This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Dear congregation loved by Jesus Christ,
I asked Jesus how much He loved me. He stretched out His arms and said, “This much,” and He died.
Jesus, it is all about you. As an old hymn says it, “This is the secret of the holy, not our holiness but him! Jesus, empty us and fill us, with your fullness to the brim!” Then we will be a beautiful church right here, reflecting something of the glory of our Lord.
Listen with me to get a glimpse of the glory of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew. Mark also writes about this story in chapter 9. So does Luke in chapter 9. Luke says that they saw His glory, but only momentarily, prior to his death.
At this time in our text in Matthew, Jesus had already predicted His death. Suffering and glory would be intricately connected as the concluding verses of the previous chapter show. Simon Peter had already made that beautiful confession upon which the church is built, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Now Jesus took three of His disciples and led them up a high mountain, possibly Mount Hermon, in the area of Caesarea Philippi. Why did He take these three disciples? The Bible does not say.
Luke tells us that Jesus went there to pray. Now that Calvary and the cross were getting closer He would pour out His heart to His heavenly Father. Ahead of Him was that load of God's anger against human sin. It was really our load. Yet He bore it. At this moment the hour of the cry, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me,” had not come yet.
There He was transfigured, changed before them. His face shone like the sun. His clothes became white as light. Such glory showed Jesus greatness. It showed His proximity, His closeness to the Father. Luke says that it was as bright as a flash of lightning. Mark tells us that His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. It was not an inner but an outer change. Majesty and glory are shown in white and light.
The Apostle Peter tells us in II Peter 1 that he and others were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ majesty, “For he received honour and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’” Then Peter added, “We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.”
Peter says in his letter that Jesus received glory. The word glory means and shows the weightiness and importance of the person glorified. Jesus is the most important, the most weighty One.
To the extent that we glorify God, our lives carry a lot of weight, they are worth a lot. To the extent that we do not glorify God and do not honour Him, to that extent we are weightless, like chaff.
Any person here, or any person anywhere, any church, any nation, any city, any organization, any family, any school, any labour union, any political party which does not glorify God, carries no weight in God's eyes. Any view of life and any society which does not respect and protect the unborn is weightless in God's eyes. Have we become a weightless society?
The good news is that Christ, after His exodus, His death and resurrection, was glorified. He glorifies us with Him. In His high-priestly prayer in John 17, Jesus prayed, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.” As such we see that glory is also tied in with the unity of God's people.
Our text says, “Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.” Heavenly visitors arrive, company from heaven. We do not know how the disciples knew it was them but they did. Why them? Why not two others?
Moses was the Mediator, that is, the “go-between” of the Old Testament, the old covenant. Luke says that Moses and Elijah spoke about Jesus' departure which He was about to bring to fulfilment in Jerusalem. They talked with Him about the cross. Both of them had been cross-bearers, rejected by the people.
Moses had experienced a departure, an exodus out of slavery in Egypt. Later in history Elijah had his exodus when fiery chariots separated him from Elisha and went up to heaven in a whirlwind.
After Moses died God himself buried him. Neither Moses nor Elijah left a grave in the land of promise. I see a prelude in this to the day of Jesus' return when there will be no more graves in the land as the graves will be opened and the dead will be raised. What a privilege it must have been for Moses that his feet now touched the promised land for a moment. He had only seen it from a distance, from Mount Nebo, prior to his death.
These two men of the Old Testament came because they were two of the great Old Testament office bearers representing the law and the prophets. Moses was the one through whom God gave His law to His people.
Years later Elijah maintained that law and powerfully challenged the people of Israel on Mount Carmel to choose for the One true God and to follow Him.
On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus was reminded of what these two great men had done in the strength of their God. This mount also showed that there was one who was greater than Moses and greater than Elijah.
As a matter of fact, in salvation history Joshua completed the work of Moses. Elisha completed the work of Elijah. Jesus completed the work of John the Baptist. But Jesus completed, brought to completion, the work of all these Old Testament leaders.
As such I confess that I believe in Jesus. I believe He is the Son of God. I believe He died and rose again. I believe He paid for us all. And I believe He is here now, standing in our midst with the power to heal now and the grace to forgive. And in His work Jesus by far superseded what Moses and Elijah had done. They had failed. Listen to two examples from salvation history.
In Exodus 32 God was going to destroy His people because of the golden calf they built and worshipped. Then Moses on Mount Horeb asked that his name be taken out of the book of life and that God forgive and spare His people. He wanted forgiveness without adequate payment for sin.
Years later Elijah appeared on that same mountain. He had one great accusation against the people of God as I Kings 19 tells us. The Apostle Paul comments on that in Romans 11, “Don't you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me.”
Moses had asked for grace without justice. Elijah had asked for justice without grace. Indeed, the fullness of God's salvation was not shown in the coming of Moses and Elijah but in their coming back to speak with Jesus Christ, the great office bearer, who came to fulfill the law and the prophets. Of Him, Peter wrote in II Peter 1, as we saw earlier, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
These words also recall Jesus' baptism.
Peter says that his message is based on two firm foundations, namely the voice on the Mount of Transfiguration as well as the Scriptures. Jesus had said to the disciples not to tell anyone what they had seen until after he would be raised from the dead. They sure did tell then!
It was a voice from the cloud. That luminous cloud immediately reminds us of the cloud in the desert during Old Testament times, the cloud which symbolized God's presence, as well as His guidance and protection.
The disciples, who according to Luke had become very sleepy but now seeing all this glory and majesty, were told not to be afraid, but to listen to Jesus. Listen to Him. The disciples were eyewitnesses, we are ear witnesses, as one Bible commentary puts it. Listen to Him!
