Springboarding off of the Apostle Paul’s life focus, clearly expressed in 1 Corinthians 2:2, Pastor Greg launched an “open-ended” message series on January 12th, 2020 – focusing on “Just Jesus.” He is walking us through the entire New Testament, pulling passages from the Old Testament for context, and keep us focused throughout the year on “Just Jesus.”
This is Just Jesus, Week 63, Matthew, Part 61 in the series. Today Pastor G covers Matthew 17:1-23. Jesus reveals His true nature and His glory to Peter, James and John in an event we call The Transfiguration. Jesus also heals a demon-possessed man with epilepsy that the disciples were unable to heal, even though Jesus had given them His power and His authority to do just that, way back in Matthew 10. Jesus again talks about His impending death and resurrection, grieving the disciples who clearly did not believe Jesus’ promise that He would rise again.
Welcome to week 63 of our Just Jesus series. This is Matthew Part 61. Last week Jesus scolded Peter for thinking he knew better than God. Jesus reiterated that His first advent to earth was to be the Suffering Servant Messiah and to die for our sins. He shared with the disciples that their hope for the Conquering King Messiah would come to pass one day in the future. He also told them some of them would get to see a true glimpse of His heavenly glory before they died. Jesus also gives the call to possible martyrdom for all of His followers. We’ve seen Him say similar things many times in Matthew’s Gospel. He tells them if they are not ready to take up their own cross and follow Him, to the point of death, if that’s what it takes to advance the kingdom of God, then they are not worthy of Him. If they deny Him before men to save their lives He will deny them before the Father and they will lose their eternal lives. It’s a hard message for the modern American church to hear but when we read the word of God Jesus is consistent in this high expectation message to His followers. We’ve finished chapter 16 and we are starting on chapter 17 today. If you are ready to hear what God has put on my heart to share with you today please do me a favor and say or type HIT ME WI IT G! I’M READY! Awesome! Let’s get into it. Matthew 17:1-2
17 Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. 2 And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. ~ Matthew 17:1-2
This is reminiscent of Exodus 24 where Moses first went up onto Mount Sinai with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu. Together, with 70 elders, they see God.
10 and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. ~ Exodus 24:10
Later, Moses goes up alone. For six days the glory of the Lord settles on the mountain, covered by a cloud and on the seventh day the Lord calls out to Moses from the cloud and Moses enters into the glory of God.
17 And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the mountain top. ~ Exodus 24:17
Later, Moses comes back to spend time with the Israelites and his face is glowing with a reflection of the glory of God. Here, Jesus’ face is not just reflecting the glory of God, He IS the glory of God. His face shines with the intensity of the sun. So, like Moses, Jesus takes three of His men with Him to witness an amazing event. Jesus was “transfigured” before them. What does that mean? It’s the Greek word metamorphoó. It means to transform or to transfigure. It is the root of the English words metamorphosis and metamorphize. We think of a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly. When we see the beautiful butterfly it’s hard to believe it came from the same basic shell of a caterpillar. Peter, James and John, have been walking around with Jesus for a few years and up to this point, they always saw Him as another caterpillar like them. They were wholly unprepared for seeing His true nature.
Paul uses this same word in Romans 12:2 when he tells us not to be conformed to the pattern of this world but to instead be transformed by the renewing of our mind so that we can know the good, perfect and pleasing will of God. Paul uses metamorphoó again in 2 Corinthians 3:18 where he alludes to Moses’ face glowing with a reflection of God’s glory after He was with God.
Just the reflection of God’s glory was too much for the Israelites to handle to Moses wore a veil when he was with them. Paul calls that to mind, as well as this transfiguration event we are reading about today, when he writes
18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. ~ 2 Corinthians 3:18.
Paul also uses a related noun in Philippians 2:6-7 when He says that Jesus, who originally existed in the nature or form of God, took upon Himself the nature of a slave. A reverse metamorphosis of sorts. The butterfly became a caterpillar for a time. Peter, James and John get to see Jesus’ true, divine nature.
