Date: July 8, 2018
Speaker: Erik Raymond
Category: Biblical Exposition
Scripture: Matthew 17:1–17:13
When you climb to the top of a mountain, your perspective changes.
Getting up high allows you to see things differently. Your vantage point allows you to see things on the ground in another light.
But mountaintops can also change our self-perspective. The breathtaking views and increased elevation can humble us by making us feel small. Some may come away from mountaintops with new insights, greater clarity, and even a sense of peace.
Time on top of a mountain can refresh us with new perspectives on life.
It’s no surprise that in the Bible important things happen on mountains. You might think of Moses meeting with God and receive the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. Or of Elijah’s epic battle with the foreign prophets on Mt. Carmel. These are true mountaintop experiences. And they helped change the perspective of people for generations.
In our passage this morning we have another trip up a mountain.
Three of the disciples join Jesus atop a mountain for a prayer meeting.
And as we’d expect, they had their perspective changed on the mountain.
They had their vision clarified. As a result of their time on the mountain they saw things as they really are.
You may be wondering, Why they need to have their perspective changed? What’s going on?
A few weeks ago, Andrew preached through Matthew 16. I think it’s important to remember the important event that happened there.
The Apostle Peter made the great profession. In response to a vital question posed by Jesus, Who do you say that I am? (Mt. 16.15), he asked.
Peter answered confidently and truthfully, You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. (Mt. 16.16)
Peter affirmed his faith in Jesus as the one who is God’s Son.
He was saying that Jesus has the unique right and privilege to rule as king over the entire world.
He is affirming that Jesus is the long promised one who was sent into the world defeat God’s enemies and rescues God’s people.
Jesus is the one who was promised in Daniel chapter 7 as the one who was given dominion, glory, and a kingdom (Dan. 7.14).
Peter’s response is so important because it is this statement that is the basis by which anyone becomes part of the church, God’s family. If you are here this morning and are a Christian, you know that your conversion to Christ is a confession of faith in him as the Son of God who has died on the cross for your sins. You have put your trust in Jesus and aligned yourself with his God’s people who make this same profession in his church
But Jesus did something very surprising in this conversation. Pivoting out of the great profession, Jesus makes a shocking announcement.
In verse 21, he tells his followers that he is going to up to Jerusalem where he is going to die and then be raised from the dead.
But that’s not all.
He goes on to say that anyone else who desires to follow him or publicly identify with him by faith, must do the same thing. We must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. We must walk the path of self-repudiation, embrace suffering for our identification with Jesus, even as we line up behind him (16.24-26).
And, finally, Jesus explicitly states that he will, in fact, come back to judge, rule, and reign as king (Mt. 16.27).
So we put it all together and we have this:
They would have had the third part down pat. Jesus is the king. But the other two—his certain death through suffering and their willingness to likewise suffer for him—this was new information.
Some questions they could have been asking:
I think these are two questions that you should consider this morning.
Is Jesus trustworthy?
Is Jesus worth it?
It’s like the disciples are in the midst of a thickly wooded area with a number of different paths. With obstructed views, they have limitations and can’t see how these seemingly divergent paths will finally intersect. They can’t see the big picture.
How does Jesus help the disciples?
He takes them up on a mountain. He is going to give them some perspective. He is going to help them understand how this all fits together.
He is going to show them that he is intact trustworthy and indeed he is worth it.
And to help us answer these questions this morning, we go up to this mountain with them.
The main idea I want you to take home is this: to see things as they are, you must behold the glory of Christ.
In other words, seeing reality and seeing the glory of Christ are linked together.
To do this we’ll consider 4 clarifying events.
The first is: transfiguration.
(1) Transfiguration (1-2)
You may have noticed there was one more verse in chapter 16. With a statement that provoked as much curiosity as it did comfort, Jesus says, "“Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”” (Matthew 16:28)
Taking Jesus at face value, he is simply saying there were some before him who would not die before they see him in his kingdom glory.
Three very important things here: First, he is referring to some of them. Second, he is talking about what some of them will see. Third, it has to do with the coming kingdom.
