Not Today, Satan w/ Dishon Mills
Welcome to the Gospel Reverb podcast. Gospel Reverb is an audio gathering for preachers, teachers, and Bible thrill seekers. Each month, our host, Anthony Mullins, will interview a new guest to gain insights and preaching nuggets mined from select passages of scripture, and that month’s Revised Common Lectionary.
The podcast’s passion is to proclaim and boast in Jesus Christ, the one who reveals the heart of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And now onto the episode.
Anthony: Hello friends, a welcome to the latest episode of Gospel Reverb. Gospel Reverb is a podcast devoted to bringing you insights from Scripture found in the Revised Common Lectionary and sharing commentary from a Christ-centered and Trinitarian view. I’m your host Anthony Mullins, and it’s my joy to welcome our guest, Dishon Mills.
Dishon is the lead church planter and pastor of Grace Communion Steele Creek, a new church plant expressing Christ love for humanity in Charlotte, North Carolina. He’s also the National Coordinator of Generations Ministries on behalf of Grace Communion International.
Dishon, thank you for being with us and welcome back to the podcast. This is your second time being our guest at Gospel Reverb. But it’s been awhile, so why don’t you catch us up with how you are participating with the Lord these days.
Dishon: Praise God. Thank you so much, Anthony. I thought you said you’d never have me back after the last time.
Anthony: Well, God corrected me and welcome, sir. It’s good to have you again.
Dishon: It’s really good to be here. All joking aside, it is a privilege and honor to be here with you talking about the word of God and what it can mean for us in this time, in this day.
And lately we’ve just been getting acclimated to Charlotte and continuing to fall in love with this city. Afrika [my wife] and I moved here about a year and a half ago. And we’re loving it and enjoying life and enjoying being about the business of planting a new church here. Our kids are doing great, so I’m feeling no pain, Anthony. Things are good.
Anthony: Good. Since you’ve gotten acclimated to Charlotte and you’re falling in love with the city, does this mean you’re falling in love with the sports teams of that city? Or are you still lingering to your past sin of cheering for the Boston Red Sox and the Patriots and all that?
Dishon: The good news is that Charlotte does not have a local baseball team. So Red Sox Nation is in full effect here in Charlotte. So, I continue to be a Red Sox fan. I am developing a sympathy for the Panthers and the Hornets, but the Lord’s going to have to continue to work at my heart.
Anthony: We will be in prayer for you, sir. But it’s so good to have you here today.
Let’s get into it. We have four lectionary passages that we’re going to be looking at today.
Matthew 5:13-20 “Salty”
Matthew 5:21-37 “But I Say To You”
Matthew 17:1-9 “Filled With Awe”
Matthew 4:1-11 “Not Today, Satan!”
Let me read the first pericope of the month. It’s Matthew 5:13-20. It comes from the Common English Bible. It’s a Revised Common Lectionary passage for the fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, on February the 5th.
3 “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. 14 You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven. 17 “Don’t even begin to think that I have come to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I haven’t come to do away with them but to fulfill them. 18 I say to you very seriously that as long as heaven and earth exist, neither the smallest letter nor even the smallest stroke of a pen will be erased from the Law until everything there becomes a reality. 19 Therefore, whoever ignores one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called the lowest in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever keeps these commands and teaches people to keep them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 I say to you that unless your righteousness is greater than the righteousness of the legal experts and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Dishon, in slang terms, when someone says you’re salty, that’s not a good thing. They’re saying you’re upset or you’re in a bad way. And yet Jesus, in this passage tells us we’re salty. And it’s good. So, help us understand.
Dishon: Yes. So, the folks in Jesus’ time had a very different relationship with salt than we do today.
Today’s salt is very common here in the Western world. Just about any restaurant you go into, you’ll find it on the table. And just about every home, you’ll find it on the shelf somewhere. So, it’s very common. But back then salt was essential. And it still is essential, but even more so then. You could even use it as a medium of exchange.
Back then you could buy stuff with salt because it was that useful and precious. So, we talk a lot about what this passage means, and we talk about the qualities of salt. And that’s good. And that’s right. So, salt brings out the flavor of something, right? So salt, when it’s put into a dish, just makes that dish taste better, if you put the right amount of it, right?
It’s also used as a preservative. If you dip meat in salt, that meat, if you treat it properly, can last a very long time without refrigeration, which in the ancient world was really important. Even, you could use salt in small quantities as a fertilizer. So, you can make things grow or help make things grow with salt.
Human beings—mammals, we need salt. We have to ingest it. If we don’t get salt, we develop some kind of condition that I don’t know the name of, but it’s bad. You don’t want it, right? So, we need salt in our diet in order to be healthy. And also, as a disinfectant—it doesn’t feel great. If you put a small amount of salt in a wound or something like that, it will help keep that wound from being infected.
