Credibility (Matthew 17:9)

Photo by Malik Earnest on Unsplash

J.I. Packer noted, “If we claim to know everything about God we overreach  ourselves, and destroy both our own credibility as witnesses and the credibility of our testimony itself.” That is true. Yet in recognizing the truth of that statement, one also realizes that there is also a line which cannot be crossed in completely honest testimony too: If what we testify of is too far out of the frame of reference of the other, we are perceived as lacking credibility, even as we accurately witness to God-honouring truth. Perhaps for that reason much of our present society rejects Christian testimony – not because it isn’t true, but because it claims a truth that is so far out of the frame of reference of the lost we testify to that it lacks credibility in their eyes. Consequently, when the devil whispers to them, “that isn’t true”, they eagerly accept Satan’s testimony instead.

Scripture warned us of this dynamic at the tail end of the story of the transfiguration of Christ. 

Peter, James and John have gone up the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus. There they  saw Him transfigured – shining in glory – and overheard Him speaking to Moses and Elijah – two saints who passed into glory many centuries prior. On the way back down, Jesus gives the three saints some very solid advice; “As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”” 

Should they have told them, it would’ve been nearly impossible for the other disciples to believe what Peter, James and John had experienced up on that mountain. It sounds ludicrous that Jesus’ clothes changed, or that they saw and recognized Moses and Elijah. It would’ve sounded silly that they heard the voice from the clouds, and it would’ve appeared very self-serving for them to say that the voice affirmed Jesus as God’s Son.

But after the resurrection it would be a very different case. When the proof of who Jesus is was literally right in front of them – eating and drinking and speaking to them – then hearing of what happened at the top of the mountain would be just one more evidence that Jesus always was who He said He was. It would all make sense then – but not prior to that time. Not before the resurrection. 

When you are living the Christ-life, you experience things that regular people will find hard to believe. In fact, they will find it impossible to believe if you tell them, and even will use those stories against you as proof that you are either seriously deluded, or worse – making it up as you go. But if you tell people who are also living the Christ-life those same stories, then the stories merely affirm what they already know. This is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of faith. Faith takes faith. Meaning, it takes faith to have faith  – and as we all know, faith cannot be manufactured by the hearer, no matter how well intended those speaking to them are. 

Faith is a gift of God, and that gift – sometimes large and sometimes small – is according to the proportion given by God. Those with even the smallest faith can do tremendous things, even so that nothing is impossible for them. But those without more faith cannot accept the things that those with more faith understand as present reality. At least, not until God gives them more faith – that that takes another personal encounter with Him. Just as it did for the other 8 disciples post-resurrection. 

So it is then, that after the resurrection encounter – and to all who have met Jesus personally by faith since then – the episode at the top of the mountain is a piece of history. We can receive the truth of the Scripture and know it did happen, it is understandable, and it makes sense to us – because we know and have met the risen Christ. But to those who haven’t met Him in that same way yet, that episode is the sketchiest thing they’ve ever heard. Telling the skeptics similar stories of our daily walk with Christ does not increase their faith. Rather, it devalues our credibility in their eyes.

Jesus therefore warns the three, lest their credibility and leadership among the rest suffer. We do well to likewise heed His warning.

Witness must be received, or there is an end of credible testimony.

Samuel Chadwick

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Every good conversation toward greater discipleship begins with consideration of who we are speaking to.