LINK: Matthew 17
BACKGROUND AND REFLECTION
About six days after Jesus made clear to his disciples that God's plan was that He suffer and die, He took the three disciples closest to him - James, John, and Peter - to a mountain where they saw Him changed, or transfigured. We are told that Jesus' face shone like the sun and His clothes became white, like light. The three disciples also saw two other men conversing with Jesus, whom they recognized as Moses, the giver of the Law, and Elijah, the prophet.
Peter, impulsive as always, wanted to build shelters for the three - still mentally equating Jesus with Moses and Elijah! I imagine that what happened as he spoke shook that assumption! "... a bright cloud overshadowed them and a voice from the cloud said, "This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am delighted; listen to Him." (New Berkeley version) The response of the three disciples is typical of those who encountered the presence of God - absolute terror! But Jesus touched them and told them to stand up and not be afraid. They obeyed and when they stood up the only one with them was Jesus.
I have always found "The Transfiguration" (that's what we call this event) mystifying and hard to grasp. I wasn't sure of the point of it. So I've spent some time thinking about it this week.
I find the timing of the event significant. It happened quite shortly after Jesus made clear to His followers that He was going to suffer and die. It seems to me that talking with Elijah and Moses, and being audibly blessed by God the Father must have provided comfort and encouragement for Jesus - who continued to be obedient even when He knew it meant great suffering.
The event also illustrated the supremacy of Jesus over two men the Jews revered - Moses and Elijah. God singled out Jesus when He spoke from heaven.
And this event also gave Peter, James, and John (and the other disciples upon hearing of it) something to hang onto as they followed Jesus in obedience. Peter, after exhorting believers to continue to grow in the Lord and to be obedient, refers to "The Transfiguration" in 2 Peter 1:16 - 18: "... For when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, we were not following cleverly devised fables. On the contrary, we were eyewitnesses of His majesty; for when He received honor and glory from God the Father, a voice was borne to Him from the supreme Glory, 'This is My Son, My Beloved, in whom I am delighted." And we heard this voice borne to us from heaven, when we were with Him on the sacred mountain."
Accepting that Jesus is God is foundational to being a Christian. I have had people tell me that it's not made clear in the gospels that Jesus is God. This passage in Matthew is one place where it's made abundantly clear. Peter, who was there, states it as a reason to keep on keeping on as a believer. He makes clear that this event which highlighted Jesus' majesty isn't some fable that was made up, but an actual historical event that he witnessed.
The chapter focuses on two other miracles. The first is a miracle with some instruction; the second is some instruction with a miracle.
First, a man brings his demon possessed son to Jesus for healing. It's not clear if that meant the boy had epilepsy or some sort of mental illness. What is clear is that the disciples tried to cast the demon out, but couldn't. So Jesus casts the demon out of the boy.
Later on the disciples ask Jesus privately why they couldn't expel the demon. Jesus puts it down to little faith. They didn't trust God enough. Evidently they didn't even have as much faith as a tiny mustard seed. Jesus had given them power and a task earlier - to cast out depraved spirits and to heal illness (Ch. 10) . This isn't something they decided to do on a whim or on their own. They'd been commissioned by Jesus. So what was the problem? They wondered themselves. Jesus told them that it was because of their "little faith." Faith is based on something; it's not something we conjure up magically. When people say, "Have a little faith." I always wonder what they mean. Faith in what? Faith in who? It is tremendously important what and who our faith is based on. Is it possible to have faith in the Lord without being submissive to Him?
The final portion of this passage deals with paying the temple tax. Peter had been asked by those who collected it if Jesus didn't pay it. You've got to love Peter! Did he know? Did he give an answer anyway? He told them, "Yes." So when Peter came back into the house where Jesus was, Jesus used it as a moment of teaching, not rebuke. He made clear that just as kings' sons don't have to pay taxes, neither did He. Why? Because He was God's son! BUT... He was going to pay it anyway, so that no one would be offended. And then he told Peter to go fishing and that he'd find a coin in the mouth of the fish that came up first. Amazing, huh?
There's much, much more that could be said about this passage: more questions, more lessons. But I've filled up too much white space already.
Are you wondering if Jesus truly is God? Read this passage and then turn to 2 Peter 1.
Who is your faith in? What is it grounded on? Is it grounded in submissiveness to the Lord?
Do you insist sometimes on making a point about something you know is right? Seems to me that sometimes Jesus chose not to give offense rather than insist on His rights.
Father, thank you that you make clear Jesus' majesty in this chapter. I love that you told Him that you delighted in Him. What comfort that must have been! Help my faith to be grounded in submissiveness to you. And I have to say, thank you for Peter! Thank you for showing us, through him, how you work in people. Reading Matthew and then reading 2 Peter, I realize again how much you worked in him, how far he came. Seeing that encourages me.