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  • The Transfiguration

    Matthew 17:1-13

    Elijah shows up throughout the New Testament in interesting and compelling ways.  

    1. Elijah attests to Jesus’ divinity at the Transfiguration in Matthew 17.

    2. His absence at Jesus death attests to Jesus being the one true way for eternal salvation in Matthew 27.

    3. Remembering God’s answer to his prayer shows us that God will be faithful to protect a remnant of His people, The Church, until the return of Jesus in Romans 11.

    4. And his example gives us strength for our journey, knowing God hears our prayers, forgives our sins, and hears our prayers in James 5.

    Elijah lived a life faithful to our Savior, and in so doing, he became an example of salvation and a way to live faithfully before our God. Let’s take a look.

    The first of these stories is told in 3 of the Gospels. Just saying “transfiguration” conjures in my mind this fantastical image of Jesus and his disciples on a side of a mountain having their minds blown.

    You probably remember the story well, but I want to take a closer look.

    Jesus went on a walk with Peter, James, and John. They went high on a mountain to be alone and as soon as they reach their spot, before their very eyes, Jesus is transfigured. I believe Peter, James and John were being given a picture of our resurrected Lord on the top of that mountain. They were seeing God in all His glory, in the form of His son, Jesus.

    Moses and Elijah join him there. They are talking with Jesus. Can you imagine with me for a moment, the excitement Moses and Elijah must have experienced, getting to commune with Jesus in this way? They have to have some inkling of what Jesus is about to do in just a short time. He is about to become the fulfillment of all they dreamed of decades before. They walked by faith and the men on the ground below them get to walk by sight.

    Moses, Elijah and Jesus are talking together, and the disciples are blown away with what they are experiencing. They didn’t want to leave. Peter wants to do something to honor them and to keep them from leaving. He’s caught up in this glorious moment, and asks if Jesus wants him to build 3 tabernacles, one for each of them.  He’s interrupted mid-sentence by God Himself. God tells him that Jesus is His beloved son. That they should listen to Him. The point of the story is JESUS. The point of the story is ALWAYS Jesus.

    God the Father is addressing Peter’s instinct to place Jesus at the same level of Moses and Elijah by building tabernacles for the 3 of them. God differentiates Jesus from the prophets. It’s yet another opportunity for God to speak of the deity of His Son. Moses and Elijah are below Jesus. They were preparing the way for the Messiah to come. They are not deserving of a tabernacle, they were always a part of building one to point to and worship Jesus. Jesus is the only one deserving of the worship of the disciples. Yet God, in His great kindness, does not point to Peter’s sin in the moment, He points to His Son. He shows in this moment what Jesus’ death will forever do for all mankind after: when we believe, God no longer sees our sin, He sees His Son’s blood covering us, making us perfect.

    When God spoke, the disciples fell to their faces. They immediately recognized whose presence they were in. They were hearing from God, and they were afraid and humbled. Jesus touched them and told them to not be afraid. When they looked up again, Elijah and Moses had disappeared.

    The disciples ask Jesus why the scribes promise the coming of Elijah and Jesus takes a second to explain.  Jesus explains that Elijah came and no one acknowledged him. He suffered at the hands of the people.  And now on this mountain, here he has just returned but to only a few. Three disciples just saw the fulfillment of the prophecy and no one else. They want to scream from the mountaintops about what has just happened, and Jesus asks them to tell no one. The people did not acknowledge Elijah then, they will not acknowledge their Messiah now.

    What Jesus more deeply wants them to understand, is that when the prophets spoke of Elijah returning, they were emphasizing the return of “A” prophet. John the Baptist became the “Elijah” everyone was expecting. They are no better at understanding metaphors than I am. The people kept expecting Elijah himself, and God sent John the Baptist. After 400 years of silence, a prophet returns, and the Messiah comes. And on this mountain Elijah stands with God, for just a moment.

    What does the Transfiguration cause you to think of?

    What strikes you most about the story of the Messiah, the prophets, and the disciples?

    Do you believe God quit pointing at your sin when you trusted in Jesus to cover your sin?