Are we listening to the Word of the Son of God? In North America we are getting ever deeper into an immoral swamp from which it is hard to extricate ourselves. God is banned from public life. The church is told to keep her faith inside the church walls. The world outside of God does not mind our worship as long as we leave our faith at the church door when we leave the building. Don't ever drag Jesus into the public sector of the nation.
Charles Colson quoted Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his book, Kingdoms in Conflict, “Who is to say religion and politics shouldn't mix? Whose Bible are they reading anyway?”
The church needs to become less fearful and more assertive, less self-satisfied and more living in anticipation of the full glory of the Lord (as well as our glory!) at the time of Jesus' return. She needs to be less divisive and more intent on unity in the body of Christ. She needs to be more prophetic in her preaching, testing the spirits of our times.
Peter wanted to build three shelters, three tents. Possibly Peter thought of the tents of meeting where God could once again directly communicate with His people, like in Old Testament times. Maybe he thought of the tents or booths at the time of the feast of the Tabernacles. Of course, this suggestion of Peter was totally out of line--since Jesus had to suffer and die soon. Glory would come after the cross, not before.
Sometimes we can be self-centered like Peter. Peter said, “Let's build three shelters here, one for Moses and one for Elijah and one for Jesus. Then we'll just keep you here.” Sometimes we want to keep Jesus just in our individual churches. Then we have a little Roman Catholic Jesus, a little Baptist Jesus, a little Reformed Jesus, a little Pentecostal Jesus. We all need to worship the same glorious powerful, majestic Jesus.
The text says, ”When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.” Jesus. They only saw Him. If you do not know Jesus, come to Him right now. Confess your sins. Embrace, by faith, what Jesus did for you on the cross. He died for you and rose for you and for me. Moses and Elijah discussed it with Him. Once you believe, thank God for His amazing grace by which alone you are saved.
It's been said, “Life with Christ is an endless hope, without him a hopeless end” and, “Jesus Christ is the middle C on the Christian keyboard of life.”
A Sunday School teacher was trying to communicate that Jesus is always with us even though we cannot see him. One little four year old claimed to understand the concept. He said, “I know who He is. He's the one who opens the door at the grocery store.” I like that. He's the one who opens the door at the grocery store.
In our text, Jesus was very near to His suffering and death. Like Moses and Elijah, He also lamented—like we read in Matthew 23, where He says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” If ever an office bearer could have lamented, it would be Jesus the great prophet, priest and king. If ever anyone could have complained about them and accused them it would be Jesus. But oh the wonder, marvel and glory of God's grace. Jesus went to Calvary's cross. There, at Calvary, I see law and gospel, justice and grace combined. That's the good news.
Elijah had already come, we read in Matthew 17, symbolically, in John the Baptist. John's death was a sign, as well as a prelude to Jesus' death. But Jesus rose from the grave. His exaltation was already foreshadowed in the glimpse of His glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. For after Good Friday, Easter came--followed by the ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Presently there is the risen Lord, the glorified Lord, seated at the right hand of God the Father from where He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
It is this Lord that we are called to serve and follow in every facet of our existence. Jesus' present glory is a prelude to our glory--including the many persecuted Christians in our day.
The church is not a lost cause, is not a bunch of weak nobodies, even though it has been marginalized in our culture. The church needs to reclaim the vision of the glory of her Lord.
The church itself is glorious now already. But she is not yet what she will be. She will be a glorious church because of her glorious Lord. It’s a good thing Jesus did not listen to Peter's advice. Then the whole world at the foot of the mountain would have been lost in sin. But now we have a glorious church that is weighty and important.
The transfiguration was, according to a footnote in the NIV Study Bible, “a revelation of the glory of the Son of God, a glory hidden now but to be fully revealed when he returns.” It showed that Jesus would return to His Father's glory.
In this glimpse of Jesus' glory the disciples got a foretaste of how glorious everything will be when Jesus comes back to establish his eternal kingdom.
In the meantime we continue in the strength and presence of the one who is greater than Moses and Elijah: Jesus the Christ. The church equipped with the Holy Spirit is pictured in Scripture not as Elijah discouraged under the broom tree, nor as Moses in frustration striking the rock. She is pictured in Revelation 11 as having “power to shut up the sky so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.” That language clearly evokes a picture of Moses and Elijah.
Now we announce the coming of the King as well as His kingdom everywhere in life. The gospel affects every area of human endeavour. There will be a radical renewal of all of creation when Jesus returns. Then those who rejected Him, who didn't listen to Him, will be lost forever, eternally separated from God, a separation the Bible calls hell.
According to Revelation 15 the redeemed will sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, as well as the song of the Lamb. They will be as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
What glory that will be when we will be reunited with all those who have gone before. And we will join in the song, “Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen!”
And for all eternity we will see His glory in all its fullness.
** indebted to the scholarship of M. B. Van’t Veer’s book “My God is Jahweh” (translated by Ted Plantinga)
Order of Worship
Call to Worship: Psalm 95: 6-7
Silent Prayer with “He is Lord” PsH #633
Prayer for God’s Greeting, “May grace, mercy and peace be ours, in the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Hymn: “Praise the LORD, Sing Hallelujah” PsH #188
God’s Will For Our Lives: Romans 12: 1-3
Hymn: “Have Thine Own Way, Lord” PsH #287
Hymn: “Blessed Jesus, at Your Word” PsH #280
Scripture Reading: Matthew 17: 1-13; II Peter 1: 16-18
Text: Matthew 17: 1-13
Sermon: “A Glimpse of Jesus’ Glory”
Hymn: “Christ, Upon the Mountain Peak” PsH #369
Prayer for God’s Blessing: “May the grace of the Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Amen.”
Doxology: “Hallelujah, Hallelujah” PsH #117