February 19, 2023 |Jesus Only|Matthew 17:1-9
Who gets to see the real you?
Not the polished version of you that you present to your Sunday school class, not the dressed up version you portray at church, or the put together version your co-workers see, but the real you.
You immediately know what I’m talking about, don’t you?
To some extent, we all know what it is like to only allow certain people access to the deeper parts of our identity and life. To keep some relationships at the surface, only letting them see parts of who we are. The closer someone gets to us, the more they know who we really are.
Now, we have to admit that we don’t always have the best reasons for doing this.
Sometimes we are ashamed of those deeper parts of ourselves, sometimes we are worried that if someone knew us, they wouldn’t accept or like us, sometimes we are scared of the vulnerability that comes from someone having a deeper level of intimacy and knowledge of us.
As you look over the gospels in the New Testament, you see Jesus doing this too.
Not everyone gets the same level of access to who Jesus is. But we also know that this doesn’t come from a sinful place, but the reality that not everyone was ready or able to understand who Jesus was.
Their expectations, their preconceptions, their desires clouded their ideas on who the messiah would be and Jesus knew that they were not ready to know the depths of who he was.
We see the disciples getting a closer look at Jesus as they lived with him and followed him. They saw and heard things about him that the general public did not get to experience. He told them things that they were not to share at that time. And for a few of his closest disciples, they got to see him in times of great despair, in times of great power, and in our text today, in times where his glory burst through the veil of flesh and they saw him as he truly was. This is one of those moments where scripture shows us who this Jesus of Nazareth really is. This is the focus of the season of Epiphany, the revelation of who Jesus is.
We began this season of Epiphany with the baptism of Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry where God declared from heaven that this was his beloved son. We have seen John the Baptist declare him to be the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. We have seen Jesus as the disciple maker as we examined his call to Peter, Andrew, James, and John. In the last three weeks we have seen Jesus as the great teacher/preacher as we have looked at the sermon on the mount. This week, on the last Sunday in the Epiphany season, we will see a different picture of Jesus. One that during his earthly ministry, as we have already noted, only a handful of people got to see. Jesus in his glory as the only begotten son of God.
Up on a high mountain, in a time of prayer and preparation for his coming experience on the cross, Jesus is transformed before his closest disciples. It is to that scene that we turn our attention to this morning. I believe there are three things that Jesus wants to show us in his transfiguration.
Matthew 17:1-9 (ESV) 1 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. 3 And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 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. 7 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.
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.”
The other synoptic gospel accounts give us a few more details that help us see the scene clearly.
Where Matthew records his clothes becoming white as light, Mark tells us, “And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.”
Where Matthew tells us he led them up a high mountain and was transfigured before them, Luke fills in some details when he says, “he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.”
All three record Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus, but Luke lets us in on the subject as we will see in a minute. All three record Peter’s statement, but Mark and Luke give us some insight into why he said it. Mark says it was because, “he did not know what to say, for they were terrified.” and Luke adds the detail, Peter said this, “not knowing what he said”.
All of these little details paint for us a picture of Jesus being transfigured, or transformed before their very eyes as he prayed, of the great prophets Moses and Elijah appearing with him in this glorious display of who Jesus was, of terrified disciples and a babbling Peter, and finally God the father appearing in the glory cloud and pronouncing for a second time ‘This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.’
It is in this scene that we see three very important things, the first is…
In his transfiguration, Jesus shows us the supremacy of the Son.
Of all the pictures of Jesus in his earthly ministry, as healer, as teacher, as miracle worker, this is the closest the disciples get to seeing Jesus in his pre-incarnate glory.
This is who Jesus was, this is the son of God.
During this intimate time of prayer, Jesus allows the veil to drop and these three disciples see him for who he is as he converses with these great giants and heroes of the faith, Moses and Elijah.
Here is a question I asked when I was studying this text. Why Moses and Elijah?
Why not Abraham and David? Why not Jacob and Solomon? Of all the significant figures in the Hebrew scriptures, why these two men?
Of course, the scripture does not plainly tell us, but a popular theory that I agree with is that Moses represented the Jewish Law and Elijah represented the Jewish Prophets.
On the shoulders of these two men stand all of the Jewish Scriptures. This is a visual of what Jesus says when he sums up all of God’s word to his people as the law and prophets.
We saw that last week in our look at the sermon on the mount when Jesus says, Matthew 5:17 (ESV) 17 “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.
If that understanding of why these two men is true, then the appearance of Moses and Elijah is significant for a number of reasons.
The first is what they represent in God’s redemptive plan.
Moses represents the Law, God delivering his people from Egypt and making the nation of Israel his people. Drawing them to himself and covenanting together with them to be their God and they, his people.
