Matthew 17:1-8

(1) And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.

(2) And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.

(3) And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.

(4) And Peter said to Jesus, "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."

(5) He 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."

(6) When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.

(7) But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Rise, and have no fear."

(8) And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.



Until January 2011, Tunisia was known as the most European country of North Africa, with a relatively large middle class, liberal social norms, broad gender equality and beautiful Mediterranean beaches, but then events exploded and Tunisia became the launching pad of a wave of revolt that has swept through the Arab world.

For all its modern traits, Tunisia had one of the most repressive governments in a region full of police states. Not only was the government repressive, it was also corrupt. Add to that the Tunisia economy had dropped into recession, like much of the rest of the world. All that produced what they call the Jasmine Revolution, a sudden and explosive wave of street protests that drove out the authoritarian president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who had ruled with an iron hand for 23 years. On January 14, Ben Ali left the country and since then Tunisia has been staggering toward some sort of democratic government, at least so we hope.

The Tunisian people's explosion spread to Egypt and demonstrations and protests drove Hosni Mubarak out of office and out of the country. Mubarak took over the country back when Sadat was assassinated. He ruled for 30 years. Suddenly he is gone.

Turmoil seems to be everywhere. There are demonstrations everywhere in the Arab world, from Morocco to Yemen. In Yemen, this week, after protests and demonstrations, the President has agreed to resign by the end of the year—whether he will do that or not I do not know. You probably have seen the latest headlines about Libya, where a determined effort has been made to unseat Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. Qaddafi’s forces have clashed repeatedly with the rebels, and apparently there was a major battle on Tuesday of this week which ended in defeat Qaddafi's troops. At this point no one knows what is going to happen in Libya.

People who do news have followed these developments with astonishment. The whole Arab landscape seems to be changing. At each new event they say, “Wow can you believe that?” However, all human events seem trivial compared to what happened to Jesus on the mountain. Imagine that you are Peter or James or John, standing on that mountaintop. What you saw would literally take your breath away. The only response is stunned silence.

But let us consider the Transfiguration in context. Why did it happen at all? Why did the event take place? The key can be found in the context of the story. In the previous chapter, chapter 16, we read that people had been asking the question: Who is Jesus?

In Matthew 16:13, Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" It is clear from their response that it was a hot topic. V14: “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” If it hadn’t been “hot gossip” at the time, they wouldn’t have said that. But it wasn’t just the crowds who were talking about Jesus. His own disciples were asking the same question. So Jesus said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"(15). And Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (16).

The question “Who is this Jesus” was burning on everyone’s lips, and in chapter 16, we see human responses. Now in Chapter 17 we see a divine response. God bears witness to who Jesus is.

Speaking of witnesses, I heard a story about a man was accused of murder and brought to trial in Los Angeles. This was about 60 years ago. It was a difficult case with a lot of circumstantial evidence. The defence lawyer, however, thought of an ingenious ploy. In his summing up speech, he said: “Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, you must find my client not guilty of murder if there is the slightest doubt in your minds that he is not the murderer. Now I have one final witness. The true murderer is about to walk through the door.” As you may imagine, all eyes swung towards the door, but no one came in. The lawyer continued: “You see, Ladies and Gentlemen, doubt is in your minds, otherwise you would not have looked towards the door.” The jury retired to deliberate and came back five hours later with a “Guilty” verdict. The lawyer was beside himself and before the judge could pass sentence he sprang up and said “I proved that you had a doubt about my client’s guilt. How can you possibly find him guilty?”

To which the jury foreman replied, “When you called your final witness, counselor, and everyone looked towards the door, I watched your client. His eyes did not turn towards the door, because he knew no one was there, because he is guilty.”

In contrast to that Los Angeles Courtroom, where the star witness did not appear, these verses from Matthew are about a star witness who did appear, and He came to answer the question that was on everyone’s lips: “Who is Jesus?” This star witness is none other than God the Father, who answered the question by revealing Jesus’ glory to Peter, James and John and by saying: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him."

And the relevance of all this for us is summed in three simple words “Listen to him”. Jesus is God’s Son and we need to listen to him.

There is a story about a crowded airliner that was just about to take off when a five-year-old boy began to throw a temper tantrum. His embarrassed mother tried to calm him down, but the boy continued to kick and scream. Then, from the rear of the plane, an Air Force General slowly walked up the aisle. He stopped beside the boy, nodded to the mother, and leaned down to quietly talk to the boy. He motioned toward his chest, patted the boy on the head and walked away. As if by magic, the boy immediately calmed down and quietly fastened his seat belt. All the other passengers burst into applause. As the General made his way back to his seat, one of his aides asked him, “Sir, what did you say to that little boy?" The old man smiled serenely and said,"I showed him my pilot’s wings, service stars and battle ribbons and explained that they entitled me to throw anyone I want out the door of any plane I’m on." And the little boy entirely accepted the general's authority to do just that. On the mount of Transfiguration, God drives home the fact that Jesus is the authority and we should listen to him.

