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The Transfiguration

Date: Jun. 5, 2016

Author: Michael Mark

Matthew 17:1-13

Key Verse: Matthew 17:2

“There he was transfigured before them.  His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.”

Last week we heard Peter make a stunning confession about the Lord Jesus Christ.  When Jesus asked his disciples, “But what about you, who do you say I am?”  Peter answered “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Peter did not hesitate, he did not stutter, but looking Jesus straight in the eye he told him, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  He declared Jesus as the chosen One of God, THE One whom God had chosen to be the eternal king over the kingdom of God.  It was after this confession that Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he had to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.  The disciples had a really hard time to understand this.  Eternal king … death … what? How? Why?  In today’s passage, Jesus will show them a glimpse of his glory to prove that he is truly the Messiah, the Son of the living God, and that he did indeed come to die, and we will learn why.

Look at v.1, “After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.”  These were about 6 days began when Jesus started talking about his upcoming suffering and death.  As the disciples were trying to grasp the meaning of it, he continued to teach them over the 6 days.  Now, he led only 3 out of the twelve disciples up a high mountain.  This mountain was probably Mount Hermon, which is the tallest mountain in the modern day country of Syria, just north of Israel.  It may have taken a few hours, or a day’s journey to go up one of the mountains.  I’m not sure if they went up the tallest peak.  Now why did Jesus only take the three: Peter, James and John?  We trust that Jesus is wise and had good reasons for only taking a few.  One was, he still had to go to the cross and suffer – it would not be good to show his glory to many people at this time.  Another reason may be that the other disciples may not have been ready.  They would not see now, but eventually they will know.  In taking them up the mountain, Jesus may have had in mind to show them a glimpse of his glory to strengthen their faith.  He wanted them to witness his glory, and eventually to become witnesses to his glory.  Notice that he did not take one disciple, but he took three.  God’s law requires a matter be established by two or three witnesses (Lev 19:15), so these three would confirm the truth of this event to everyone else, even the rest of the world.  In fact, in 1 Peter 1:16-18 he testifies to this, and John references this fact in his letter and his gospel.

Jesus and his disciples went up the mountain to pray.  It was starting to get late into the night, and the disciples were getting drowsy (Luke 9:28,32).  The light of the moon lit up the snow capped mountains in the background.  Jesus may have prayed like he did in John 17:24, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.”  As he was praying (Luke 9:29), something marvelous happened.  Can we all please read v.2, “There he was transfigured before them.  His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light.”  I imagine it was like lighting up a match, and the fire flares into flame.  Jesus’ face shone like the sun.  This is how Matthew describes it.  He uses the brightest thing he could think of – the sun, and uses that to describe Jesus’ face.  It was bright like the sun.  A typical 100-watt lightbulb is about 1600 lumens, and you can barely look into a lightbulb.  The sun, although I’m not sure about the source of this data, is 38,000 trillion trillion lumens.  If you look at the sun, even at 93 million miles away, you will become blind.  The book of Revelation says that in heaven, there will be no need for a sun, for Jesus Christ is the light of the kingdom of God!  So Jesus may be in fact brighter than the sun.  Now here in this transfiguration, I’m sure Matthew is using a figure of speech, and that Jesus’ face is not actually 38,000 trillion trillion lumens at this point, but it is certainly very, very bright.

Jesus’ clothes became as white as the light.  While his face is likened to the sun, his clothes are likened to the light.  His face is brighter than his clothes, but his clothes are pretty bright too.  You can tell the difference between a new shirt and an old shirt.  A new shirt has a certain brightness, and a crispness, but over time the shirt fades color and doesn’t fit the same.  But here Jesus’ clothing was also transformed, it became white, more white than anyone could ever bleach it, and had a shine like a light.

The face shining like the sun, the clothes bright as light.  These was not a natural, but supernatural event.  What do they show about Jesus?  The show us his holiness.  White garments are a symbol of holiness and purity, of cleanness.  And the whiteness of his clothes being whiter than any bleach shows Jesus’ absolute holiness.  The light of his face, being brighter than anything in heaven or on earth, also shows his holiness – that he is set apart, unlike anything else.  His clothing shows his majesty.  King Solomon was not dressed better than the lilies of the field, yet Jesus’ clothing is more glorious than those.  As one song goes: “The splendor of a king, clothed in majesty.  Let all the earth rejoice, let all the earth rejoice.  He wraps himself in light, and darkness tries to hide, and trembles at his voice.”  The transfiguration also shows Jesus’ deity – that Jesus was God in the flesh.  John wrote in 1 John 1:5 “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”  He writes in his gospel, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.”  (John 1:4,5,9).  This same John who witnessed his transfiguration wrote these things down – that in Jesus is life, and that Jesus is the true light that gives light to everyone.  Jesus in his transfiguration reveals that he is God.