Elijah represents the Prophets, God continually speaking to his people, calling them back to himself, back to their covenant, back to right relation with him. As well as speaking on God’s behalf about his future work where he would make for himself a new people, establish a new covenant, and redeem his people in a new way.
These men represent what God had done so far in enacting his redemptive plan. He had revealed himself to the nation of Israel, he had chosen them to be his special people, his kingdom of priests, and holy nation. He had consistently been faithful in spite of their unfaithfulness, and he had told them that there was coming a time when he would complete his redemptive plan and his purposes would be accomplished.
Peter, certainly not here and now, but eventually would get this. After the resurrection and ascension, when Peter and John are going up to the temple in the early days of the church and after them healing a lame man in the name of Jesus, a crowd gathers and Peter proclaims. Acts 3:21-24 (ESV) God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. 22 Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. 23 And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ 24 And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days.
He proclaims that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise. That he is the greater prophet Moses foretold.
Jesus is greater than Moses and Elijah, because he is the son of God.
Jesus is greater than Moses and Elijah, because he is the son of God. The author of Hebrews makes this point in chapter 3 of Hebrews.
Hebrews 3:3-6 (ESV) 3 For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. 4 (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) 5 Now Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, 6 but Christ is faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.
We are supposed to see that this Jesus standing here on the mountain is the fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan that Moses and Elijah merely participated in.
The second significance of these two men is what they experienced in their own lives.
Matthew doesn’t record what they talk about, but Luke tells us the subject matter.
30 And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
Such an interesting word used here. The word departure used here is the Greek word Exodus. Not his death, not his resurrection, not his ascension, although all of that is included, but his Exodus.
Now our minds are immediately sent to Moses and the Exodus of God’s people from Egypt, which is exactly where I think Matthew intended for them to go.
If Jesus is the greater Moses, then his exodus is the greater exodus.
God through Moses brought his people out of their slavery and bondage into freedom, brought them to the promised land, and if it had not been for their disobedience, they would have entered it right then and there. From slaves to inhabitants of a good land flowing with milk and honey.
God through Jesus is going to bring his people out of their slavery and bondage of sin into freedom, out of death and darkness into life and light. From rebels and recipients of God’s wrath to adopted children that can rightly call God their Heavenly Father.
What then of Elijah? Do you remember how Elijah departed from this world?
2 Kings 2:11-12 (ESV) 11 And as they still went on and talked, (Elijah and his successor Elisha) behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. 12 And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more.
That’s quite the departure, Elijah goes from walking with Elisha to being in God’s presence. The Bible says he was taken.
In just a short amount of time, Jesus would, in the sight of his disciples, himself ascend into heaven, not taken, but himself departing for heaven.
Where Elijah seemingly escaped death, Jesus conquered it.
Where Elijah seemingly escaped death, Jesus conquered it.
Not only do these men show us the superior nature of the Son in God’s redemptive plan, not only do we see the superior nature of the Son in His own experience, with the Exodus he accomplishes and with his glorious departure, we see that the Son is superior because God the father says so.
As these two men are leaving, Peter says, “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.”
This might be one of my favorite moments of Peter’s inability to NOT say something.
Remember the scene, Jesus has taken them high up on a mountain to pray, as he is praying, the disciples get sleepy (sound familiar?)
We read in Luke’s account, ‘Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.’
So Peter wakes up, Jesus is shining like the sun, Moses and Elijah are with him, all standing in a glorious display and as Moses and Elijah are leaving, he blurts out, what if we build three tents?
All three accounts tell us that while he was still forming the words, while he was still mid-sentence, God the Father interrupted him.
God’s glory cloud overshadowed them and God speaks, and what does he say? The same thing he said at Jesus’ baptism. This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased. But it is what he adds this time that stands out so much.
Listen to him.
He, and he alone is the one you must listen to. He is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, He is the Prophet that Moses told you that you must listen to or that you would be destroyed. There is no need for three tents because Jesus is not equal to Moses and Elijah, he is greater!
This whole scene stands as evidence that Jesus is the son of God and supreme over everything else.
He possess his own glory, he is not just a prophet, not just a teacher, not just a miracle worker, he is the Son, as the author of Hebrews says, 3 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, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
This is what the disciples witnessed that day on that mountain.
So the first thing we see In his transfiguration is the supremacy of the son, the second is…
In his transfiguration, Jesus shows us the power of the cross.
You don’t have to look very hard to see the cross's prominent role in this encounter. It serves as bookends to this account.
Immediately before the transfiguration Jesus is teaching about his impending suffering at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and scribes, that in Jerusalem he would be killed and on the third day be raised. Then you see the conversation during the transfiguration with Moses and Elijah is about his departure in Jerusalem, and then on their way down the mountain, what does Jesus say?