What is Jesus talking about? How could it be?
Look with me at verse 1 of chapter 17. And as you do, remember that the verses and chapter division were not in the original manuscripts. These are simply tools added later for us to quickly reference the verses and chapters, to get on the same page. This is helpful to remember because we are flowing right into chapter 17.
“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” (Matthew 17:1–2)
Jesus lets the tension mount for six days and then he takes three disciples with him up the mountain. According to Luke 9, this is for a prayer meeting. Peter, James and John are the leaders of leaders. They join Jesus on the mountain. Luke tells us that these disciples were dozing off at this prayer meeting with Jesus. They were sleepy.
But not for long.
As Jesus was praying something amazing happened.
They saw something absolutely amazing.
Our Lord was transfigured before them.
The word in its original is where we get our English word metamorphis. There is a transformation. A transfiguration of Jesus. His outward appearance changes dramatically.
Well, we read that his face shone like the sun and his clothes become white as light. In Luke’s account we learn that Jesus face was altered or changed and his clothes became dazzling white. It is a word used to describe a light that is bright and intense. His clothes became like an enduring flash of lightning.
What does this mean? According to the Old Testament, the visible presence of God—called the shekinah glory—was the visible manifestation of the invisible God. The shekinah was a radiant cloud or brilliant light within a cloud that signaled the immediate presence of God.
You might recall that when Moses went up to the Mountain to meet with God he came down with his face glowing from his time in the presence of God. He would even wear a veil to hide his face so that others would not see it. Exodus 34 tells us that the skin of Moses’ face was shining from being in the presence of God. Much like the moon reflects the light of the sun, so too Moses reflects the light of the glory of God.
But something entirely different is happening here on this mountain.
The glory of God is not being reflected by Jesus, rather it is emanating from him. He is not like the moon reflecting the sun’s light. He himself is the source—the sun himself!
The bright light—the enduring lightning flash—and the change of clothes, is showcasing the glory of Christ.
When I say glory, I mean the weight, value, substance, worthiness, and greatness of a person or thing. The glory of money corresponds to the economy that supports it. The worthiness of a baseball team depends upon its history and current wins and loses. People ascribe worth to others on social media because of the number of followers they might have. This is what we are after when we speak of glory.
But, when we think of the glory of Christ, we are talking about the infinitely excellent, wonderfully unrivaled, wholly unique, glory. His glory is the best glory because it is God’s glory.
Here in a moment, the veil of Christ’s humiliation is pulled back and the disciples, awakening from their slumber, are granted a view of the reality of the glory of Christ! They behold the glory of the king and his kingdom.
Listen to what they say:
“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.” (John 1:14)
James 2:1 calls Jesus the Lord of Glory!
“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” (Hebrews 1:3)
In the midst of the tension of the predicted cross and crown—that is the suffering and the glory of Christ—Jesus gives these disciples a view to the future.
He takes them up to the mountain to give them a preview. He wants them to see his glory. He wants us to see his glory.
Just like a trip to the mountaintop can give you a new perspective on how roads and paths fit together, so too a trip to this mountaintop allows us to see how our Bibles fit together.
It’s here that we see things as they really are, we behold the infinite glory of Christ.
(2) Visitation (3-4)
To sharpen their focus upon who Jesus really is and what he is doing, God sends a couple of visitors. We read in verse 3 that Moses and Elijah appeared, and were talking with Jesus.
The first thing that should get our attention here is the fact that Elijah and Moses were not alive at this time. They lived about a thousand years before the time of Christ. So, this is unusual. It’s a miracle. And it’s intended to get our attention.
What are we to understand about this?
Often the Old Testament Scriptures are grouped into two headings, the Law and the Prophets. And, the people that are associated with each are, Moses and Elijah. Moses corresponds with the Law—think 10 commandments. And, Elijah with the prophets—think about the battle on Mt. Carmel with the prophets of Baal.
