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First Sunday in Lentt
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Michael Moffitt, March 10, 2019

Beholding the Glory

Text: Matthew 17:1–9

Most everyone has a favorite verse of Scripture(s) that represent an important moment in their life in Christ. I’m no exception and one of my favorites is Matthew 17:1–9, the story of the Transfiguration. I chose to speak today on that passage even though it isn’t a passage normally associated with Lent but Epiphany. I felt that God was urging me to talk this morning about why this passage played a very important role in my life at one time. Lent is the season of the church where we focus on Jesus’ journey to the cross and consider our sins that made that journey necessary. Matthew 17:1–9 played a pivotal role in my life as I sought a deeper relationship with God and in that seeking, God moved in me and the situations in my life.

Let me explain. In early 2003 I started having dizzy spells which is not good if you are a truck driver. I went to our family doctor and he made me park my truck until he could diagnose the reason. It ended being my thyroid, but it took him several months to find the right dosage of medicine for me and for it to take effect. In the meantime, I remodeled our house on the good days, but I spent a lot of time seeking the Lord. I had become spiritually restless and developed a deep desire to know Christ more fully. In one of my daily readings, I came upon this passage and I paused to consider the reason for Moses and Elijah coming down to meet with Jesus. I casually asked God to show me the reason and no sooner had I asked, that I suddenly knew why. I have rarely had that happen but as it ended up this passage was to challenge me during a turn of events that was coming soon in our lives.

Today I want to share with you what God taught me and why it changed my life. I want to back up two verses to Matthew 16:27–28 before we look at today’s reading.

“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. 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.”

Jesus knew that he was beginning the final stages of his mission here on earth. In Matthew 16:21–26 he had once again told the disciples that he was going to Jerusalem and there he would be arrested, killed, buried and on the third day be raised. Simon Peter rebukes him for saying such a thing. Jesus turns to Peter and says, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God but on the things of man.” Then he turns to his disciples and says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Then he tells them that he will return with the angels in the glory of his Father and that some of the disciples would still be alive at that time.

Some have equated this statement with the transfiguration, but I think it goes much deeper than that. I believe that Jesus was speaking of the entire complex of events involving the Son of Man receiving of glory and dominion, especially the resurrection, ascension, sending of the Holy Spirit, and judgment against Jerusalem in 70 AD. All of these events happened while some of the disciples were still living. I firmly believe the Transfiguration was the beginning of this process of Jesus revealing his glory as it would be a crucial event in the lives of the disciples as they learned the reason, they were to take up their crosses to follow Jesus.

Let’s now turn to our passage for this morning. One of the things I love about our lectionary readings both daily in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) and weekly is that they show the unity in Scripture. The Old Testament always points us to what God was doing and will do at a later date. We see evidence of that in Matthew 17:1–2, where,

… 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 as white as light and behold there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.

The early Jewish readers of this would have recognized the similarity to our Old Testament reading from Exodus 24:15–16,

Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the Lord dwelt 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.

The idea of God appearing to his people in a cloud was very common in the stories in the Torah of God’s dealings with Israel. The people of Israel had heard this story many times and it would be quite normal for them to imagine what it would have been like for Moses to be enveloped in the glory of the presence of God for 40 days or even for the children of Israel as they observed the glory of the Lord appearing like a devouring fire on Mt. Sinai.

In the same way, I found myself wondering what it had been like for Peter, James and John seeing Jesus transfigured right before them and to see Moses and Elijah alive and talking with him. Remember that Moses and Elijah had a prominent place in the hearts and minds of Israel. They were right up there with Abraham as those who were the pillars of the Jewish faith. God had given Israel the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures through Moses. Elijah represented the prophets as he was the one in 2 Kings 2:11 that had not died but had been taken up in a chariot of fire to be with God. He was the prophet of prophets who not only spoke God’s word to Israel but who demonstrated God’s power. He was a type of what the Messiah would be in that he too would bring God’s word and power to bear in his Holy reign. In Luke’s account of the transfiguration he added in Luke 9:31, that Moses and Elijah “appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”

Essentially, what the disciples were seeing was the law and the prophets honoring the very one that they had always pointed to through the word of God. The sum of all the Old Testament revelation had come to meet with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. Moses was not allowed to cross over with Israel into the Promised Land, but God gave him a much higher honor in coming to encourage the Messiah to follow through with all that the Father had asked. He and Elijah came to speak with Jesus because he was also their Master and their means of salvation, too.

