Matthew: On Earth As It Is In Heaven The Transfiguration: Behold Our God! * Matthew 17:1-13 Please take your Bibles and turn with me this morning to Matthew 17. If you don’t have a Bible, please feel free to grab one of the hardback copies from under the pew in front of you. I want to tell you why it’s important that you do so. You need to know that what we are going to talk about today comes from the Lord and not from me. You need to know that I’m not making this stuff up, that it’s not Chris Carr speaking to you, but the very God of the universe himself. Listen, you really shouldn’t care all that much about what I have to say, but you should care a whole lot about what this Book has to say. So, find your way to Matthew 17, where today we have the privilege of studying one of the highlights of Jesus’ ministry, the transfiguration. In fact, other than his birth, death, and resurrection, the transfiguration is probably the most significant event in Jesus’ 33 years here on planet earth. So follow along as I read Matthew 17:1-13: 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.  And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.  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.”  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.”  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.  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 17:1-13 ESV) All right, as we begin I need to let you know that there is more in this passage then we can possibly cover in one message. This being the case, today we are going to focus on the first five verses. I’ll allude to some of the other verses, but we are going to zero in on one through five. I am going to start by walking you carefully through the passage and making some key observations. Then, once we know what the text is about we are going to talk about what it means for you and me. You see, this isn’t just a special story, it also has huge implications for how we live our lives. So, I am going to teach through the passage and then we are going to apply it to our lives today. Now, the first thing we need to note is that verse 1 tells us the transfiguration occurred six days after the events of chapter 16. Matthew includes this to indicate that the events in chapter 16 are tied closely with those in chapter 17. So, let me remind you that the last two weeks in chapter 16 we have been studying the doctrine of Christology – the truths about who Jesus is and what he came to do. And in these two messages we have learned that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God and he came to suffer and die so that our sins could be forgiven and we could be restored to a relationship with God. That’s Christology in a nutshell; the fact that the man Jesus is also God and he came to save us from our sin by suffering on a cross and rising again. And guess what? In a real sense, that’s what the transfiguration is also about. It’s about additional evidence regarding whom Jesus is and what he came to do. So, back to v. 1. Jesus takes three of his disciples – Peter, James and John – up to the top of a high mountain. Matthew doesn’t indicate why they are going up the mountain, but in his account Luke tells us that they are going up the mountain to pray. And while they are praying, something amazing happens. Verse 2:
And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. Now, I’m guessing that none of us have used the word transfigured any time in recent memory, if ever. None of you husbands came home this week and told your wife she looked like she had gone through a transfiguration. So, we probably need to talk about what it means. The Greek word for transfigured essentially means transformed. It’s the word from which we get our English word metamorphosis. It describes some major change in outward form and appearance. So, in some way Jesus’ appearance, his outward form, changes dramatically. Matthew and the other gospel authors don’t give us much detail, other than that his face shone bright like the sun, and his clothes appeared white as light. Now to be honest with you, the only way I know how to describe this is to tell you to think about looking right at the sun. You can’t and you shouldn’t even try to look at the sun for more than a few seconds, because if you do it’s overwhelming brightness will blind you. Well, Jesus is so bright that the disciples can’t even hardly look at him. Now, what exactly is going on here? What is this all about? Well, Jesus is taking off his mask, so to speak, and revealing to his disciples who he really is. He’s giving them an inside look at how incredibly awesome, powerful, and majestic he truly is. You see, when Jesus took on human flesh, his glory and greatness were temporarily hidden. His humanity masked his deity. Note what Philippians 2 tells us: [Jesus], though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:6-7 ESV) So, despite what we often see in movies and other art forms, for most of the time Jesus walked on this earth, minus this short episode of transfiguration, he looked a lot like you and me. He didn’t have a halo around his head. He