There was so many uses of salt, and I think when we’re preaching this verse, this passage, we often talk about a lot of those uses of salt, and we talk about these metaphors of what salt could be. Every metaphor breaks down, but this is a useful thing to do.
However, I think if we zoom out just a little bit, we can see the overall meaning. I don’t think it’s any one of these qualities of salt that we’re supposed to grab hold to. I think what we’re supposed to grab onto—and this is my view—that we as Christ’s followers are supposed to diffuse the aroma of Christ in the world and be a vital part of everyday life. Salt is necessary for the wellbeing of all. Right?
It’s not something that has only one value. It is valuable on so many levels that if it wasn’t there, the quality of life will be drastically reduced. And I think that’s what we’re called to be. We’re supposed to be living incarnationally and living in our communities and our neighborhood and behaving and treating others in such a way that we become a vital part of everyday life.
That if we were not there, life would be diminished. That we’re required for healthy functioning of the society around us. And if we as Christ’s followers are self-focused or isolated or as we’re engaging with our neighbors, if we don’t resemble Christ in how we’re living amongst them and treating them, we no longer fulfill our purpose in the world as disciples.
There’s a futility to our existence as disciples, if we’re not being salt and if we’re not being salty.
Anthony: You brought to memory a quote from Francis Chan, and I’m paraphrasing, but he said, Christians are a lot like manure. When you spread them out, they help things grow. But when they stay in a pile, they stink to high heaven.
And that speaks to what you’re saying that salt even as a fertilizer—again, not to press in on one aspect of salt too much—but like you said, as we live incarnationally, as salt, things should grow. That’s what healthy organisms do. And I think that’s what you’re pointing to. It’s really good.
Verse 16 tells us, Dishon, that we’re to let our light shine so people can see the good things we’re doing. And of course, I’m not going to disagree with Jesus. It’s true. But I also can’t help but think if we take that too far, just like too much salt, right? It’s not good. We can end up being showy or pointing to ourselves instead of pointing to Jesus. Maybe help us rightly understand how we put this in context.
Dishon: Yes. So, I think that if we set out to be light to the world, if we look at ourselves and say, yes, I’m brightly shining and I need to go out to the world to let them see my brightness, we will stumble.
That is a recipe for failure, in my view. I think what it means that we are light, it’s not something we do ourselves. And I don’t even know, I have to think about this more, but I don’t even know if we should be fully conscious of the fact, all the time, that we are being light. I think what we are supposed to do is submit ourselves to the leading of the Spirit, and what the Spirit does is that the Holy Spirit helps us to act like Jesus and the Holy Spirit helps us to think like Jesus and move in the world like Jesus.
We don’t know how to be righteous from our own resources. We can only submit ourselves to the Holy Spirit and his leading. And I think as we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, we begin to mirror Christ. Christ is the light. And if we are an effective mirror, we reflect that light. We shine and become light.
And as we engage our neighbors, they look at us and they see light. They may not realize that we are reflectors. And that’s where place-sharing and evangelism comes in when we get to tell the story. No, I’m like this, I’m doing this because there is this God man named Jesus who changed everything for me.
So, they may not realize that we are reflecting light. But they see that light as we move and as we follow the Holy Spirit. I think a lot of what good we do, can only be seen as good after the fact.
I’ll give you an example. This happened not too long ago where there was a gentleman who stopped in front of our house. He was having some car trouble and I just decided, let me go out and see if he’s okay. And as I’m talking to him, he starts sharing a story about his son dying and having to raise his grandson. And we spent a good 15 minutes just talking about how he and his grandson are trying to cope with that loss.
And I’m trying to pour into him as much encouragement as I can. And I didn’t set out to be like, in that moment, I didn’t go out to say I’m so bright and shiny. Let me just go shine on this guy. I just followed the leading of the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit created this moment where this man that I didn’t know, he and I connected on a very deep level, and I prayed for him.
And it was just this beautiful moment, and I’m sure that he walked away—maybe, I don’t know—exposed to light. But that’s not for me to judge or say or even dwell upon except to say, Lord, thank you so much that I get to participate in your life and in your work. Thank you so much that I get to have a front row seat to watching you work and watching you do your thing.
So, if we’re doing light right, we’re not even thinking about light. We’re just trying to follow where the Spirit leads. And the Spirit causes others to see us as light, and then we give the glory to God for making us shine.
Anthony: Later in the episode, we’re going to talk about Transfiguration Sunday where Jesus as God shines his own light.
It’s self-generated. Whereas, as you talked about, we’re just reflecting. We don’t create our own lights. It’s a gift. And I really appreciate what you said there.
