Thank you to John H for this message
Matthew 17: 1-13
On Sundays for the last few weeks, we’ve been on a journey – a journey through the gospel of Matthew. We’ve been seeing how God showed himself through Jesus. We’ve already seen how Jesus began his work. He chose his disciples, he prayed, he argued with the religious leaders, then (two weeks ago) he asked his disciples who he is.
We’re also on another journey … through the season of Lent. Lent is a time for us to think again about the events which can mean that we become forgiven sinners and right with God. Today is the fifth Sunday of Lent. Next Sunday is Palm Sunday; Friday week is Good Friday. Our journey through the gospel of Matthew is leading us to the cross. This morning, Matthew chapter 17.
I’d like to start by thinking about mountains. Which is your favourite mountain? A mountain that you’ve actually stood on the top of. We’ve all seen pictures of mountains; maybe films about mountain climbs. But climbing a mountain for yourself – that is something special. Which is your favourite mountain? Something for us to compare notes on at the end of this service.
A mountain is a risky place. You can fall off an edge. You can get lost – especially in bad weather. The highest mountain in central Africa is called Sapitwa, in Malawi, 3000 metres. The national park authorities there got so fed up with people getting lost trying to get to the summit of Sapitwa that they marked the route to the top with splashes of red paint.
A mountain is also a place where you can be free from distractions. There’s you, the food and equipment you have on your back, the friends you are climbing with – and the path in front of you. That’s it.
And a mountain can also be a place to meet with God.
So, in our reading, Jesus led just three disciples with him ‘up a high mountain by themselves’. Away from the crowds, away from the other disciples, away out of their comfort zone. Peter, James and John were fishermen after all, why go up a mountain?
On the mountain, they had this extraordinary vision of Jesus transformed. The Bible reminds us that kingdom of God is always here, a parallel universe to our everyday experience, but usually unseen. But on the mountain this parallel universe broke through. READ Matt.17:2b. I like the way Tom Wright puts it: ‘this is a sign of Jesus being entirely caught up with, bathed in, the love, power and kingdom of God, so that it transforms his whole being with light.’ [Mark p.116].
And they heard the voice of God the Father. Do you remember that there had been a voice from heaven before – when Jesus was baptised [Matt 3:17] – ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased
Nearly three years later, here on the mountain the voice repeated the same words, but then added something more: ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’ Listen to him!’ What was God the Father doing here? With the vision and the voice the Father was approving who Jesus is and what he was doing.
So why did the disciples need this added command, Listen to him!’ ? Hadn’t they been listening to Jesus all along? Well, perhaps they had. But now Jesus was giving them a new teaching; and it was one the disciples needed to hear. To see this let’s go back into Matthew chapter 16. If you were with us two Sundays ago, you’ll remember Andy speaking about Caesarea Philippi, with the picture of the town and the rock on the screen behind him. At Caesarea Philippi, Jesus confronted his disciples; who do you say that I am? Peter replied (16:16); ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Peter’s new insight, revealed to him by God the Father.
When Peter said that it triggered this new teaching from Jesus. Read Matt 16:21. These stages of suffering – Go to Jerusalem / suffer/ be killed/ be raised to life. This was all totally new for the disciples. They had never heard anything like this before. And it was too much for them. READ Matt 16:22-23a.
Then Jesus continued. There was a second part to this new teaching; Part one was for Jesus; part two is for disciples. Matt 16:24. Taking up your cross, saying no to yourself, this is for all disciples too. ‘Listen to him!’
And it was six days after all that (17:1), that Jesus took Peter, James and John up the mountain, to see him transformed. Notice that Jesus was not alone in that vision of glory. Moses and Elijah were there too, ‘in glorious splendour’, talking with Jesus. What were they talking about? It’s Luke who tells us; it’s the same new teaching; Jesus will go to Jerusalem, suffer, be killed, be raised to life [Luke 9:31].
Then they were all covered by the cloud. They hear the voice of the Father. The cloud lifts, and only Jesus is left. ‘Listen to him’.
The question we are left asking, that moment of glory – who was it for? Certainly, it was for Jesus himself: he had Moses and Elijah for company as he thought about his death – now coming so soon. In this extraordinary experience he knew how much the Father loved him.
And surely this vision was also for the three disciples. Jesus took them to be there with him, to see it all, to hear it all – even if it wasn’t going to make any sense until after the Son of Man had been risen from the dead.
From then on Jesus was giving this new teaching to all his disciples. READ Matt 17:22-23. ‘filled with grief’, this terrible message was beginning to sink in. Then a third time in Matthew 20:17. What happened to Jesus in Jerusalem, with the disciples watching, was so unexpected, so horrific. They must have felt that they were living through a nightmare. But somehow they clung on to what Jesus had taught them; ‘Listen to him’. And they began to understand it all when Jesus was raised from the dead.
So here is this new teaching in two parts i) about Jesus, ii) about following Jesus. Now Jesus has been raised from the dead. That’s a past event. We believe He will come in his Father’s glory with his angels.
What about us, who are following Jesus today? READ Matt 16:24-25. Here’s Tom Wright’s comment [Mark p.112] ‘Jesus is not leading us on a pleasant afternoon hike, but on a walk into danger and risk’. Here we have a bit of a puzzle. What does this mean? We know that there are places in the world where it can be very dangerous to be a Christian. But for most of us, here in the UK, that’s not the case.
Well, there is a picture that Jesus used which can help us understand what it means to deny ourselves and follow Jesus. It’s in Matthew 13:44; ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it … in his joy he went and sold all that he had and bought that field.’ In his joy he went and sold all that he had! That’s it, isn’t it? Everything else goes so that we can put Jesus first. We’re fully committed to following Jesus; and what great joy we have in doing it.
In John’s gospel we read some of Jesus’ last prayers. He was praying for all his disciples. That includes you and me. This is John 17:24; Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.’ On that mountain with Jesus, Peter, James and John had a foretaste of that glory – how much the Father loves the Son.
Where might you and I hope to see ‘glimpses of God’s glory’ now, today, in our everyday lives? Perhaps in our praying, our personal times with God – maybe not every day, but occasionally.
And when we come together as God’s people in praise and adoration, ‘lost in wonder, love and praise’.
And in the kindness of a friend – a smile, a word that blesses us. And when we’ve given some practical help – or received it.
These are glimpses of the love that the father has for his dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ; and of how much Father and Son together love us, his children. The glory of God is still shining out, even in these lockdown days. May God give us eyes to see it.
Category: Lent , Sermons , Services , The Bridge