(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
Brace Yourself for Impact
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
In this story, it’s as though God gave the three disciples to whom Jesus was closest a “peek behind the curtain.” Usually, Jesus looked like just another person—but on this occasion, “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light.” Luke 9:31 added that Moses and Elijah talked with Jesus “about Jesus’ departure, which he would achieve in Jerusalem.” God meant this dramatic meeting, not as a random light show, but to prepare Jesus and the disciples for the cross that lay just ahead.
“Don’t be afraid,” Jesus said to his disciples. They’d just seen him talking to Moses and Elijah, and heard God’s voice—and unusual events like that can trigger fear. Then Jesus told them that what had happened to John the Baptist (John had been executed—cf. Matthew 14:1-12) would happen to him, too. “Don’t be afraid” was as much a preface to that frightening statement as it was comfort after the supernatural event on the mountain.
2 Corinthians 4:7-12, 16-18
Paul had to “brace for impact” throughout his ministry. He was beaten, stoned, whipped, imprisoned, shipwrecked and he faced hunger, sickness, and nights without shelter (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:16-33). Yet, in verses 8-10, Paul claimed the kind of resilience we see in cartoon characters—but he was totally serious. He led a very tough life, but testified that it is possible to live beyond fear thanks to God’s awesome power within us.
Psalm 118:1-8, Hebrews 13:5-8
“God’s faithful love lasts forever,” repeated the psalmist’s refrain. Psalm 118 became one of the hymns the Hebrew people sang every Passover. Jesus almost certainly sang it with his disciples the night before his crucifixion (cf. Mark 14:26). Hebrews quoted it, and added “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever!” Trusting in God’s unfailing love, the psalmist, Jesus and the early Christians all asked, “What can anyone do to me?”
From the ancient Roman Empire to terrorists and tyrants today, the “ultimate” human threat is, “I will kill you.” That threat leads people to break promises, expend vast resources, and behave in ways they would never consider without it. Roman historians, however, puzzled over how little effect it seemed to have on the followers of Jesus. They could not grasp that Jesus, who died and rose again, set us free from all fear—even the fear of death.
On Resurrection Sunday, the women who went to Jesus’ tomb twice heard the words we’ve read several times this week. First the angel at the tomb, and then Jesus himself, told them, “Don’t be afraid.” Mind you, the same people who put Jesus to death on Friday were still in power on Sunday. The same Roman soldiers who nailed Jesus to the cross were patrolling the streets of Jerusalem that day. And yet everything had changed, and they did not need to be afraid. Jesus was alive—and his followers were safe forever.
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Lord Jesus, over and over you said, “Don’t be afraid.” Help us to hear your words more clearly, and to live them out more fully—and fearlessly. You experienced suffering first hand and braced for the unimaginable impact of death on a cross, yet you did not lose faith. Help us rely on your strength as we brace for impact in our lives. Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
When have you been most afraid in your life? Will you ever be able to forget it? Would you like to forget it, or does the memory somehow give you strength to face tomorrow?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
NOTE: We encourage study groups to have several different Bible translations available for these readings. Reading aloud from the Common English Bible or The Message may help to clarify the meaning of some passages.
Read Matthew 17:1-6. Why might Jesus have wanted the disciples to see this event? What would the fact that Moses and Elijah were there talking to Jesus have meant to the disciples? If you had been there, what effect might it have had on the rest of your life? Would God’s own voice have had an additional effect upon you and your life? Would the disciples have wished for this event to have lasted longer? Are there times, in worship or perhaps on a visit to a beautiful site, when you wish you could just stay there? What are the forces that lead you back into the “real world”?
Read Matthew 17:7-13. If you had been there, would you have been afraid as the disciples were? Does God want us to be afraid? How do you know? God’s voice said, “Listen to him.” What is one teaching of Jesus you need to listen to because it challenges our world’s “wisdom”? What aspect of your church best shows God’s glory to others? What role do our own lives play in revealing God’s glory?
