Red Letter Year: 4/30

Matthew 17:1-13

17 Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. He metamorphosed in front of them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with him.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will make three tents here — one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

As he was speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love, in whom I delight. Listen to him.” When the disciples heard, they fell on their faces, violently afraid.

Then Jesus came, touched them, and said, “Get up and do not be afraid.” When they lifted their eyes, they saw no one, except Jesus.

As they came down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one what you have seen until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

10 Then his disciples asked him, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”

11 He answered, “Elijah does come first and will restore all things. 12 But I tell you that Elijah already came and they did not recognize him, but they did to him what they wanted. And the Son of Man will also suffer because of them.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking about John the Baptist.


When we read this story in Mark, I commented that Moses and Elijah are here representing the Law and the Prophets, the totality of Israel’s revelatory experience with Yahweh, all of which points to and is fulfilled in Jesus. That is a widely held interpretation of their presence here. What follows now is not something I have read in any commentary, though others may well have made the same connection before. Moses and Elijah both had significant experiences with God on top of a mountain (in fact, the same mountain: Sinai/Horeb). In both cases the experience was private. Here we have Jesus taking only three disciples up the mountain, having the same sort of experience (bright light, audible voice) and then telling them to keep it to themselves until later. In each case (Moses, Elijah, and here) there is fear preceding the experience and a healing of fear as an outcome of the experience. In each case, there is an experience of God’s glory.

What I want to suggest to you is that this sort of thing is something we should make space for in our lives. I know there are a lot of churches that work very hard to try and create a special corporate experience. Special services are held, with special music and guest speakers,  all in the hope that people will experience the glory of God. I make no negative comment about that. But such cannot be a replacement for what we have here, a private, personal experience of the glory of God. That is the experience of Moses, Elijah, the three disciples here, Paul, and a number of saints down through the centuries. Such an experience often precedes a launch into a new level of ministry and brings about needed healing (these three had a lot of fear and confusion). I encourage you to make space in your life for a personal, private, mountaintop experience with God. Ask God to show you his glory. Jesus Culture has a great song that asks for just that. The lyrics say, “I’m not afraid,” and while that probably won’t be true going in – it will become true as an outcome of experiencing God’s glory. Don’t settle for reading this as a weird story with some esoteric intra-biblical meaning. See it for what it is – an example of the sort of thing that happens to those who follow Jesus. Follow him up the mountain and see what happens. You won’t be disappointed. And you will never be the same.

Red Letter Year: 4/29

Matthew 16:13-28

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. 18 Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.”

20 Then he sternly warned the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

21 From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead.

22 But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!”

23 Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. 25 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. 26 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? 27 For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father and will judge all people according to their deeds. 28 And I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.”


Just a few quick thoughts on this.

  1. The question Jesus asks in v.15 is one each of us answers for ourselves. In the end, it doesn’t matter so much what others have to say about Jesus, who do you say that he is? But don’t read this as some challenge to get your creed in order. That is not at all what I mean. All that you say and all that you do says everything you need to say about Jesus. As we read last week (and I preached on yesterday), it’s entirely possible to honor him with our lips even while our hearts and actions are only engaged in vain self-worship. 
  2. Jesus commends Peter in v.17 because the Father has revealed this to Peter, he has not learned it from any human being. This is very similar to the claim Paul makes in 1 Thessalonians for himself and the church in Thessaloniki – they are theodidaktoi – people taught by God. Peter, Paul, and the Thessalonians are not special cases in this. Each of us either receives this as revelation from God or else we don’t have it at all. There is no such thing as second-hand faith. This means the primary task of anyone who would minister to someone else is to enable them to hear from God directly. There is only one mediator between God and humans. Jesus already has that job, there won’t be an opening for that position anytime ever. If how we do church and ministry gets in the way – gets between people and God – then we’ve failed to do the one thing we must do. Bringing people face to face with Jesus is our task. Helping them hear and receive what the Holy Spirit has for them is our primary task – all our other tasks should revolve around and facilitate this. As van Gogh said: “I think that everything that is really good and beautiful, the inner, moral, spiritual and sublime beauty in men and their works, comes from God, and everything that is bad and evil in the works of men and in men is not from God, and God does not approve of it.” We must help each other focus on the inner revelations God gives to each of us.
  3. Be ready for this being taught by God thing. It usually involves sacrificing yourself in a way that makes crucifixion an apt analogy. Jesus is not talking about run-of-the-mill hardships here. We all have those. Carrying crosses are specifically self-sacrificial actions that are undertaken intentionally for the benefit of others. Jesus didn’t die on the cross on accident, or against his will, or for his own benefit. It was the Father’s purpose, Jesus chose to do it, and it was for the benefit of sinful humans. Those who are taught by God will find themselves being prepared for and launched into activities that are also cross-shaped. Those who sacrifice others for personal gain, well, that’s pretty much the opposite of how Jesus’ followers live. In the same quote van Gogh defines cross bearing and explains how it leads to life: “But I cannot help thinking that the best way of knowing God is to love many things. Love this friend, this person, this thing, whatever you like, and you will be on the right road to understanding Him better, that is what I keep telling myself. But you must love with a sublime, genuine, profound sympathy, with devotion, with intelligence, and you must try all the time to understand Him more, better and yet more. That will lead to God, that will lead to an unshakeable faith.”

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.