Words of Faith: Sovereignty of God
Updated: Feb 15, 2021
2 Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
Jesus led Peter, James, and John up a mountain. Jesus was the hiking guide. He led this small party. He knew the way, as if he’d hiked this path often. In fact, he knew the mountain so well, one might think he had not only cut the path himself but drawn the very mountain from the earth with his own hands. The mountain was high, the group was small. They – Peter, James, and John, 1/4 of the disciples – felt very much alone with him, by themselves. This was special. It was a privilege to be alone with him, to be led by him up this mountain path. And it was work. How far was it? How long did the hike take: hours, days? Were they tired? Regardless, Peter made clear, it was worth the trip. “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here,” he said. And he was right. It is good that he was there, for without some eyewitnesses to this mountain top dazzling light show of sight and sound, we’d have no account of the transfiguration. It is good that they were there, for in this moment the power of God was revealed in Jesus for human eyes to see.
Jesus had done a pretty good job keeping his divine identity under wraps to this point. Sure, some demons let it slip that he was the son of God, and Jesus had performed some pretty amazing miracles, but it was in the transfiguration that the veil of Jesus’ humanity blew aside, and the power of his divinity burst forth for six human eyes to witness, blowing three human minds to kingdom come.
The whole scene begs for the Hollywood treatment, with special effects to capture the clouds that overshadowed the small group, Jesus’ clothes as they became a dazzling white, such that no costume designer could bleach them, the mystical appearance of two long deceased Hebrew prophets, and the sound of the booming voice from out of the clouds. The whole experience was terrifying for the mere mortal witnesses. They were dumbfounded.
For all the power and exciting detail packed into the story of the transfiguration, the account is short, and mysterious. What does it mean? What is its purpose? Why were the disciples sworn to secrecy?
Prior to this moment, Jesus revealed some truly extraordinary powers. He’d fed thousands of people with just a few pieces of bread and fish, he’d healed countless sick folks, cast out demons, walked on water, in addition to dropping some beautiful teachings on his followers. What he had done to this point was so remarkable that it led Peter to proclaim that Jesus was the long-awaited savior, the Messiah, the Christ, come to restore the kingdom of Israel and save his people. For these folks to witness what Jesus was doing and come to believe him to be their savior was as unexpected and amazing then as it would be today. Just imagine what it would take for you to come to believe that the savior had returned. What no one was expecting, even back then, was that God himself was coming. The Messiah they awaited was expected to be an extraordinary human, and ultimately a conquer, according to the prophets. But there was no prophecy that God, the Lord, Yahweh, the creator of the universe, would Godself come to earth in the form of a person. Folks were waiting for their earthly savior sent by God, but they weren’t expecting God in the flesh. It was inconceivable. Some had obviously come to believe Jesus to be a savior, but until this moment on the mountain, they didn’t know they were following anyone other than a super special guy.
Not only was Jesus their rabbi, not only was he their savior, not only was he their great hope, in this moment of transfiguration, it was revealed that Jesus was himself their God, their maker, the creator and master of the universe.
“There came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Mind utterly blown.
Jesus was the undercover creator and ruler of the universe, rubbing elbows with the unwitting common person. Experiencing first hand their struggles and heart aches, enjoying their unfiltered prayers, jokes, and sailors’ mouths. And then, after a long hike to the top of a mountain, he suddenly burst into God. Peter was quivering, staring at his dear friend, his brother Jesus, who he thought he knew, and the words of the psalmist come to mind, “Even before a word is on my tongue O Lord, you know it completely.” It was so terrifying and so good Peter seemed to want to never leave this moment. “Let’s build some houses here and never go away.” And I get that. How do you return to earth after this? What do you talk about on the walk home? This friend, Jesus, is now literally more than he can comprehend. They are both exposed. It’s almost embarrassing. Except in Jesus and with Jesus there is no shame, nothing to be embarrassed about. The psalmist goes on to say about God what Peter is realizing is true about Jesus, that “it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb…you saw me when I was being made in secret…your eyes beheld my unformed substance.”
Where do we go from here? Turns out, back down the mountain with the biggest secret ever, truly, ever.