Read 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, 16-18. In verse 7, how would you define the “treasure” and what are the “clay pots”? How would Paul say that God’s power within us compared to the many struggles we have to face in our lives? In what ways has God been with you to help in the midst of adversity? What steps can you take to build the same confidence Paul had in the midst of his hardships? How can we be “renewed every day”? What kind of “things that can be seen” tend to draw us away from our inner, God-fueled strength? Do we seem to grow more from good times or hard times? Why?
Read Psalm 118:1-8, Hebrews 13:5-8. Re-read Psalm 118:6. What do you make of that verse? What bad things has God’s presence helped you to survive, or even turned to a good purpose? How does that affect your ability to trust God as you move forward? When we try to help and support others who are going through difficulties, will these verses help them, or will they look at us like we are naive? What if we preface the verses by saying something like, “when I struggled, these verses seemed to help me”?
Read Hebrews 2:14-18. How does the fear of death affect the choices and decisions Americans make today? How can Jesus’ death and resurrection set you free from that fear? Does this mean that, as Christians, we should not have regular doctor checkups, fasten our seat belts and take other common sense safeguards? If you or your family was threatened with violent death, how do you think you would react? Is this reaction consistent with your understanding of Christion teaching?
Read Matthew 28:1-10. We read the words “don’t be afraid” over and over in the New Testament. What do you make of these words? Do they affect your attitudes and actions on a day-to-day basis? How is this admonition of benefit to you? Could these words be of help to others you know? Is this merely an “easier said than done” issue, or is there real substance in it for the committed Christian?
From last week: This last week, did you consider your role to extend peace and hope in your day-to-day world? Were you able to find one specific thing you could do, no matter how small? Please share with the group what you discovered.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Karen Lampe’s sermon, May 25, 2014:
In the book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 attempts to really begin to perfect something. That kind of intentional discipline is what we need to fully develop our faith, so that we can absolutely count on it when the impact comes. And it will come. We will all find ourselves in moment when there is a dramatic shift, a sudden change and a need to Brace for Impact.
Now those words “Brace for Impact” can be scary. They are frequently associated with an emergency of some kind. For those who fly a lot, those are the words spoken over an intercom when a plane might be in trouble. Words you don’t really want to hear.
Those words signify that something is about ready to be changed or dramatically shifted. A friend recently reminded me that author Anne Graham, daughter of Billy Graham, often spoke of the “And Suddenly” times in our lives: when we think everything in our world is falling apart but, in actuality, it is falling into place. That same friend gave me a plaque that says, “And Suddenly” not long after her son, Aaron, was diagnosed with brain tumors. These moments can be good (like graduating), or challenging such as receiving a difficult diagnosis. Our spiritual life is no different. In the gospels, over and over and again, we hear of “And Suddenly” events, and we also hear the words, “Then Immediately” and see how God speaks into the situation. Jesus’ followers and disciples are repeatedly being coached during such events as God or Jesus speaks as the coach into a situation when everything changes.
Let’s begin with the scripture text we just heard, which is known as “The Transfiguration Story.” Transfiguration means Transformation. Now we often think of it as the transformation that happened to Jesus that day, but there is also a major theme about the transformation the disciples were experiencing. That was a transformation that was equipping them with a greater capacity to serve and experience the life that is life….
The word “transformation” or “transfiguration,” comes from the word “transfigured” the Greek word “Metamorphosis,” which means a “profound change in form.” Jesus was changing, yes, but the commentaries remind us that the bigger transformation was happening as the disciples saw the vision of Jesus being so close to heaven, as if he had one foot in heaven and one foot in this reality. At this moment, the disciples were seeing something from their teacher or coach they had never experienced before.
Peter has a normal human response: he responds by “doing” something. He suggests that he will build three booths, or tabernacles, or tents, as if to commemorate the vision before them by building shrines. Yet the primary function of Peter’s statement is to exhibit that humans cannot comprehend the scene without divine help….In this experience Jesus’ ragamuffin friends were rapidly being formed into disciples.
It’s like when we first start handling a ball or taking piano lessons, we can’t possibly imagine our potential to master the craft. We can’t imagine that deep down inside of us lies the capacity to achieve excellence or greatness. But often, our teachers and coaches recognize gifts we are unable to see.
