Matthew 17:1-13 – We Are Kids Who Have Not Studied For A Test

Posted: January 25, 2016 in Gospel of Matthew

Matthew 17:1-13 (Part 6, Final)
The Transfiguration

Today, we conclude our look at the meaty passage known as The Transfiguration, Matthew 17:1-13. As we take this final look at this passage, we are drawn to the question as to why was it important for Matthew to include this conversation about Elijah coming again. This conversation reminds me of conversations with my dad when I was younger about history. My dad is a history buff. Even though he has a pastorally related master and doctoral degrees, he was a history major for his undergraduate degree. He loves history and how all things interrelate with one another. He loves how the outcomes of certain periods of history affect future periods of history and how sometimes history repeats itself in the actions of men. So, it was always interesting to bring questions about history to him and listen to him explain the back story of events and how those back stories influenced people’s decisions that made history. My dad has an unique way to make history interesting and understandable. I guess that is why in his younger days as a preacher, he would often teach history as a substitute teacher. Making history understandable. That is kind of what I see here. The disciples were asking about the future, but it was Jesus that explained to them that the future is already here. He gave them a history lesson on how we came to the present. There is an old saying that those who do not know history are destined to repeat it. I think that applies here as well. Let’s read this passage together one more time today before we move on:

 

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.

 

 
As to be background here, we ask the question as to why Matthew chose to include this conversation in his text about the Transfiguration. We must remember that the primary audience to whom Matthew was writing his gospel was to his Jewish brethren. His whole intent and purpose of writing his gospel was to demonstrate to the Jews that Jesus was indeed the long-awaited Messiah. In verse 10 of this passage, the disciples make reference to Malachi 4:5-6, which says,

 

5 “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”

 

Therefore, from Malachi, the first century Jews believed that Elijah must appear before the Messiah would appear. Jesus informs them that John the Baptist had fulfilled the prophecy of Elijah’s precursing return. He says that they killed him instead of recognizing the role that he was playing in God’s prophetic plan for the appearance of the Messiah. Why is this important? Why is it important? I struggled with this question until we consider what Matthew is doing here. Matthew is telling his Jewish audience that all has been fulfilled. Jesus is the Messiah of biblical prophecy. He is not the conquering political hero that the Jews had made up in their minds. He is saying that Jesus is the what the Bible predicted and prophecied. His purpose what to get his own people to read their Bibles again instead of thinking up what they wanted the Messiah to be. He is saying Jesus fulfilled all Old Testament prophecy. Open your eyes, read your Bible, and understand, Jesus is the One.

What is the point of this discussion then to us here twenty centuries later? What can we learn from Matthew’s purpose of this conversation? Are we not battling the same thing today both within and without the church? We are having the same arguments among Christians themselves as to who this Jesus really is. We are having the same conversations with non-believers. Who is this Jesus?

Within the church, we are increasingly a biblical illiterate collection of believers. In a 2012 study by LifeWay Research, they found from a survey of 2,900 Protestant churchgoers that only 19% actually read their Bible as a daily routine. No wonder there is so much misinformation out there about what we are supposed to believe and what we believe Jesus is and what He said. Although most Christians desire to honor God with their lives, when it comes to reading the Bible most are like the kid that does not want read his history homework assignment so he doesn’t, so he fails his tests, and so does not learn the interrelatedness of historical events. When we fail to engage God’s Word on a daily, routine basis, we are destined to repeat what Matthew was trying to change. The Jews had forgotten all the prophecies and firmly believed in a desired conquering military hero Messiah not the suffering servant Messiah that the Old Testament prophecies predict. He is saying to them to go back compare what I have said to the real Old Testament prophecies not the ones that you have made up in your mind. Are we not the same today? Look at the success of the prosperity gospel movement out there. Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, and others like them have created this Messiah that demonstrates his approval of our behavior through financial blessings. Our financial status is an indication of how God is pleased with us. Others have convinced themselves that Jesus is a self-help guru that has great suggestions on how to live a positive life. They ignore the calls that he makes to help the poor. They ignore the call to live according to God’s Word in its entirety. They ignore the call to evangelize the world beginning at our doorstep. Jesus is a personal thing. Jesus is my self help guru. Others see Jesus as accepting of all things and all behaviors because Jesus is peace-love-dove 1960’s commune. Jesus has no judgment in him. He accepts me for who I am and it does not matter that I am continuing to revel in my sin because Jesus loves me and never would judge me. Therefore, with biblical literacy, we as collection of believers who do not regularly read the Bible, we do not really understand who Jesus is and what He has done for us. Without reading the Bible, we do not fully understand why the cross redeems us. We do not understand that it is the culmination of God’s redemptive plan for man. We do not understand that the cross is the correction for our sin problem. We do not understand our tainted sin nature that cannot be erased by good deeds. We do not understand the full nature of God’s judgment against us and equally His love for us. We do not understand the overarching story of redemption that begins and ends in the Garden. We do not understand the need for evangelism and discipleship if we do not read the very basis of our faith.

Non-believers also make Jesus out to what they want Him to be as well. Jesus is just a menu option on the vending machine of eternity. He is one of the buttons we can push. They believe that in the name of tolerance all faiths are equal. Other religions respond to Jesus but do not see Him. It is all a big mess. We are not unlike the pre-flood world. We are a world chasing after our own desires. We believe in what makes us feel good and what makes sense to us. We worship idols of our own making. There are faiths that couch nationalism in religion and murder people in that religion’s name to further advance their nationalism. We have a world where also religion as seen as outdated and antiquated and see people who believe in any kind of faith as complete idiots. We pride ourselves in our humanism. We discard the Bible as some hokum of the past. We are a world on a train running full speed toward a cliff but yet have blinded ourselves to the cliff because we are all in the party car of the train and no one is at the controls of the locomotive. This world needs to know who Jesus is but, as the commander of Apollo 13 said, “Houston, we have a problem.”

You see the perplexing problem we have? We have a world in desperate need of knowing who Jesus is but we have 80% of American Christians who do not know how to explain it to them because they themselves do not read God’s Word on a regular basis, if at all. Matthew had a similar problem. The Jews had created their own Messiah. He pointed them to God’s Word and said Jesus is the Messiah. He fulfills all the prophecies of old, every one of them. Grasp it and understand it and come to Him and seek Him and ask Him to be the Lord and Savior of your life, my fellow first century Jews! He says the same thing to us today, sadly. Jesus is not the Jesus of popular culture. Read your Bible. See that Jesus is the suffering servant who died on the cross to give us access to the forgiveness of God through His sacrifice on our behalf, but He is also one who will return one day to judge us for whether we accepted Him as our Savior and Lord or not. In the meantime, we have a responsibility to tell the world who He really is. Matthew cries out to us to read our Bibles to understand the real Messiah, the real Jesus. How can we understand the depth and beauty and urgency and need for the real Jesus if we do not know God’s Word rightly. There was a line from the movie, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, that applies here, “Read it. Learn it. Live it.” How else are we and the world around us ever going to understand the real Messiah if we do not read and understand. Let us not be the kid who comes to class on Monday who forgot to study for the big test. Let us be prepared. Let us know our Bibles. Let us know the real Jesus. Let us pass the test. Dust off the Bible. Read it. Learn it. Live it.

Amen and Amen.

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