… His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. ~ Matthew 17:2b-3
Think back to last week when Jesus told the disciples
28 “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” ~ Matthew 16:28
We know Elijah’s story. He did not die on earth but was physically taken straight into heaven in a whirlwind of God. Scripture does say that Moses died and God Himself buried Moses in a secret spot that no one ever found. As a result of that, Jewish tradition interpreted that as Moses’ spirit being taken straight to heaven like Elijah, though we don’t have any Scriptures to back that up. Moses, of course, got to see God’s glory in a way that no other living person did. Elijah got to go straight to heaven and see God’s glory without first dying as well. They were two men who did not taste death before they saw the Kingdom of God in all its glory. This event in Jesus’ earthly ministry shows us that Moses and Elijah are alive in heaven together, at least in spirit, now, sent to earth again briefly to help attest to the glory of Jesus.
Now, it’s important to point out, only Jesus is transfigured. When Moses and Elijah appear and speak with him there is no reference to them glowing with glory or transfiguring. It’s also interesting that they can relate this story to the others as an encounter with Moses and Elijah. How did they know? It’s not like they had the internet or photography for that matter. I guess maybe Jesus introduced them or maybe they just picked it up from the context of His conversation with them. Anyway, how do Peter, James and John respond to this amazing sight?
4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” ~ Matthew 17:4 Ohhhh Peter. Quick to speak, slow to think before you speak. The first sentence doesn’t really read as excited as he must have been. Let me try to act it out with some justice. WHOAH! LORD! THIS IS AMAZING! HOLY COW! WOW! THANKS FOR BRINGING US HERE TO SEE THIS! IT IS SO GOOD TO BE HERE! WOW!” That has to be more the vibe Peter was putting out when Matthew records “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” I’m not sure why I just made Peter British.
But then look at what Peter says next. He offers to build three tabernacles – we’ll talk about that significance in a moment, but from the context, he is going to build THREE, EQUAL tabernacles. One for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. It’s clear, Peter, who has previously called Jesus the Son of God just a week before, then opposed His will and told Him that God would forbid it, is now reducing Jesus (God in the flesh – and the only one of the three transfigured with the brilliant shining of the sun for His face) Peter is reducing Jesus only to the same status as Moses and Elijah, though, in the moment, he feels like He is honoring Jesus with this offer. He’s going to build tabernacles for all three of them.
Now, what does he mean by tabernacle. What is he actually offering to build and why? In Greek he technically uses the word skéné which refers literally refers to a tent but can also mean a dwelling, a mansion, a booth or a tabernacle. In Hebrew, Peter may have used the word Mishkan which means the dwelling or settling, and refers to the dwelling or settling of the Divine Presence of God, especially in the Temple in Jerusalem or in the tabernacle tent the Israelites carried with them before the temple was built. He may also have used the word sukkot – the plural of sukkah. Sukkah and Sukkot are often translated as “booth and booths” but are also translated as tabernacle/tabernacles. Sukkot are small, usually temporary shelters. Peter likes what’s going on here and he is in no hurry to leave. Why don’t we all just stay here on this mountaintop. James and John and I can figure out our shelter down the road. I just want to take care of and honor the three of you first.
Sukkot are also temporary huts constructed for use during the week-long Festival of The Lord. The feast is known as Sukkot or Tabernacles or Booths or Dwellings. In its verb form it refers to pitching your tent alongside someone, dwelling with them. We’ve talked about the Feast of Sukkot many times over the years. For the Jewish people, Sukkot is a remembrance of God dwelling with them in the tabernacle during the Exodus. Prophetically, Sukkot points to the end of times, after the judgment, when God once again dwells with His people as He did with Adam and Eve in the garden. The Apostle John refers to Jesus as the Word of God made flesh who came and tabernacled or dwelled among us. So, put all of that history together and realize, Peter? STILL DOESN’T GET IT! How can he not get it!?! I’m just stunned every time I read this. Really. How can Peter keep going back and forth between recognizing Jesus as the Son of God and then immediately treating Him like just a man in the next? It blows my mind.
