EYE-WITNESS TO THE MESSIAH
An Unforgettable Mountain-Top Experience
Every now and again I come across something I have written, years ago, like a sermon or article or journal note, and think it is rather good! Except that I have absolutely no memory of having written it.
Sometimes though, God gives us experiences He intends we will never forget, mountain-top experiences, times we encounter God in such a powerful way that we know He is leading, directing, pointing to His plan and purpose for life.
Let’s look at one of those times, experienced by three of the disciples lives — The Transfiguration of Jesus Christ.
I find myself asking the question “Why did this happen for these disciples, and why at this point in their lives?” I believe it was meant to be an unforgettable mountain-top spiritual experience which they would remember when at the low-points, or the spiritual and emotional valleys of their lives.
Which is our spiritual lesson this morning. A mountain top experience is something you can look back at, to revive your flagging faith, when you have to pass through deep valleys.
The situation the disciples faced is critical to understanding what God was doing in their lives at that time. Peter had just made the great confession in Matthew 16 — He was absolutely convinced Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.
Christ commended him for this statement because this belief is essential to our salvation.
Then, immediately following this, Jesus began to announce more good news, which sounded like bad news to the disciples at first. He, the Messiah, would suffer and die and be raised again. And not only this, they were going to follow Him, willing to deny themselves and take up their cross to follow Him. In summary,they needed to be willing to lose their lives for Christ’s sake in order to save their lives.
Tough stuff. Peter didn’t like what Jesus said about his own imminent death. The disciples weren’t excited that to follow Jesus they had to give up their own lives. These words bugged them.
So, it’s not surprising the Mount of Transfiguration experience of the manifest presence of God was greater and more glorious than any other single experience any of the disciples had ever had with Jesus, designed by God to be absolutely unforgettable.
Jesus took three of his disciples, Peter, James and John, the inner-circle of His disciples, to the summit of a high mountain.. It was these three alone who were invited to come with Jesus as He raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead in Mark 5:37. They also were the three invited by Jesus to observe his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane in Mark 14:33.
But why these three? The Bible doesn’t say, so we may only speculate. Peter, obviously I think, was first among equals among the disciples and would give the great sermon on the Day of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church. He personally had made the great confession. So He’s a natural choice.
James, is not so easy. He was John’s brother, the first apostle to be martyred, and he set an example for the other apostles who would subsequently be killed for their testimony of Jesus.
John is a natural choice as well. He was the first to the tomb on Easter morning, first to believe in the resurrected Christ, the disciple who would live the longest write five books of the New Testament including the Gospel of John and Revelation.
It was all about God’s sovereign plan for their lives, and I suspect, their trustworthiness. Jesus wanted no one to know about transfiguration until after His resurrection. It would foment too much political interest in him, that may force an earthly kingship upon him, instead of the heavenly one he was born for.
So the three accompanied Jesus up a high mountain, at the northernmost end of Israel, somewhere high on Mount Hermon. It was six days after He had promised the disciples some of them would not taste death until they had seen the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom. In other words, seeing Jesus as he will be when he comes back again, in glory.
So the question is how was it possible that the some disciples would see Jesus in His second coming during His first coming? The answer is found in the passages which tell of Christ’s second coming and His appearance in heaven.
Matthew 24:30: **”And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory.” **
And Revelation 1:14-16 tells of John’s revelation of the glorified and exalted Jesus Christ: “His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. . . . His face was like the sun shining in its strength.”
Jesus brings them to the summit, and He is transfigured, his appearance transformed, changed from mere human being into the glorified Son of God. His face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. With Him were the saints who will return with Him, Moses and Elijah. Moses, who represented the Law, and Elijah, who represented the prophets.
We know from Scripture that when Jesus returns to us he will come with Moses and Elijah, through the clouds and great power and glory. What the disciples are actually observing is what the Son of Man, the Son of God will look like at the Second Coming.
It must have been an mesmerising, unforgettable experience for the disciples — a foretaste of glory divine, a guarantee that Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God was true, and that Jesus’ promises He would be glorified, were going to happen. Could we ever doubt that God is in it.
