Sermon Notes + Quotes:
We study through books of the Bible here at the Village Chapel. We have some extra copies. If you did not bring one and you would like a paper copy to leaf through as we study Matthew seventeen this morning. Just raise your hand up real high and somebody will drop one off into your row, your aisle. Thanks so much to these folks for doing this.
This passage, Matthew 17:1-13 is part of our greater study of Matthew, which we are calling “The King and His Kingdom”. Today, we will be talking about taking a glimpse of His glory.
Just as Pastor Matt said, it was his 32nd anniversary, which I am so excited for, and I love that honor there. This week was my birthday since we are sharing personal things. It is my birthday, and I am so glad to be 34 again for the second time. I was reflecting on my life and trying to remember some of the things I enjoyed doing as a kid. I was thinking about things like, and I loved to go outside, and I still love to go outside. I am an outside kind of guy. I loved doing that, like riding my bike. I loved eating as much dessert as mom would let me. I loved watching my favorite TV shows like Zorro, Roy Rogers, and the Masked Man himself, The Lone Ranger. Every year as I was growing up around Christmas time, we would watch that 1939 American musical fantasy, The Wizard of Oz. How many of you have seen The Wizard of Oz? Oh, most of us. That is good. You can fill in these blanks…
- I’ve got a feeling we’re not in…
- [Audience Responds: “Kansas Anymore”]
- We’re off to see…
- [Audience Responds: “The Wizard”]
- And why? Because, because, because, because, because…
- [Audience Responds: “Because of the Wonderful Things He Does”]
- Lions and tigers and bears…
- [Audience Responds: “Oh My”]
- There’s no place like…
- [Audience Responds: “Home”]
- Somewhere over the…. Rainbow, way up high.
Yeah, it is beautiful. That is one of those songs that we all know the first part of, and then, we just start making up pepperoni pizza man, I don’t know what Domino’s Domino… I don’t know the rest of the words. I just know “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. That song was eliminated by the MGM executive when they were first putting the movie together. It was kicked out because it slowed the movie down too much is what they said. Later, it got put back in and won the Academy Award for best original song. And it has had, I think something like all over four million downloads.
One of my favorite scenes in that movie is when the group gets back to the wizard’s throne room. They stand trembling before the great Oz. Then, they got that literal peak behind the curtain, which I really loved. I pulled the script off the innerwebs. Dorothy tells the wizard, “We’ve done what you’ve told us. We brought you the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West. We melted her.” She places the broomstick by the throne. “We would like you to keep your promise to us if you please, sir.” Then, there is some back and forth and the Wizard of Oz gets a little exasperated. He gets furious and says, “Do not arouse the wrath of the great and powerful Oz! I said, come back tomorrow”. Meanwhile, little Toto walks over toward where the curtain is. Remember the little dog, Toto? Dorothy says, “If you were really great and powerful, you would keep your promises, faithfulness.” Great is faithfulness? That is something that is so important to us, isn’t it? The wizard responds, “Do you presume to criticize the great Oz?” Toto pulls back the curtain, and there is this man pulling levers, pushing buttons, and dialing knobs. He says, “You ungrateful creatures. Think yourselves lucky that I am giving you an audience tomorrow instead of 20 years from now.” He looks over his shoulder and sees that they see him. He says, “Oh.” He gets back on the mic, he says, “The great Oz has spoken. Oh…” And he says, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” You remember that line too? I am sure, don’t you? “Who are you?” Dorothy says. The wizard says, “I am the great and powerful,” and then in a normal voice, not in the microphone, he says, “Wizard of Oz.” Dorothy says, “Are you? I do not believe you.” So amazing. The wizard is ashamed now. He says, “I am afraid it is true. There’s no other wizard except me.”
It was then that the six-year-old little Jimmy Thomas, yours truly, began to cry along with hundreds of thousands, if not millions of other children all over the world. This peak behind the curtain was such a disappointment. The wizard turned out to be just another person, you could not count on, another faithless one. Not to worry. Those of you who have not seen it, the movie ends well, or relatively well. But I will not spoil it by giving you the details.
