Transfiguration Sunday: Matthew 17:1-5; Transfiguration and Resurrection

Audio Sermon

Sermon: People of God, our gospel lesson shows us that the Transfiguration is that one great moment in history when Christ appeared in light to show us a preview of how we as a people of light are to live now and what we will be at the Day of Resurrection.

Let us pray.

Prayer: May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock, and our Kinsman. Amen.

You have probably been enticed as I have many times to see a movie based on its preview. The preview is a summary; a condensed version of the big picture. The preview needs to captivate your attention in about 30 seconds; if you are not captivated by the preview/movie trailer you won’t be captivated by the full story; the full picture.

 

The Bible works in a similar fashion. It offers us previews/glimpses of the big picture. It will teach us to look at a story like Ruth and hunger for the bigger picture of Scriptures. Ruth and Boaz become a preview to the greater story of Jesus and His bride.

 

The Gospels are the same way. For instance, Jesus’ confrontation with the devil in the wilderness[1]is a preview of the final confrontation at the end of history when the devil and His followers will be thrown into the lake of fire forever.[2]

 

What we see in our passage this morning is a preview, a snapshot; a glimpse of things to come.

 

The story of the Transfiguration needs to be put into its proper context. The word Transfiguration means to be transformed or changed. This beatific, glorious transformation happened as a preview of what is to come. We, in the New Covenant, have the privilege of seeing the big picture; of knowing the end of the story; but the disciples, like Peter, was right in the middle of it and so he could not see the entire picture. As we look carefully at this text we will see that the Transfiguration of Jesus before Peter, James, and John connects us to the past, but it also provides us a glimpse/a preview of the future.

 

Matthew tells us that “…after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.”

 

Do not overlook the way Matthew begins to describe this event. He says after six days. There is a tendency to overlook these details as secondary to the text, but the Holy Spirit does not waste His breath. Everything is in the text for a reason. Matthew is deeply grounded in the Old Covenant Scriptures. In Exodus 24, Yahweh rested on the mountain for six days and then he called Moses to come up to the mountain, so He could give Moses His word; the tablets of stone (24:12ff).[3] What the text is saying is that Jesus is the new and greater Moses; He is the one called into the cloud not to receive the word of Yahweh, but to be the Word of Yahweh in the flesh. This phrase “after six days” is actually a key to unlocking this scene. It is connecting to the past, while pointing to a future reality.

 

Matthew also says that “Jesus led them up a high mountain by themselves.” As we have mentioned in previous sermons, mountains play a significant role in Matthew’s gospel.

 

“Jesus is tempted by Satan on a mountain (4.8). Jesus sits on a mountain and gives the law of the kingdom (5–7). Jesus goes to pray alone on a mountain (14.23). Later Jesus will foretells the destruction of Jerusalem from a mountain (24–25). He will be crucified on a mountain, and he will meet with his disciples on a mountain to commission them to disciple the nations (28).”[4]

 

Why does Matthew place such significance on mountains?–because mountains are where you meet God. They are the place where heaven and earth meet. Mountains are places of worship, and it is from that worship that kingdoms are developed. In the Bible, when you see God and man coming together know that worship and kingdom are coming together. Jesus is saying that first you must come and worship with me and then you can be proper foundation stones for this new kingdom.

 

And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” The brilliance of this scene is quite striking. The text says that God himself is light[5] and that Jesus becomes that light means that He is Yahweh in the flesh. But not only that, it also means that Jesus is the source of all light for the world; and to become a kingdom of light one must be united to the light as Jesus is united to the Father.

 

Matthew is bringing the Bible together and building on the great themes of Scriptures to find a culmination in this event of the Transfiguration. It is impossible to consider the Transfiguration without considering the “story from Exodus in which the skin of Moses’ face shines after being in the presence of God (Ex 34.29ff.). Moses was close to God for many days and became like him, reflecting his image.”[6] And what this means is that you become what you worship.[7]

“You reflect those with whom you are in closest union. Children pick up the mannerisms of their parents. Disciples will act like their mentors…and this is reflective of the fact that we are supposed to be reflectors.”[8]

 

What this text teaches is that we are called to image those who reflect truth and righteousness, but most importantly, we are called to image the Transfigured Lord.

 

The other remarkable fact about the Transfiguration is the appearance of Moses and Elijah. Some have suggested that Moses is here representing the Law and Elijah is representing the prophets. This is an accurate way of looking at this text. Yet, it is not the central reason these two appear. The central reason Moses and Elijah appear is because of the remarkable similarity between the ministry they had in the Old Creation/Old Covenant and the ministry Jesus embraces in the New Creation. Moses in receiving the law was exodused from Egypt and Elijah was driven out by Jezebel after defeating her gods.[9]

 

“Both of these men were used by God to defeat false gods, deliver God’s people, and bring in new worlds. In fact, the situation of the entire world order hinged upon these men. So it would be with Jesus. He would defeat the false gods, deliver God’s people, and bring them to God’s holy mountain to be true worshipers of him.”[10]

 

Both of their ministries focused on the defeat of false gods and the exodus of God’s people. They were anticipating the great deliverance that was to come. The presence of Moses and Elijah was a testimony to Peter, James, and John that the end of the age of darkness was coming and the beginning of a new world; a world of light and glory was about to emerge.