They show up here, at this crucial point in the ministry of Christ to testify to the supremacy of Christ. They are showing how their ministries supported and anticipated Jesus’ coming kingdom.
When was the last time these two appeared together in the Bible? I suppose that is a bit of a trick question. They never appeared together physically, prior to this, as they were separated by centuries. But, they did appear together in the biblical text. In fact, it was at the very end of the Old Testament. In the last verses before the coming of Jesus, we read about Moses and Elijah.
Keep your finger in Matthew 17, and turn with me back to Malachi 4.
““Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”” (Malachi 4:4–6)
The last words of the Old Testament ring with an echo of Moses and Elijah. The King is coming. The Kingdom is coming. And here, is Jesus, the King and he is joined by Moses and Elijah.
But as we’ll see in a few minutes, they are not on equal footing with Christ. They are auxiliaries or helpers of Christ. As Hebrews says, Moses is a servant, Christ is a son. Their ministries served to anticipate the coming of Christ, the King.
In other words, the entire Old Testament was written to point ahead to Christ. It was to prepare people to recognize and receive Jesus. It was to showcase his unique glory by way of anticipation.
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,” (John 5:39)
“For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.” (John 5:46)
“Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.” (1 Peter 1:10–11)
“And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25–27)
““Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17–18)
The visit from Moses and Elijah is intended for us to see that all of Scripture testifies to the unique glory of Christ. Everything that God has promised to do for us is mediated through him.
“For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” (2 Corinthians 1:20, ESV)
But, you’ll notice also they were talking. Do you wonder what they might have been discussing? What do two Bible heroes talk about? Coming from heaven to again walk upon the earth and stand in the presence of the living.
Maybe Moses was recounting his own mountaintop experiences.
Or how his face would shine.
Or how he parted the red sea.
Or his miracles before Pharaoh.
Or how he led the people of God out in the Exodus.
Maybe Elijah was talking about his time on the mountain.
How he called down fire from heaven to consume the offering.
How he stood toe to toe with those who dishonored the Lord.
How he was fed by the Ravens and the widow.
How he was caught up to heaven, without dying.
Friends, we don’t have to wonder what they were saying. Luke tells us. In Luke 9:31 we read “they spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem…”
The word translated departure is exodus. What do those who come from glory discuss? Moses doesn’t talk about his exodus but Christ’s!
The language of heaven is emphatically Cross-centered and Christ-saturated. They understand—better than we do now—that the cross is not an intrusion about the plan of God but rather the essential means by which it will be accomplished. The cross is the surprising means by which Christ will receive, glory, honor, dominion, and a kingdom!
To see things as they are, you must behold the glory of Christ.
Friends, let us be instructed here by our friends from glory. They teach us about how to read our Bibles and they show us about the priority of our conversations.
Are you a person who pours over the Bible to see Christ in his glory?
Are you a person who is overwhelmed by the cross of Christ?
Is it in you?!
What happens next? Well, Luke provides a bit more detail here. He lets us know that Peter and the others were awakening from their prayer meeting drowsiness. And he responds to the sight of Christ’s glory and the attending testifiers of Moses and Elijah by suggesting they just plant some roots and stay put.
He wants to make some tents and enjoy.
We can’t fault Peter here. Certainly, you’ve been in a situation where you just didn’t want things to end. Perhaps it was a party or a day with family or friends, and you just wanted it to keep going as it is. There is a good instinct here by Peter, Christ in his kingdom glory, other saints from history attending, this is just like the promised kingdom.
But as good as the instinct might be, it’s not quite right.
And this leads us to the third clarifying even. The Declaration, found in verses 5-8.
(3) Declaration (5-8)
Peter didn’t even get a chance to punctuate his sentence. The idea is wiped off the drawing board by another miracle. And, it clarifies things immensely.
“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.” (Matthew 17:5, ESV)
There are two arresting features in this event, first the cloud and second the voice. And they go together.
What are we to make of the cloud?
So many of the details in this account come with a massive trail in their wake. And clouds are no different.
