Matthew 17: The Transfiguration of Jesus

Introduction: Jesus and Peter

 
This year, we are looking at the book in the Bible written by Matthew
Over the last two weeks, we have heard about miracles, amazing things that Jesus did in Matthew 14-15
 
Jesus turned a few loaves of bread and pieces of fish into enough food for thousands of people
he walked across the water.
He made sick people well again.
 
Today’s main reading is Matthew 17, but first we’ll look briefly at Matthew 16.
It asks the big question, this man Jesus who does all these amazing things – who is he really?
 
Jesus takes his followers away by themselves, and he asks them,
who do people say that I am?                                          Matthew 16:13, page 744
 
people said different things about Jesus,
maybe he is some great hero come back to life, or a messenger from God.
Today many say he is a good man, wise teacher, a great saint.
 
then Jesus asks the big question:
that’s what they say, but who do you say I am?  (15)
 
One of Jesus best friends, Peter answers: you are the Messiah, the son of God.
the Messiah means God’s great King who saves us,
the Jewish people were waiting for this King, this Messiah, to come
when he came, he would defeat evil.
He would fix everything that is wrong, heal everyone who is sick, make people free.
 
Jesus says to Peter: yes, you are right.
Jesus truly was the King, the son of God
 
Peter thinks Jesus will be a king with power and glory.
 
But now, for the first time, Jesus tells them that
In Jerusalem, He will suffer and die – a funny sort of King
Again, Peter speaks: no way Jesus, this will never happen to you.
This time, Jesus says to Peter: no, you are wrong.
 
In fact, says Jesus, if you want to follow me,
you too will have to “take up your cross”: suffer, lose your life, and die. (16:24-5)
Scary words
 
But then Jesus says, that one day he will be the sort of King that Peter expects.
One day he will come with his angels in glory and power.
 
 
So in this talk between Jesus and Peter, we see two things about Jesus:
 
Jesus is the son of God.
A king of Power and Glory
 
But Jesus will suffer and be killed like a human criminal
in weakness and shame.
 
No wonder Peter was confused, and didn’t understand –
Peter was right that Jesus was the King, the son of God,
but he was wrong in how he understood this
 

The transfiguration

 
now we come to our main Bible reading for today – Matthew 17:1-9.
 
The heading is a difficult word: transfiguration.
The Greek word is even worse: metamorphosis.
 
These words mean Jesus changes in appearance, he looks very different, he is transformed.
 
********* reading **********
 
 
We don’t often read this story in church
It is difficult, with a lot of references to other parts of the Bible, but exciting!
Two other books about Jesus in the Bible, Mark and Luke, tell the same story as Matthew
 
Jesus climbed up the mountain with Peter and James and John, his three closest friends
Luke says Jesus prayed, while his friends were sleepy – maybe tired from the climb.
 
Have you ever been deeply asleep, and suddenly someone turns on the light?
You wake up, the light hurts your eyes, it’s too bright, you can’t see
you are confused.
It was like this for Peter and the others
 
They woke up and saw Jesus’ appearance was transformed, he looked very different
his clothes were as shining white as light.
his face shone like the sun
It was dazzling, it hurts their eyes, like a flash of lightning
 
– they were confused, afraid, terrified, and did not know what to say
 
 

Looking Back

 
So how do we understand what they saw?
First, we have to look back at earlier history in the Bible
Peter saw 2 important people, Moses and Elijah, talking to Jesus
 

A: Moses

Long ago, in the earlier first part of the Bible, Moses went up a high mountain, Mt Sinai, all alone
God talked to Moses out of fire and cloud.
When Moses came down from the mountain, his face was shining bright, like Jesus’ face here. 
 
after Moses, for hundreds of years, God sent messengers called prophets to tell people about God.
the first great prophet was Elijah.
Elijah also met God at Mt Sinai
 
Moses and the prophets like Elijah
promised that one day, the Messiah would come – God’s great king who saves us.
 
Here we see Moses and Elijah the Prophet, talking with Jesus, like they once talked with God on the mountain.
Jesus is the one they promised would come
Jesus is the Messiah, the King.
 

B: prophets.

Other prophets in the Bible saw God’s glory,
For example, Ezekiel 1: 26-28 described it like this:                     (also Daniel 7, 10)
 
High above on the throne was someone who looked like a man.
He looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire…
brilliant light surrounded him.
Like a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day,
so was the radiance around him.
This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of God.[1]
When I saw it, I fell facedown
 
 
It sounds like Moses and Ezekiel and Peter saw the same thing.
Very bright, very beautiful and very scary.  The glory of God.[2]
 
Notice, Jesus is described with the same language as God
in fact, the Bible later says, that Jesus is the "radiance of God’s glory"                    (Hebrews 1:3; 2 Corinthians 4:6)
Jesus shows us, fact he is, the shining brightness of God.
 
When we look at Jesus, we see God,
because he is the son of God.
 
Remember Peter said in Matthew chapter 16: "you are the Messiah, the son of God."                        (John 20:31)
Now in Matthew chapter 17, Peter and James and John see this with their own eyes.
Jesus is the Messiah, the King everyone has been waiting for.
Jesus is God in human form
 

Looking forward

A: Revelation

we’ve looked back to Moses, Elijah, and Ezekiel.
Now let’s look forward to the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation,
Here is another amazing description of Jesus in his glory: (Revelation 1:14-17)
 
"His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow,
and his eyes were like blazing fire.
His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace,
and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.
In his right hand he held seven stars,
His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead."
 
