re not getting anywhere, going away somewhere, away from the regular pace of things, away from all the distractions and devices that fill our lives can be extraordinarily renewing. Additionally, at those retreats, as many of us can testify, you may have an encounter with the Lord; a time of rededication to God, a time of realizing our sin and our need for Christ as our Lord and Savior, a time for responding to a call to some kind of ministry.

The disciples were with Jesus on the mountaintop. It was such a special time, in such a special set of circumstances. At this mountain top retreat, we notice some very unusual things that were happening. Most unusual of all, more than the amazing sight of radiant figures from biblical history was something that happened at the very end of their retreat. What they experienced should be something in which we should share as well in our spiritual endeavors if we want to grow in our faith. The disciples – Peter, James and John, reduced their focus down to one person: Jesus, just Jesus. No one else. Jesus alone.

Now this is something that may trouble us, because we wonder, “Well, is ‘just’ Jesus enough?” Sometimes people will make fun of you if you are devoted to the Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. They’ll say, “You know, there’s life, there’s a lot going on. You can’t be just about Jesus.”

As we look carefully at this event called the “Transfiguration” and see how those three disciples were left with “just Jesus” and that was enough, we should be able to confidently challenge the idea that “just Jesus isn’t enough”. To clarify this a bit, let’s draw a highly contrasting picture. Imagine for a moment that you’re at the end of your life: you have a lot of stuff you’ve accumulated, but you realize you don’t have Jesus. You can’t find him anywhere in your life. Then imagine that at the end of your life you realize you don’t have a lot of things – maybe not anything – but you have Jesus. Now, in which situation would you want to be?

There was a bishop in England who, on his deathbed, had lost all of his memory. He was surrounded by loved ones, he was surrounded with care, yet he didn’t recognize a single face. The man who had worked with him for years, his associate pastor, visited him, and said, “Bishop, do you know me?” “No, who are you?” came the reply. When he was told, he still couldn’t remember. Another person who had worked with him for years had the same experience. His wife came in, and he didn’t even recognize her. Finally, one of them said, “Bishop, do you still know the Lord Jesus Christ?” And His eyes brightened and he said, “Oh yes, I’ve known him for forty years. He’s my dearest friend!”

There will come a time when all of us will be stripped and distilled and boiled down to just the very basic essence of who we are. And at that time who would you want to name as your dearest friend? Who will be the one who will not abandon us, even if we even forget that name? That’s why we go on retreats so that we establish a relationship with Jesus, and remember that, yes, such a time will come when I lose everything and everyone; so, from this point on I need Jesus to walk with me.

When Peter, James and John went on a retreat with Jesus they didn’t know what they were getting into, but they were willing to go with Him. And when they saw what they did, that amazing sight, that one could hardly explain, they still didn’t know the full impact of what they were experiencing. But that’s all right, because Jesus was with them. They saw Jesus shining, radiating light, and then they saw two other people and they recognized that one was Elijah and one was Moses. One was the premier prophet and the other was the bringer of God’s Law. And they figured they needed to add something to that experience. “Oh, we can do something! We can help out here; we can straighten up the place; we can make it better. Let’s make some shelters!” Peter came up with this brilliant idea. “And you guys can stay here, and everything would be nice, and we can stay here and it would be wonderful.” God did not let Peter finish his proposal; He broke into his rambling words and He said, “This is my Son, the beloved. You have to listen to Him. You have to listen to Him!” They didn’t get it, but they were beginning to get it.

If we go away on a retreat, maybe we won’t come completely changed, transformed and made into the person that God wants us to be, but we’ll get a little further if we focus on Jesus alone. Even if we don’t go on a retreat, but make Jesus the focus, we’ll grow a little bit in the right direction. Realizing that Jesus alone is your hope means that you have found the right place to start. You’ve found where to center your thoughts, your heart, your hopes, your plans – on Him. There is sometimes so much happening that we add a lot of things into the place where Jesus alone should inhabit. We add a lot of obligations, a lot of concerns and worries, a lot plans and other priorities. We pack them in there (I know this all too well!) and crowd Jesus in there, too, with that package.

A woman was taking a class in photography. She figured she’d take, for one of her assignments, a picture of her six year-old daughter. So, she sat the the child on a very nice, serene, grassy hillside. As she was setting up the picture, she noticed that there was an apple tree in full bloom that would make a nice background. She couldn’t resist, so she moved the tree in to a prominent place in the picture.

She was surprised when her instructor pointed out a problem with the photo. The apple tree distracted from her primary focus, the little girl.

“See how it catches the eye? It competes with your subject. You need to choose one subject and leave the other out.”

We have to choose one focus for our lives and leave the others out. When we do, the others come into perspective around that one subject, Jesus. Not making Him compete with so much that’s going on in our lives, but seeing Him in His power and His glory.

Remember the words that Peter wrote to the churches about his personal experience at the Transfiguration (in II Peter 1.16-21). There we see how he ended up, years later, centered on the kingdom and the power and the glory. This is something we say at the end of the Lord’s Prayer in every worship service, right? It’s Jesus’ kingdom, and his power, and his glory that we want in our hearts and in all creation. It is our theme throughout our lives – this great hope that we have in Jesus. His disciples witnessed the kingdom, and the power and the glory, and we must join them in this testimony, now and forever.

I want Jesus to be my focus. Jesus alone. I hope you do too.

[LNB – 3 Feb. 2008]