Dishon, I’ve had a complicated history with the law. I’m really curious what it means when Jesus says he fulfilled the Law and the Prophets. Tell us more.
Dishon: Oh, Jesus is so cool. I love the fact that he said this. The Law and the Prophets, we can understand that phrase as referring to the Old Testament Scripture. So, he’s looking at Old Testament Scripture, and he’s saying that he’s the fulfillment of it. And why is he doing this in the first place?
So, what we can infer, by the fact that he’s bringing it up and the way that he’s talking about it, he was probably being accused of deviating from the law. His approach to worshiping God and living in light of the reality of God was so radical to the society at the time—even though it wasn’t. It was Orthodox. But it was perceived as being so radical, that he was being accused of trying to introduce a new law or trying to do away with the Law and the Prophets.
And he’s coming out and saying, no, that’ not the case. And then he takes it a step further and implies that it’s not even possible because he is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. So, the Law and the Prophets are descriptions of who Jesus is. So, if you had a person that could just follow Jesus around all the time and write down everything he said and did, and you write down every quality that he has and his beliefs, what you would get is the Law and the Prophets, in part, up until that point.
So, the law is just a description for us to help us understand who Jesus is. He’s the pattern. He’s the model on which the Law and the Prophets were based. And so again, when Jesus incarnated, it wasn’t a big stretch for him to keep the law because the law was based on him. He just has to be himself to keep the law.
And when I realized that—that was such a huge shift for me! I was like, wow, how did Jesus keep all these rules? How did he keep them straight in his head? Did he like have to memorize them and everything? And it’s, no. This is who he is. He came first, then the law. The law describes him.
And so, when he’s saying that he’s the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, he is saying, one, I’m not doing away with the law. I affirm it. But not only that, in order to see how the Law and the Prophets are to be lived out, you have to look to me. I’m the perfect example and representation of how to live this out.
Wow. And later on, on the Emmaus Road, he introduces theology in a new way. He’s the first theologian, so he basically tells his disciples, in order to understand Old Testament Scripture, you have to start with me. I am the interpretive key of all Scripture. And so that is such good news for us because he, as the pattern of the law, invites us into relationship.
And through that relationship, we become more and more like him. He is not holding a hatchet over our head, waiting for us to mess up and lower the boom on us. He’s inviting us to be with him and then become like him through that relationship. And so, it is this beautiful image of what it means to keep the law.
It’s a lot more fun and enjoyable and beautiful than how law is enforced in our society. But Jesus provides a beautiful image of how not only he fulfills the law, but he is the Law and the Prophets, and invites us in to participate in that.
Anthony: Yeah. You talked about how the law points to him. He embodies it, and I like what you said, that he is the interpretive key to all things. He is our hermeneutic for everything that we read in Scripture.
So, with that in mind, let’s look to Jesus as we transition to our next pericope for the month. It’s Matthew 5:21-37 from the Common English Bible. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for the sixth Sunday after the Epiphany on February the 12th.
Dishon, read it for us please.
Dishon: Absolutely. And I’ll read this also in the CEB.
21 “You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, Don’t commit murder, and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment. 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. If they say to their brother or sister, ‘You idiot,’ they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council. And if they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell. 23 Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift. 25 Be sure to make friends quickly with your opponents while you are with them on the way to court. Otherwise, they will haul you before the judge, the judge will turn you over to the officer of the court, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 I say to you in all seriousness that you won’t get out of there until you’ve paid the very last penny. 27 “You have heard that it was said, Don’t commit adultery. 28 But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart. 29 And if your right eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to fall into sin, chop it off and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body go into hell. “It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a divorce certificate.’ 32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife except for sexual unfaithfulness forces her to commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago: Don’t make a false solemn pledge, but you should follow through on what you have pledged to the Lord. 34 But I say to you that you must not pledge at all. You must not pledge by heaven, because it’s God’s throne. 35 You must not pledge by the earth, because it’s God’s footstool. You must not pledge by Jerusalem, because it’s the city of the great king. 36 And you must not pledge by your head, because you can’t turn one hair white or black. 37 Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Anything more than this comes from the evil one.
Anthony: Whew. That was a good reading. Thank you, brother. It seems to me, Dishon, in reading verses 21 – 26—and this will be an understatement—God cares deeply about right relationship and reconciliation and the rest of the pericope points to a similar outcome. So, tell us more. What’s your conclusion and why?
Dishon: Sure. So let me back up, and I should say that both the previous verse and this verse are part of what we call the Sermon on the Mount. And in this sermon on the Mount, God Jesus is introducing his listeners to what we sometimes call the upside-down kingdom. He’s been saying the kingdom of God is at hand and he’s been saying that stuff. And now he’s painting an image of what this kingdom looks like and what life in this kingdom looks like.