Not only does he reduce Jesus to the class of human prophet, like Moses and Elijah, not fully recognizing that Jesus is being revealed to him as God, he’s still ready to skip over that whole Jesus getting crucified thing Jesus was just telling him about six days ago. How did he miss that ONLY Jesus was shining with the glory of God? Crazy to me. Peter is also operating from a misinterpretation of prophecy as we’ll see in a minute. He’s heard the prophecy his whole life that Elijah must return first and then he will reveal the Messiah. So, Peter likely thinks this appearance by Elijah is the official anointing or revealing of Jesus as the conquering king Messiah. God wants Peter to realize he is missing the point so he interrupts Peter’s plans with His own announcement. Look at verse 5.
5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” ~ Matthew 17:5
God kind of said “SHUT UP PETER! PAY ATTENTION! He said “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” This is the same exact thing He said at Jesus’ baptism, when the Holy Spirit descended from heaven like a dove and landed upon Him. We discussed way back in Matthew 3 whether anyone gathered there heard the voice of God other than Jesus? There are various theories about that but this is clear. Peter, James and John all clearly heard God’s voice this day. The bright cloud from which the voice of God emanates again points us back to Moses on Mount Sinai as he stood in the shekinah cloud of God’s glory. How do Peter James and John respond to this amazing sight and voice? Look at verse 6.
6 When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified. ~ Matthew 17:6
The Israelites responded the same way the first time they saw the glory of God and heard His voice. Look at Exodus 20:18-19
18 All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. 19 Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.” ~ Exodus 20:18-19
That’s exactly how Peter, James and John were feeling as they heard the voice of God in its pure form, unfiltered through human flesh as they were used to hearing it from Jesus. They were overwhelmed. How did Moses respond to the fear of the Israelites? Look at verse 20.
20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” ~ Exodus 20:20
How does Jesus respond to the fear of the disciples? Look at Matthew 17: 7
And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, “Get up, and do not be afraid.” ~ Matthew 17:7
Clearly this event has been intentionally planned by God to connect with Moses’ story from Mount Sinai. The same God, the one true God, has been consistent in His message and His dealings with the humans He created. He revealed Himself to Moses. He revealed Himself to Elijah. Now, through Jesus, He has revealed Himself to Peter, James and John.
8 And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone. ~ Matthew 17:8
This event was orchestrated for their benefit. They are the three disciples, those who were standing with Jesus six days ago, who, like Moses and Elijah, did not have to taste death before they got to see the Son of Man (Jesus) in all His glory.
9 As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.” ~ Matthew 17:9
This is more of that Messianic secret we talked about a few weeks ago. Jesus has a very specific timetable for everything He is doing. The day will come when He wants all of His secrets revealed and loudly proclaimed but this is not that day. Peter, James and John STILL don’t get it. They STILL want Him to be the conquering king Messiah who ushers in the new age and they want Him to do it right now. They thought that was what that whole Jesus talking with Elijah thing was all about. They refer to the prophecies that Elijah will usher in the Messiah.
10 And His disciples asked Him, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” ~ Matthew 17:10
They are like, if that wasn’t the official coming of Elijah, then how are you going to be recognized by everyone as the Messiah? Doesn’t He have to come and introduce You? Jesus sets them straight on what they are misunderstanding.
11 And He answered and said, “Elijah is coming and will restore all things; 12 but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” ~ Matthew 17:11-12
Again, Jesus is operating with an understanding of two advents of the Messiah that everyone else seems to not get. He has come this first time as the Suffering Servant to die for the sins of humanity, to take our sins upon Himself and give His righteousness to us. AND He will comes a second time as the conquering king Messiah everyone in His time is looking for. Before He comes that second time, He tells them Elijah will come again in the way they are expecting to restore all things and pave the way for Jesus’ return. However, if they need Elijah to announce Him this time, that’s fine too because Jesus tells them Elijah did come and did introduce Him as the Messiah. The leaders of Jerusalem didn’t recognize him either and they put him to death. In the same way they will also kill the Son of Man, the Messiah, Jesus.
