Martin Scorcese’s new film Silence. Many of you will have seen it. Based on the novel of the same name by the Japanese Roman Catholic author Shusako Endo. It is, i think, a stunning, eviscerating film. It tells the story of two young Jesuit Priests in the mid 17thC who enter Japan, where Christians are undergoing brutal persecutions - torture, beheadings, crucifixions - (The very things incidentally that are happening today to christians in Aleppo). The young Jesuits go in search of an older Priest who had been their mentor and who, it is rumoured, has apostasized: abandoned the faith. It is a story about the challenge of faith in the face of violent persecution. A story about incomprehensible suffering and the silence of God.
Why would God permit these people to suffer so much? Asks the young Father Rodriguez. And why is God silent?
It is suffering which so often causes us to question God - his trustworthiness, his reality.
We come, i presume, to trust and love God because we encounter his goodness, his glory; his love in Jesus Christ. He spoke to us through the Scriptures and became real to us. And we would love to stay in that place. That mountain top experience of God. Peter, on the mount of transfiguration wants to build shelters to keep Moses and Elijah and Jesus there - to hold onto the glory; Make it last forever. But life with God is not lived on the mountain top but in the valley; in the real world of spiritual struggle where the other disciples in our passage find themselves.
Life, for the most part, is full of stuggles isn’t it? For many in our world right now their lot is extreme poverty and hunger or violence, war, persecution, homelessness and loss. Even if we do not find our selves in such desperate circumstances we all know what it is to struggle - often alone - with disappointments, deep sadnesses, unrealised dreams, broken or difficult relationships, emotional problems, mental or physical illness, addictions and compulsions. Life is full of pains and griefs.
Well how are we to think about God and suffering?
Our tendency in our culture is to think that all should be healthy and painless and well. That should be what God would want for us and therefore as contemporary followerers or would-be followers of Jesus Christ when suffering comes we stop trusting that God is in control - he’s absent and we feel that he has abandoned us - He is silent.
In this section of Luke’s gospel. Focus has changed from ‘who Jesus is’ to ‘what it means to follow him’.
Jesus is teaching his disciples how they are to cope in the real world of spiritual struggle. He’s just told them that suffering is coming - that he - the Christ is going to suffer and die! and following him will mean sacrifice for them. But now he takes his 3 closest followers up the mountain to reassure them that he is always in control and that he is not silent.
And there are 2 things that disciples in a broken world must do:
they must [Stop], Look and Listen
Look at Jesus
Listen to Jesus
Keep looking, keep listening
- LOOK at Jesus
If our tendency when suffering comes is to lose our heads - our trust in God goes, he becomes abstract, our belief in his reality wavers, prayer dries up… We need to look to see that he is in control
28 About eight days after Jesus said this [- that is: telling his disciples about his death and the cost of following him], he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.
What a sight this must have been. as Jesus is transfigured. for a moment the veil is lifted and Jesus’ true identity and glory as the eternal son of God is revealed. the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.
Look at who he is.
v30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendour, talking with Jesus.
There’s a lot of chat about why Moses and Elijah are here. Moses represents the law, Elijah the prophets - ok. Jesus is like Moses because he’s leading the people of God into a new era and he’s like Elijah because he is promised to come again in the future..
But isn’t it really just because Moses and Elijah are the two most heavyweight dudes from the OT and they’re on Jesus’ team. AndJesus is shown to be far greater even than they!
31 They spoke about Jesus’ departure, which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem. And Peter wants to hold onto the glory - he doesn’t want them to leave. The cloud - always associated with the glorious presence of God - comes down. And If the presence of Moses and Elijah wasn’t affirmation enough.. God the Father speaks.. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’
this is my Son! Jesus is the Son of God. The Father bursts with pride and can’t contain himself. Like that interview with Bert Le Clos by Clare Balding at the 2012 Olympics when His son, Chad Le Clos the South African swimmer had just won the gold medal in the 100m butterfly, Bert sees his son and is just overcome, "Look at my boy, Look at my son, he’s beautiful, he’s beautiful,"
This is my Son - the Father bursting with pride affirms Jesus. Jesus is the Son of God.
But 'Son of God' is also a title that Scripture gives to the Messiah, the promised deliverer King That’s who Jesus is: Son of God, the rescuer King of glory. Nothing escapes his control. Look at who he is - clothed in Lightning!
When suffering comes and remains we do not know what the reason for it is, but we know what the reason is not. It is not because God is not in control, or is not there, or doesn’t care. Jesusis the King. One day his glory will transfigure and heal this whole sad world.