And it’s so counter to what we experience on a daily life, it seems upside down, but really, we are the ones who are upside down. He’s right side up. And so, in this section of the sermon, I think Jesus is clarifying some misperceptions or misapplications of scripture. He is coming out against an external, superficial, false piety.
He wants his followers to have transformed hearts, not just finely painted exteriors. And if we look at the particular examples that he uses, he seems to be especially concerned with heart transformation, with regard to other people.
He wants to see us truly, honestly, authentically, lovingly engaging with others, and that’s evidence that we are truly followers of his. How we live out our faith in the company of others shows the extent to which we love God, right? He talks about that too. So, the problem is that there is a form of religion that was practiced then and is still practiced now that allowed people to use the law to justify being unkind, unrepentant, unfaithful, without compassion, and dishonest towards others.
And if you look for each one of those examples, that is what Jesus is coming against: unkindness, unrepentance, unfaithfulness, lacking compassion, and dishonesty. And you could use the law to justify those behaviors and call them legalism, right? You could say I am able to do this.
I’m not breaking any laws by doing this. And so, Jesus is saying, that’s not good enough. It’s not good. Our standard is not to not break laws. Our standards should be to be good, to be kind, to be loving, to be like Jesus, right? So, Jesus is coming against this legalism, this superficial false piety. And we have to think back to Jesus’ claim to be the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.
So, we have to look to him in our dealings with others. We can’t just stand on our legal right to treat someone in a certain way. We have to look first to Jesus to say, how would Jesus behave in this particular situation? How did he treat others? What is the standard he’s calling us to live up to? And then we live in that reality, not just standing on a legal precedent.
And this is a tall order. This is a very challenging set of scripture because, I don’t know about you, but I’m from Jersey and more than once, I might have called someone an idiot in my mind. And maybe more than twice, I might have said it out loud. And I have to begin to look at my heart and say, what does that mean for how I think about my neighbor?
If I so easily judge them in this way, how do I think about my neighbors in general? And that requires heart transformation. There’s a lot of gunk in there that needs to be cleaned out, and we’ll never relate to others perfectly. But we have to rely on Christ in our relationships.
Again, it gets back to when we were talking about light. We have to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us and to prompt us and help us to be like Christ in our relationships because that is the only way that we can relate to others well—is not by trying to relate to them directly, but through the lens of Christ and through the work of Christ.
Anthony: Yeah, that last thing you just said, Dishon, I think is really important—the work of Christ. Because too often, we think of Jesus in his earthly ministry as the model, but I think of it like this.
If Michael Jordan is my model, I’ll never get there. Like I’ll never be able to dunk a basketball like him or play basketball like him. So, he can’t only be a model alone when we come to faith, like it has to be Christ himself through his Spirit, empowering us to do it, because otherwise we’ll never get there.
We’ll never be able to live this out the way that he embodied it, but because he does live in us by his Spirit we can move toward right relationship and reconciliation because that’s his idea. And it’s good. And especially as we think about our neighbor.
And you reminded me of a quote. One of my favorite sermons ever was “The Weight of Glory” by CS Lewis. And he wrote this, and I quote, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Next to the blessed sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” That’s a staggering heralding of the gospel. And it’s true, right? We know it in our spirit that it’s true.
And I think this is what Jesus is pointing us to in this passage—there is another way. It’s upside down to the way the world works but that’s not what’s true. And so anyway, yeah. I think that’s important to say that it goes beyond just checking off a box. Like, I got the rule, right?
This is really about relationship. And it also points us to a more true understanding of freedom—that we’re not free to do whatever we want to other people, right? We are free for God, to live as God in the world. And that looks like love and kindness like you pointed to.
Dishon: That’s right. And that should bring a certain amount of humility to us too, that we’re never going to be at a point where we say we have arrived. So, there’s no need for that false piety. There’s no need for the masks; there’s no need for the inauthenticity. We could just be ourselves and say, hey, we are on a journey. I’m becoming, I’m not there. I’m becoming. Some days I get it better than others.
But that’s why we need to just be honest and place-share with each other in the church. That’s how we help each other move forward.
Anthony: Words matter. Jesus was the Word who became flesh. And so of course, words matter. And he says, the Word himself says, let your yes be yes. And your no be no.
But we also think in terms words like, they’re not going to break us. They’re just words. So, what’s the big deal here? Why is he pointing us to this? Yes be yes, and our no be no.
Dishon: Yes. Jesus wants us to be honest. So, here’s what was happening under the law of Moses—as far as I understand it, I wasn’t there. But here’s what I’ve been told.