What does this mean for his mission?  What does this have to do with his suffering and death?  This means that Jesus came to give his life, and lay it down.  No one can take his life from him – Jesus is God!  He is life!  And who can kill God?  He has the authority to lay it down and the authority to take it up again, and Jesus has chosen to lay down his life by his own decision (John 10:17-18).  He did this because it was the will of the Father.  It was the command of the Father, and Jesus obeyed, even to death.  It was God’s will to save us from our sins, to deliver us from death, and to bring us into his kingdom.  Only Jesus Christ can do all these things.  How do we know that only Christ can save us?  Because the Law of God and the prophets testify to this fact.

Look at v.3, “Just then appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.”  The three disciples were witnessing more and more amazing things.  Moses and Elijah are heroes of the Jewish nation.  Moses lived around 1500 years before Christ, and he led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, and gave them the Ten Commandments, the Law of God.  They were handed down through Moses.  Elijah lived almost 900 years before Christ, and he served God during a time when Israel was committing a great sin of idolatry under its most wicked king, Ahab.  Elijah himself challenged 450 prophets of Baal to a contest of the gods, and he prayed, “Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”  Elijah was a powerful prophet who turned the hearts of the people back to God.  They were here to talk with Jesus about his upcoming departure – his death and resurrection (Luke 9:30-31).  This was all part of God’s plan and will.  Perhaps they were there to minister to or encourage Jesus.

So why did Moses and Elijah appear, and not Abraham, or King David, who are equally great men of faith?  Moses and Elijah appeared here to be representatives of the Law and the prophets, which testify to Jesus Christ.  What do I mean by the Law and the prophets?  These are the written words of God – these are pages in your very own Bible!  The Law consists of the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), and they all were written by Moses.  The prophets are several of the books that make up most of the Old Testament.  Elijah here is a representative of them.  All of these books in your Bible testify about Jesus Christ.  The Law shows us how sinful we are, and that we deserve punishment for our sins, even death.  It points us to the one who can save us from sin and from the punishment of sins, Jesus Christ.  The prophets are messengers sent by God to give a message to God’s people.  All of their messages speak about deliverance from slavery, and oppression, but ultimately they tell us that Jesus will be our Savior.  Peter writes, “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things.  For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”  (2 Pet 1:20-21).  You hold in your hands a sacred book, the very words of God detailing the plans of God, and they point us to a Savior, a deliverer – Jesus Christ the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

Moses and Elijah were representatives of the Law and the Prophets, these men were superstars, so to speak.  Look at what Peter says in v.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.’”  I don’t know how Peter knew it was them.  Perhaps Jesus mentioned their names as they were talking to him, or somehow God revealed it to him that these were those two men.  Peter seemed a little starstruck.  He was happy, yet afraid at the same time.  What would you say, or think, if you saw Moses and Elijah sitting among us?  Two men, with big beards (they may look younger).  You might be wondering why they are here, but at the same time you might think, this is awesome!!  Let’s keep them here longer!  The scene may have been so glorious, so blissful, that he wanted to just stay in that place for maybe a few more days, or a week, or longer.  At the same time all this was very strange, and the disciples were really afraid.  But Jesus had a mission to accomplish, and only intended this for a few minutes.  Peter really did not know what he was asking or saying.

Look at v.5, “While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.  Listen to him!’”  Picture this: Peter was continuing to talk nonsense, and while he was still explaining his idea a bright cloud formed out of thin air and started to cover them.  This cloud was the presence of God the Father.  God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, has no form.  He is a Spirit, and he fills the whole universe.  But he is making his presence known here by coming in a cloud – and it is a bright cloud.  This is a manifestation of the glory of God, and here God testifies: “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.”  Moses and Elijah are very credible witnesses to Jesus, but here comes an even greater witness: God the Father himself.  He makes and appearance and testifies to all those present: “This is my Son.”  God the Father himself confirms that Jesus is the Son of God.  This is the second time he has done so.  The first time was at John’s baptism.