When you and I think about a beautiful day we tend to think of it based on the lack of clouds in the sky. How often do you say on a cloudy day that it’s beautiful?
But, Scripture encourages us to view the clouds in such a way as to think of the glory and presence of God. The Scriptures everywhere utilize the imagery of clouds to signal the immediate presence of God in time and space.
Remember when God led his people out of Egypt in the Exodus? He led them for forty years by the pillar of a cloud. The cloud demonstrated God’s promised presence with them. By it he shielded them from the un and hid them from their enemies (Ex. 13.21).
On Sinai, we learn that "the glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day He called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud" (Ex. 24:15-16).
Later God dwelt in the tabernacle in a cloud (Ex. 33:9-10; 40:34). He promised that when He came, He would "appear in the cloud above the mercy seat" (Lev. 16:2). The Shekinah glory was a glory cloud in the Most Holy Place.
Here in Matthew 17, we are to understand the presence of the cloud to mean that God is there.
But, God also spoke. What did he say? Look again at verse 5, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
When Peter reflected back on this incident so many years later he remembered most of all the glory cloud out of which God the Father spoke. He explained that on the mountain Jesus "received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'" (1 Peter 1:17).
Jonathan Edwards captured the essence of the glory cloud at the Transfiguration when he wrote:
"There was a glory in that cloud that the apostle calls an excellent glory. When it is said in the evangelists that a bright cloud overshadowed them, it is not meant such a light or white cloud as shines by a cast of light upon it from some shining body, such as are some clouds by the bright reflection of the sun’s light; but a cloud bright by an internal light shining out of it, which light the apostle calls an excellent glory. It probably was an ineffably sweet, excellent sort of light, perfectly differing from and far exceeding the light of the sun...And there probably was an exact resemblance between the glory that the disciples saw in Christ’s face, and that which they saw in this cloud, which declared him to be the Son of God; for they saw him to be his express image."
God the Father came down on the mountain and spoke out of the cloud, declaring and explaining that Christ was His eternally beloved Son--the fullness of His revelation.
And what is the consequence?
Look at verse 6-8: When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.”
Like so often in the Bible, people in the presence of God fall on their face. Holiness puts sinners down. Holiness makes sinners quake.
How does this clarify our vision?
It shows us that Jesus is not just another prophet, like Elijah. (Contrary to what other religions may teach).
It shows that Jesus is not on par with Moses.
It shows that Jesus is the unique son, who is the object of the Father’s enduring and special love.
God glorifies Christ.
I want to bring you in on an important reality that is worked out in this text. And, it makes its way into our application.
They are the answers to the two questions I asked you earlier: Is Jesus worth it? And, is Jesus trustworthy?
Is he worth it?
God is God. He is jealous for his glory. Isaiah 42 says he doesn’t give his glory to another. It is reserved for him alone. But here, God lavishes praise upon Christ. This is because this is the reality of eternity. Forever, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have been enveloped in the mutual praise, enjoyment, and delight of one another. The unceasing satisfaction within the Trinity has never waned.
Therefore we read Jesus longing to return to heaven and dwell in that unmitigated delight, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” (John 17:4–5, ESV)
Here at the mountain, our perspective is sharpened so that we can see things as they really are. The Father loves the son. He is eternally satisfied in Christ. He is and forever will be delighted in Christ.
It’s interesting, whenever God rips open the heavens and lets his voice thunder and interrupt the narrative of earth, he seems to declare his delight in Christ. You might have noticed that this is a lot like the baptism of Jesus in Mt. 3:17. God said almost the same thing. “this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” The Father delights in Christ.
This is instructive for us because it teaches us what and who we should delight in
God is good and perfect. Who does he boast in? What does he boast in?
If we spent a little time together we would quickly find out what we are passionate about and what we delight in. The details of our conversation would make it known. What we say and how we say it tells us on us.
What do you talk about? Who do you boast in?
These things aren’t bad, of course. It’s just that they aren’t ultimate.
Friends, let’s learn from God. When he grabs the mic it is clear and passionate. The Father finds his delight in Jesus!!