Our passage today, which describes not merely a fantasy story somewhere in Kansas, but what presents itself as an actual historical event complete with eyewitnesses in a real place, real geography, real people who later testified to being eyewitnesses of the event. We will find out that this account is not just a nostalgic tale about going home and about having faith in yourself or clicking your heels three times. Certainly, it is not about just having faith in faith, but it is about placing our trusting faith in the real person, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the real Jesus of history, who according to these rational eyewitnesses that we will hear from today actually, stood with one foot in the heavenly realm and one foot in the temporal realm. He allowed Peter, James, and John a peek behind the curtain, and us by extension.
Here, it is not just a clever little dog that pulls back the curtain on reality, but it is God Himself who literally rips the curtain in two and He invites us to catch a glimpse of His glory. He pulls back the curtain on ultimate reality itself. It is the story of Jesus in all His splendor, in all His glory, reminding us that we need look no further. He really is the One. He really is powerful enough. He really is loving and true and faithful, and He can, and He will keep His promises.
Let’s take a closer look at Matthew chapter seventeen. We will read just these thirteen verses. This event occurs six days later from what we read and studied last week. So much thanks to our Director of Youth Ministries, Ryan Motta, who did such a great job leading us through this. That last verse of chapter sixteen is Jesus’ speaking, “Truly I say to you.” [He has just predicted His death by the way and His resurrection.] He says, “Truly, I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.“
Scholars debate back and forth, what does it mean, “until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom”? What does that mean? Is that the resurrection? Is that the second coming of Christ? Is that perhaps this thing we are going to read about today? I lean in the direction of what we are going to read about today. Why? Because of its juxtaposition. I think Matthew is very intentional about the way he orders his material and his themes. He wants to connect the dots, but I think it could have a near fulfillment, a medium for fulfillment, and a distant fulfillment like much of Old Testament prophecy as well.
So, six days later, connected to what just happened. “Jesus took with him Peter, James and John, his brother, and brought them up to a high mountain by themselves.” [I do not know which high mountain it is. Some have suggested Mount Hermon, which is 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. It is up near Caesarea Philippi, where most of the events of chapter sixteen took place. So, perhaps it is Mount Hermon. It is a high mountain. It is 9,200 feet above sea level. That is a high mountain. It is snowcapped most of the year. That might have been the reason why Matthew included that adjectival modifier, high, when he said high mountain, I do not know. It could be Mount Tabor as well.]
“He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun and His garments became as white as light.” [That’s fascinating. For Jewish people, this would sound like the echo of another mountain experience in their long distant history when another important figure shows up as he comes down the mountain with his face shining so brightly, he has to put a veil over it because he’s really scaring the people quite a bit. Exodus 32 tells that story. You are welcome to look it up later.
Here, Jesus is transfigured. Peter, James, and John are seeing all this], “His face shone like the sun, [that is bright] and His garments became white as light [and that is not an advertisement for some new detergent. This is just the description from an ancient man, an ancient accountant, who is doing the best he can to describe something that was told to him by these three eyewitnesses. He is just saying, it was unbelievably bright.]
“Then behold Moses and Elijah appeared to them talking with Him”, [talking with Jesus. It is interesting because Moses and Elijah both had mountaintop experiences as well. You can read about those on your own if you would like to.] “Peter answered and said”, [he responds, of course, he is the first one to respond most of the time. He is quick with his mouth, and sometimes, slow with his mind. He is quick with his mouth here.] “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” [That is great. When you have a greeter at the door here that is always saying, “So glad you are here”, and Peter is like, “You are so glad that I am here, aren’t you?”] “It is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will make three Tabernacles here, one for two, [you may have a translation that says three tents/ booths.] one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
Again, Peter’s motto is, “if you don’t have anything to say, say it anyway, and just make sure it’s about you”. It is important. Here, he wants to, (and probably, in his Jewish mindset, he is thinking back to the story of Moses, and to the story of the Exodus, and to the festival or the Feast of Booths. Maybe, it is that others have flippantly said, “No, he just was setting up three merch tables, one for each of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.” and he was just wanting to keep them together and move forward with the unfolding of the kingdom.) Now with this dream team, this amazing group, Jesus is most delighted to move forward, and just do it to stay together.