wasn’t taller or more muscular than everyone else. And believe it or not, he wasn’t the best looking guy around. On the outside, anyway, he was just an average, 1st century Jewish guy. I’ve shown you this before, but here is a picture that gives you a good idea of what Jesus probably looked like. He would have been around 5 feet tall and weighed approximately 120 lbs. He was more Jerry Seinfeld than Jim Caviezel. Perhaps a Superman illustration might be helpful here. I have told you before that my favorite superhero is Batman. You remember that, right? Well, although that is true now, my favorite superhero growing up was Superman. That’s primarily because it was the first TV show I can ever remember watching. And by the way, it wasn’t the Smallville version, and it wasn’t even the 90’s version with Dean Cain and Terri Hatcher. In fact, I actually believe it was in black and white, and I don’t even remember who played Superman and Lois Lane. I almost didn’t include this illustration because it shows how old I am. Anyway, the point is that at least in the early versions of the show, most of the time Superman walked around as Clark Kent, a guy whom there didn't seem to be anything special about. He was about as normal and unimpressive as could be. However, every once in a while Clark Kent would step into a telephone booth, pull back his suit and tie, and reveal just how powerful and awesome he truly was. He would go into the telephone booth and transform into something much more than just a mere man. And that’s kind of what we have going on here in the transfiguration. Jesus is pulling back his outward façade and allowing his disciples to get a peak at his divine nature. By the way, note the disciples’ response in v. 6 after they hear the Father speak from heaven. What do they do? Well, they do the same thing everyone else in Scripture does when they come into the presence of God. They immediately fall on their faces and fear for their lives. Seeing and hearing the God of the universe is an awesome and overwhelming experience. Now, the most important thing for us to recognize here is that Jesus is not reflecting glory, but rather projecting it. Jesus’ isn’t like the moon, in that he reflects God’s glory, but rather like the sun in that he is God’s glory. Note what the author of Hebrews tells us:
[The Son] 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. (Hebrews 1:3 ESV) Tim Keller explains it this way: Jesus is the ultimate expression, the unsurpassable (nothing higher possible) expression of the infinite, overwhelming superlativeness, glory, and beauty of God. Jesus is the glory of God in human form.1 In other words, Jesus’ glory is not extrinsic but intrinsic, because his glory is God’s glory. When we see Jesus, we see God himself. God the Son and God the Father are one. So therefore, and here’s the big point, in the transfiguration Jesus is displaying overwhelming, undeniable proof that he is God. Now, as if that wasn’t enough, you will note in v. 3 that a couple of VIP’s join Jesus for this special occasion. As Jesus is displaying his glory, Moses and Elijah appear with him and the three begin to carry on a conversation. Now, don’t you wish you could have sat in the background and listened in to this conversation? You have Jesus talking with the two greatest heroes of the Old Testament. Matthew doesn’t tell us what they are talking about, but Luke records that they spoke of Jesus’ departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Let me point out the significance of Moses and Elijah’s presence. Moses represents the law, and Elijah represents the prophets, and together they affirm that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah, the one whom the Hebrew Scriptures are all about. Together they show that Jesus is the fulfillment of the entire Old Testament. So, again, are you following the storyline? In chapter 16 Peter confesses who Jesus is, and now Jesus himself as well as Moses and Elijah are proving that this is the case. 1
Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.