Today, we conclude our Words of Faith series with the Christian doctrine called the Sovereignty of God. It’s an important doctrine, but not a phrase that comes up very often, but one that I want us to take a look at because I think what this dense sounding phrase means can actually help us reorient our priorities, fuel our hopes, and give some comfort to us in our fear.
Sovereign means having supreme power and authority. When you look up the meaning of the word, sovereign, you will find most definitions have to do with the political. An independent nation is considered sovereign, in that there is no other state or power over that nation. Colonial America was not a sovereign nation, but under the power and authority of the sovereign throne of England. The Revolutionary War was a fought to make the United States a sovereign nation, with power and authority to self-govern.
The doctrine of the Sovereignty of God says that God alone is sovereign, in that God holds all power and authority. God existed before all else and God created out of nothing all that was, is, and will be. God alone is truly independent and free. There is no greater influence over God, no coequal to God, nothing in competition with God. It is a bit ironic that we consider a nation sovereign, for nothing else is truly sovereign in a universe with God. What freedom and will we have, the power we have over own bodies and minds, what creativity and originality we possess, are gifts from God and guided by the Holy Spirit and we exercise our freedom within God’s good and perfect plan, and so ultimately is not complete independence, or perfect free will.
One theologian says, “We ourselves cannot tell the difference between ‘God’s work’ within us and ‘our own work.’ In one sense, we do not act solely by ourselves, because God’s power is at work within us. Yet we do act – we really act—because we use the powers that God has created within us to use. We act according to our minds, our intuitions, our wills, our hearts. We act freely. But at the same time, we can believe that God’s will is cooperating with our wills to carry out God’s ultimate divine purposes.” We are not untethered, left to our own devises, neither are we chained, simply marching to the orders of God who pulls the strings. Like the planets in the solar system, held by the power of invisible forces in orbit around the sun, we spin and move, and change, experience darkness and light, beauty and order and chaos; we create and destroy and yet we are held always in the arms of God, who is creator of all, and over all. Jesus told us, within all the majesty and eternity of our all-powerful God, nonetheless, not a single sparrow falls to the ground without God knowing. (Matt. 10:29)
Ultimately, to ponder the Sovereignty of God, should give us comfort. The fiercely independent nature of many of us, may bristle at any notion that we are not the sole originators of what we think and do, but look around. We’re collectively given enough freedom to make a mess out of the creation God gave us, to hurt others, and even to crucify our savior. So, no need to attempt to rebel any further. But the good news is that because God is sovereign there is nothing we can do that God will not ultimately redeem, steering into something that serves God’s beautiful ends of healing us, saving us, and restoring us. Even the finality of death is not final to God who knew us before life, and knows us beyond death. In a sense, some of the mystery of God was lost. God is like Jesus, because Jesus is God.
I love when I get to watch my children play and they don’t know I’m watching. They tell magical stories, and test limits; they feel free, and I love that they feel that way. I love seeing what they create unhindered by their awareness of me, unembarrassed. I love seeing them try out ideas and use words they heard from Ellen and me, not really understanding, but so confident. They feel free, but they are not, because I am there. I am there to impose boundaries that are as yet invisible to them, in order to keep them safe. I can step in, I can comfort, I can bandage, I can stop them, but for now, they think they are free. But they are not sovereign, and because of them, neither am I.
And this is what shatters for Peter, James, and John on top of the mountain that day with Jesus. He knew that mountain path so well, because, through billions of years, he is the one who made it. The illusion of their independence blows up into glorious revealing light. It’s clear now, they didn’t just choose to follow Jesus that day when he called them to leave their nets and boats. He called them and they had no other choice, but they thought they did. The sovereign God was at work. Just as Jesus led them up that mountain, so he’s always been leading, and will continue to lead, to guide, to shape, and create.
It is good that they were there that day on the mountain, for now we all know, the sovereignty of God is in good, loving, tender hands, the hands of Christ. We can rest, we can celebrate and enjoy, with faith that somehow, all will be well. All shall be well. God is sovereign. God is great. God is good.
 Donald K. McKim, “Introducing the Reformed Faith: Biblical Revelation, Christian Tradition, Contemporary Significance,” WJK, 2001, 48.