Matthew 17:1-13 New International Version (NIV)
17 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 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!”
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.”
10 The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”
11 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. 12 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.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.
Have you ever wondered why do people settle with an impersonal, non-demanding god; a god of their own creation. If you look at the religions of the world, and even the modern more secular definitions, God is very must depicted as a force or someone to be served or obeyed. But the Bible always present God as a god who longs to be known. So, why do people substitute a God who wants to be known for a lesser god?
Well, because essentially, a real God who longs to be known, who is who He says He is, is terrifying, it means that I have to seek Him and I have to submit, and I have to spend myself, I have to relate to Him and most terrifyingly I have to be known by Him, which means that He will know all about me.
Essentially we settle for lesser gods because we want a convenience not a relationship.
The transfiguration calls us to see the God who wants to be known. This is seen beautifully through this passage, in fact is the narrative structure on this passage, everything in the passage builds up to God speaking and what He says. And what He says becomes the direction of the call of Christianity, which is God wants to be known, but in knowing Him there is a cost. So let’s unpack that tonight.
Firstly, we see in this passage that;
1. He is known through the Law and the Prophets
We start with this move up to the mountain, and on this mountain something incredible happens, Jesus transforms right before Peter, James and John. The word in the Greek is “metamorphoō” where we get our word metamorphosis. Jesus transforms from his human likeness into his divine glory, and so Peter James and John see the Eternal Divine vision of Christ.
John recounts this in John 1:14
And 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.
God shows Himself through the second person of the Divine Trinity, however He does not stand there alone, but stand there with Moses and Elijah. Why? Matthew is writing to Jews and to the Jew Moses was the Law and Elijah was the Prophets, effectively what is being displayed here is the entirety of the Old Testament testimony.
And Peter in his zeal understands this when he cries 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.”
The shelters here, is the idea of tents, or booths, and it invocative of the tent of meeting the Old Testament. Peter rightly identities what is happening here, the Old Testament was being displayed. He is coming down to reveal himself, as He has done in the past through Moses and through the Prophets.
In Peter’s mind Christ was being placed on the same level as Moses and the Prophets, and that was a huge thing for a Jew, but as we will see, it fell far short of the reality.
Maybe, we need to stop for a bit and unpack this; the fact that God has chosen people to speak on His behalf, and the fact that we have the Scriptures is an amazing idea! We have an amazing collection of writings in the Old Testament that point to an incomprehensible being, who is perfect and yet has spoken through imperfect people to make himself known.
It is not like if we sat and thought about it enough we could come to the idea of God, no he is literally beyond comprehension. If fact, that is why in other religions he is reduces in some way; to the polytheist there are many god (i.e. Hinduism or the Greek gods), all reduces to the forces that we see and know, the God of the harvest, or death, or war etc. God is very much brought down to the tangible realities that we perceive. In Buddhism we see an Pantheism where god is everything and everything is an emanation of god. In this the idea of the divine is brought down to created things, the creation and god are one. Even in Islam, where there is a transcendent idea of god, He is essentially estranged from man, as Allah does not want to be loved, but served. He is Lord but not relatable.
In fact any idea of a relatable god is very difficult to comprehend, because how can the transcendent relate to the finite. How could someone infinitely above relate to someone infinite below?
Well, that couldn’t come from the creation, it couldn’t come from below, it would have to come from the creator, from the one above. Essentially the only way to know a truly transcendent being is if that being chose to make himself known.
As CS Lewis puts it so clearly,
“When a Russian cosmonaut returned from space and reported that he had not found God, C. S. Lewis responded that this was like Hamlet going into the attic of his castle and looking for Shakespeare.” – Reasons for God (Keller)
The only way we could understand or find God is if we reveals himself, if He makes himself known in His story.
And that is what the Old Testament is, it is a collection of God’s revelation of Himself. Now, that we have that in mind can we see why Peter acted how he acted?
But God interrupts Peter and says;
“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
This leads us to the second point of tonight;
2. Hear Him
God interrupting, Peter, says that this is not another revelation on the same level and Moses and Elijah. This is not God telling people about himself, this is something totally new; God is saying to Peter, “In this my Son, God has entered the story. Listen up – listen to Him!”
In Jesus the transcendent God, the first cause of all things, the reason for creation, the idea behind every idea, the power behind every power, the one whom everything and everyone was made by and for, has entered into the creation He made.
And church we do not have the time tonight to unpack all that that means, but I want to say that is the miracle of all miracles, the mystery of all mysteries.
Essentially all that revealing of the Old Testament, all that speaking to people about himself through Moses and the Prophets, well here He is, walking among us! The God who longs to be known, has become like us, so listen to Him. Really listen to Him!
The writer of the Hebrews says this when they write in Hebrews 1 "In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…"
This leads us to our third point tonight;
3. Well, what does He say?
Jesus says, basically get up and don’t be afraid. But that is not the message that He wanted the disciples to hear or for us today to know. No everything that Jesus speaks about next is all pointed to the Messiah mission, to His suffering and death. Look at the passage, He tells them to not speak about any of this until the Son of Man is risen from the dead, and then, He has a dialogue about Elijah being John the Baptist and Him the Son of Man meeting the same fate as John; being abused and murdered.
Let me make this clear, God is the god who longs to be known, He wants a relationship with us, and the ultimate way that He expresses that longing is to say that we need the Messiah to go to the cross, we need Him to die for us.
Well, let me take you back to my opening statement of tonight, have you ever wondered why people settle for an impersonal God over a person one, a god of convenience over the unpredictable all loving and yet wrathful God of scripture. Well the death of the Messiah makes that clear to us.
We would prefer a god of our own creation because we all know that we have offended the true God of creation. We all know if there is a perfect, wonderful true God we don’t deserve Him. We by our own actions have rejected that God, so you know what is so much easier, so much less hassle to make a god of our own. And that is why we play games with religion or church, we never really take it serious, because deep down we know we don’t measure up and that terrifies us and embitters us.
It’s like having a father that you know you will never please, but it is not because He is being unreasonable, but because you just don’t want to. That is why so many people settle for using the idea of god. Many people want the blessings of God, very few want God Himself.
We are very quick to run to our created gods rather that the God of creation. Give me a loving all accepting god, not a God of wrath and standards. And then we wonder why we are so dissatisfied with life. You see church generally we don’t go to God as he is we go with a far diminished view and therefore we negotiate, we demand, we try and manipulate him. For example, God if I do this will you do that for me. Or why God have you let such-and-such happen I am a good person. We reduce him. But the true God never drops His standards, never compromises, never negotiates. Because He is true. Truth never can compromise or negotiate, it simply is. And that is why the Messiah had to suffer. He had to submit Himself to the truth, that mankind has chosen to reject God and therefore deserves His wrath. He submitted Himself to our punishment, so that we freely could be welcomed back into His reward.
The truth is church, until you see God for who He truly is you will never truly seek him, you will use him. You’ll want His things rather than Him. But when through the full revelation of Christ you see that you can do nothing to get Him on your side, you will finally see that He has done everything to get you onto His, and it is there and only there that we actually know Him. It is there and only there that we seek Him for his sake we delight in Him because he is delightful not because of what we can get out of Him. We have been welcomed back to Him and what more could we ask for?! Stop running to your idols and run to the arms of the God who made Himself known!
I pray tonight you would see again a God who longs to know you and be known by you, look to His life, His death and His resurrection to see how much!