Let’s look at verses 4–6,

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.

Of all the disciples I tend to most closely identify with Simon Peter. He usually meant well but often spoke before he had a chance to think first, this is one of those times. He was right in saying that it was good for them to be there, but it would be much later before he would know the reason chosen by God and we’ll talk about that in a moment. I think what we are seeing here is nervous chatter, but it is short-lived because the Father interrupts him. Basically, by suggesting that he put up three tents for Moses, Elijah and Jesus, Peter was putting the three on an equal level. In their accounts of the Transfiguration Mark (Mark 9:6) and Luke (Luke 9:33) point out that Peter didn’t know what he was saying, and I like that. Haven’t you found yourself talking when you should have shut-up and later regretting it? I have.

While Peter was chattering away 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.” The Father interrupts Peter, so all would know that Jesus was the unique and beloved Son of God. Moses and Elijah were merely men blessed and loved by God, but they were not like Jesus. Moses had promised Israel in Deuteronomy 18:15, “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.”

The Father declared the Son in Psalm 2:7 “You are my Son”. In Isaiah 42:1, the Father says to the Son that He is the one “in which my soul delights.” Of course, when Jesus comes up out of the waters of baptism the Father declares in Matthew 3:17, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

A central theme in Matthews gospel and the conflict with the religious leaders is that Jesus is not merely another or a better law-giver or prophet but he is the “only begotten Son”, which means Jesus is the Son of first importance and the one to listen too.

When the voice of God spoke from the cloud the disciples fell on their faces out of fear. It’s interesting to note that they didn’t fall on their faces when they saw Jesus transfigured, even though his face shown like the sun, or his clothes became a bright as the light, or when they saw Moses and Elijah, but when the cloud of glory enveloped them and God spoke, they hit the dirt.

I think that at the time they weren’t able to reason that God had come down in a cloud of glory which most likely because he meant them no harm. In His mercy He had come down in a cloud which shielded them from his manifest presence and his face which would have killed them. Then we see the tender mercy of Jesus in verses 7–8,

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.

This verse impacted me as I realized that in Christ, I no longer had reason to fear the wrath and judgment of the Father, even after all that I had done. The Scriptures are clear in verses like 2 Corinthians 5:21, that those who have come to faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord have been made righteous in the eyes of the Father. They would later realize that when the Father looked at them, he saw Jesus. I believe that in that moment when Peter, James and John looked up and saw only Jesus that their understanding of who he really was took a giant leap forward. They were once again in awe of him like they had been so many times before but this time was different because now they knew beyond a doubt that Jesus was the Messiah, even if he would indeed be put to death as he had told them earlier. It would be later that they would testify to the reason that they had been given the opportunity to see Jesus, Moses and Elijah in the Transfiguration. Let’s consider 2 Peter 1:16–17,

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.

The Apostle John wrote about this in his gospel. John 1:14,

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.

What an important thing to fully know at last. It changes everything.

Our last verse from Matthew 17 is verse 9,

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.”

Jesus knew that if the disciples were to convey this story confirming his role as Messiah, it would have likely instigated a political movement that would have been so different from his real mission. Also, like Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai, the mountain of God’s glory, Jesus and his disciples would encounter unbelief.

