Matthew 17:1-13 – Jesus and His Best Bros (Peter, James, John)

Posted: January 19, 2016 in Gospel of Matthew

Matthew 17:1-13 (Part 2)
The Transfiguration
Have you ever had a circle of close friends but within that circle of friends there were one, two, maybe three that were your really close friends? I know that you have heard me speak of my championship season. My one championship season when I was 12 years old. We were a collection of 9 guys that were all friends but there were like 3 rings of close friends within the nine man team. My closest friends were Eddie Yount and Donnie Garrison. Donnie and I were best friends and Eddie was a really good friend and during basketball season we were tight because we were the best players on the team. Eddie and I knew each other’s games and we knew where each other would be on the court. Occasionally, we would wow the other guys with no look passes and such. Donnie was horrible at basketball but he tried hard, but we were best friends because of water skiing and anything to do with Lake Hartwell. We practically spent every waking moment together in the summertime. However, there were other guys on the team and we were all friends and because we all were friends we made a really good basketball team for our age bracket. It was a togetherness on a sports team that I had never experienced before or since. We all loved each other and were willing to work really hard and push each other under the leadership of Coach Middleton. It was a moment in time where everything clicked and we won our church league basketball championship that year. There were many friendships on the team but there were only two inner circle friends for me on that team. These forty years later, I vaguely remember the names of the other teammates but I still remember Donnie and Eddie. We were tight.

The reason that I bring my 12 & Under age bracket championship basketball team and the circles of friends within it is that when I read Matthew 17:1-13, I wonder why that on Jesus’ “basketball team”, the twelve disciples, why he always singled out Peter, James and John for the special moments – the first raising of the dead in Jairus’ daughter, the Transfiguration, and then finally, Jesus’ prayer time just before His arrest. What did Jesus pay such special attention to these three guys but yet He had twelve guys that He was discipling? Why did Jesus take these three guys and not all twelve up the mountain where the Transfiguration takes place? Let’s read this passage again so we can see that it is only these three that go up the mountain with Jesus,
17 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

4 Peter 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.”

5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

10 The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”

11 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. 12 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.
OK, immediately, we see in this passage what I am talking about. Matthew immediately states that Peter, James and John are the ones that Jesus takes with Him. None of the other nine disciples are taken by Jesus. Only these three. Why? I think it has to do with two things. First, we see both the divinity and humanity of Jesus in this scene. Second, in leadership, we must guide those people that we are assigned but there are those that we must identify as the next generation of leaders.

The first thing that I think we must grasp from Jesus’ selection of these three men as his inner circle is that Jesus was as much human as He was divine. He probably chose Peter, James, and John as His closest friends because He simply felt closest to them in his human nature. They got Him. The other disciples may have been good friends and understood Jesus but it was these three that really got Jesus, the guy. They were all from Capernaum. They probably hung out together when they were back in Capernaum. Jesus was familiar enough with Peter’s family to be there for meals and to heal Peter’s mother. This fact that Jesus had friends but had three really close friends makes me realize that Jesus experienced all the human stuff that I experience. Here, in this scene, we see the amazing evidence of Jesus’ divinity (confirmation of what Peter proclaimed six days earlier), but there is comfort in knowing that Jesus did a lot of the same human stuff that we do. He ate food because He got hungry. He slept because He got physically tired. He had three best friends because He had a need, in His humanness, to have those close friends who really get you. Peter, James and John are sometimes as clueless as the rest of the disciples as to Jesus’ divinity at times, but I think it was Peter, James and John that just clicked with Jesus better than the other guys and vice versa. All the other disciples were loved by Jesus and He picked them to be His disciples because of God’s plan but it was these three guys that were his bros. Just like you and I, Jesus had best friends. Don’t you think that is why Peter was so distraught over his betrayal of Jesus, later? He and Jesus was not just ministers together. They were best friends. When you let your best friend down, you are more disappointed over that than anything. That is why Jesus specifically had to restore Peter later. All the disciples had deserted Jesus at the end but it was Peter that was the most disappointed in Himself. Jesus had real relationships and real best friends. The Son of God dwelt among us and had real best friends. He had co-workers (all twelve) and He had best friends (Peter, James, John). That is very cool to me. I can see Jesus laughing with these guys. Playing tricks on each other like guys do sometimes. Talking about stuff that matters around the campfire. Having those no-talk looks with one another where you know exactly what the other one is thinking without even speaking. Those moments where with just a look, your best friend understands what you need him to do. Those priceless moments to when you experience something together where one saves the other’s rear end (like Jesus did when Peter tried to walk on water). Those moments where you know that you bro has got your back in a fight. Jesus saw this in Peter in the Garden. Those moments when you are so close with your guy friend that you just understand what makes them tick, like Peter declaring that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus trusted John so much as a friend that He gave the care of His mother over to John at His death. Have you ever had a friend that was closer to you than a brother? That’s what I see in that scene with Mary, John and Jesus at the cross. John and Jesus were bros! Immanuel, God with us. Jesus knows what you and I go through, my friends, as human beings. He experienced it all during his 30 plus years as a human being. He even had best friends just like you and I do.

