Transfiguration – March 2, 2014 – Matthew 17: 1 – 9

This is the story of a time Jesus went off with the Disciples Peter, James, and John. There are a few other stories when Jesus invites these 3 Disciples to do something aside from the other Disciples. In the scene of the healing Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8), Peter, James, and John were allowed into the daughter’s room with Jesus. Later, in the garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14), Jesus asks the 3 Disciples to stand guard while He retreats into the garden to pray.

There isn’t any indication in the Gospels that tells us why these 3 men were invited to do things that the other Disciples were not. Peter, James, and John were 3 of the first 4 Disciples called; however, Andrew, who was called at the same time as Peter, is not included in this group of 3 special Disciples. It seems Jesus regarded these 3 differently than the others.

So, Peter, James, and John are led up a high mountain by Jesus. Before the men, Jesus is transfigured. His face shone like the sun and His clothes became dazzling white like light. Then, Elijah and Moses appeared to them talking to Jesus.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to find Elijah and Moses on the top of a mountain in such a story. Elijah and Moses were both prophets. Elijah proved that God was the One True God on Mount Carmel before all of Israel. Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive God’s commandments. Elijah and Moses, you might say, were mountain-top prophets. Having them appear to Jesus when He is transfigured might indicate that Jesus is a prophet in the Old Testament tradition like Elijah and Moses.

But, just as Peter is about to equate Jesus with Elijah and Moses by building them shelters side-by-side, God tells us that Jesus is more than a prophet. While Peter is offering to build shelters, he is interrupted by a bright cloud that covers them and a voice coming from the cloud say, “This is my Son, whom I love: with Him I am well please. Listen to Him!”

This is my Son.

Jesus is the Son of God.

The Divine identity of Jesus is a key theological point in the Gospel of Matthew. The phrase appears 9 times in the Gospel of Matthew. At Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3), God first announces that Jesus is God’s “Son, whom He loves and is well pleased by”. Then, the tempter in the wilderness challenges Jesus by saying, “If you are the Son of God.” First God proclaims Jesus is His Son. Then, the tempter recognizes Jesus is God’s Son. Then, the Disciples begin to realize He is the Son of God. The Disciples declare He is the Son of God (Matthew 14) then Peter officially declares Jesus is “the Messiah, Son of the living God” (Matthew 16).

Now, at the middle of the Gospel of Matthew, God comes to affirm that Jesus is the Son of God before Peter, James, and John. The title will be later used to taunt Jesus in His trial and on the cross (Matthew 26 – 27). And, finally, Jesus will acknowledge that He is the Son of God by claiming the authority of all of Heaven and Earth that has been given to Him (Matthew 28).

Recognizing and proclaiming that Jesus is the Son of God is primary to the Christian journey. When someone makes a confession of faith, she or he is asked, “Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God?” The affirmative answer to that question is a public profession of the believer’s faith. It is the statement by which one is welcomed into the Church.

Working out what exactly that means is a life-long journey of faith. I think there are 3 phases of theological development related to recognizing that Jesus is the Son of God. I don’t know that the 3 phases happen in any order or that one is more important than the other, but I think most Christians wrestle with defining Jesus as the Son of God in 3 phases.

One of the phases is the belief that Jesus is God. In this phase, the humanity of Jesus is not considered. Jesus is 100% God. He walked and talked like a human, but He God in a human suit. There was no difference between Jesus and God except that He walked and talked like one of us. Someone in this phase might wonder how God was confined to the womb of Mary for 9 months, how God acted in the world while He was a baby, where God went when He died on the cross, how God died, how He raised Himself from the dead. Someone in this phase might believe that God was only present in Jesus at the time Jesus lived and was not acting in the world in other ways.

The second phase is the belief that Jesus is human. In this phase, Jesus’ Divinity is secondary to defining Him as human. Jesus is 100% human. This is a difficult phase, because Jesus becomes more of a moral exemplar than a Divine Human. Jesus is more of an example of how to live as a child of God and faith focuses on Jesus’ ministry over His birth or resurrection. Someone in this phase might wonder how Jesus did miracles and healings if He was human.

The third phase is the belief that Jesus is both human and Divine. He is 100% human and 100% God. I can distinctly remember being in phase 1 and phase 2. I think I’ve been in phase 3 for 4 or 5 years. In this phase, I understand that the human Jesus acted with the power of God and that there was a unique Divine-human relationship where God became a man. I take comfort in the fact that God lived the human experience and knows that joys and trials of His created beings. I understand that there is a second person of the Trinity that is a part of God, but a distinct being. I also wonder things like where did Jesus’ body go when He was raised to Heaven. In this phase, I feel comfortable praying to either God or Jesus.

No matter which phase we are in, we are here because we believe Jesus is the Son of God.

The story of our text continues after God names Jesus as His beloved Son. The Disciples fall prostrate in fear before God’s voice. Jesus tells them, “Get up. Don’t be afraid.” The Disciples are terrified by the voice of God from the cloud, but they can listen to the voice of the Son of God. His voice “comes not as a thunderous voice from Heaven or letters written on tablets of stone.” The voice of the Son of God comes to the Disciples in the words of their friend and teacher, Jesus.

Do not be afraid is a powerful phrase that appears in the Bible 70 times. When God establishes a covenant with Abraham, He says, “Do not be afraid” (Genesis 15). God assures Hagar that He has heard the cries of her son (Genesis 21). God promises greatness to Isaac and Jacob and tells them not to be afraid for their future. Moses tells the Hebrew people enslaved by Egypt not to be afraid as God is acting for their release. As the people leave Egypt and begin their war for the Promised Land, God assures the people of His presence. The Lord tells Joshua 5 times not to be afraid to lead the people he has been called by God to lead. God tells judges and kings not to fear as long as they keep His Law. God tries to settle the fears of the displaced Israelites 8 times by the prophet Isaiah and 6 times by Jeremiah and another 8 times by other prophets. They are the words the angel Gabriel uses to comfort Mary when he comes to tell her of her motherhood and the angel told Joseph not to fear taking a pregnant Mary as his wife. The angel tells the women who find the empty tomb, “Do not be afraid.”

David Lose suggests the words — “do not be afraid” — “are the hallmark of the Gospel, as throughout the Old and New Testaments they signal the coming rescue of God and consequent courage that promise creates”. Jesus tells the Disciples, “Do not be afraid” because God is coming to rescue them. There is no need for the Disciples to fear God, because He has come to set them free. That should give them the courage to face whatever the future holds.

So, what? What are we not to be afraid of? For what should our faith that Jesus is the Son of God shore up courage?

Everything. We should fear nothing, because God will rescue us from whatever trial we face. He has rescued us from judgment for our sin by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. He has conquered the grave by the resurrection of His Son. He has cast out demons and healed the sick. Whatever it is that we face, Jesus has faced it and God has overcome it.

Now, I’d still be afraid of jumping off a building, but the important things we don’t need to fear. God is rescuing us and our loved ones and all those for whom we pray. He’s got millions of angels working it out. We just have to be listening for God to tell us what our part is and leave the rest up to God. In the meantime, pray your fear away. God is working out the details. Do not be afraid for the Son of God intercedes on our behalf.


One thought on “Transfiguration – March 2, 2014 – Matthew 17: 1 – 9

  1. Pingback: A sign for good | daily meditation

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