God also adds, “whom I love.”  This is important, because Jesus, the Messiah, is going to be handed over to the chief priests and teachers of the law, and they will sentence him to death, and they will succeed.  It might look like God does not love his own Son, but here God says plainly, “whom I love.”  The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen could ever tell.  And God truly loves his Son.  God continues to say, “with him I am well pleased.”  Who could receive such a testimony from God except for Jesus himself?  God could never say to any of us, apart from Christ, “with you I am well pleased.”  Why?  Because we are sinners.  We grieve the heart of God day after day because of our sins.  Apart from Jesus, God cannot say this about us.  But he can say this about Jesus, because Jesus obeys all of the Father’s commands.  Jesus is truly righteous, and without sin.  God commands “Listen to him!”  Because Jesus is Lord.  Peter had made a bad judgment, and elevated Moses and Elijah to the level of Christ.  He wanted to build tents for them all.  He did not even offer to build a tent for himself, or James or John.  Though Moses and Elijah teach us good things, they serve and point us to the one true king – Jesus Christ.  He is the one we worship and trust.  He is the one we should listen to.

Verse 6 says, “When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified.”  This is the 2nd time God testified about Jesus.  The first time was at Jesus’ baptism, but it is not recorded if those disciples fell facedown when they heard it.  But this time, these disciples fell down to the ground.  Why were they terrified?  Was it because of Jesus’ transfiguration, Moses, and Elijah, and the cloud of God’s presence?  It may have been a combination of all of these things.  In the scene of the baptism, everything seemed calm and peaceful.  Jesus looked like himself, John the Baptist was wearing his camel hair, and a dove descended upon Jesus.  The glory of God was there, but in the background.  Here, the glory of God has broken into the scene, his presence was much more manifest, and much more intense.  Here the presence of God was a cause for fear and trembling.  Have you felt the terror when you see peals of lightning and hear bolts of thunder?  Can you imagine the fear coming too close to a blazing, burning furnace?

Have you ever heard of a self-cleaning oven?  When I was young I used to think they had little rubber wipers inside and they wiped the sides of the oven with soap and spray water to wash it out.  I found out that’s not how they work.  Self cleaning ovens use heat of up to 900 degrees F to burn any leftovers into ashes.  Well, God is like a self cleaning oven with a temperature hotter than the sun, many times more than 10,000 degrees F.  God is absolutely holy, he is pure, and he is clean.  We are defiled, unholy, and sinful.  We have all fallen short of the glory of God.  Because God is perfectly pure, his self cleaning mode will burn us to ashes.  Just as we cannot stand the intense heat of the sun for too long, or look directly into it, much less can we stand God’s glory and his wrath.  So what can we do?  We can do nothing about this, we are like worms.  But there is someone.

Look at v.7-8, “But Jesus came and touched them. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘Don’t be afraid.’  When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.”  I love verse 8.  “When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.”  What did they see?  Who did they see?  No one except Jesus.  Here is our helper, here is our Savior, here is our Redeemer: no one except Jesus.  They looked up, and they saw a familiar face.  They saw a friendly face.  They saw a loving face.  Jesus came, and touched them.  They did not burn up.  He touched them.  Here God touched a man, and the man did not die.  Where was the cloud?  Where were Moses and Elijah?  Where was Jesus’ luminescence?  They were concealed again, hidden.  Why?  It is so that Jesus could be with us.  The Israelites once said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”  Then the Lord said to Moses, “What they say is good.  I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth.  He will tell them everything I commanded him.”  (Deut 18:16-18).  Jesus is the promised prophet who has come.

Jesus told them to “Get up, don’t be afraid.”  Although the wrath of God terrifies us, God sent his Son Jesus to be with us, to take care of us – so Jesus can say to us, “Get up, don’t be afraid.”  In Jesus, we do not have to be afraid of the wrath of God.  But this benefit comes at a cost.  Let’s see what that cost is.  Look at v.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.’”  The three disciples were not to mention what they saw, but after a certain time they could speak about it.  They were not even allowed to tell their fellow disciples.  Why not?  Trusting in the wisdom of Christ, the other disciples might not have been ready to see his glory, or in another case some jealousies and rivalries could develop.  But eventually they will know, after they first see his resurrection, then they could accept his transfiguration.