“While he was still speaking, [I love this, verse five is awesome.] While he was still speaking, [that is literally while he is talking], behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them and behold a voice out of the cloud saying, “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.” [That is God the Father literally saying, “Peter, zip it. It is time for you to stop talking because I really want you to hear from Jesus.” I don’t know about you, but just sometimes that happens to me too. I get into my prayers, and I start doing all the talking and I even start suggesting plans and timing schedules for the way God ought to do things, the way He ought to answer my prayers as if God needs my help, putting together the plan and determining which outcome is the best. Is that you? Some of you are smiling, you know what I am talking about. You have drifted in that direction with your prayers as well.]
“When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were very afraid. [I think worship and submission like that is such a great response. I think when you have an encounter with the living God, (and by the way, if you have never trembled before the Lord, man, I wonder how aware we are of how great He is, how holy He is. I wonder if it is because we do not really recognize how great and holy and righteous, He is. I wonder if it is because we think we are smarter, and like Peter, we have got the plan, here Lord, do this. I wonder if that is what it is. I wonder if my pride just gets in the way, and I do not tremble enough.)
Oddly enough, when I do not tremble before the Lord, I seem to tremble before other things. I seem to be trembling about my career. I seem to tremble about my significance. I seem to tremble about aging. I seem to tremble about all kinds of things because I am not trembling before the Lord. It is a good thing for me to occasionally check my tremble-o-meter and see what I am trembling at, and if I am trembling at the right thing.]
“Jesus came to them”. [This is amazing. Look at the way Jesus responds.] “Jesus came to them, and He touched them, and He said, ‘Arise, do not be afraid.’” [Most often, repeated command of Jesus and of the heavenly representatives who come to the Earth and appear. This happens repeatedly all the way into the Old Testament with Gideon. We see it over and repeatedly. There is an angelic figure, and they show up and they have a message from God, and they basically have to say, “First of all, do not be afraid”. And that is good for us to be reminded. He does not want us to be afraid. He is all right with us trembling. He doesn’t want us to be afraid], “though lifting their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone. [What that means, let me retranslate verse eight. Moses and Elijah just disappeared when the subject of what we are trembling at came up. God takes them out of the picture, so that Peter does not try to equate Moses and Elijah with Jesus because Jesus is a completely different thing. Not to take anything away from Moses and Elijah, significant persons to be sure. I have got much to learn from them, and how God worked in their lives. But Jesus is altogether different, higher, more beautiful, more able. Moses represents the law; Elijah represents the prophets. These are two really important figures in the Old Testament. But God the Father says, “No, no, no, no. Jesus is different. I sometimes will say, “Jesus is the greater Moses, Jesus is the greater Elijah,” and in a way true, but in another way, it just does not even work to put Jesus in the same sentence with any human person because He is greater, exponentially greater of a different kind of greatness altogether.
So, they saw nothing. Now, nine through thirteen, we will read those as well and then just make some comments. Nine through thirteen is interesting, much ink has been spilled trying to discern what this is all about right here. So, I’m going to start with letting you know that there is a little bit of mystery here and a little bit of, “Wow, that’s interesting”.
“The disciples asked Him, saying, ‘What then, or why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’ [Interesting. I did not read verse nine through, I should read that.] As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them saying, ‘Tell the vision to no one, until the Son of man has risen from the dead.’ [In other words, this thing you have just seen with Elijah, Moses, with the voice from heaven with the clouds, the light and all that stuff, do not tell anybody about that until the Son of Man has risen from the dead. Isn’t that interesting? He just predicted His death, His burial, and His resurrection back in the previous chapter. It is fascinating that He now is tying that back in again to this experience they have just had. But now, He is telling them, “Here is how you are going to be able to process that better. Wait until I rise again from the dead.” Then, it will make sense. Okay?
