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Presence

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Not everything Jesus did was meant to be imitated. In some things He was an exception rather than an example. For instance, Jesus was single. He was not suggesting that His followers should not get married. However, the fact that He was single does sanctify a status that previously would have been considered disgraceful. In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul lets us know that singleness is okay and has some definite advantages. Nonetheless, we do not interpret the fact that Jesus was single as a model for everyone.

In the area of Christian experience, Jesus had an occasion of glory that is also considered exceptional: the Transfiguration. The story (Matt. 17:1–9, Mark 9:2–10 and Luke 9:28–36) is that Jesus went up a mountain to pray with just three of His disciples. While praying, Jesus’ appearance was changed. His clothes became dazzling white, and His face shone like the sun. Elijah and Moses showed up and talked with Him. To top it off, a bright cloud surrounded them, and the voice of God was heard speaking to them. Any one of the three happenings (the brightness, the appearance of Elijah and Moses and voice of God) would have been awesome, but all three back-to-back is without precedent. It was a one-of-a-kind event. So, when considering Jesus’ life as a pattern for Christian experience, should we who walk the Jesus Road also expect some kind of similar experience of glory?

It was the hope of medieval mystics to achieve what they called the beatific vision. It was the goal of their spiritual pilgrimage to have a tangible experience of God, something like Moses had on the mount when his face shone (Exodus 33:12ff. and 34:29ff.). Today, there are “God chasers” who, in a similar way, want to experience God and get a taste of glory. One of my mentors, now gone to heaven, shared with me that while he was praying with a friend, both saw their surroundings change into a heavenly scene. It was like a taste of heaven. When we hear such stories, we hunger after a taste of heaven for ourselves.

The fact that it happened to Jesus lets us know that having a vision of glory is a good thing. However, the fact that Jesus took only three disciples with Him and those disciples were not to tell anyone about their experience until after the Resurrection gives us the clue that transfiguration experiences are exceptional. Possible reasons are that people are not sure what to do with them and are prone to make dubious applications, as did Peter, who wanted to erect three dwellings, one each for Jesus, Moses and Elijah, or because those not seeing the event might misunderstand it.

And yet another reason was the temptation of pride on the apostles’ part of having participated in such a glorious occasion. The apostle Paul had a vision of heaven, explained in 2 Corinthians 12, about which he shared hesitantly. He said God gave him a thorn in the flesh so that he would not become conceited about his special revelation. Paul warns about those who go into great detail sharing what they have seen of angels and the like, for such a person is puffed up and delights in false humility (Col. 2:18). We need to recognize that a danger comes with such lofty, heavenly experiences, and most of us are not able to handle them.

Having said this, we do live in an age where reports of signs and wonders, visions and dreams are on the increase. Likewise, the number of those who seek such things is also growing. Churches can be categorized by those that seek supernatural manifestations and those that do not. An attitude of seeking a manifestation of God is definitely better than one that is not seeking Him. The growing prayer for revival is a prayer for God to show up in power and glory. While revival historically remains exceptional, seeking it is becoming the norm.

We walk by faith and not by sight, but faith is encouraged by answered prayer, a sense of Presence, an awareness of the voice of God. In his book Experiencing God, Henry T. Blackaby helped raise the expectation and sensitivity of church members to the activity of God in their lives. Jesus’ sheep do hear His voice. The Holy Spirit within does make His Presence known. Faith should be moving mountains; the sick should be healed and the prisoner set free. There is a level of tangibility that every believer should be experiencing both individually and corporately. Jesus’ disciples lived with the everyday amazing Presence of the Lord, but only three were allowed on the mount. . . .

Paul would remind us that as Christians we already have received a glory in the Spirit that outshines that of Moses (2 Cor. 3:7–18). He would also tell us that we are being transformed into Jesus’ likeness with ever-increasing glory (v. 18). Therefore, there is a glory that we need to be living out by faith. The writer to the Hebrews also tells us that in contrast to those who come to the mount in the wilderness with its darkness, storm and gloom, we “have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the first born” (Heb. 12:22–23). There is a mount experience that we have already entered into as children of God. These are things already ours, even prior to having entered heaven’s gates. They are unseen now but real nonetheless.

So what about the beatific vision? . . . Do we have a right to expect a glory experience? The answer is no. Do we have a right to seek a glory experience? The answer to that is yes. However, remember that the foretastes of heaven now are the dessert of Christian experience, not the main course. . . . The meat and potatoes of Christian experience center around the cross. The Mount of Transfiguration was a branch experience off the main trail to Calvary. Jesus would not let the disciples camp out there. They needed to return to the struggle for deliverance at the bottom of the mountain and move on toward Passion Week. The Mount of Transfiguration is for the few; the crucifixion is for everyone.

The main sense of glory we should expect as normative is a sense of fellowship with Jesus. Jesus walks the Jesus Road with us by His Spirit. There should be a sense of His Presence that stimulates the joy of the Christian life. We often neglect His Presence. We become preoccupied with the cares of this world. We become desensitized and unaware that He is with us always. Herein is the primary importance of the devotional disciplines. Just as Jesus got alone to pray to God, so we also need to get away from the distractions of life and be still in His Presence. When the Spirit speaks to us from the Scriptures, our spiritual senses are renewed and we “feel” His Presence. It was at such a time of prayer that Jesus was transfigured.

If God is going to open the heavens to you, the most likely time it will happen is when you are in your secret place with Him. Enoch walked with God 300 years, and then God took him to glory (Gen. 5:22–24). It is our responsibility to “walk with God” by faith. If He wants to turn that faith-walk into sight, then so much the better. The Jesus Road is a fellowship journey, and our companion is Jesus. The fellowship will be glorious, and our hearts will burn within us like those of His followers on the road to Emmaus.

Adapted from Gateways: A Trilogy on Spiritual Transformation by John Harvey. Published by S. D. Myers Publishing Company, Tallmadge, Ohio. To obtain a copy, contact John Harvey at jharvey64@windstream.net.

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