Connections 02.26.2017: Jesus Is Lord

Matthew 17:1-9

Sometimes I need to read about Jesus’ transfiguration. Instead of walking by his side down the dusty roads, listening to his stories about how to live in God’s present kingdom, eating the food from one of his miraculous multiplying meals, watching him heal the sick and bless the kids and care for the poor, crying along with him as he weeps for a dead friend, and witnessing his fear and sadness over his upcoming death, I need to see him shine. Instead of clinging to his humanity, his down-to-earth spirit, and all the ways he is like me, I need to look on him with awe. I need to see the God behind the man.

I think the disciples needed this too. They were comfortable with Jesus, but sometimes this made them think they knew him better than he knew himself (see Peter’s rebuke of Jesus in Mt 16:22 for one of the greatest examples of this). Sometimes they viewed him so much as a friend, as a partner in the ministry, that they forgot he was their Lord.

This moment of transfiguration, when the mighty awesomeness of the Lord God shone so brightly on their friend that they could barely look at him, reminded them that Jesus is certainly human example, friend, and partner, but he is also God, Creator, Lord of heaven and earth. It reminds us of that too.

I identify with the disciples’ instinct once they saw Jesus shine; they wanted to stay on the safety of the mountaintop, basking in his power and glory and protection, worshiping him in seclusion for as long as possible. But God told them to listen. And then Jesus, like he always does, urged them to “Get up and do not be afraid” (Mt 17:7).

The transfiguration, the moment when Jesus shone with the glory of the Almighty God, was an important reminder to treat him with the awe and respect worthy of the Lord. But when his face returned to normal, he didn’t hesitate to touch his friends and reassure them with his presence. Because they knew him, because they saw him, because they recognized both his humanity and his Lordship, they could go back down the mountain without fear. We can do the same!

Discussion

1. How comfortable do you feel with Jesus?
2. Do you think there’s a point at which we can be too comfortable with him? If so, at what point and why?
3. What does the story of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountaintop show you about him? If you had been there, how do you think you might have reacted?
4. Have you ever experienced a moment in your life when you were shown anew that Jesus is truly God—Lord Almighty, Creator, Alpha and Omega? If so, when and how?
5. When have you heard Jesus tell you to go and not be afraid? What did you do?

Reference Shelf

Notice that this story follows the confession, the commission, and the prediction of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Here is something then that offsets the shock of the prediction of the Passion, reassuring them that Jesus should still be seen as God’s Son, even if he was going to be killed. If traditional messianic hopes had to be shattered, then they had to be replaced by new and better ones that were then confirmed and explained. But the transfiguration could also be seen as a time of confirmation for Jesus as well, for Moses and Elijah speak only to Jesus. Possibly they are present, as Luke’s account seems to stress, because they had already had extraordinary exoduses from life. Here then the disciples get a sort of sneak preview of Jesus in parousia glory after the ascension.

Here in Matthew for the first time is there mention of the inner circle of the three whom Jesus deliberately takes with him up the mountain. This theme is introduced earlier in Mark (Mark 5:37), but the First Evangelist will allude to it twice more later (Matt 20:20; 26:37). They are seen as the representatives of the Twelve. Jesus takes charge here, leading them up the mountain after selecting the three to go. We do not know which mountain is referred to.

In the presence of the three, Jesus either did change or appeared to change visibly. (The verb metamorpheø can refer to a change in appearance or in essence. In 2 Cor 3:18 and Rom 12:2, it refers to a purely inward and spiritual change, but not here. Cf. Exod 34:29 and 2 Bar 51:3-5). Jesus’ face is said to shine like the sun, and his garment was white as light (notice the difference here from the more mundane description in Mark). The First Evangelist’s order of things suggests that Moses and Elijah appeared suddenly after Jesus had undergone metamorphosis.

While Peter is speaking, the Shekinah glory cloud overshadows the whole group and the voice of God comes forth from it. The words of God in Matthew are identical to those at the baptism. The point again is to confirm Jesus’ identity as God’s Son, this time to the three rather than to Jesus. Verse 6 indicates an attitude of fear or less possibly worship. The disciples hear the voice, fall down prostrate, and “fear greatly Schweizer sees a sort of resurrection motif in v. 7 where Jesus touches the disciples and says “rise and do not fear” (the key word means rise or wake up). The disciples look up and see only Jesus. Verse 9 is a crucial verse in the Matthean outline of things, not merely because of its command to silence, which we have seen before, but because here for the first time a time limit is placed on the silence—until the Son of Man rises from out of the dead ones.

Ben Witherington III, Matthew, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006) 325–26.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a local charity serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (12) and Natalie (10) and her husband John. For fun, she tries to stay caught up on the latest amazing TV series (including Doctor Who, Sherlock, Gilmore Girls, and The Crown).

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