So, they have been asked to kind of ‘zip it’ in a way. Here is a secret, hold onto that secret. Do not tell anybody about this. I can see them walking down the mountain going, “Dude, do not tell. No, you got the big mouth, Peter. Do not tell anybody.” And back and forth a little bit as they are heading down and see the other nine disciples at the bottom of the hill, or bottom of the mountain there.
But they do ask Jesus this,] “Why then do the scribes say, Elijah must come first? He answered and said, ‘Elijah is coming and will restore all things. But I say to you, that Elijah already came.’ They did not recognize him but did to him whatever they wished. So, also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands. [Inverse thirteen, it is fascinating. Matthew says,] “The disciples understood that He, Jesus, had spoken to them about John the Baptist.” [Now, you can look back if you want to in chapter eleven, and you will see that Jesus clearly says that John the Baptist is this voice of the one who is going to come and harold/announce the arrival of Messiah and that he is Elijah. I mean, Jesus makes it clear. So, it is one of those times where you find yourself going, ‘which is it, what is He talking about?’ Is there an historical Elijah and a symbolic Elijah that would help us to understand it that way? Are there Elijah-like things that are being done through a person like John the Baptist and perhaps even some Elijah-like things that we will see in the life of Jesus Himself? Or is this, on the mountain, that kind of guy who was standing there with Moses and Jesus and talking? Is that the historical Elijah and the historical Moses? Then, the combining of all those thoughts makes it quite an interesting mystery. And as I say, much ink has been spilled on it, but it does nothing for somebody like me, but makes me go, ‘Wow, can’t wait to have coffee with Elijah and with Moses when we all get home someday.’]
We are calling this a glimpse of His glory. What is a glimpse? Mike Demus used to come to this church, and he would say, “A glimpse is the plural of glimp, glimpse, bunch of glimpses”. I do not know if that is correct, but a glimpse is a temporary vision, a partial view if you will, a glance at something. Here we are, I think, given a glimpse of Jesus and it is really an amazing experience for Peter, James, and John.
On Jesus’ side of it, I do not think it was a big deal. It is almost as if in my crazy little mind, as if all He did was loosen His collar. There He is in the heavenly realm, and there He is in the human realm both at the same time. Yet, He intentionally took these three guys up the mountain. He took them up the mountain. He wanted them to see this for a reason, and He wants us to see this for a reason too because He is working very hard to show us something more about Himself without completely blowing us away with all of who He is. So, my view is that He just loosens his collar a little, and it is this big of an experience with Him just doing that.
We shall see Him face-to-face, and one day is coming when He will set all things right and literally, burn away everything that is at odds with God and at odds with God’s true good and beautiful plan for God’s creation. It is interesting to me.
I am going to look at just the four things that I think this thing helps remind us of about Jesus and the person of Jesus if you will allow me to do that. The event in Matthew seventeen, commonly referred to as the Transfiguration, (also, presented in Mark nine and Luke nine, if you would like to read those this afternoon. There is some interesting additional material in Luke nine, for instance.) from these records, we can deduce that this event is probably about six months before the crucifixion. By that time, the official religious establishment had pretty much rejected Jesus. Some of them were even now planning to kill Jesus since His own people were rejecting Him. But it was not time for Him to lay down his life just yet.
Jesus moved toward the geographic fringes of Israel. There He is way up North, Caesarea Philippi, really in pantheistic and polytheistic territory where all kinds of pagan, deities are worshiped. There is where He says, “Who do they say I am?” Man, that is a great question for us to ask in our day and time when people think that there are all kinds of different Jesuses, or there are all kinds of different gods and different ideas of who God is. The real question from the Bible is always this, “Who is Jesus?” That is what matters. That is what the Bible keeps taking us back to. This event indeed was an astonishing revelation of His true self to these three disciples, so that they could become eyewitnesses to this whole thing.