13 Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist. ~ Matthew 17:13
They should have already understood this. He’s already told them this once before way back in Matthew 11:14-15
14 And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear. ~ Matthew 11:14-15
As we talked about this back in our Matthew 11 study, we said John was not literally Elijah, resurrected or reincarnated or whatever. John himself, when asked if he was the Messiah said no. Then they asked him point-blank if he was Elijah and he said “I am not.” As we said in Matthew 11, Jesus is saying John came filled with the same spirit as Elijah and with the same mission of the future appearance of Elijah, to announce and introduce the Messiah to the people of Israel. When Jesus walked through the crowd of people John was baptizing, he pointed to Jesus and proclaimed “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus is giving nuance and context to the prophecies so we can understand their deeper, sometimes literal, and sometimes symbolic meanings.
Jesus, Peter, James and John rejoin the other disciples and find them in the middle of a large crowd that always followed Jesus.
14 When they came to the crowd, a man came up to Jesus, falling on his knees before Him and saying, 15 “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic and is very ill; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. ~ Matthew 17:14-15
This word we translate as lunatic is a fascinating Greek word. It is right up there with splangknidzomai and anadzupureo. It is the word seléniazomai (sel-ay-nee-ad’-zom-ah-ee) It literally means to be moonstruck, supposedly influenced by the moon. Often this was the term used for a person who suffered from epilepsy.
Ancient people didn’t have the medical knowledge we have today about the human brain so they often assigned natural causes to explain what we would see as a medical ailment. He is a lunatic – literally, someone whose actions are controlled by the moon. Sometimes a seizure hits this man’s epileptic son with terrible timing. He falls and hurts himself. Sometimes it is really bad. A seizure hits around the campfire or on a boat and he falls right into the fire or into the water. If he can’t be healed, eventually he is going to be badly injured or die. His father is desperate in asking Jesus to heal him. He says
16 I brought him to Your disciples, and they could not cure him.” ~ Matthew 17:16
This man had an expectation that the disciples of Jesus should be able to heal his son. This was not an unfounded belief. Remember back in Matthew 10 when Jesus sent out the Twelve to do ministry on their own?
1 Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. ~ Matthew 10:1
They had His authority, access to His power, to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness, INCLUDING epilepsy. So why couldn’t they do it for this man? That’s what the disciples want to know too. We’ll look at that in a minute. Mark tells this story a little differently. In Mark’s account, the father says the boy is possessed by a demon. He says “the demon makes him mute; and whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth and stiffens out. Jesus scolds the disciples for their lack of faith and takes command of the situation.
17 And Jesus answered and said, “You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him here to Me.” ~ Matthew 17:17
In Mark’s account, as soon as the boy saw Jesus immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion, and falling to the ground, he began rolling around and foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the father how long the boy had been like this and the father told him, ever since he was a very young boy. He points out what Matthew reports that sometimes this spirit throws the boy into the fire or into the water. The father then says to Jesus
… But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us! ~ Mark 9:22
His faith has been shaken by the inability and lack of faith of the disciples.
23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” 24 Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” ~ Mark 9:23-24
That’s the cry of all our hearts, isn’t it? We have faith in some situations, in some circumstances. We wholly trust Jesus. We have 100% confidence in Him for who He says He is and what He promises to do. Other times our faith is weak, polluted with bits and pieces of unbelief. This father’s prayer is a good daily prayer for all of us as well. I believe. Lord help me with my unbelief. It is not a question of whether or not Jesus is ABLE to heal this boy. It is only a question of His willingness to heal the boy.
In Mark’s account, Jesus exorcises the boy. He speaks to the unclean spirit possessing him and commands him to come out. The spirit throws the boy into a round of huge convulsions leaving him unconscious on the ground as it leaves to the point people wonder if the boy is dead. Some commentators believe he actually was dead. Dead or alive, Jesus takes the boys hand and raises him up, healed. Matthew’s account is much more succinct.
18 And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured at once. ~ Matthew 17:18
So, what started as a description of the illness of epilepsy ends up being a demon possession.
19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” 20 And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith … ~ Matthew 17:19-20a
Their faith was too small. I guess, exorcising a demon must take a super-human amount of faith huh? How much faith does that kind of thing require? Jesus tells them.
… for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. ~ Matthew 17:20b
Remember, these are the disciples that Jesus specifically gave His authority to. He told them they would be able to heal any illness, any sickness, cast out demons, etc. all in His name, with his authority and power. So what is the object of their faith? Faith in their own abilities? No. Faith in their own faith? If I just believe hard enough! If I just really believe and really want it to happen and believe it can happen I can faith anything i want into happening? Is that the faith Jesus is talking about? No.
