by John Lowe
A man was arraigned for murder in Los Angeles about 60 years ago. It was a difficult case with a lot of circumstantial evidence. The man’s defense lawyer, however, thought of an ingenious ploy. In his summing up speech, he said: “Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, you must find my client not guilty of murder - if there is the slightest doubt in your minds that he is not the murderer.” And now I have one final witness.
“The true murderer is about to walk through the door.” All eyes swung towards the door but no one came in. The lawyer continued: “You see, Ladies and Gentlemen, there is doubt in your minds, otherwise you would not have looked towards the door.” The jury retired to deliberate and came back five hours later with a “Guilty” verdict. The lawyer was beside himself and before the judge could pass sentence he sprang up and said, “But I proved that you had a doubt about my client’s guilt. How can you possibly find him guilty?” An old wrinkled man in the jury stood up and said: “As everyone looked towards the door, I watched your client. His eyes did not turn towards the door. He did not look towards the door because he knew no one was coming through; because he himself was the guilty one.”
In contrast to that Los Angeles Courtroom, where the star witness did not appear, this morning’s Gospel reading is all about a star witness who did appear. And He came to answer the question that was on everyone’s lips: “Who is Jesus?” Who was this star witness? He was none other than God the Father, who answered the question by revealing Jesus’ glory to the disciples Peter, James, and John and by saying: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And the relevance of all this for us was summed in two simple words “Hear Him!” Jesus is God’s Son and we need to listen to Him.
The Gospel reading is known as the story of the Transfiguration. It refers to the “remarkable transformation that once took place in the appearance of Jesus.” This is how Matthew described what happened.
1 Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves;
2 and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.
3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.
4 Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!”
6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid.
7 But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.”
8 When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
9 Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”
10 And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”
11 Jesus answered and said to them, “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things.
12 But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.”
13 Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.
When I looked at the passage, my first reaction was--
1. Why did the event take place?
I think a key to the answer can be found in the context of the story. In the previous chapter, Matthew 16, we read that people had been asking the question: “Who is Jesus?” For example, Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” (13) It is clear from their response that it was a hot topic. “Well” the disciples replied, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (14) If it hadn’t been “hot gossip” at the time, they wouldn’t have said that. But it wasn’t just the crowds who were talking about Jesus. His own disciples were asking the same question. Listen to what Jesus said:
15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” .
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
The question “Who is this Jesus” was burning on everyone’s lips. And in the previous Chapter, Matthew 16, we see human responses.
Now in Chapter 17, we see a divine response. I believe the Transfiguration took place, because God the Father wanted to answer the question: Definitely - once and for all, “Who is Jesus?”
2. Let us look at the Transfiguration in more detail
At the Transfiguration, three major
1. Jesus’ appearance was transformed.
2. Moses and Elijah appeared with him on the
3. God the Father spoke to the disciples.
And all of these were part of the Father’s response to the question: “Who is Jesus?” Let us look at the first significant event - the actual Transfiguration. Jesus led Peter, James, and John up a high mountain – probably Mount Hermon (2,814 m above sea level) near Caesarea Philippi. There “…He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.” (2) Part of the Father’s response to the question: "Who is Jesus?" was to reveal Jesus in his full glory. Jesus’ face shone like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white. You may recall a similar incident that occurred in the Old Testament. Moses came down the Mountain, after having been in the presence of God, and his face shone so much - reflecting the glory of God - that he had to wear a veil.
Let me read you the passage from Exodus 34: “When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the two tablets of testimony – holding the 10 commandments – in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses and that his face was radiant, they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him and he spoke to them…. When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. (Ex 24:29-33). In the same way as the glory of God was reflected in Moses, so God the Father revealed to Peter, James, and John - Jesus in his glory. God the Father gave the disciples clear visual evidence of who Jesus is.
The second significant event that happened at the Transfiguration was that Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus
Verse 3 said, “Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus.”
Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets (our Old Testament) and I find it noteworthy that after God the Father had spoken, Moses and Elijah disappeared and Jesus alone remained. And one Bible Commentator put it this way: “The Law and the Prophets have served their turn and pass away. He, who is the fulfillment of both, alone remains.”
Who is Jesus? Another aspect of God the Father’s answer is that Jesus is the one who will replace the Old Covenant. A new era is on the horizon. The Old Covenant, represented by Moses and Elijah is going to pass away and the new Covenant is going to come, through the death and resurrection of Jesus. This new covenant is a relationship with Jesus.
In one of our churches, they were discussing the difficulty of getting people in town to come to church. One of the laymen spoke up, and said, “How can I answer people when they say: I live a good life, in fact, I am as good as those who go to church. I don’t need to come to church.” I think the answer must lie in the fact that Christianity does not solely equate with being good – but rather Christianity lies in our relationship with Jesus. We come to church to worship God.
The third significant event that happened at the Transfiguration was that God the Father told the disciples “Who Jesus is”
Verse 5 said, “While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!”
The disciples were terrified and fell face down on the ground. Jesus came over to them and touched them and said “Get up;” and then He said “Don’t be afraid” And when they looked, they saw only Jesus with them. It is interesting that when God the Father spoke, He simply said “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!”
Who is Jesus? God the Father tells us that Jesus is His Son. Jesus is revealed here as God the Son. And what is the relevance to us today? God the Father’s final three words were: “Listen to Jesus,” and when God the Father had finished speaking, Elijah and Moses were gone. Only Jesus remained. This speaks to me of the predominance of Jesus. It is interesting that God the Father did not say, “Listen to Jesus and Moses and Elijah.” He just simply said, “Listen to Jesus.”
Jesus made some outstanding claims. For example, He said “I am the way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father EXCEPT by me” (Jn 14:6). There is no other way to God than through Jesus. We don’t have rules and regulations that we have to keep in order to get to heaven. It is not a matter of being good. Rather it is a matter of coming through Christ.
The question that I would like to leave with you this morning is: Who do you think Jesus is? If you believe what God the Father said, then the challenge is this: are we prepared to listen to what Jesus has to say in our lives.