Peter was so excited he quickly says “Lord it is good for us to be here. If you will, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
Tabernacles, or booths, are temporary dwelling places, Jews erect when celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths, remembering Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness. Peter wanted to friendly, but he wanted these amazing men to stay.
Truly an experience never forgotten. John refers to it in John 1:14b “And we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Peter clearly describes it in I Peter 2:16-18: “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honour and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”— and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.”
An unforgettable experience of the manifest presence of God for a reason. These men would never forget this incredible revelation and its guarantee that all Jesus taught was absolutely true.
Jesus had been reminding and preparing them for His death. As the disciples descended with Jesus from this mountain-top experience they were also would descending into the valley of Christ’s humiliation and into their own great despair.
I’ve learned God gives mountain-top experiences so we can remember in times of despair, when we’re tempted to give up.
So remember your mountain-top experiences when you’re in the valley. Maybe it’s the moment you first trusted in Jesus, maybe got saved. For others it will be was a time when God wonderfully spoke to you through his Word, or perhaps He supernaturally delivered you from despair. And if you don’t have one, borrow one from the disciples — Jesus is the Son of the Living God and He’s coming back for you, proved by when this incredible demonstration to the three reliable apostles.
A second lesson is that we should focus on heavenly glory when in earthly difficulty.
The Second Coming of Christ and the coming Kingdom of God is called the blessed hope, and is our best motivation for living for Jesus Christ, through the difficulties of this world. As Titus 2:11-13 puts it, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus”
Blessed hope, is the confident expectation we have of Christ’s return and the heavenly glory we will experience when He returns.The gratification may be delayed, but it is worth waiting for.
As believers, we don’t experience heaven here. This is not our home, and if we learn to deny ungodliness and worldly desires, and if we live with honest and righteous faith in Jesus, we will experience the blessings of Christ’s Second Coming and His Kingdom when He comes.
And so this another reason for the Transfiguration. These three men uniquely experienced heaven and the heavenly Christ before the time. They experienced that it was good, exceedingly good, so good they didn’t want those three men to go. They wanted to continue to experience that glory, and what the presence of Moses and Elijah, alive and well and with God in heaven tells us, is that this indeed will be our experience as well if we live by faith in this life.
The third reason the Transfiguration took place was to reassure those three men that Jesus was indeed who Peter said He was, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.
Jewish people then had virtually no concept that the Messiah would die and suffer for their sins and be resurrected, even though it’s clearly in Daniel 9:26 and Isaiah 52-53. Skipping such ideas, they looked for a political deliverer to rule the world from Jerusalem. A Jesus — suffering, dying and being raised from the dead — was difficult for them to swallow. The Pharisees and Sadducees, the official religious leaders of the Jews, would reject this notion by killing Jesus.
The disciples found it hard to oppose their religious authorities — from whom they took spiritual counsel all their lives. Now they had heard from heaven, from God Himself, that Jesus, who was going to be rejected and killed by the chief priests and the Sanhedrin was indeed the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.
God our Father, arranged that. Peter is thinking about building some huts, but the cloud representing the shekinah glory of God — the glory of God that had always represented the manifest presence of God Himself in the tabernacle and temple —moved in to overshadowed them. Then a voice “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” Exactly the same words that God spoke at the baptism of Jesus.
The first time, it was the first clue as to whom Jesus really was, the Son of the living God, co-equal with the Father, the God-Man. Now it was the re-affirmation of what Peter had confessed. God the Father was testifying that this man Jesus was no mere faith-healer, miracle-worker or prophet. He was the Son of the Living God.
Why all this emphasis on a point of doctrine? Because it is absolutely essential and non-negotiable for salvation. You can’t get to heaven without believing this. If don’t believe Jesus is God the Son, you’ve got the wrong God. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but through Me!”
How many more ways does God have to say it? Jesus is His Son, the God-Man, and our Saviour. By grace, through faith in His Son’s death for our sins and resurrection, God saves us.
Let me close with one more important instruction from God, something we must not ignore. End of verse 5: “Listen to Him!” Listen to Jesus.
The gospel of truth continues to be proclaimed by faithful ones, but it is often ignored or treated with unbelief. Listen to Jesus! Read the Gospels! Do what He says! Amen.