When Church Becomes An Excuse

Luke 9:33, “And as these were leaving Him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles: one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah’ – not realizing what he was saying.”

Peter found himself in awe. The events of that day had left him overwhelmed. Jesus’ transformation, the brilliant light, and the appearance of two of Israel’s greatest leaders (not to mention the fact that they had both been dead for centuries) was more than he could handle. Unfortunately, none of it had been enough to leave him speeechless. And so, in a moment of exuberance Peter blurts out everything he is thinking and feeling. He just puts it all out there. Lays all his cards out on the table so to speak. The only problem? The Bible tells us that he didn’t realize what he was saying. Blah. Blah. Blah. Talk. Talk. Talk. Peter was speaking without thinking.

But what exactly was the problem? Peter starts off by acknowledging Jesus’ proper place. He calls Him, “Master.” Nothing wrong there. He then moves on to, “…it is good for us to be here…” Can’t argue with that statement. Besides, it was Jesus Himself who had led them up on the mountain top earlier that day. Alone with God? Watching such miraculous events unfold before their very eyes? No. I got to agree with Peter. Definitely a good place to be. Without a doubt.

Well then, that only leaves one last thing. Peter’s statement about the tabernacles. Literally, Peter was asking if they could set up three sacred tents. In other words, let’s make a memorial out of this experience. Let’s set up a monument here at this site. Let’s camp out here on the mountain top for the rest of our lives. Peter was enjoying the time so much that he never wanted it to end and he never wanted to leave. Forget the other 9 disciples. Forget the needy people down in the valley. Forget the real plan and purpose for Jesus’ life. It was good for them to be there. It was good for Peter to be there. And Peter did not want to let it go.

From my vantage point it was the original, “Us four and no more.” I don’t know that anyone actually said it but it had to have been the place where that concept was first conceived. Although, I guess if I am going to be technically correct I should point out that there were six people involved. Jesus. Moses. Elijah. Peter. James. And John. Regardless of the actual membership, Peter had made a common error, one that the church still makes some 2,000 years later. The mountain top experience had truly been a blessing. The disciples had ascended to the heights of human experience. But somewhere along the way, somewhere between the radiance, the glory and the unbelievable transformation they forgot all about divine purpose. Their passion for personal blessing had caused them to lose sight of the Savior’s plan of redemption. The mountain top was great. But the world was still lost in sin. The world still needed a Savior. Jesus still needed to go to the Cross.

It is easy for us to become confused like Peter. We make the Sunday morning church service the end-all of Christian experience. We have become a sports team that refuses to take the field of play, content to spend all our time in the locker room. Lost in the haze of our own hurts and need, we become focused almost exclusively on ourselves and forget the true nature of the Church. The Church is not the Sunday service. The Church is not a building. It’s not even the people in the building. Sorry, but it’s not. Bottom line? The Church is His body. The Church is His hands, His feet, His heart, and His mouth. We want to stay on the mountain top. We want to stay in the church. Like Peter we have realized that it’s a good place to be. But too often we forget that the mission is not complete. The world is still filled with people lost and dying in their sins. Multiplied billions still need to hear of the life-changing grace and love of the Savior. Jesus’ work on the Cross is finished but it’s message still needs to be proclaimed by His people.

Peter just didn’t realize what he was saying. There is nothing wrong with mountain top experiences. But they shouldn’t become an excuse. At some point we all have to leave the mountain top and head back down to the valley. At some point the church has to be about the business of being the church. As His hands we should reach out to bring healing. As His feet we should go forth carrying the Light of His grace. As His mouth we must proclaim the truth of His salvation. And as His heart we need to share His love. Yeah, church is a good place to be. But we can’t let it be an excuse. The world still needs Jesus. The world still needs us to be His Body.