Then he placed his right hand on me and said: "Do not be afraid”.
 
Sound familiar?
Just like for the prophet Ezekiel, and Peter and James and John.
 
They were overwhelmed, terrified.
God’s glory, the blinding, blazing light is too much
They fall face down, as if struck by lightning.
 
 
Have you ever seen a big lightning storm?
Once I was in the mountains, safely inside, and outside was night and raining hard.[3]
every now and then was a great flash of lightning.
You could see all the mountains and the little town down in the valley below.
the thunder echoed across the valley.
one lightning flash came, and there was a little explosion of sparks in the village,
many of the lights went out – a power station had been hit
It was very amazing, and a little bit scary, to see the power and glory of nature.
 
One day, we will see Jesus like this!
Jesus promised that one day, he will return like a flash of lightning across the sky,
Everyone will see him, he will light up everything                                         (Matthew 24:27).
 
Power and Glory
this is the King we worship and serve
this is the one we love and follow
 
On the mountain, Peter and James and John had a little short look at the shining glory of Jesus.
 
 
Sometimes, we have "mountain top experiences" like this, an emotional high.
Life seems wonderful
We feel very close to God, we see Jesus’ glory a bit.
we want to love and praise God, with everything we have
 
some people feel this when singing in church.
others out in nature, climbing a mountain.
For me, maybe most often when I’m reading a good book.
Do you ever have times like that?
 
We wish these wonderful times could last for ever.
Peter wanted to build three little tents for Jesus and Moses and Elijah
so they could stay up there with Jesus on the wonderful mountain
 
But we can’t live alone on a mountain top
We have to go back down the mountain to the valley of everyday life.
Tomorrow is Monday morning, and most of us have to go back to work or study.
So Jesus goes back down the mountain, to the busy, noisy crowds of people
and he begins to travel to Jerusalem.
 

B: Very different hills

A few months later, Jesus eats a meal with his friends in Jerusalem.
Then he goes out into the night, up another hill to a garden called Gethsemane.
He takes with him his same three friends – Peter and James and John.
Again, they fall asleep while Jesus prays.
Again, they wake up to find Jesus changed, and they don’t know what to say.
 
But this time, it is very different:
it is dark not light
Jesus face is not shining with glory and light, but dripping with fear and sorrow and sweat
 
soldiers come to arrest Jesus.
Again, Peter doesn’t know what to do and does something silly
 
the next morning, Jesus is nailed to a cross.
not shining white, but red with blood.
No great heroes like Moses and Elijah talk with him, just two thieves.
No sign of God’s presence, but alone.
Not transfigured in glory, but disfigured in shame
 
 
Jesus died in Weakness and shame.
This is the King we worship and serve
this is the one we love and follow
 
 
But three days later, as Jesus also said, he rose from the dead, and returned to God in heaven.
 
In heaven, thousands and millions of angels sing:
Jesus is worthy – the one who was killed in weakness and shame
he is worthy to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise.              (Revelation 5:12)
This is our king!
 

Conclusion: Jesus and us

 
One day, we will hear that music.
we will sing with them
 
One day, we will be like our King                     (1 Corinthians 15:49, Philippines 3:21, 1 John 3:2)
we will shine like Jesus with God’s glory and beauty.
our faces will shine like the Sun
"we are being transformed into Jesus’ likeness with ever increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
 
 
We started with the talk between Peter and Jesus.
Peter thought being a king meant power and glory.[4]
But Jesus knew God’s great king would first suffer weakness and shame.
It is often the same for us. 
 
Life is a funny mix of weakness and power, shame and glory
 
Sometimes, we see a bit of God’s glory.
We hear, far off, heaven’s music
but often life is just cloudy and grey, and we can’t even see the sun
sometimes the Christian life seems weak and shameful.
Things go wrong, Maybe people laugh at us
Faith means remembering the Sun, the glory, is still shining, even though we can’t see it right now.
 
In fact, to be born again, first you have to die.
to find new life in Jesus, first we have to lose our own life.
Death comes before glory
 
the Bible says:
"if we are to share Jesus’ glory, we must also share his suffering."  (Romans 8:17)
But our weakness and shame will not last.
"what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will give us later."  (Romans 8:18).
 
 
On the mountain of transfiguration, we see Jesus shining with God’s power and glory.
On the cross in Jerusalem, we see Jesus dying in human weakness and shame
but three days later, he was raised to life by God’s power
one day he will come again like lightning in God’s glory.
This is our king!
 
 
Today, people think different things about Jesus
Everyone must meet Jesus and decide for themselves
Jesus still asks each one of us today: who do you say I am?
 
 
Many of us here see God’s glory still shines in Jesus
God’s voice from heaven still says: "this is my beloved son – listen to him”
 
The kingdom and the Power and the Glory are his for ever and ever
Amen
 

Questions

 
What is your biggest “mountain-top” experience?
Where do you see God’s beauty and power and glory?
 
 
What are your “valleys” of weakness and shame?
When is it hardest to be a Christian or to do the right thing?
 
 
What sort of a King would you want to serve?
Who do you say Jesus is?
 


[1] Ezekiel didn’t see God, or the glory of God, or even the likeness of the glory of God, but only the appearance of the likeness of the glory of God.
[2] See cartoon at http://www.agnusday.org/comics/150/luke-09-28-43-2004.
[3] At Schloss Mittersill in Austria, an old castle that’s now a Bible College.
[4] See cartoons at http://www.agnusday.org/comics/9/mark-92-10, http://www.agnusday.org/comics/36/matthew-17-01-09 .