Sermon on Matthew 17:1-9
Text: After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters–one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.
9 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.”
There are many events in the Bible that occurred on mountains. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son on Mt. Moriah. Moses received the Law from God on Mt. Sinai. When the nation of Israel entered the Promised Land, half of the nation stood on Mt. Ebal and half on Mt. Gerizim, repeating the promises God had made to them. Elijah challenged the priests of Baal to a showdown on Mt. Carmel. Today, we go up a mountain, that has no known name, but what happened there was a beautiful sight. This morning, as we study the words of our text, we echo Peter’s words “LORD, IT IS GOOD FOR US TO BE HERE” 1. To Witness Your Glory 2. To Hear Your Father and 3. To Preview Your Heaven.
Matthew begins our text with the words, “after six days.” Just previous to our text, Jesus had predicted his suffering, death and resurrection. What was about to happen was in response to this announcement. Jesus was getting his disciples ready for all that they were going to see and hear.
We read in verses 1&2, “After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” First of all, we note that Jesus took a select group into a remote place for what was about to happen. This would help the disciples focus on what they were about to see and hear. It would, also, keep curious onlookers from being befuddled by what they would see.
Once they reached the top, Jesus was transfigured before them. A great change happened to him. Matthew says, “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” Mark, who is often thought of as Peter’s secretary, wrote, “His clothes became white, whiter than anyone could bleach them.” Luke adds, “his clothes became as bright as a flash on lightning.” What was happening?
What was happening was that Jesus was allowing his glory as the Son of God to shine forth. Jesus usually did not let his glory and majesty to be seen by the people. When Jesus became human, he voluntarily gave up the full use of his heavenly power and glory. He did allow occasional glimpses of it to shine forth, when he performed his miracles. In general, however, he appeared as a human being.
Why did Jesus allow his glory to be seen here? Remember earlier, we said that Jesus had predicted his suffering and death. That would happen soon. It would appear to the disciples that all was lost, that all had gotten out of control. It obviously had an effect on the disciples. It shored up their faith. Peter would later write in his second epistle, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16) Being up on that mountain had a profound effect on Peter.
It is also my prayer that the events of Jesus’ transfiguration would have a profound effect on us, as well. This week, we will begin our midweek Lenten services. During our lessons, we will hear how Jesus was mistreated, the humiliation, the lies, the beatings, the whipping, the pain and the horrible death he went through. We, like the disciples, need this reminder that Jesus is the Son of God, who willingly underwent all of this for us. He did all of that, suffered all of that, for us. He suffered and died to pay the debt of sin we owed to our God, a debt we could never pay on our own. When Jesus cried out from the cross, “It is finished,” we know that at that point of time our sins were paid for. How thankful we are for that knowledge of sins forgiven. As we witness the glory of Jesus, we say, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.”
God the Father also makes his presence known, while this is going on. We read in verse 5, “a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’” God occasionally made his presence known by means of a cloud. For example, when God led the people of Israel in the wilderness, he appeared during the day as a pillar of cloud.
We listen to what God has to say, as Jesus was transfigured before the three disciples. He said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” We note the similarity between these words spoken here near the end of Jesus’ ministry and those spoken at his baptism at the beginning of his ministry. God, first of all, identifies Jesus as his Son. This is God himself. We take particular note of what God has to say about his Son. God said that he loved Jesus and that he was pleased with him. You might think, ‘Of course, he loves him. That’s his Son.’ However, there is special meaning we can take from these words. For we are reminded of the fact that Jesus kept his Father’s law perfectly. Parents love their children, in spite of the fact that they are not perfect. What God loves, however, is only what is perfect, without sin. The fact that God said this is one more assurance that Jesus kept the Law perfectly, as our Substitute. Because of what Jesus did, God has declared us righteous in his sight. The Father also strengthens us as we enter this Lenten season.
God concludes his statement by saying, “Listen to him.” You might think to yourself, ‘I’m already doing that. I’m here, aren’t I? That must apply to someone else.’ But, does it? Listening involves more than just the ear drum vibrating and sending impulses to the brain that are decoded. It is also acting on what is said and taught. Jesus said in Luke 11:28, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” It is not just hearing. It is also doing. God also tells us that this is something that we are to be constantly doing. Out of love for God, we gladly hear and obey. ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here to hear your Father’s command. Give us the strength and the faith to carry it out.’
Up on this mountain two other people appeared. In verse 3, we read, “Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.” We do not know how the disciples knew that it was Moses and Elijah. They did, however. Why Moses and Elijah? Perhaps, it was because God had used these two men to lead his people at critical times in their history. Moses led the nation of Israel for forty years, from Egypt to the Promised Land. Elijah was called by God to lead his people, when most of the nation had turned away from worshiping God to worshiping Baal. At any rate, they appeared on the mountain talking to Jesus about what was going to happen in the near future.
When Peter saw what was going on, he blurted out, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Peter realized that he was being given a foretaste of what heaven would be like and he wanted to prolong it as much as he possibly could. That wasn’t what God had in mind. When the voice came from the cloud, Peter and the other two disciples fell face down to the ground, terrified. Then Jesus came and touched them. They looked up and only Jesus was there. His glory was again concealed. Moses and Elijah were gone. Together, they went down the mountain, their preview of heaven over.
So also we are granted this little taste of heaven, and how we long to be there. We will be able to speak with those who have gone before us. We will be able to see the great heroes of faith, such as Moses, Elijah, Peter, James and John, as well as all of the others who have died in the faith. We will be able to see Jesus in all of his glory, that glory that is his as the Son of God. God the Father will speak to us and we will not need to tremble in fear as the disciples did, for we will be completely free from our sinful natures. Heaven waits for all whose sins have been washed away by the blood of Jesus Christ. Heaven belongs to those whose hearts have been brought to faith by the Holy Spirit.
However, just like the disciples, we also must come down from the mountain. There is still a journey that each of us must make and that is the rest of the life that God has given us. May this preview, however, strengthen us on our way.
As we stand on the Mount of Transfiguration, we look to another mountain — Calvary. Today, we prepare ourselves as we enter another season of Lent. May the Lord bless us as we meditate on the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. We also thank our God for allowing us to witness Jesus’ transfiguration. Indeed, we echo Peter’s words, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” Amen.
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