We read on in the scripture to another out of the ordinary moment when suddenly the great coach, God, speaks. In verse five we read: “While Peter 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!’” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.” For the disciples at this very surreal moment, for them to see Jesus in this heavenly form, must have been a very frightening experience, and one that only had value if they were willing to “Listen to him.” Just as, when our coaches/mentors/ teachers speak, we have to be willing to listen….
When faced with scary, challenging “And Suddenly” moments, humans instinctively react with a fight or flight response (and I would add, for many a “fright or flight” response). Even the disciples in their experience with Jesus on the mountain that day responded with fright first, yet the story does not end there. Let’s read what the scriptures tell us about how the story unfolded. Verse seven says that, as the disciples had their faces downward: “Jesus came and touched them. ‘Get up’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid’ and when they looked up they saw no one but Jesus.”
Jesus was speaking to them at this point, saying over and over, Do Not Be Afraid. He is coaching them to rely on their faith instead of responding with fear or fighting….
So the question here is how can we grow in our capacity to deal with even the toughest of life experiences? Two ways:
First: Learn to Listen for God.
Go up to the mountain, embrace the highest level of spiritual experiences that you possibly can. Draw closer to God (think of God as your best coach or teacher) through prayer and scripture that you might begin to discern and distinguish God’s voice. Listen for the voice of God, even on what seems to be an ordinary day. Listen that your path might be directed. Each morning I take 20 minutes to pray. How do we hear God?
o Read the scriptures o Attend worship regularly
Second: Learn to be Courageous with Love.
Jesus has said calmly over and over “Do Not Be Afraid.” He spoke these words that day up on the mountain top. He spoke those words as he was urging Peter tried to walk on water. He said those words in the upper room when he knew that he knew he had been betrayed. He modeled those words when Peter slashed off the ear of the Roman soldier. He kept saying this over and over to all of them. That’s why we practice praying and singing, “Let there be peace on earth”.
How do we develop the capacity to not be instinctually fearful? We need to challenge ourselves with moments that will take increasingly more courage.
Biblical coverage: The transfiguration of our Lord on a “high mountain apart,” is described by each of the three evangelists (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36). The fullest account is given by Luke, who, no doubt, was informed by Peter, who was present on the occasion. What these evangelists record was an absolute historical reality, and not a mere vision. The concurrence between them in all the circumstances of the incident is exact. John seems to allude to it also (John 1:14). Forty years after the event Peter distinctly makes mention of it (2 Peter 1:16-18). In describing the sanctification of believers, Paul also seems to allude to this majestic and glorious appearance of our Lord on the “holy mount” (Romans 12:2; 2 Co 3:18).
Source: http://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/ebd/view.cgi?n=3713 (Easton Illustrated Bible Dictionary)
The Place: The traditional site is Mount Tabor in lower Galilee, but it is not a high mountain (only 1,850 feet) and was probably fortified and inaccessible in Jesus’ day. Much more likely is Mount Hermon (9,100 feet) to the north of Caesarea Philippi.
Meaning: A mountain in the Bible is often a place of revelation. Moses and Elijah represented the law and the prophets respectively, which testify to but must give way to Jesus. (The latter is the reason why Peter’s suggestion was improper.) Moses and Elijah themselves were heralds of the Messiah (Deuteronomy 18:15; Malachi 4:5-6). The three booths suggest the Feast of the Tabernacles which symbolizes a new situation, a new age. Clouds represent divine presence. The close connection of the transfiguration with the confession and passion prediction is significant. The Messiah must suffer; but glorification and enthronement, not suffering, is His ultimate fate. These involve resurrection, ascension, and return in glory. The disciples needed the reassurance of the transfiguration as they contemplated Jesus’ death and their future sufferings.
Source: http://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/view.cgi?w=transfiguration%2C+the (Holman Bible Dictionary)
During the week, prayerfully consider Christ’s words that we not be afraid. Find ways to incorporate these much repeated words into our daily life (e.g. put Jesus’ words on your bathroom mirror, dashboard, desk or computer screen, or use them as a breath prayer). Next week, share with the group whatever you discovered.