Under the law of Moses, the law said oaths that are sworn in the name of God are binding, right? So, if you swear something in the name of God, you really have to do that. That is binding. Here’s what people would do to get around that.
They would start swearing on heaven, on earth, things that are God-proximate in their mind, but not on God himself, not in the name of God. And so later on, they would say I was going to do this, but I don’t want to. And since I didn’t swear on the name of God, this oath I took is not binding so I could get out of it.
So what people were doing is they were swearing these lesser oaths in order to give themselves a back door out of their promise without, in their mind, breaking the law. And what Jesus is doing, he’s closing that perceived loophole even though there wasn’t one. But he’s making it very clear that we in ourselves should not create escape routes from our promises.
We should not in our dealing with others, leave ourselves an out in order to be dishonest or disloyal. So, he is saying, when you say something, mean what you say, and don’t try to play games or leave yourself a door for dishonesty.
And man, that seems simple, but can you imagine what our society would look like if everyone did that? Imagine if every leader or politician or boss or whoever just told the truth. They just said what was true and did not try to leave themselves wiggle room to be dishonest. They just spoke what was true for them. And I think Jesus, again, in keeping with the theme of salt and light and what we’re supposed to bring, we should bring beautiful honesty wrapped in love, compassion, and empathy to the world.
We should not be trying to manipulate and leave ourselves escape routes from our promises. Our word should be good for those around us.
Anthony: And we’ve already pointed to Jesus as the hermeneutic, the interpretive key to Scripture. And he himself is truth. He said it. I am the embodiment of truth.
Our words should reflect reality. And he told the truth. And sometimes that ticked people off, but it was never from a place of trying to cause harm. Because all that Jesus, as God, can do is who he is, and he is love. So even the words that were hurtful in the moment to people were exactly what they needed to hear.
And that’s why even when we read Scripture, we have to allow Scripture to read us.
Let’s transition on to our third passage of the month. It’s Matthew 17:1-9. It’s a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Transfiguration Sunday on February the 19th.
And it reads:
1Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and brought them to the top of a very high mountain. 2 He was transformed in front of them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. 3 Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Jesus. 4 Peter reacted to all of this by saying to Jesus, “Lord, it’s good that we’re here. If you want, I’ll make three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, look, a bright cloud overshadowed them. A voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son whom I dearly love. I am very pleased with him. Listen to him!” 6 Hearing this, the disciples fell on their faces, filled with awe. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Don’t tell anybody about the vision until the Human One is raised from the dead.”
So Dishon, we’ve arrived at Transfiguration Sunday, and I’ve heard some theologians call it one of the “Big 6” of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. And that includes his birth, his baptism, transfiguration, death, resurrection, and of course, the ascension.
And since this is significant, and as we’ve already pointed to in this podcast, it’s no magic trick. He’s revealing himself. What should preachers and teachers see and proclaim from this passage?
Dishon: There’s a lot. There’s a lot. Yeah. I love this passage. I’m going to tell you some of the things I’ve learned so far, and I’m still trying to uncover more and more useful information for how to live from this passage.
So basically, the surface answer I would give you is that the transfiguration declares the divinity of Christ. So, we who follow Jesus, believe Jesus is 100% God and 100% human at the same time. That he is able to hold those natures together perfectly. And in this moment, on this mountain, his divine nature seems to come a bit more to the foreground.
What does that mean? I don’t even really know, right? He’s 100% God, 100% human. But in this moment, it seemed that the divine nature was more easily perceived by those around him. They could see it more clearly and feel evidence of it. So, in this extraordinary moment, Jesus reveals completely that he’s not just Messiah—because the Hebrew scriptures foretold that Messiah would come.
But it wasn’t necessarily spelled out clearly that Messiah was God. Jesus in this moment and other moments too, makes it incredibly clear that yes, he’s not only Messiah, but he’s also God. And I think when we start to dig into the passage, one of the most extraordinary facts about it is that Peter, James, and John were invited to be present. And that’s something that I think says a lot about who God is.
Some theologians have said that God does not wish to be God apart from us. And it seems that Jesus wanted the disciples there to participate in what is arguably a very intimate, divine moment. It is a divine moment, and it was meant to be witnessed, but it seems very intimate. It seems like Peter, James and John are watching this beautiful moment that Jesus is experiencing.
So, in this passage, we see the supremacy of Jesus. We see that Jesus is God. And we also see unfortunately, the human tendency to make him less than he is in Peter’s response, which I’m not trying to throw stones at Peter. I don’t know if I would be saying anything. I think I would run off that mountain if I started to see Jesus shining brighter than the sun. I might.
