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“We Have Seen His Glory”

Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:1-8, Luke 9:27-36
Bob DeGray
July 30, 2006

Key Sentence

If your eyes will see and your ears will hear, the glory of Jesus will be revealed to you.


I. Seeing (Matthew 16:28-17:3, Mark 9:1-4, Luke 9:27-31)
II. Hearing (Matthew 17:-8, Mark 9:5-8, Luke 9:32-36)


        There is something disturbing about working in an office with no window. Actually my office has a window, but with an air conditioner in it, and a blind, and it’s easy to get working and forget the outside world entirely. I suspect some of you work in offices where that’s even easier - inside offices with no windows at all. The result is that wonderful, awful things can be happening outside, and I’m not even aware of them. The classic, with all this rain we’ve been having, is that I leave the windows of my car down to keep the heat from building up, and while I’m seeing nothing, hearing nothing at my desk, a storm comes up. If I’m lucky somebody tells me, ‘you’d better shut your windows’ or I catch some faint hint of thunder and I run out and get it done just in time. It’s even worse when the weather is not something negative but something glorious. I really love sunrises and sunsets - as you’ve probably noticed in countless background slides - but I can’t see either one from my desk, and unless someone gets my attention, I’m likely to miss the glory. On the other hand, when I’ve got my eyes open - like when I’m out running in the morning - it’s much easier to the beauty God has created and praise him for it.

        And what’s true with his created glory is also true of his Son’s glory. I tend to miss it. I get so involved in the details of life that I don’t have my eyes open for his glory; I don’t have my ears open for his word, and I can go for hours or days in the dark. His glory is always waiting to be revealed in his word and his works if I will only open my eyes to see it and my ears to hear it. That’s the lesson I believe we ought to learn from today’s neon moment in the ministry of Jesus. We’re looking at Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:1-8, and Luke 9:27-36, each of which tells the story of Jesus’ transfiguration, and each of which emphasizes what the disciples saw and heard. The principle that I want us to take from this text is simply that if your eyes will see and your ears will hear, the glory of Jesus will be revealed to you.

        Before we begin, we need to look at the transition verse. The gospels connect the account of the cost of discipleship to the transfiguration with a verse like Matthew 16:28 I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. Many question this verse, since all the disciples certainly died, and Jesus has not come back. There are several theories: some say he’s talking about the destruction of Jerusalem in 66 AD, though he didn’t return then. Others see that as his resurrection and ascension. The verse does echo the ascension language of Daniel 7 "There before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away; his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”

        But you don’t have to wait for the ascension to see this verse fulfilled - in each of the Gospels the glory and dominion of Jesus is revealed immediately after this promise, in his transfiguration. There is no doubt in my mind that the transfiguration took place, and the Gospel writers carefully kept it connected with this saying so that it might be seen as the first fulfillment of what he had just promised. Furthermore, the transfiguration affirms for the disciples that the messiah they had identified, though he will suffer and die, is God’s Son doing God’s work.

I. Seeing (Matthew 16:28-17:3, Mark 9:1-4, Luke 9:27-31)

        The first half of the episode shows us that if our eyes are open, we will see his glory, just as Jesus promised in the transition verse. Let’s read Matthew’s version, Matthew 17:1-3 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

        Luke’s account says eight days rather than six, but this difference is minor - it could be something as simple as including the two days these events happen instead of just counting the six in between, or including the time it took to travel to the mountain. Jesus takes Peter, James and John, who are the inner circle of his disciples. These are the same three that would later be with him in the Garden of Gethsemene, and who have several other specially set apart times with Jesus in the Gospels. Together they travel up ‘a high mountain’. Tradition says this is Mt. Tabor in Galilee, but considering that this episode started near Ceasarea Philippi, at the sources of the Jordan river in the Mt. Hermon range, it makes sense that Jesus would take his disciples to some high peak in that range, though possibly not to Hermon itself, which at 9233 ft is often covered in snow.

        Luke tells us that when they reached this high place Jesus prayed. It’s characteristic of Luke, to whom prayer is vitally important, to include this detail. It’s characteristic of Jesus to pray. We see him doing so over and over at key moments, from the initial temptation to the Garden of Gethsemene. We need to take that seriously: if Jesus needed to pray, who are we to neglect prayer? Are we more spiritual, more righteous, more inherently blessed by God than Jesus was? Of course not. So if he needed to pray, both in ongoing conversation with God and in these set-apart times, how much more should we seek the Father in prayer. In fact, when I say that we need to keep our eyes open, one of the things that figure of speech translates to is prayer. In many ways prayer is how we keep our eyes open for God at work.
        In this case, as Jesus was praying, he was transformed or transfigured; the word is ‘metamorpho’ as in ‘metamorphosis’, the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly. Jesus was temporarily transformed: the glory he had with the Father and the Spirit from before the creation of the world was just for a moment revealed to these disciples. The main things they noticed were his face and his clothing.

