Thursday, March 2nd, 2017
I preached this sermon at church last week, and then I figured why not just put it on the ‘ol blog. So, here it is. This has been edited for readability. If you’re interested in checking out the church plant I’m involved in, the website is right here. The passage this message is based on is Matthew 17:1-11 (The Transfiguration)
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”
Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.
I have some doubts.
I have doubts that God is good. I have doubts that God is good to me. Sometimes I have doubts that God is even who He says he is.
And, at this point, you may be having doubts about what gives me any authority to be speaking about God at all.
But, I would argue that I am simply a human being living in a world that is blemished by sin and sometimes that sin becomes overwhelming. The suffering sin causes makes hope in a good God pretty hard.
Here is the thing about doubt: I believe that it is less a loss of conviction in the promise of Jesus and more a confusion about who God is.
When I think of the many Christians I know that experience doubt, there are two things that come to mind.
The first is a song by Audrey Assad titled “Help my Unbelief.” The song says, “I know, I know, and I believe You are the Lord. I know, I know, and I believe You are the Lord. Help my unbelief.”
She sings of the tenuous space of our Christian walk in which we know God is God but yet we have trouble believing what we already know.
The second thing is that these doubters, myself included, often just want a sign. A breadcrumb of evidence that God is here and He is listening and He is good. They want what we just read in Matthew 17.
I like the way that the Message translation recounts Jesus’ transfiguration, it says
“His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. Sunlight poured from his face. His clothes were filled with light.”
This is what theologians call a theophany. Theophany is a word with roots in Greek that basically translates to “appearance of God.”
In verse 4 Peter is overwhelmed,
“Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
The Message translation says Peter is babbling; words are just falling out of his mouth and he doesn’t know how to process what is happening. Peter is seeing confirmation that Jesus is who Peter believes he is. If you know what has been happening in Peter’s life, then his overwhelmed reaction makes sense.
And now we are going to hang out with Peter because I think we can all relate to Peter. The disciples knew Jesus and followed Him around and yet they were just normal human beings that acted a lot like you and me.
If we look a few verses earlier, in Matthew 16:15, Peter confesses that Jesus is, in fact, the son of God.
Jesus says, “‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”’
Then, starting in verse 21, things start to go downhill. Jesus tells his disciples that he will suffer and die and be resurrected. Well, Peter has been following Jesus around and learning from him and he has just finally had his lightbulb moment and now Jesus is going to leave him. And, basically, Peter gets mad at Jesus and tells him that he won’t die.
In reply Jesus says in verse 23
“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.”
Ouch. Then, he tells the disciples in verse 24 that following him will ultimately bring suffering. His followers must take up their own cross, lose their life, for the sake of Christ.
A week later, Peter finds himself terrified in the face of God’s glory on this mountaintop. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t really want to trade places with Peter right now. The poor guy has had a very intense couple of weeks.
Peter is seeing Jesus in all his glory and he offers to build some tents. He wants to construct a few shelters so that they call all hang out on this mountain top a little longer. Peter just wants to be in God’s presence.
He wants to hold on to this transformation he is seeing happen in Jesus that is undoubtedly fueling transformation in himself as well. Can you even imagine having this same experience- your whole life would be flipped upside down.
If you are a believer then you have likely had what Christian culture likes to call a “mountain top experience.” This likely happens while on a mission trip or after a conversation with someone leads to their acceptance of Christ or maybe during or after a great conference weekend or worship session. You feel like you could reach out and grab hold of God-His presence is close. You believe He is good, you’ve seen a glimpse of what Christ in the world looks like.
And then you go home.
Suddenly, you have rapidly plummeted from this mountain top place. You arrive back in your everyday reality and see that hate still exists, death still touches your life, the world is still broken and marred by sin.
It feels like one minute you were so close to Jesus and his goodness but then you stepped off the edge of the mountain and landed smack into the middle of your life and now everything is sore, not least of which your spirit.
I think that Peter may not have been ready to go back to a world in which Jesus was going to die and the disciples were going to suffer.
Indeed, he had reason to be apprehensive. In Matthew chapter 17 verse 22, Jesus again tells the disciples of the suffering and death that he is going to endure.
The transfiguration story is bookended by foretelling and promises of death and suffering.
But that is the point.
Right in the middle of suffering and death you have this incredible vision of hope. Right in the middle is foreshadowing of the eternity promised to believers.
Right in the middle is Jesus.
Here, now, in the middle of your suffering, of your doubts, of your unbelief, is Jesus in perfect glory.
Jesus is not outside of your circumstances, he is tangled up within them. But we have a really hard time believing that, don’t we?
How can Jesus simultaneously be in every line of our story yet not be the author of our pain and suffering?
I believe we ask ourselves that question because our glimpses of glory in this life are fleeting. Indeed, Jesus’ transfiguration was likely pretty short. Peter was not allowed to build tents-he didn’t get to stay.
Jesus shone, God spoke, and then they left the mountain top.
Some of us may go years without feeling like we get a tangible glimpse of God. If you notice, not even every disciple got to go to the mountain to see Jesus shine with glory.
I have spent a lot of time the last few years asking God for my own mountain experience. I have cried to Jesus in the midst of feeling like I couldn’t see him, couldn’t hear him. I have a feeling that many of you may have also asked “where are you, God?”
I have come to believe that asking God for a sign is the wrong response. What we should be doing is asking God for more faith.
Hebrews 11: 1-3 says,
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible”
The world today is able to prove so many things. We have come to expect concrete evidence, tangible reasons, for everything we experience. It is hard to accept the mysteries of faith.
The Transfiguration certainly seems like a mystery of faith- it is hard for me to personally imagine.
Faith is understanding that, even though you’ve asked for your own theophany, you already have one on which to draw strength. The theophany in Matthew was recorded for all Christians for all times.
In faith we can come back to God’s word and say, “I don’t need my own because I believe in your word. I believe what it says.”
I believe that Peter’s soul may have gotten weary. I believe there may be many weary souls reading this that long for the faith to read about the transfiguration and believe it as though they had seen it with their own eyes.
I’d like to leave you with the words of the hymn “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.”
“O Soul, are you weary and troubled? No light in the darkness you see? There’s light for a look at the Savior, and life more abundant and free. Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”
In the light of His glory and grace. His glory is here. Turn your face to Jesus.