I think this event has a strange parallel and a contrast to another upcoming major event in the life of Jesus. It will happen on a hillside, not on a mountain side. It will be right outside of Jerusalem, (because what is interesting to me in part, is where this event, the Transfiguration did not happen. It did not happen in the temple. It did not happen in Jerusalem. It did not happen in a synagogue. It happened up on a mountain, on the fringes of Israel.) Here, He is flanked by two of the Old Testament’s most significant religious figures, Moses, and Elijah. In six months’ time, Jesus will be flanked again by two other figures, brigands, thieves, criminals. Only one of which will show Jesus any respect at all. On this hilltop or this mountaintop here, Jesus was bathed in the glory of heaven on the hilltop outside of Jerusalem. He will be bathed in the sins of the world, mine, including yours and the darkness of all of that. Here, it is all splendor and glorious light, there, on the hillside at Calvary, it is clouds and darkness as the light of the world will lay down His life. For all those whose redemption required His death.
The gospel according to Luke, adds some other details in chapter nine verses twenty-eight through thirty-six. Read it on your own, if you would like later, but they went up the mountaintop to pray, we were told by Luke, (and remember, Luke is the guy, he was not an eyewitness himself. He just did a lot of research and he wanted to present the exact facts to his friend, Theophilus, of what happened. So, he did all this research.) The people he talked to said, “Yeah, they went up there to pray.” Luke may have even talked to Peter, James, and/or John. But one of them told them that the disciples also fell asleep during their prayers. Raise your hands is that you? Fall asleep during their prayers. Okay, nobody wants to be honest today, I think. Okay. All the people online are raising their hands. Good. We love you. Thank you for your honesty.
Luke also tells us, not just that Jesus, Moses, and Elijah were talking, but Luke tells us what they were talking about. They were not just organizing a potluck dinner or thinking, “How do we get Peter to set up a merch table for us?” That is not what they were talking about. They were talking about His departure. The word is exodus, and it is His bringing the deliverance of God once again for the people of God.
Peter mentioned building these three booths, as I say, this may have been a reference to what happened in the Old Testament, that same event, the exodus if you will. But the Transfiguration of Jesus offers such a clear revelation of Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises, of Messiah coming, of Messiah being able to save God’s people, to save us because He lived a life we could not live, He fulfilled the law represented there by Moses, right? He lived the life I cannot live. He fulfilled the law and fulfilled all of God’s prophetic promises about Messiah coming. Also, I love what this says about the nearness, the proximity. It just implies, (I cannot venture too far this way), but for all of us who have lost loved ones, we start to look at this and we go, “My hope is in Jesus then, because Jesus is the one who actually, can reach back into history somehow or another and pull two human personalities, with visible bodies of some kind, into the reality of the present, eternal now that He lives in.” Somehow or another, He does that, He is the one we can trust.
What is also interesting to me is that Moses and Elijah did not come in on a spaceship. They did not come from some huge black hole in outer space. They just appeared. It happens repeatedly throughout the scriptures. It happened to Jacob, Joshua, Gideon. It happened to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace when everybody looked and saw three, then, suddenly, they looked again, there were four in the fire. The fourth one was the Son of God. What does this tell us? There is a sense in which the heavenly realm is nearer than we think it is. This is what I think it tells us, but I am speculating, I do not think we can become really very detailed about that, other than to say it is a gap that can be bridged by Jesus. It is a gap that God can bridge whenever He wants to and He is just to. What is great about it is to think that good grief, you don’t have to fly through Atlanta to get to heaven. That is great, right? I would like it to be near, but I do not want to have to fly through Atlanta to get there. That is good for me. I am good with that.