So the disciples asked Jesus, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”  The disciples were referring to a prophecy in Mal 4:5, “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.”  They may have wondered why Elijah was only around for a few minutes.  They may have also wondered why Jesus told them not to say anything until he rose from the dead.  Didn’t Elijah have to come first, but here was Jesus, where is Elijah?  The Elijah they saw did not follow the order of the prophecy, but Jesus helped them to understand.  Look at v.11-13, “Jesus replied, ‘To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things.’ (Jesus is saying that the teachers are correct, and he continue to clarify).  ‘But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished.  In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.’  Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.”  John the Baptist was not “Elijah” himself, but had come in the spirit of Elijah.  Jesus says in Matt 11:14 that “If you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.”  John came to preach repentance and turn the people’s hearts back to God, in order to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah (Luke 1:17).  John the Baptist was the forerunner of the Messiah.

Jesus says, “Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished.  In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.”  John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded because he exposed the sin of Herod the tetrarch.  Jesus re-iterates again that he is going to suffer at the hands of the rulers of Judea.  But this was his mission and his purpose.  Jesus was God in the flesh, the son of God.  We saw it in his transfiguration, and he hid it so he could die.  He came to die for you.  God said about Jesus, “This is my Son, whom I love.”  And God loves you too, so much that he sent his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall never perish, but have eternal life.  And this love God has for you, Jesus has for you too:  he obeyed and was in agreement with God’s will, and willingly came to die in your place, so that you would be saved. He was handed over to sinners to die the death of a sinner, even though he was innocent.  He showed us how dark and depraved our world is, and condemned sin.  See how terrible sin is – that it has caused us to murder the Son of God!  God hates sin and condemned it, punishing his Son for our sins.  It was all part of his will and plan to save us.  The fullness of God’s wrath was satisfied by Christ’s sacrifice, and when the transaction was complete, Christ gloriously rose from the dead in glorious and magnificent light, the whole earth trembling, and Christ put an end to the power of death.  Through Christ your sins have been atoned for, and in Christ now there is no more condemnation for sin, but a gift of righteousness for those who believe.  That is why Christ had to die – so that our sins may be forgiven, and that we may be reconciled to God.  That was the cost so that Jesus can tell us, “Get up, don’t be afraid,” because in Christ, we no longer need to fear God’s wrath, but only thank him for his love, his grace and his mercy.

Now Christ has risen, and his glory is no longer hidden, but permanent.  He gives us a gift too, it is the gift of this radiance.  Ex 34:29 says “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant of the law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.”  Moses face was radiant because he spoke with the Lord.  Just speaking with the Lord can make our faces radiant.  Moses didn’t even know his face was radiant, so even as he walked down to Aaron his brother and the Israelites, they were afraid to go near him because of his face.  He had to put a veil on to cover his radiance, but with the veil they couldn’t see the Lord’s glory.  And that’s why people can’t see God’s glory, that’s why people can’t see or know the Lord – because there is a veil over their faces.  2 Cor 3:16 says, “But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.”  Just turn to the Lord.  Turning to the Lord takes the veil away.  2 Cor 3:18 goes on to say, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” In Christ the Lord has unveiled our faces, and when we contemplate it, like looking into a mirror and seeing Christ’s glory, meditating on it, and in contemplating on it we are being transformed with ever increasing glory.

Ps 34:4-5 says, “I sought the Lord and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.  Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.”  Those who look to the Lord are radiant, and their faces are never covered with shame.  Just look to the Lord.  Christ gives us his robes of righteousness, and they are washed white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev 7:14).  He makes us holy and gives us entrance into his kingdom.  With this holiness given to us, we won’t be consumed by the heat of God’s wrath, but we ourselves will shine as he does.  The Bible promises us that when Jesus comes again, he will come in his glory, and the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matt 13:43).  He comes to us, he touches us and says, “Get up, don’t be afraid.”  When we look up, let us look to no one except Jesus.  Look to Jesus, just look, look to him, and none other for the salvation of your souls.  Repent, and trust in Christ alone for the forgiveness of your sins, and righteousness will be yours, even now, and contemplate the glory of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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Daily Bread

Seek Righteousness, Seek Humility

Zephaniah 2:1-15

Key Verse: 2:3

  Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land,
    who do his just commands;
  seek righteousness; seek humility;
    perhaps you may be hidden
    on the day of the anger of the LORD.

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