Faith is simply the confidence that Jesus is who He says He is and that He will do everything He has promised to do.
They failed in their attempts to heal this boy because they lacked faith in Jesus or because they lacked faith in what Jesus told them they could do. Jesus hasn’t told me that I can cast out demons or heal every illness. If I had that authority and power you would never get me out of the emergency room. I would be there healing everyone who walked in the door 24-7. You’d have to bring me my meals and set up a cot for me. So if I can’t heal someone its not because I don’t have enough faith. It is because Jesus has never promised to give me that ability in the first place. He DID promise this to the disciples though. But they didn’t believe it. If they had just had a little tiny bit of faith in Jesus, faith the size of a mustard seed, then nothing would have been impossible for them. They had the authority and power of God entrusted to them.
This story closes out with verse 21. Verse 21 does not occur in the earliest manuscript copies. So, it was likely added in by an overzealous scribe down the line. It is doubtful that Jesus said it. It does not occur in Mark’s account.
21 [But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.] ~ Matthew 17:21
The implication being that it takes some extra spiritual oomph to get rids of this particular kind of illness or this particular kind of demon. You have to fast for a while and pray up so you are juiced up enough to win this type of battle. That doesn’t mesh with what Jesus has already said though. He gave them authority in Matthew 10:1. He just said they only have to have a tiny, tiny bit off trust and faith Him to be successful in their calling. No need to fasting or extra praying to pull it off. Just have faith in Jesus and in what He has commanded you to do. Let’s read two more verses before we close for today.
22 And while they were gathering together in Galilee, Jesus said to them,“The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; 23 and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day.” And they were deeply grieved. ~ Matthew 17:22-23
This is not the first time Jesus has shared this news. He’s alluded to it many times. A short time before this, just before the transfiguration, He really began to drive this point home. Initially, it causes Peter to rebuke Jesus for the very idea of it. Now, they seem to accept it and they are deeply grieved. We get it right? If someone you loved began to tell you in more and more convincing ways that they were about to die, you would be deeply grieved too wouldn’t you? But this is actually more evidence of how small the faith of the disciples really was. In addition to telling them of His death here, and in previous conversations, Jesus also says BUT I will be raised on the third day. Yeah, I’m going to die, but listen, I won’t stay dead. I’m only going to be dead a short time. I will die on the first day of the Feast of Passover/Unleavened Bread but I will rise again on the third day or Passover/Unleavened Bread. I’m only going to be gone for Friday night and Saturday. As the Day of First Fruits – the third day of Unleavened Bread, begins, I’m going to come back to life. He has said this MANY times but the disciples keep missing it. They just don’t believe it.
They are only willing to believe He is going to be killed. Even after His crucifixion comes to pass, we see them hiding out in fear, instead of camping out in front of the tomb waiting for Him to burst forth on Sunday. They never believed Him when He said He was going to rise from the dead. Even after Mary saw Him alive and reported it to the eleven, they didn’t believe her. Peter and John raced each other to the tomb to see for themselves. Even after they reported it and others reported it Thomas STILL didn’t believe it. He had to see Jesus Himself and touch his nail and spear wounds himself before he would believe what Jesus had promised to them. That’s why Jesus refers to them as
… You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? ~ Matthew 17:17b
That’s why Jesus pointed out how small their faith in Him really was. Faith the size of a mustard seed is all we need. That’s enough faith to accomplish anything Jesus has promised we can accomplish. That’s enough faith to believe anything Jesus has promised. He promised them He was going to die and He promised them He was going to rise from the dead. If only they had prayed the way the boy’s father prayed, if only they had prayed the way we should daily pray “I believe Lord. Help me with my unbelief.” Then they would have rejoiced at His crucifixion and joyously awaited His resurrection as He completed His mission to redeem humanity. What is Jesus calling you to do? What has Jesus promised to do for you? What has Jesus promised all of us in the future? Do you have faith? Do you believe? Let’s affirm our faith in Him together again this morning. Amen?
~~~~~ LET’S PRAY ~~~~~