But we see in this moment, that Jesus reveals himself as God, and immediately human beings are making him less than what he is, like God could be contained in a tabernacle! And he’s wanting to build one for Elijah and Moses too, as if they’re on the same playing field, that they’re anywhere close in comparison to Jesus.
And there’s a lot to unpack. We have Jesus’ divinity. We have his desire to have us participate. We have us not responding well and trying to make Jesus less than he is. But we also see him drawing near and not condemning Peter, James, and John for their inability to see him for who he is.
Yeah, there’s a lot to unpack there. This is a very rich passage.
Anthony: It is, and you’ve already pointed to this to some degree, but let’s scratch that itch a little bit more. We see in the transfiguration, this intimate divine moment, as you said. It’s an example of a theophany. A theophany being a visible manifestation of God.
And in that way, Jesus is a walking, talking theophany, right? Because he is our visible manifestation of God. But in terms of this particular episode on a mountain, what is the significance of the theophany, including the voice that speaks to the Son?
Dishon: Sure. So according to ancient Hebrew cosmology—that’s a fancy word, just how they saw the world, how it came to be, how it’s all interconnected. They saw heaven as this rounded canopy that exists above a kind of flat disc-shaped earth. And there’s different heavens, but in the ultimate third heaven, that’s where God is. And mountains were like pillars on the earth. They held up heaven.
So, to go up on a mountain was thought to be the place where you would go to be in closer proximity to God, you go up to the mountain. Those are holy places, right? The Ten Commandments—given on a mountain, right? Even Jerusalem itself was built on a hill as a raised area, right? So, there’s this imagery throughout all Scripture that mountains are places where you go to get closer to God.
I wish I didn’t have to say this, but hopefully we no longer believe in a flat earth. We don’t believe that this is how things were, and Jesus certainly knew that this is how things were. But he also was in the Jewish society. And many times, when he wanted to pray, he would go up on a mountain.
For this incredible theophany, as you said, this incredible manifestation of God, it took place on this mountain because mountains, again, represent the places where humans go to get closer to God. And I think the scene is even further enhanced that on this mountain, Jesus encounters Moses and Elijah, who Moses could be said to represent the law, and Elijah could be said to represent the prophet.
So, by having this transfiguration take place on a mountain and having Moses and Elijah there, Jesus is revealed as God and not just any old god. He’s the God of the Old Testament because both Moses and Elijah deferred to him.
And when the voice spoke from the cloud, when the Father thundered and said, this is my beloved son, he didn’t say, listen to him as well as Moses and Elijah. He said, no, listen to him. So, Jesus is revealed as God. The God of the Old Testament, the Creator God. He is depicted as supreme and above all. Yet the disciples were able to witness him and not be destroyed. And I could say a bit more about that, but very rich imagery being invoked here.
Anthony: Very much so. And you talked about the three, Peter, James, and John, not being destroyed. There are, I think, many misconceptions about God the Father, and it’s one of the primary reasons the Word became flesh—to reveal the true heart of God.
And one of the things that we see Jesus saying over and over to his disciples is, don’t be afraid, because they are afraid. They’re in awe of this God being revealed. So, let’s talk about that. These words, don’t be afraid, showing up again and again when people realize they are in the presence of the divine.
On some level, the response appears to be completely warranted, to be afraid. Yet the question must be asked, Dishon, why are they afraid in the first place when they’re in the presence of a loving God?
Dishon: Yes. We often talk about there is a mystery to divinity. There is only so much about God that we can understand because he’s so great. He’s so wonderful. He’s so far beyond what our minds can conceive, that there’s a mystery to him.
There’s also a mystery to sin, where there is depravity and corruption that we can’t fully wrap our minds around. We can’t fully understand how deep and how bad evil could be. And from the beginning we’ve had this problem.
So, Adam and Eve, they had this incredible relationship with God. Everything was cool. They encounter a snake. Things take a turn; they sin. And in their first encounter with God after sinning, they immediately become afraid of a being that they never had any reason to fear before. So, in that moment, into humanity was introduced a diseased spiritual imagination, also a diseased social imagination. Their relationship with each was corrupted. Their relationship with creation was corrupted, but most importantly they came down with a diseased spiritual imagination that made them see God unclearly, that made them see God as something that needed to be feared.
And so, we continue to this day to see through the lens of our human corruption. We see him as one of us—if we follow Christ, we see him as one of us. But a lot of times we don’t see him correctly. We don’t see him in the right way. We see him as being capable of our uncontrolled wrath, of our pettiness, of our jealousy.
Jesus is one of us, but not in that way. He doesn’t react to things like we do. He doesn’t behave as we do. So, when the disciples see true divinity, they become afraid, like Adam and Eve. Like I said, I don’t know all the reasons why, but I think it has something to do with our self-focus and thinking that we are our own god.