The second thing has to do with leadership development. Maybe, it was the divine plan because of the particular qualities of these three men that Jesus became best friends with them. He knew that He had to invest in these guys more closely because of the roles that they would play later in the development of Jesus’ church. All the roles of the disciples were major in the development of the church, but these three guys were important. Peter was the initial leader of the church after Jesus’ death. He was the one that held things together in the formative years. Sure, he was a impetuous and often a mistake-ridden leader but there is no one else who could have held the church together. It was Peter’s passion that made Him a necessary leader in the church. Because of His humility that He learned at His betrayal and His willingness to do anything to repay Jesus for restoring him afterwards, no other man could have been the leader of the early church. James, John’s brother, was the first to be martyred of the disciples, so Jesus had to invest in him particularly. His fate was soon to come after Jesus’ own death. Around a mere decade later, James’ death would come. He was as passionate a follower as Peter was. Jesus nicknamed him and his brother John, the Sons of Thunder, after they wanted to reign down fire from heaven when a village rejected Jesus. Jesus knew John was going to live the longest of all the disciples because he was the youngest of them all. Jesus was like a big brother to John. He invested in Him because He knew of John’s compassion and understanding and deep thinking. He knew that John would be the one who had deep care and loyalty enough to take care of his mother after His death. He knew that though John was a young man that he was and would be a deep thinker. He knew through His investment in John that He would go on to be a great influence on the church through his passionate evangelism that came from his deep understanding of Jesus’ nature and purpose. It was John who penned the gospel that came last and the one that really formulates the basic theology of our faith. Jesus knows that John will be the one who could handle the vision and articulate what He saw and what it meant in what would become the Book of Revelation. Jesus had specific purposes for investing in these guys more so than the others. It is same when we are leaders ourselves. There are those that stand out and rise to the top as the people that you must invest in so that your organization survives and flourishes as it grows and to ensure that it survives your departure. Maybe, these qualities that Jesus saw in them is why they became best friends on a human scale because Jesus saw what they could and would become on the eternal scale. He loved that about them and invested more deeply in them because of it.

Jesus had best friends. What a cool concept. I like to think that Jesus understands everything that I go through in life no matter what it is. And He does. He even understands having best friends. Everything I go through He understands. He even understands being leader and seeing those people that you lead that are going to be the next generation of leaders that come up after you. He saw qualities of leadership in these three guys that were essential to the post-ascension church. Jesus, the more you know, the more you love Him. He is Immanuel. God with us. God doing life with us. But all with a plan for the eternal by everything He did. That’s Jesus. Human enough to understand us and yet the divine Creator to who Moses and Elijah bow down before. I am in awe and in tears when you think about all of this.

Amen and Amen.

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