February 19, 2023

The Transfiguration

Passage: Matthew 17:1-9

Waiting to be interviewed for a job as a wireless operator, a group of applicants paid little attention to the sound of the dots and dashes which began coming over the intercom. Suddenly one of them rushed into the employer’s office.  Soon he returned smiling.  "I got the job!" he exclaimed."  The other candidates asked, “How did you get ahead of us?"  The new employee answered, "You might have been considered if you hadn’t been so busy with your own things that you didn’t hear the manager’s coded message.  It said, ‘The man I need must always be on the alert.  The first one who interprets this and comes directly into my private office will be hired.’"  This story has a strong message for any follower of Jesus.  He comes to us and says, “You have to be on alert.  Any moment I can call on you to go and do a task.  You have to be ready for what I have planned as the next step.”  Will you agree with me?  The next step for many Christians is what they think should happen next.  And then the consequences can be devastating.  The Coptic Church which originated in Egypt received a clear vision from the Lord that it was to implement mission programs to reach people in their immediate region and beyond.  But church leaders decided that the local government of the church was going to be so effective that they were going to build a strong church.  Well today Arabic Muslims have almost taken over the whole of Egypt.  80% of Egyptians follow Sunni Muslim beliefs and only 20% are Christians of the Coptic Church.  That my friends is only one example of how followers of Jesus chose their own path, instead of His path.  They don't always keep the words of John 14: 6 in mind – “I am the way, the truth  and the life.  No one comes to the Father, but through me.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Here in Matthew 17 Jesus wanted to get the attention of three of His disciples, Peter, James and John.  You see, He wanted to make make sure they comprehended what the next step was.  It was the path of suffering and rejection and shame...and eventually His death on the cross.  So, Jesus took the three of them up a mountain.  Most commentaries tell us that the mountain was called Mount Tabor and there something extraordinary happened – Jesus was transfigured right before their eyes.  The Greek word for transfigure is metamorphote, from which we get metamorphosis.   As any student of biology knows, a metamorphosis  is a transformation, a complete change of appearance and form.  Perhaps the best example is that of a caterpillar that changes into a butterfly.  Thomas Aquinas considered the Transfiguration as the greatest miracle in that it complemented baptism and showed the perfection of life in Heaven.   What the three disciples experienced was that Jesus had an entire appearance change.  His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as the light.  As if that weren’t enough, two men appeared beside Jesus.  We’re not told how the disciples knew who they were but they suddenly realized those two men were Moses and Elijah who came down from heaven.  Can we just try to place ourselves in the situation of Peter, James and John?  It's almost as if heaven came down to earth right before their eyes.  It was a moment that had John written the words - “We have seen His glory.  The glory of the only Son of God.”  It was a thought that stayed with John till the end of his life.

What do you think our reaction would have been if we were in the shoes of Peter, James and John?  I believe it would have been exactly the same as their reaction.  We see in these verses how they allowed 1 To Get Carried Away In The Moment.  It’s true that Peter spoke after what they all experienced – but we have to remember – he was one who spoke before anyone else had an opportunity to speak.  You see, it could have been James or John as well who spoke those words in verse 4, “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.”  Isn’t it wonderful to be in the moment?  You have your head in the clouds and then you begin to dream.  The reality around you would just fade away and you don’t have to consider anything hard or negative.  Obviously those disciples got carried away in the moment – there was no need to go down that mountain.  The thought of putting up three shelters for Jesus, Moses and Elijah was to settle there for some time.  When I was thinking of the moment Peter, John and James experienced, it was something like a dream they lived at that moment.  Don't we all like the good dreams we never want to wake from.  But we too have had our spiritual highs just like those disciples before us.  Things couldn't be better.  We gave giant steps forward.  We were going to move mountains for Jesus.  But then, we came to a realization.  The moment wasn't meant to last.  We had our disappointments as well.  Just like Jacob who at Bethel promised many things to God.  But then the moment ceased and he sinned and he had to go back to Bethel to renew his vows to God.  And later Paul who committed his life to Jesus had to make a confession that he was a wretched being.  That was because of the bad side of his life.  Peter, in particular, but also John and James had to learn – it wasn't about the moment, but about what was next.

How did God get the disciples to snap out of the moment?  We read about it in verses 5 and 6, “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!’ When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified.”  The moment was over!  Fear came into the hearts of those men – fear that left them like the dead in the presence of God.  Can you imagine how dramatic this experience must have been to them?  God designed this encounter to be something they would never forget… and they didn’t.  Why did God interrupt Peter while he was still speaking?  The answer is simple – 2 God Wants Our Attention.  To Peter, James and John and to so many before them like Moses and Gideon He wanted to say, “Just be quiet and listen.” This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.  Listen to him!’  God brought three men on the mountain back to earth by emphasizing what was going to follow next.  “My Son will do my will and therefore I am well pleased with Him.  And when He talks about His suffering and death listen to Him!”  How difficult it was for the disciples to listen to their Lord when He mentioned that the Son of Man was destined to suffer by the hands of sinful men?  Peter even tried to rebuke Jesus on occasion for even mentioning something like that.   We read about that in Matthew 16: 22, “Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.  ‘Never, Lord!’ he said.  ‘This shall never happen to you!’”  Can you recall Jesus’ response?  “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”  And now on that mountain the affirmation came from God the Father Himself.  The Son was to be denied and rejected; He was to be mocked and blasphemed.  And eventually the Son was to give away His live for the salvation of the world.  And now our Heavenly Father comes again and says, “Listen as my Son calls you to follow Him on the Via Dolorosa, the road of suffering.”  My friends, next Sunday we begin the Lenten journey with Jesus, but before we begin the journey, we must ask ourselves this question, “Am I in touch with Jesus’ reality for coming to the world?  Do I fully comprehend the reason for His coming? – to die for the sins of every person on the face of the earth.”  And then we have to take a stand for Jesus, the Man of sorrows.  We have to say like St. Paul – “I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death...”  Is this your stand for Jesus as well in this Lenten Season and beyond?