Now, of course, this story wouldn’t be complete without Peter doing his best to screw it up. You would have thought he had learned his lesson by now and would have just kept his mouth shut. But instead of being content to watch, he decides that he needs to get in on the action, and so he essentially says, “Um, Jesus, I know you are in the middle of something really, really big, but I’ve got an idea I’d like to share with you. I think we should all go camping. You, Moses, Elijah, James, John and me, let’s all hang out here awhile and tell some campfire stories.” I mean, its just nonsense. All joking aside, Peter is once again trying to dictate to Jesus. He’s yet again trying to control the situation. He’s a little more sly about it this time, but in truth he doesn’t like the fact that Jesus keeps on talking about suffering, and so he is trying to do whatever he can to prevent that from happening. I mean, Peter is just like us, he’s trying to get Jesus to do things his way. He’s making excuses for why he can’t do what Jesus wants him to do. Now, while in previous times Jesus is the one who rebukes Peter, God the Father decides he’s going to do it this time. Look at v. 5, which is the most important verse in this passage: He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with who I am well pleased; listen to him.” God the Father essentially says to Peter, “Shut up, boy. Stop talking, and start listening.” For all you moms who are mad that I used the s word, there are times to tell people to shut up, and this is certainly one of them. This is a huge moment, and Peter needs to be put in his place. A minute ago I said that this was the most important verse in the passage, and here’s why. While Peter’s affirmation, and Moses and Elijah’s affirmation, and even Jesus’ display of who he is are all important, what is most important is what God the Father himself has to say about Jesus. He’s the one who has the final word on the matter, as he does on everything else. So, can you see the progression? Peter testifies to whom Jesus is,
Moses and Elijah agree, Jesus shows that this is the case, and now as the final nail in the coffin, God the Father dramatically announces that all of them are correct. Jesus is his Son. Are you beginning to see how defining of a moment this is? However, there’s much more to the Father’s statement here in v. 5. And you just have to get this. Listen closely. Not only does the Father affirm who Jesus is, but he also declares how valuable Jesus is to him. Another way the word beloved can be translated is priceless. Jesus is God’s priceless Son. He is worth everything to the Father. Parents, think about this for a second. Consider the love you have for your children. Think about how much you treasure them and then multiply that by a billion times and you will be getting somewhere close to how much God the Father treasures Jesus. And here’s why: Jesus is pleasing to the Father in every way. This is my beloved son in who I am well pleased. This means that the Father treasures his relationship with the Son above all else. So, imagine with me the treasuring that goes on in the relationship between the Father and the Son – a relationship between two perfect persons that has existed forever, a relationship not hindered by sin in any way. To be honest with you it’s not possible for us to comprehend the treasuring, but I think we can get close enough to help us understand the big point here. Are you ready for it? Do you see what God the Father is trying to tell us? Do you comprehend the magnitude of what we see here in v. 5? God the Father treasures Jesus above all else, and yet he was willing to give him up to live and die for you and me! Here in v. 5 God the Father is shouting, “Yes, Peter is right! Yes, Moses and Elijah are right! Yes, Jesus is right! He is my Son – my one and only priceless Son and I have sent him to suffer and die for you!” So, let me ask, do you see God’s incredible love for you today? Do you recognize that in the transfiguration God the Father is speaking to you? Do you understand that he wants you to know not only how much he loves Jesus, but also how much he loves you? That’s ultimately what the transfiguration is about; it’s about God the Father showing us everything he has given us in Jesus. What a wonderful awesome, life changing truth.
So, let’s now talk application. Let’s talk about what the transfiguration means for you and me. I think there are three primary application points. Application 1. The transfiguration should lead us to worship. First, and this is a no-brainer, the transfiguration should lead us to worship. Hopefully this is occurring right now in our hearts and minds. Hopefully we are in awe and wonder at how marvelous and wonderful and majestic Jesus truly is. Hopefully we are overwhelmed with gratitude that God the Father would willingly send him to die for us. Hopefully we are overwhelmed by Jesus’ humility in putting aside his glory and entering this mess of a world so that we could one day experience glory too. If the transfiguration does nothing else for us, it must lead us to worship. It must lead us to see how great Jesus truly is and in response to worship him with everything we are. In just a little bit we are going to have an opportunity to do this. We are going to have the opportunity to worship through communion and singing. And as we do I want to urge you to respond with hearts full of who Jesus is and what he has done for you. So, when we come to communion, may our hearts burst with gratitude to the Father for all he is to and for us in Jesus. And then when we sing in response to these truths, just let it rip. Just let it go. Sing to Jesus with all that you are. And you know what? If you are here and you just can’t really do that because your heart isn’t then, then pray that God would get your heart there. Pray that he will open your eyes and enable you to see how great his Son truly is. 2. The transfiguration should lead us to listen to Jesus. That leads to the second application point: the transfiguration should lead us to listen to Jesus. I want you to look back with me one more time to the end of v. 5: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased: listen to him.”