        Matthew says ‘his face shown like the sun’. Luke can’t find a word. He simply says ‘the appearance of his face became other’. His clothes, Matthew says, became white as light; Luke says ‘bright as a flash of lightning’. Mark says ‘whiter than any launderer on earth could bleach them’. The truth was simply greater than words could convey - they were seeing, in Jesus, the same glory God revealed on Sinai, and in the tabernacle or temple in Old Testament times. John doesn’t include this episode in his Gospel, but he seems to have it in mind in chapter 1 when he says “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

        In that moment of glory, two people appeared with Jesus. Luke gives the most detail: “Two men, Moses and Elijah, 31appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” Moses and Elijah. Why? Why not Abraham and David? A combination of things point to them. First, they represent the law and the prophets, the two sides of God’s communication in the Old Testament. Second, they were the two leaders who saw God’s glory on a mountaintop. There are a lot of parallels here to Moses’ experience on Mt. Sinai, including the shining of his face and his clothes, the cloud of God’s presence and his voice. Elijah had his great experience of God’s glory, presence and power on Mt. Carmel. Jesus now has his on Mt. Hermon.

        But more important than either of those is probably the fact that Elijah and Moses were the two Old Testament figures whose ‘return’ was associated with the coming of the Messiah. We saw earlier that the Jews rightly expected Elijah to come before the great and glorious day of the Lord. And based on the prophecy in Deuteronomy 18 of ‘a prophet like Moses’, the Jews of Jesus’ day associated Moses with the same period. So in a sense this event is a sign that the end is near. Luke says they were talking about the exodus, or departure that Jesus was to accomplish at Jerusalem. Moses had his Exodus from Egypt, Elijah had his exodus in the chariot, and Jesus would have his exodus in his death, resurrection and ascension. Just to complete the picture, it’s my conviction that the two witnesses of Revelation 11, who appear in the end times to prepare for the return of Jesus are the same two, Moses and Elijah.

        So it’s a glorious, neon moment. And what are Peter, James and John doing? Matthew and Mark discreetly avoid this subject, but Luke says, verse 32 “Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.” They were sleeping. In the presence of glory they had their eyes closed and were napping. Do you get the point? It wasn’t until became fully awake that they saw his glory. If you have eyes to see, the glory of Jesus will be revealed to you. If your eyes are closed, or on something else, you won’t see it. I’ve said a number of times recently that so much of the Christian life hinges on awareness - being aware of God’s presence, being aware of temptation, being aware of others, being aware of opportunities to serve or to share.

        It’s my conviction that as you are prayerfully aware you will begin to see Jesus revealed - in his word, and at work in your world. We used to call these God sightings - you went on a God hunt to get a God sighting. Bob Achgill has long used that phrase, and they certainly had one in the first 48 hours they were in Israel: “On day two we started getting hungry. As we were walking looking for the store we got lost so stopped and asked directions from a guy on the street. He told us the way ... then he said, “God bless you. Jesus loves you!” That was strange. We happened to see him two more times on the street and at the store. Finally, I introduced myself by telling him that I like to help people hear from Him by reading His Word and he returned the introduction by saying he’s the shepherd of the only Russian fellowship in town. What are the odds! One in 100,000 because that is how many people are in Hadera. We come half way around the world to a small village in a country embroiled in a “situation”. Those odds spoke as clearly as an audible voice that we woke up that morning in the right place; we were where He wanted us to be.”

        If your eyes are open you will see God at work. The Bible word is ‘alert.’ Jesus used this word to warn us not to miss the glory of his return. Paul uses it more generally. 1 Cor. 16:13 Be alert; stand firm in the faith.” Ephes. 6:18 “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” Colossians 4:2 “Devote yourselves to prayer, being alert and thankful. 1 Thessalonians 5:6 “So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.” So this revelation of the glory of the transformed Jesus is in a real sense an alertness and a prayerful awareness thing. Peter and his companions were asleep, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory. Don’t be sleepy: have your eyes open to see his glory.

II. Hearing (Matthew 17:-8, Mark 9:5-8, Luke 9:32-36)

        And have ears to hear it. That’s the message of the second half of this account. Again, let’s read the Matthew version, starting with verse 3: Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. 4Peter 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." 5While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" 6When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground, terrified. 7But Jesus came and touched them. "Get up," he said. "Don't be afraid." 8When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

        So here are Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus. We know from Luke that Peter woke up and saw Jesus in his glory and the two men talking with him. Apparently there was some evidence the conversation was ending, and Peter didn’t want that to happen. So he speaks. It could be one of the things that keeps our ears from hearing and recognizing the glory of Jesus in his word and in his world is that like Peter we talk too much. Mark says in verse 6 “He did not know what to say, they were so frightened”, and Luke says “He didn’t know what he was saying.”

        Somebody paraphrased this as ‘Peter, not knowing what to say, said . . .” All too often we speak when we should be listening and we miss glory Jesus intended to reveal to us. But it’s not that Peter’s heart isn’t in the right place, at least this time. He says “Lord, it’s good for us to be here! Let us put up three shelters--one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Peter recognizes that it is a privilege for he and his fellow disciples to be present at this awesome and glorious event. It’s not something you get to see or experience every day. And Peter wants to hang on to the experience. So he offers to put up shelters for Moses and Elijah. The word shelters is another tie to the events at the time of the Exodus, in which Moses was told about the Feasts of Booths or Tabernacles which would celebrate what God had done for the people of Israel. It may be that Peter saw these booths he wanted to build as a celebration of God’s provision of Jesus and his companions. There may also be an echo here of the tent of meeting. Peter’s word could be translated as ‘tent’, and he may be thinking of the tabernacle where God promised to be present in a special way, in glory, to meet with his people.