But I think what we have here is a strong case for the continuity of human personality. See, in our imaginations, in our fictional renditions of what we think of eternity and all that thing, we can imagine even into the future, we can imagine that we might get absorbed after we leave here. We might get absorbed into the battery of the universe or something like that. We can imagine all kinds of different things, but here is God in this experience with Jesus, the real Jesus of history, with these three eyewitnesses who are going to remember this and write about it thirty years later. Here, He is basically saying, “Moses and Elijah are recognizable. They can communicate, and it was a meaningful exchange with Jesus”. Perhaps in the new heavens and the new Earth, we will recognize each other in some amazing way that we cannot even imagine right now, which I am really excited about. I look forward to meeting Moses, Elijah, Peter, James, and John. I look forward to sitting down with Augustine Bernard of Clairvaux for whom this building is named after, with Frances Fenlon, C.S. Lewis, D.L. Moody, your loved ones, my own dad who died when I was one. I look forward to all that one day. I think this tells me right here, that there is a continuity to our human personality.
So, that all being said, I think the most important thing here is the Glory of the Son. This Jesus is completely different, completely other than anything we can imagine. So, the glory of the Son is really on full display here. The Bible tells us Jesus is the most unique individual who ever walked this planet. He is one with God the Father. He makes that claim. You cannot trivialize His claims. You must take Him at His word. If he says, “You have seen me, you have seen the Father.” He’s saying that “I am the same as God the Father”. There is none of this nonsense about Him just being a nice guy. He is the unique Son of God. He is the living word of God. He is God’s Messiah, the King of Kings, He is the Prince of Peace, Lamb of God, Bread of Life, the doorway into God’s kingdom, He is the good shepherd, He is the Light of the World, the way, the truth, and the life, the resurrection, and the life, and He is the true vine.
This same eyewitness, John, will later write probably, sixty, eighty, or ninety years later,
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory. Glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”John 1:14
He did not just smite us on that mountain. He could have, but His words are full of grace and truth. Boy, I keep those two together. I am not so good at that. That is one of the reasons our witness is not as strong as it could be in this world. I tend to let one of the two sides of that slip, grace, and truth, or both.
One of the other guys up on that mount that day, probably thirty years after, I am going to guess around the time Second Peter was written says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory.” Excuse me, I’m reading John again. Peter writes,
“For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming up of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were what? Eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the majestic glory, This is My beloved Son with whom I’m well-pleased…”
[Exactly what God the Father said in Matthew chapter seventeen].
“…We ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.”2 Peter 1:16-18
What made the mountain holy? Not just that it might have had some Old Testament storyline or anything like that. What made that mountain holy was that Jesus was on that mountain, and He was revealing Himself on that mountain. When God is at work doing that kind of stuff, you are on holy ground. Is He the greater Moses? Yeah. Is He the greater Elijah? Yes, He is. But He is greater than that too, because like we have said before, you just cannot really find the words to describe how great He really is.
Secondly, here we see the imprimatur of the Father. It is a second endorsement from the father’s voice booming from the heavens. Our English word imprimatur comes from the 17th century Latin word imprimere. And I may or may not be saying that correctly, but you can look it up yourself later, which means “let it be printed”. In other words, you want to know what God’s like, Jesus is what God is like. He is the print. If we could somehow or another get a picture, get a view of what God is like, it is Jesus.
The writer of Hebrews put it this way.
“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high…”Hebrews 1:3
See, if Jesus holds together the universe by the word of His power, that makes Him altogether different from Moses and Elijah, and Jim, and everybody else that ever lived. He is the most unique one who ever lived.
I like the way John Clark and Marcus Johnson put this. They said,
“God is fond of shattering the puny notions we harbor about Him and the grand delusions we cherish about ourselves. He shatters both simultaneously in His incarnation for in ironic and astonishing fashion, God brings about reconciliation between God and humanity from the side of God, not by repudiating our humanity, but by assuming it and becoming one of us.”–John Clark and Marcus Johnson, Center for Pastor Theologians
He bridged the gap. He threw open the curtain and said, “See, it is not just a phony man pushing buttons and pulling levers.” There really is a connection with the heavens and with your creator if you want it. It is made not by you discovering Him, but by Him revealing himself to us.