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.”
Don’t tell anyone until after the son of Man is put to death, buried, and is raised again. Not until I have accomplished my mission.
Sometimes when we think about the cross, we picture Jesus beaten and bloody, crowned with thorns, which is accurate and a sobering reminder of what he endured for our sakes, but we may miss, is that man on the cross is the same man we just saw standing in his glory, shining so bright that he was like the sun, talking to Moses and Elijah, and God the Father declaring that this is his Son.
The power of the cross is made real when you realize who was on it.
This was no great man dying a noble death, this wasn’t just an innocent miracle worker dying an undeserved death at the hands of Roman soldiers, this was God in the flesh, Immanuel, laying his life down for his people. The eternal Son of God dying a finite death so we who are finite may live eternally.
The transfiguration, seeing Jesus for who he really is, is what makes the cross all the more beautiful, but it also reveals the great and effectual power of it.
Paul says it best in Romans 5 when he says,
“Romans 5:6-11 (ESV) 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
It was through the death of the Son that we can be saved from the wrath of God, it is by the blood of the Son that we can be justified, it is by and through Jesus Christ we can be reconciled. This Jesus who voluntarily went to the cross, for all of God’s elect, for all those who would believe, this Jesus is the Son of God, and that is what gives the cross, as that old song used to say about the blood of Jesus, its wonder-working power.
So one, in the transfiguration Jesus shows us the supremacy of the Son, two, he shows us the power of the cross, and three…
In his transfiguration, Jesus shows us the image of the disciple
As you can imagine, this encounter forever impacted the disciples in ways we can’t completely fathom. But thankfully for us, they wrote down some of the ways it did and that is where I want to finish our time together today.
Two understandings the disciples got that day
They had beheld the glory of Jesus that had been veiled in flesh.
They had seen a foretaste of who, through the power of Jesus, the disciple will become.
These come from their own words as they penned gospel accounts and letters to the church.
John- John 1:14 (ESV) 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.
Peter- 2 Peter 1:16-18 (ESV) 16 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.
Both John and Peter describe seeing his glory for themselves, Peter specifically bringing up this moment in his life, where he was an eyewitness to his majesty and he heard the declaration of the father. Even though they didn’t quite understand everything in this moment, they could never look at Jesus the same way. John would go on to write in one of his letters about the implications of beholding Jesus in this way.
John- 1 John 3:1-3 (ESV) 1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 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 him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
John knows from his own experience, to see Jesus as he is, is an awesome thing, and in his own power he was terrified and fell down on his face. But, he says, when we see him as he is, we will see him as children of God, and not only will we see him as he is, we will be like him. This is the hope John says that changes how we live our lives. Knowing that we will one day be like him, we desire to be more and more like him everyday.
Then you have the Apostle Paul, who had his own encounter with the risen and glorified Lord on the road to Damascus writes similarly to the Apostle John.
Interestingly these are the only other NT scriptures to use the word in our text translated transfigured.
2 Corinthians 3:12-18 (ESV) 12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
Romans 12:1-2 (ESV) 1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
All of this reminds us that to be a follower of Christ is to be transformed. It is to grow in our understanding of who he is and as we do, as we see him more and more clearly, we are changed more and more into his image, by the power of the Spirit. This is the trajectory of a believer’s life. Our goal is not to become great teachers, great moral examples, great humanitarians, although none of that is bad, our goal is to become more and more like Jesus, and it is this transfiguration account that shows us just what that looks like and how desperately we need God’s power to be transformed.
It is beyond our ability and when we get a right view of who Jesus is, that becomes clear, and yet, according to scripture it is a reality we can experience, if we walk in obedience to his word, by the power of his spirit.
All of this reminds us that to be a follower of Christ is to be transformed.
The disciples' amazing encounter ends with these words, 8 And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
How powerful are those last two words?
Jesus only. That is the title of our sermon today because that is the point of all of this.
It is Jesus only. Not Jesus and the Law. Not Jesus and the Prophets. It is Jesus only. The only Son of God, the only one worthy and capable of redeeming mankind by his sacrifice, is Jesus only.
Charles Spurgeon once preached a whole sermon using those two words as his text, and in it he asks the question, what if they had come down from the mountain with Moses only, or with Elijah only, or with Moses, Elijah, and Jesus?
In that great sermon he beautifully shows that there is no better outcome, no better blessing, no better experience than to be with Jesus only.
As I close, let me take you back to the beginning.
People can know a lot about you. The closer they are, the more they know, but no one can truly know what is in your heart but you.
Have you come to the place where you know that it is Jesus only? Jesus only that can save you, redeem you, reconcile you to God?
The Bible says there is no other name by which we must be saved, because there is no other name by which you can be saved.