        But Peter’s idea is mooted by the interruption of God himself. Verse 5 in the Matthew account: “While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’” A cloud is often the Old Testament sign of God’s presence. Exodus 24, for example, says that “When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, 16and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud.” Matthew emphasizes the brightness of the cloud, corresponding to the shining glory of God that accompanied his presence in the Old Testament. And as in Exodus, from the cloud God speaks: ‘This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ This is nearly the same thing God had said at the baptism of Jesus, which Mike talked about a few weeks ago.

        Matthew’s account gives the fullest version of God’s words; Mark leaves out the part about God being well pleased with Jesus, and Luke paraphrases both the ‘beloved’ and the ‘well pleased’ by saying that Jesus is the chosen one of God. Notice that God’s words are not really a response to Peter: they are a revelation that dominates this event and completely overshadows whatever Peter thought or said. Remember this whole section started two weeks ago with the question ‘Who is this Jesus’. Peter answered the question by recognizing Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus answered the question by his assertion that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise. Now God answers the question by saying that this suffering Messiah was His Son doing his will. And the revelation of His glory, awesome and frightening though it was, would have been incomplete without this word from God, the communication of truth in words that can be heard and understood.

        It was one thing to see Jesus transfigured, with His clothing and His appearance brighter than the sun—that was frightening to the disciples. But it was quite another thing to hear a voice from heaven confirming that Jesus is the Son of God, Jesus is loved by the Father and pleasing to the Father and Jesus must be obeyed. All of these ideas were challenged by the religious leaders of the day, questioned by the people. The disciples, however, already had some conviction that Jesus was God’s Son, that He was doing the Father’s will and that He was to be obeyed. Now, this direct revelation confirmed their faith. And the presence of this account in the Gospels should also confirm our faith. If you believe in the supernatural, a supernatural confirmation of Jesus, with eyewitness authentication, should carry weight.

        The God of the universe affirms this person Jesus whom we follow, and he says ‘Listen to him’. That’s the clincher for today’s big idea: if your ears will hear, the glory of Jesus will be revealed. God has to say, to Peter, to James, to John, to you and to me - listen to him. I think that has two very practical implications. First, the Bible never says listen without meaning ‘obey’. God is not saying ‘let these words of Jesus tickle your ears; have philosophical discussions about these words’. He’s saying ‘hear and obey’ these words. Those who hear in the way of obedience are the ones who see Jesus’ glory. When we do things his way we see him at work. The other extremely practical implication of this command is that the place where his words can be found to listen to is between the covers of this good book. If you and I are not listening to the Scriptures we’re not listening at all, because God has chosen to give us his concrete written word, and the Holy Spirit has chosen to use that word as the objective foundation for all that he wants to speak to our hearts and for all the obedience and fruit that he wants to achieve in our lives. If you want to personally obey God’s command to listen to Jesus the only place you can turn is back to this word: taking it seriously, studying it daily, applying it whole-heartedly, letting it dominate your life. I’m sorry if that’s too practical for you, but there is just nothing else to say: the true revelation of the Glory of Jesus to your heart will not happen apart from the obedient immersion of your mind in this book of books. The elders have discussed this recently because some see a trend at Trinity that people are not involved like they should be in the most basic things in the Christian life - daily time in the Word and in prayer. If you’re not I strongly encourage you to fix that before working on anything else. Our vision statement says ‘we commit ourselves to learn and obey your word and to depend on you in prayer’.

        That’s the same place Peter ends up with this event. Years later he makes a great commentary on the transfiguration. 2 Peter 1:16-19 “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For he received honor 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." 18We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

        19And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” Peter affirms the historical truth of the event we’ve just studied, uses it to argue that Jesus is to be taken seriously, affirms that he received glory and honor from God the Father at that moment. But he doesn’t just say ‘take our word for it’. Instead he point his readers to the words of the prophets ‘made more certain’. In other words he points them to Scripture, made more certain by the testimony of God and the accounts of these eyewitnesses. And he says ‘listen to it’; ‘you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place’. If you’ve got eyes to see and ears to hear, this glory, this light, will be revealed to you in Scripture Pay attention; be alert; listen to obey.

        I don’t know what you expected the lesson of the transfiguration to be; it’s a neon moment of glory, it really is - almost unimaginable glory. But the lesson communicated from this moment of glory, both by God’s own words and by Peter’s understanding of them is a lesson of awareness - have your eyes tuned, through prayer, to see God at work in the world. Have your ears opened, through daily study and meditation, to hear God’s instructions to you through his word. If you have eyes to see and ears to hear, the glory of Jesus will be revealed. You will see Jesus at work in your world; you will hear Jesus speaking through the Word. And the eyes and ears of your heart will rejoice, time after time, to see and hear his glory.