I love the third point too, because the Communion of the Saints is displayed here as well. One is surprisingly astonished by so many of the Old Testament connections right here in this story. Images of a mountain, for instance. There’s Eden itself. The Garden of Eden is referred to as Mount Eden repeatedly in the Old Testament. Mount Mariah, of course we hear about Mount Sinai, Mount Hermon, Mount Tabor. Those things that get done on mountains are interesting as you read through the Old Testament, and even in the New Testament, (i.e., the Sermon on the Mount). There is a cloud thing here that’s happening in verse five, and of course, the Lord used a cloud to lead the children of Israel by day. The same word “overshadowed” is being used here. The same word that is used in the language of the cloud that overshadowed the tabernacle with the glory of the Lord and a thick cloud covered it.
The image from the Old Testament of tents and tabernacles, as I said earlier, is there, and that Peter wants to celebrate that event, which I think is what he is doing there, (if I am giving him the benefit of the doubt in that whole thing), with the persons and what they represent, Moses the law, Elijah the prophets, the connections to the Old Testament here and with Matthew seventeen are amazing.
We have said it before, Matthew is working hard to connect the Old Testament for his Jewish audience to the person Jesus. He quotes the Old Testament nearly one hundred times. What does it say again about this life and everything that these Old Testament figures show up? I think that is possible. Really, amazing, and hopeful.
There is one simple and hopeful doctrine strongly implied in this event, and that is the Communion of the Saints. Here, He is literally talking to Moses and Elijah. I wish we would have gotten a little snapshot other than what we get in Luke, about them talking about his departure. But I mean, it would have been just great to hear what kind of a voice Moses has? Does he sound like Charlton Heston? I mean, what would he sound like? What if he sounded more like Don Knotts? Would we find ourselves saying, “Yo, what’s going on with that voice, dude?” No wonder some people were rebellious toward you all the time.
So, the Communion of the Saints. The Christian hope is not the immortality of the soul, shadowy, disembodied existence, but the resurrection of the body, a perfect instrument for the expression of new life, (that quote is from John Stott in a book that is out of print now called, “The Authentic Jesus”). I love this because it reminds us of a bit of what Sam Allberry, (if you did not hear the talk that he gave here about “What God has to Say About our Bodies”. I really encourage you to go back and watch that, a great study about how you do not just have a body, you are your body, and the connection of the two is designed by God. There is none of this to separate myself out and all that. No, this, your identity is a gift from God. You then say, “Why did you give me these ears?” “Why did you give me this nose?” Listen, raise your hand if you would change something about your body right now, if you could just snap your fingers. Look at all the hands up, okay. I can see hands up even online. I mean, we would all change something about ourselves. We all find ourselves in that awkward position of going, “This is a gift?” Yes, it is a gift, and you just need to trust Him. He knows what he is doing.
There they are on the mountaintop, and He is getting ready to go to the cross and He has just said, “I am going to be arrested. I am going to be killed. I am going to die. I am going to go to the cross.” And the disciples are saying, “I do not understand what you are talking about”.
Peter tries to rebuke Him, but then, Jesus calls him Satan and rebukes him. It is just this, we always struggle because God’s ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. And we just do not get it.
But there is a resurrection on the other side, and Jesus knows that. The resurrection is a supreme vindication of Jesus’ identity and in his inspired teaching. It is the proof of His triumph over sin and death. It is the foreshadowing of the resurrection of His followers. It is the basis of Christian hope. It is a miracle of all miracles.
So, the Transfiguration, what does it mean to us? Why? What is all the bother about this event? It is Jesus saying, “Look, you can trust me. Not only am I so powerful as to be beyond description in terms of brilliant, white-hot light just from loosening my collar, not only that, but I can literally put personalities from literally 1,500 years ago and 900 years ago respectively and put them right here. They are at my beck and call. They are not just ghosts; they are Moses and Elijah there. He is going to call my name too. He is going to call your name one day after He finishes with human history and does what He wants to do.