That day when I asked the Lord for the reason that Peter, James and John were invited to be with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, he showed me the importance of that event in their lives after Jesus was gone and the persecution from the Jews began in earnest. They would be called heretics, those who hated the law of Moses, and those who sought to destroy the Jewish faith by preaching that Jesus Christ was the Lord of all creation and God no longer dwelt in temples made from hands. They would also preach that in Jesus Christ all men/women were to become a priesthood of believers. The pressure to stop and submit to the demands of their culture which centered around the synagogue would be tremendous. To be banished from the synagogue was to be a social outcast. Because of what they had seen and experienced on the mountain they would stand their ground, knowing that the Lordship of Jesus was exactly what they should, no matter the cost. They could remember that Moses and Elijah had come to encourage and honor Jesus that day long ago and they knew whom the Father had told them to listen to. It would be the Jews who were leaving the faith that God was calling them to, not the disciples.

That assurance was what I was looking for—to be fully convinced, not just in my mind, but in my heart that Jesus Christ was exactly who he said he was. I reasoned that if all this was true, and I knew that it was, then everything else would need to take second place in my life.

It wasn’t long after that day that I also considered our passage from Philippians 3:7–11 and in light of the revelation that God had given me about the disciples on the mountain with Jesus, Moses and Elijah, I began to pray that God would make my resolve like that of the disciples and the Apostle Paul, as he wrote in Philippians 3:7–8 and 10,

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…

I was moved that Paul saw the loss of all things, which in his case was his role as a Pharisee: his livelihood, his reputation in the synagogue, his family and most of his Jewish friends. In other words, everything that he once held as of first importance. I wondered why would he consider all that as rubbish (which in the Greek is actually translated as excrement or dung) in comparison to what he had gained in Christ? What had he gained in Christ? What changed his mind? This is what I wanted to know, not intellectually, but way down deep in my soul.

However, it was his prayer that floored me. I understood why he would want to know Christ in the power of the resurrection, that made perfect sense, who wouldn’t? But to be like Christ in his sufferings and death? Why would he want that? Again, I asked God to show me and the Holy Spirit reminded me of Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus in Acts 9. I had read it countless times but this time I wondered, had the bright light blinded Paul because he beheld Jesus in his glory, had that made the difference? I knew that was the answer and I realized that encountering Jesus in his glory changed the importance of everything else. I wanted that to happen to me so bad that I literally prayed this every day, “Lord Jesus, I don’t care what it cost me. I want to know you in the power of the resurrection even though it means that I probably will be joined with you in suffering and death”. It became my passion and I suspect my friends grew tired of me talking about it.

Teresa finally asked me to stop praying that prayer because God was moving in our lives and some of the ways were very uncomfortable and outside of our control. It was scary but I couldn’t stop because I began to see who Jesus was and is more clearly than ever before and I really didn’t care what it cost to know Him more deeply and, frankly, I still don’t.

A few people at Light of Christ have told me that in my expectations for us, I raise the bar so high that no one can attain to it. Ask any Olympic high-jumper how he got to the point where he could set a world’s record and he/she will tell that they raised the bar higher than they could jump and then continued training until they could jump that high. Jesus didn’t choose the 12 disciples or Paul because they had what it took to build the kingdom of God. He knew they couldn’t in their own strength, but he wasn’t asking them to do it in their own strength but in his strength, through his authority and by the power of the Holy Spirit. However it would require that they take up their crosses whatever they would be and follow Jesus.

God isn’t asking us to build his kingdom in our own strength or to start a school in our strength or only with our resources. He isn’t asking us to share our faith with those who are lost because we are such effective communicators. He is asking to step out in faith in obedience to the calling given us because we finally see who he really is and nothing else is nearly as important as him. The prayer that I prayed, I still pray because I’m still spiritually restless and want more of Jesus and his strength and power. He has taken Teresa and me to places we never imagined and has blessed us in ways not thought possible

Do you hunger for more of Him or are you content right where you are? Do you know what it is to be hungry for more of Jesus? Are you willing to ask Jesus for more of him, no matter the cost? That’s what God is looking for. Those who see Jesus for who he really is and realize that is all they need.

Let’s pray.

©2019 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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