The next day v37 Jesus and the 3 come down the mountain. Back into the real world of spiritual struggle. And down in the valley the other disciples have been confronted with the pain of a poor family’s predicament. A man who has a son, his only child. And the child has quote ‘a spirit that seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him.’
What a terrible thing. What awful suffering. The disciples have tried to help but their faith has gone even before they even started. "how could God allow this? where is God?" They do not pray..
40 I begged your disciples to drive it out, says the man but they could not.’
Jesus rebukes his disciples for their unbelief. they are a part of a faithless and crooked generation. And then Jesus himself in his compassion and power heals the boy and gives him back to his father.
Look at who Jesus is. He is not absent.
Be reassured. he is in control
It’s not easy to trust in the face of struggle. We need the Holy spirit’s help to see with the eyes of our hearts. To see jesus deeply, trulyin a way that really changes us. We need to Pray.
Pause to pray. Open our eyes to see.
Look at Jesus - he is not absent
2. Listen to Jesus
If our tendency when suffering comes is to despair ..to think that God is silent, that he has abandoned us.. We need to listen to Jesus.. We need to Listen to him about his death.
This is my son, my chosen, listen to him says God the Father in v35 This is my son, my chosen, listen to him
Just as ‘My Son’ is a reference to a title in the OT - a title for the promised deliverer King - the Messiah/the Christ
‘My Chosen’ is also a reference to an OT figure that Jesus is the fulfilment of. The mysterious figure of ‘the servant’ in the prophecies of Isaiah - He is the ‘chosen one of God.’ (Isaiah 41:9, 42:1, 43:10), The servant….Chosen … to suffer ….for US.
Remember Isaiah 53
He was pierced for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities,
The punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed
Jesus is the suffering servant - Listen to him
When Jesus speaks with Moses and Elijah on the mount of transfiguration they speak v31 about his departure, his death ..
strange conversation to have. But actually that word there translated departure, if you look in the footnote, is the greek word for 'exodus'. Of course exodus means departure but in the Jewish mind it means so so much more…Because in the exodus/passover event the death of the lambs meant the rescue of Israel - departing the slavery ofEgypt for the freedom of the promised land.
Jesus, in his untimely, unjust death, shows us how seemingly inexplicable suffering can have a redemptive purpose. How suffering will ultimately give way to glory: The death of the lamb will mean the redemption of the world from the slavery of sin and sickness and suffering and death.
Listen to jesus about his suffering. About who he is for you and for the world.
Look at what Jesus says to his disciples down in the valley after he has healed the boy. v43
While everyone was marvelling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples, 44 ‘Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: [literally: let these words sink into your ears] the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.’
Listen to Jesus about his suffering for you
There’s a scene towards the end of Scorceses’ Silence when the persecutions are long past, christianity has been suppressed in Japan and one of the priests Father Rodriguez after many years begins to pray again.. And a voice plays in his head, perhaps it is the voice of God. It says. “I suffered with you. I was not silent”
The suffering of Jesus with us, and for us is God’s constant word to us in the midst of our sufferings. God has spoken and continues to speak in the sufferings of the Son of God. He is not silent.
Listen to him. Let these words sink into your ears
This week. Struggling to handle some disappointment: I’d been helping with arts club and hardly anybody turned up! I kept praying and nobody was coming through the door. God was silent. (Actually a handful of lovely people did come and we think people are just not in the pattern of it yet.) But i took it personally. It felt at the time like a rejection. And i found myself saying to God, "Lord, we’re trying to do something for you; make you known - why are you letting this happen?? Why are you silent??" And then I thought about this sermon and what Jesus might say to my 'Why is it so hard. Why do people reject us?'
Jesus would say, 'I was rejected, I was deserted, I’m not silent'
When you’re let down or turned on by colleagues at work or even friends. And you say 'Why is this happening God? Why are you silent??'
Jesus says I was deserted, I was betrayed. I am not silent.
When you Lose everything you have, even your very life. 'How can God allow this?? God, why are you silent?'
Jesus says I was crucified. I am not silent
Listen to Jesus about his suffering for you
Of course just as it is not easy to Look, to see.. it is not easy to Listen and hear . the disciples did not understand v45. They didn’t understand what it meant when Jesus said he would suffer they did not grasp it. v45
We need the Holy Spirit’s help to have ears to hear. To hear Jesus deeply, truly in a way that really changes us. To work his word into our bitter trials and disappointments until they bring a sweetness and a trust.