And then when we come face-to-face with true power, we immediately fear because we think God is going to wield power like we would wield power, God is going to use his omnipotence like we would use our omnipotence. And we become very small and insignificant and that scares us. I don’t know. It could be. It could be other things too, but that’s what I think.
And however, what is beautiful in this is that Jesus is the one that says, don’t be afraid. He says, yes, I am Almighty God. Yes. I’m the Creator. Yes, I have power that you cannot even imagine. But you know me. You have seen me; you have been with me.
And he goes over to Peter and touches him. He draws near. He constrained their experience of him so the shining, all that was gone. And he constrained their experience of him to be able to better relate to them. He didn’t chastise them and berate them, but he stepped into their imagination and said, no, you know me.
So, fear is not one of the tools that he uses to get us to behave in a certain way. Christians use it a lot, unfortunately. And my first introduction to the gospel was fear-based. Pray this prayer or else you’re going to hell. Pray this prayer or you’d be kicked out of the kingdom of God, right? Pray this, do this. It was very, very fear based.
But Jesus immediately wants to banish fear because he does not want that to be in the midst of his relationship with his disciples, with his followers. So, he constrains himself to the extent of how they experience him, in order to relate to them and say, don’t be afraid. You’ve seen me. You know me. I’m here with you.
What a beautiful image of our God.
Anthony: Lord, heal our fallen spiritual imagination.
Our final passage of the month is Matthew 4:1-11. It’s from the Common English Bible. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for the first Sunday of Easter Prep (Lent) on February the 26th. Dishon, would you do us the honor of reading, please?
Dishon: Of course.
1Then the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him. 2 After Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was starving. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “Since you are God’s Son, command these stones to become bread.” 4 Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God.” 5 After that the devil brought him into the holy city and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, 6 “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down; for it is written, I will command my angels concerning you, and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.” 7 Jesus replied, “Again it’s written, Don’t test the Lord your God.” 8 Then the devil brought him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 He said, “I’ll give you all these if you bow down and worship me.” 10 Jesus responded, “Go away, Satan, because it’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” 11 The devil left him, and angels came and took care of him.
Anthony: What I try to do for our guests, like you, Dishon, is to prepare questions in advance, not overly script our conversation, but at least give you an idea of what we’re going to be talking about. And as I look over this first question that I sent your way, I’m not sure I love it. But we’ll see where God takes it because he does take us places. The Holy Spirit took Jesus into the wilderness.
So, I’m just curious. And again, this is just probably speculation on some level, but is the Spirit leading in this way unique to Jesus, or could the Spirit also be leading us to experience in some ways the wilderness? What say you?
Dishon: Yeah. I think, is this unique to Jesus? Yes and no. So, in one sense, yes. I think this experience and the way the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness is unique to him because Jesus went into the wilderness to confront what I call the external source of evil.
Fast forwarding back to the garden, there was an external source of evil—the enemy. And he tempted Adam, and they fell. But then in the very next chapter, we see Cain and Abel, and there’s no snake around. There’s no temptation necessary. The source of evil is an internal one for Cain, right?
So, there is an external source of evil and an internal source of evil, that I believe. And Jesus in the wilderness, he was led to confront the external source of evil for all of us. So, he had a job to do in that.
But I think in a spiritual sense, this is something that applies to us. The Holy Spirit will lead us into a spiritual type of wilderness. And what do I mean by that? I think the spiritual wilderness is composed of idols we erect—things, beliefs, and ways of seeing the world and ways of seeing God that are not of him and not worthy of him, but yet they drive us, and they shape our thinking. And in this particular passage, there are three idols that Jesus overcame, these temptations that the enemy threw at him.
So, the desire to be self-sufficient and for self-preservation, to take care of myself, right? That was the first sort of desire that the devil tempted him with. And then the desire to have love and our worth proven to us, to be shown that we matter right now. In some ways, that’s innocent, but it can become an idol if we become fixated.
And lastly, the desire to follow God without having to pay the cost of discipleship. He was offered the crown without a cross, in essence. And Jesus rejected that. But oftentimes we are confronted with the same type of desire, the same type of temptation—having to be perceived as a God-follower, Christ-follower without paying the cost of it.
I think all of us with these idols, with these sinful desires, have these wildernesses. These are like little deserts, occupied by evil in the garden of our hearts. I’m getting very poetic here, but if our hearts are like a garden, these are these little spots of dryness where things aren’t growing.
And the Holy Spirit will cause us to confront these things. He’ll bring us face-to-face with these idols and ask us to participate in tearing them down. And what we experience, it could feel very isolating, disorienting, maybe even painful, but this is what is necessary for us to be free of these things that will hold us back. Jesus entered the wilderness for us once and for all. He conquered the external source of evil for us and the internal source of evil as well.