 

The disciples understood this, and it is no wonder Peter utters his famous line in verse four: “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

 

It is not uncommon to hear some say that Peter is simply acting foolishly here.[11] He is so overwhelmed by the situation that he wants to keep Jesus, Moses, and Elijah for a few more days. There is a fundamental problem with Peter’s response, but there is also an important theology to Peter’s response. In the Scriptures, when glory is revealed, you build a house. As Peter Leithart’s book A House for My Name implies, God is pleased when we build homes where His presence dwells. Peter is trying to assimilate what is going on. He does not have the big picture as we do, so he is acting as someone would act in light of the splendorous scene before him. He wants to build three tents; three miniature tabernacles to house the three men. Peter knows that glory and light need to be together; but what was mistaken about Peter’s assessment? Peter does not yet understand that this is a foretaste of the end, not the end itself.[12] To put it simply: “This is the preview to the great event, not the great event itself.” If the Transfiguration was such a powerful and magnificent preview, imagine what the great event will be like?

 

And what is that great event that the Transfiguration points to? It points to the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus will be raised in a new, victorious body; a body of glory; a body that has conquered the darkness of death. But ultimately, the Transfiguration points to the transformation, the radical change of the present world and the radical change of sons and daughters of the King.  It points to the day when the world will be made right. At the end of history, Christ will come again to transform this world and make it new; and to transform/transfigure us into incorruptible and glorious bodies.[13] This congregation, though glorious now, will made into even more glory; a transfigured glory at the end of history. History is about God changing this world and changing our image more and more to mirror the image of the Resurrected Christ.

 

The Transfiguration is the event in history where the Father makes clear to the disciples and to us, that though Moses played a great role in defeating and breaking the idols, and while Elijah played a great role in revealing the power of Yahweh over the other gods, yet, Moses and Elijah are not the ones chosen to bring light to the world; they are not the ones chosen to reveal Yahweh to the nations; they are not the ones chosen to destroy the devil and death; they are ultimately not the ones who we must listen. As the text says: “He (Peter) was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

 

The Father’s declaration is a declaration steeped in the psalms. In fact, we have read and sung this morning an enthronement Psalm. To be enthroned means to be made the Ruler and King; to possess the authority to declare. There is another significant point we must not overlook. In the history of the Church, one main reason The Transfiguration of Jesus comes before Lent is because the Father sees Jesus as the Lamb of God; the perfect sacrifice. We see this clearly in our passage when the Father refers to Jesus as His “beloved” Son. This idea of “beloved” is a common theme in the Old Testament. Isaac in Genesis 22 was the beloved of Abraham and the beloved was to be sacrificed. Also, the phrase “in whom I well pleased” is a common reference to Yahweh’s servant in Isaiah;[14] the one who brings justice to the nations. In this affirmation of the Father, Jesus is the beloved: the one who is sacrificed; and He is the one in whom the Father is pleased: the servant of Yahweh who brings justice to the nations. The reason the Transfiguration precedes Lent is because the transfigured Jesus, the One who is light is the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Jesus needs the affirmation of the Father, in order to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins and the perfect servant of Yahweh.

 

All these things are indicated for us at the Transfiguration. But there is more. Jesus is the beloved One; the suffering servant; and therefore the Father says: “Listen to Him!” This is the One who will be a prophet greater than Moses. He is the word made flesh and what He says must be heeded. What Moses said was good; what Elijah said was good; but what Jesus says is very good, and every other statement made by the prophets need to be interpreted in light of Jesus. His word is the final word, and this is why everything the prophets did and said pointed to the suffering servant; the beloved of God: Jesus Christ.

 

How shall we then live?

This is where we begin to live. We begin to live as children of light when we begin to listen to the words of Christ. His words are pure and holy and righteous and good. All that He says we must listen and obey. There is a crisis of allegiance in our culture; even in the Christian community. Is there a crisis in our minds? Are the words of Jesus words of life and light? Do we find our most sacred identity in Jesus or is our identity in the words of someone else? It is fine to admire other men; heroes of the faith; it is fine to admire Moses and Elijah; it is fine to admire Paul and Apollos; but if we do not find our sole passion and allegiance in the Suffering Servant, Jesus, we are failing to heed the Father’s words when He said: “Listen to Him!” Every book we read, every word we hear, everything must find its ultimate submission to the word of Christ. We can claim all the great confessions of the faith, but if these confessions keep us away from the words of Christ, then they are meaningless. The Father says “Listen to Him,” because in Him we find life; in Him we find true joy.

 

There is also a profound application for us in the Father’s affirmation and approval of the Son, and that is, that we are also in the Son; we are united to the Son. If the Son is loved by the Father, because we are in the Son we are loved by the Father. Whatever the Father gives the Son, He has promised to give us as well. In what sense do we as a people share and proclaim this Fatherly approval to others in the body? Yes, there is time to confront. Yes, there is time to discipline our children and to teach them how to live; but how much time do we spend encouraging, building up, and affirming each other’s status as those approved by the Father? When was the last time you said to someone: “You are Christ’s?” When was the last time you said to your fellow Christian: “Don’t fear! You are not alone in this mountain. I am with you and Christ is with you!”

 

The Transfiguration is that one great moment in history when Christ appeared in light to show us a preview of how we as a people of light are to be now and what we will be at the Day of Resurrection.

 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


[1] Matthew 4.

[2] Revelation 20.

[3] Great insights from my good friend, Pastor Bill Smith.

[4] Bill Smith, sermons observations on Matthew 17.

[5] I John 1:5

[6] Bill Smith; see also Leithart.

[7] Douglas Wilson is quite fond of this phrase; one I have used quite often in my sermons and personal dialogues.

[8] Ibid.

[9] I Kings 19:8ff

[10] Smith.

[11] Of course, this needs to be paralleled with Luke’s account that says Peter did not know what he was speaking.

[12] Smith.

[13] Romans 4.

[14] Isaiah 42:2.

 

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