So, this application is pretty simple as well. If Jesus is God’s Son, then we need to give him our full attention. We need to make sure that we are listening to what he says. In the context here, I believe God the Father is specifically telling us to listen to what Jesus has just said at the end of chapter 16. Let’s remind ourselves of what we saw last week: Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?  For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. (Matthew 16:24-27 ESV) Now, we have to remember that Biblically speaking to listen means to obey. When God the Father tells us to listen to Jesus, he isn’t telling us to simply hear what he has to say, but to heed what he has to say. To do what he tells us to do. And what is Jesus telling us to do? He’s telling us to give our lives fully to him. To stop trying to be in charge like Peter and to submit to his leading and direction. Let me tie this in with the first application point. What he’s really telling us to do is to worship Jesus with all of our life. He’s telling us that our worship shouldn’t just be something we do once a week on Sunday mornings, but it is something we should do 24/7, in every single area of our lives. And so I want to ask you this morning, as I have asked you a number of times before, are you listening to Jesus? Are you heeding his words? Are you giving up everything to follow him? Let me put it this way – are you treating Jesus the way that God the Father does? Are you treating him as priceless? Are you treating him as worth more than anything in the world? Are you showing this is the case by daily striving to live in obedience to his every word? You see, worship and obedience go hand in hand. The facts of who Jesus are and what he has done should lead us to worship which will ultimately lead us to obedience.
3. The transfiguration should encourage followers of Jesus that they will one day experience glory too. All right, let’s finish with some encouragement. Do you want some encouragement? Let me show you why it’s worth it to give up everything to worship and obey Jesus. The third application point is that followers of Jesus will one day experience glory too. Don’t check out on me yet, you really need to hear this. Let me take you back to Matthew 13 and the Parable of the Weeds. If you remember, this is a rather heavy parable, but it ends on a beautiful note: Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. (Matthew 13:43 ESV) Jesus is coming back, with the result that those who take up their cross and follow him will shine like he does here in the transfiguration. You see, the transfiguration is not just a momentary episode, but rather a taste of heaven, where we will live eternally with Jesus, glorified as he is glorified.2 Did you get that? The transfiguration is not just a momentary episode, but rather a taste of heaven, where we will live eternally with Jesus, glorified as he is glorified. The transfiguration gives us a picture of what our future can be like. Do you know what this means? It means that for followers of Jesus there is a day coming where we are going to get a new body. A perfect body. A glorified body. A body that shines like the sun. A body that has no weakness, no sickness, no pain, and best of all no sin. What’s more, we will be that way for all eternity. I absolutely love how the Apostle John explains this in his first epistle: Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see 2
Sproul, p. 507.
him as he is. (1 John 3:2 ESV) In other words, we don’t know exactly what it means to be glorified like Jesus is glorified. But here is what we do know: we will be made like him. When that trumpet sounds and Jesus parts the sky and we see him face to face for the very first time, something just in looking at Jesus, something just in seeing his face will transform us and give us a glory like his glory. And here’s one thing you can take to the bank. On that day you will not doubt for one second that you made the right decision in taking up your cross and following Jesus. You will not regret it at all. In fact, you will be overjoyed that you made all the sacrifices you could, because you will no beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was all worth it. Let me finish with this. Just a moment ago I said that the transfiguration gives us a picture of what our future can be like. I said can, because it’s not a guarantee. The transfiguration is only a picture of the future for those who have placed their faith and trust in Jesus. Let me remind you of John 3:16, which does a great job of summarizing our text today: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 ESV) It’s only those you believe in Jesus that are guaranteed to shine like the sun forever. So, have you placed your faith in Jesus? If not, will you today? If so, you will shine like the sun with the Son forever.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. © 2014 by Chris Carr. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Harmony Bible Church’s website address (www.harmonybiblechurch.org) on the copied resource.