What we can hope to do is by following him, we can chip at the wilderness with small incremental victories. I think we don’t have the once and for all type of juice that Jesus has, but we can do the work as we follow the Spirit’s leading.
Anthony: I think that’s being conformed to the image of our Lord Jesus Christ, right?
And thanks be to God that He could do for us what we could not do for ourselves. Be led into the wilderness, evil, as it were, and overcome it once and for all. Hallelujah. Praise, God. Amen.
Dishon, I don’t know if you know this about yourself, so I’m here to shine the light. You’re a preacher.
Maybe people are picking up on that, so I’d be grateful—in brief summary—if you would preach this passage for us.
Dishon: I will do my best to share how I would approach this, and I’ll share with you what the Lord has been putting on my heart. And I would start it this way.
Have you ever felt spiritually dry? Have you ever felt lost and unsure of where God is leading you? Have you ever felt like God was far away? It might have felt like you were in some kind of spiritual desert, only sand around you with the sun beating down on you. I’ve felt that way. I think we all have. I’ve had periods of times where I’ve felt so disconnected from God that I wondered if I made up my relationship with him.
It doesn’t make me feel good to admit that. But there’s sometimes where in the past where I’ve even doubted, did I even hear him? Did I see him? Am I making this up? Because all I feel around me is dryness and sand.
And God is so good. He doesn’t condemn us for that. He knows. He understands. He understands that we’re going to go through periods of spiritual dryness. And he loves us so much that Jesus went into the desert for us. He went there because he knew about our state and our condition.
And can you imagine the hunger he felt? Can you imagine the heat he endured? Can you imagine the indignity of having a being that you created demand your worship? Yet he endured all that to free us, to make all things new. He entered the desert to defeat the enemy on our behalf. He entered the desert to show us the way out of our spiritual deserts.
So, when we find ourselves in the dry place, we need to remember Christ’s example. We need to cling to what God said about us and to us. We need to push those other voices out of our mind and hold on to the one who will never let go of us.
Then the other thing we need to do when we find ourselves in the desert is to start worshiping God, because Jesus has overcome the desert for us. Evil is defeated and we are fee. The only thing left to say is glory to his name.
Anthony: Well friends, we’re having church up in here. Let’s take up an offering. What do you say?
Dishon: You can make your checks out to the Charlotte church plant.
Anthony: That’s right. Absolutely. Brother, man, you are a beloved child of God. You’re my friend, and I’m so glad to be in partnership in ministry with you. Thanks for being a part of this episode.
And I also want to thank the people that truly make this thing happen. Reuel Enerio, who is the podcast producer, the man behind the scenes that really makes—he’s the engine. He makes it all go.
And my wife, Elizabeth Mullins, she is, wow, she’s amazing. Dishon knows, and she’s the transcriber for this podcast. So, you can always go back and not only listen to Dishon but read the words that he said for personal studies. So, we’re grateful for that.
Dishon, thank you for being a part of this episode. As is our tradition, we love to pray over our listening audience, the people who are preaching and teaching, and are Bible students who love this Lord Jesus, that we keep our eyes fixed upon. And the more that we look at him, the more that we fall in love. Would you please pray for us to end the podcast?
Lord, we are in awe of you, that you love us the way you do, that you humble yourself so much for us, that you’ve revealed yourself to us, Lord God, and you continue to reveal yourself to us. Those who are listening to this podcast, they’re seeking to know you better, Lord, or else they wouldn’t have turned it on.
I pray that you do not leave them. Reveal yourself to them in new and deeper ways. Fill them with joy and with love and with passion after encountering you. And Lord, when we make mistakes, when we don’t do things well, help us to remember these examples that we talked about today—that you don’t judge us by our worst day.
You think about us in the most beautiful, wonderful ways. And you’re willing to continue to reveal yourself, to come to us, to humble yourself. Lord, you pick us back up again. You keep walking with us. You never let us go, Lord. So let that give us the confidence to run for you, Lord God. Let that give us the confidence to pick ourselves up when we fall.
Lord, encourage the folks listening to this podcast to keep striving for you because you’re so worth it. Lord, continue to speak to us the lessons we need to hear. Bless us, Lord, to truly be not just hearers of the word, but doers, and show us how to live it out and walk it out in a way that brings you glory.
We love you so much and we praise you, Lord, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Thank you for being a guest of Gospel Reverb. If you like what you heard, give us a high rating and review us on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcast content. Share this episode with a friend. It really does help us get the word out as we are just getting started. Join us next month for a new show and insights from the RCL. Until then, peace be with you!