Let us look at the Transfiguration in more detail. Jesus led Peter, James and John up a high mountain – probably Mount Hermon, which is located in Northern Palestine and stands 9,232 feet above sea level. V2 says, “He was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” this is God's response to the question: "Who is Jesus?" God reveals a transformed transfigured Jesus.

There is a similar incident in the OT. Let me read you the passage from Exodus 34:29-33

(29) When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.

(30) Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him.

(31) But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them.

(32) Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the LORD had spoken with him in Mount Sinai.

(33) And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face.

Moses coming down off Mount Sinai reflected the very presence of God. Jesus on Mount Hermon reflected that same presence.

Let me put it this way. A supernova is a stellar explosion that can cause a burst of radiation that often briefly outshines an entire galaxy, before fading from view over several weeks or months. During this short interval a supernova can radiate as much energy as the Sun is expected to emit over its entire life span. A supernova is the brightest spectacle in the universe. It is a glorious, powerful event. It is also the closest thing I can wrap my head around to imagine Jesus in all of His glorious, powerful brightness. Christ is a spiritual supernova.

Let us think about this word “transfigured” for a moment. It is a translation of the Greek word “metamorphoomai” from which we get our word “metamorphosis.” It means to be changed in form, in this case, to undergo a complete change by the power of God.

We notice also that Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus and began talking with Jesus. Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets (our Old Testament). It is significant that after God had spoken, Moses and Elijah disappeared and Jesus alone remained. The Law and the Prophets have served their turn and pass away. He, who is the fulfillment of both remains. Who then is Jesus? One aspect of God's answer is that Jesus is the one who will replace the Old Covenant. A new era is on the horizon. The Old Covenant, represented by Moses and Elijah is passing away, the new Covenant in Jesus Christ is coming.

I have to tell you about a little bug of mine here. I talk to people all the time about what it means to be a Christian, what it means to believe in Jesus whast it means to be saved. And they always seem to respond something like this: “I try live a good life, in fact I am as good as those who go to church. I don’t need to come to church.” My response is that we should all be “good people” who do the right thing, but being good does not save me, does not make me right with God. In fact, Christianity is not about being good. It is about our relationship with Jesus. That is the New Covenant.

And God tells us how to apply this astonishing news. God says, “Listen to him.” when God finished speaking, Elijah and Moses were gone. Jesus remained. This shows us the primacy of Jesus. God did not say Listen to Jesus and Moses and Elijah. God said, “Listen to Jesus.”

Back in 1884 John Henry Patterson formed the National Cash Register Co. and he led the company to prominence and profitability. He made it successful because he paid attention to details and kept an eye on each aspect of the company. At one point, the factory was having a high number of burglaries so Patterson decided to check plant security. One night he put on a phosphorescent suit and rode up to the plant on a white horse. He jimmied opened the door to the tool room, helped himself to several spare parts and rode off, without being challenged. The next morning, he fired the entire security department--rightly so, because they were not paying attention.

In Matthew 17, God trying to get the attention of Peter, James and John. With Jesus, they climb the highest mountain in Palestine. That must have been an ordeal by itself, but just as they reach the mountaintop, Jesus turns around, and his entire appearance has changed. His face shines like the sun, and His garments became as white as the light.

As if that weren’t enough, two men appear beside Jesus. The apostles are understandably excited. Peter says to Jesus in v4, "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." then God speaks to them from a cloud and they are terrified. I suppose you could say at that point God had their attention.

God also wants to get our attention. God has a “covenant of love” He wants to share with us. God wants give us the full measure of His blessings for our lives because He cares for us. But the only way we’re going to get those blessings is by paying attention to the things of God. So, the question then becomes, do I want God’s plans for my future, or would I rather do it myself?

Let me illustrate: A boy and his mother went to a candy store which had bin after bin of different candies. Thew way they did it was to give you a plastic glove and you could then reach into a bin and pick up a handful of candy. Well, the mother had bought several bags of candy for cousins and nephews so the store owner said to the boy, “Put on a plastic glove and I will give you a handful of candy.” The boy just stood there, and again the owner said “go ahead and get a handful of candy.” The boy still stood there then the owner reached in the jar and pulled out some candy and gave it to the boy. When they got outside the mother said, “Why didn’t you get a handful of candy when the man told you it was OK.” The boy said, “Because his hands were bigger than mine.”

The choice we have in this life is: do we want God’s plans for our lives, or do we want our own plans? If it comes down to a choice, I’d prefer God’s plans. God’s hands are bigger; God’s plans are bigger. That is what Jesus Transfigured shows us. Trust God. Trust Jesus.


If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant

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Last Modified: 05/02/13