That changes everything for us. The transformation of these disciples begins here as well. The Greek word is metamorphose. I know I’m not saying it right. It’s, metamorphose something like that. It is only used four times in the New Testament, two times in reference to the Transfiguration of Jesus here, and in Mark chapter nine, and then that same Greek word only four times in the whole New Testament. That same Greek word is used not of Jesus later, but of you and me. What does transfiguration mean? If he can do that, what can he do with you? What can he do with me? Who have much smaller needs than his? He is going to save the world. I just must learn how to get along with my neighbors and not get crabby and grumpy when I do not have food in my body or something like that.
The apostle Paul got a glimpse of this. He said,
“Do not be conformed, we will be transformed, (metamorphose), be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”.
And then, the fourth and final use of that word in the Greek in the New Testament is, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord.” Did you catch a glimpse of His glory this morning in reading this passage? Again, for Him, that is just an everyday experience. That is not that big of a deal. But we, being someday able, with unveiled face, to behold as is in the mirror with glory of the Lord being transformed, same word, into the same image, from glory to glory just as from the Lord, the spirit.
In other words, you can be patient with the work that God is doing in you or let me rephrase that. You can be patient with the work that God is doing in your spouse. Or let me rephrase it, you can be patient with the work that God is doing in your coworkers or you, your neighbors, your spouses, your co-workers. All of that. You can be patient. Why? Because He is doing something, and He continues to work, and He is just starting to roll up his sleeve to wrap this thing up.
See, He has just loosened His collar. And when He starts rolling up His sleeves, good grief, watch out. What could He do? What would He do here? No other explanations have been offered in two thousand years of sneering skepticism that can satisfactorily account for how the tomb came to be empty, how the disciples came to see Jesus, how their lives and worldviews were transformed.
These guys, these same guys, Peter included, will go back down off the mountain, scratching their heads saying, “What about this Elijah thing?” I do not care. “But who is going to be first?” I do not know. “I think I am going to be first. You are going to be first” They are going all over the place. Their theology is developing as they go along. Their Christology is being developed as they go along. They are learning more and more about who He is, even as reveals Himself to them.
They are transformed because when Jesus was arrested and taken to be crucified, they scattered like whipped puppies. They are so afraid, but then, God uses these very fearful cowards, inconsistent in their faith, and uses those twelve guys to literally turn the world upside down without firing a shot. No guns back then, but okay, without firing an arrow, without firing anything. They turn the world upside down because they have this story of this Jesus who literally can rise from the dead.
I have two more quotes, and then I’ll finish up.
“Perhaps, you find yourself in need of fresh language for attributing power and glory to the God whom you worship in Christ. He is not only great, but good – good in His greatness and great in His goodness. He is not only big, strong, imposing, indomitable, omnipotent; He is beautiful, attractive, stunning, compelling, glorious. He is the Majestic one. He delivered Israel at the Sea, and He delivered His church at the cross.”–David C. Mathis
When you are backed up against the Red Sea, then He can part the waters. When you must face death itself, (which last time I check 100% of us will face at some point in time unless the Lord returns before then), we know who has gone there and come back and who will one day call us from out of the grave as well. I hope you will pay attention this week. Stay awake spiritually, watch for Him, listen for Him to call your name, and speak to you. Keep in mind who Jesus is, and what He intends to do.
Lewis, I will close with this quote from Lewis.
“This world is a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues, and there is a rumor going around the shop that some of us or someday going to come to life.”–C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Let’s pray. ‘Lord, thank you for bringing life to us. Animate our souls and our spirits in a way that we cannot do on our own. We need you so desperately, blow away the dark clouds that have beset some of us, break open the stone crust around some of our hearts. And Lord, do whatever you need to do to help us see you. If it means climbing a mountain, if it means trembling and fearing a little bit, whatever, but Lord, we need you. You are our greatest need. So, I pray for each one of us that we will catch a glimpse of your glory today. In Jesus’ name, amen, and amen.
(Edited for Reading)