If we are to be godly then we must do the same.
The second question, is he telling the truth?
The Father says, listen to him. Listen to him.
At the end of Moses’ life we read this, ““The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—” (Deuteronomy 18:15, ESV)
Jesus is the long promised one who has come. God requires that we listen to him.
Listen to what he says in Deuteronomy 18:19, “And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.”
If you are here this morning and not yet a Christian, you must see this. This is the message of the Bible. We must hear the Words of Christ. But even more, we must heed the words of Jesus.
Friends, he is the long-promised son who is the King. He has come for us and our salvation. He lived the perfect life that you wouldn’t live. He paid the death penalty for our sins. And he powerfully rose on the third day. He is the king. But he is also the loving Savior. He loves you. Listen, he is one who knows everything about you yet loves you anyway. This is a rare and treasured reality. He knows you intimately and yet loves you infinitely. This is amazing. If you turn from your sins he will certainly forgive you.
Would you not hear and heed his words today? What prevents you from turning from sin to follow Jesus today? If you do you will be forgiven and granted access to heaven forever. If you don’t, then hear the word of the one who will judge the living and the dead “I myself will require it of him.”
And with this, the presence of the cloud and the words of God from the cloud, the visitors leave. Moses and Elijah depart. They have done their work.
Peter is corrected. Vision is clarified. Christ is affirmed as uniquely glorious and worthy of our trust and unbridled obedience and worship.
Then, there is an explanation. The fourth clarifying event.
(4) Explanation (9-13)
“And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.” (Matthew 17:9–13)
As they leave the mountain, Jesus tells them to keep this to themselves until he is raised from the dead (what confidence!). There is a sequence of events that need to happen and disclosing this before then is not wise.
Note: we are under no such restrictions now. We may go and tell everyone! In fact, we are commanded to!
But, there is a question. The disciples are wondering why the scribes say that Elijah must come first. Reading Malachi they were asking why Jesus (the Messiah) came before Elijah (the forerunner).
Jesus clarifies that Elijah has already come.
Then they understood he was talking about John the Baptist. He was the forerunner who prepared the way of the Lord (Mark 1). It wasn’t the physical person so much as the particular mission that God was talking about.
The brush-clearing work of John the Baptist was to fulfill the promise of the Lord. He has done his work and the King has come.
And, just as he was killed when he fulfilled his mission, so too would Christ be.
(1) In heaven, we will see the glory of Christ with our eyes, but until then, the Holy Spirit enables us to behold his glory by faith by reading the Bible.
(2) The only way to stand in the presence of God without terrifying fear is through Jesus.
(3) We must understand the biblical pattern: suffering precedes glory.
Over an over again people misunderstood the ministry of Jesus because they collapsed the glory of his kingdom upon the suffering of his cross. Glory eclipsed suffering. It’s natural for us to do this because it is what’s preferred. Who wants to suffer? Who wants pain?
But the biblical pattern helps us to see this rightly.
When Jesus came his path was prepared by the preaching of John the Baptist. He did the work of a forerunner. This was like the ancient kings when they would come to a town. They would get to work for weeks ahead to ensure the ride in would be as smooth as possible for him. At the end of the road, there would be a throne for him to sit on.
However, when Jesus came, the road was cleared by John’s preaching but at the end of the road, there wasn’t a throne but a cross. His road was very different than other kings.
There could be no crown without the cross.
So too for us, we must understand that while there is raging opposition to the kingdom of Christ, we live by faith, must endure the suffering associated with this world. Glory awaits us, it is not here. Any taste of glory now is the Lord’s kindness to us. It is not characteristic of this age. Make sure we have our order down: suffering precedes glory.
Then we will be refreshed by blessings even as we are prepared for suffering.
The Bible renews our minds. It calibrates our thinking, reasoning, and valuing with the reality.
To see things as they really are, we must behold the glory of Christ.
These four events clarify our sight.
May we, after this quick trip up the Mountain, see things as they really are, by beholding the glory of Christ.