Matthew 17:1-21 – The Transfiguration
Yesterday at Baltimore Bible Church Pastor George preached on the beginning of Matthew 17:
Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. And behold, 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 tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified. And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, “Get up, and do not be afraid.” And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone.
As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.” And His disciples asked Him, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” And He answered and said, “Elijah is coming and will restore all things; but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist.
When they came to the crowd, a man came up to Jesus, falling on his knees before Him and saying, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic and is very ill; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. I brought him to Your disciples, and they could not cure him.” And Jesus answered and said, “You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him here to Me.” And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured at once.
Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. [But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”]
As we have seen in studying chapter 16, we are now entering the last phase of Jesus’ ministry. It might seem that after the true identity of this remarkable man, The Messiah, was revealed things would get better and better. The disciples would have expected Him to begin setting up His kingdom and overthrowing the oppressive Roman government. This is not at all what happened though. As we saw at the end of chapter 16, Jesus immediately began preparing the disciples for his imminent death. The miraculous events of chapter 17, the Transfiguration and the healing of the demon-possessed boy, are both a continuation of this, designed to encourage their faith and challenge their unbelief.
Pastor George pointed out two questions this passage demands we answer about our own faith. First, will you trust God when His plans are different than yours? An astute reader of the law and prophets (the Old Testament) would have known that before the Messiah came, Elijah would come. Malachi 4:5-6, the final words of the Old Testament, prophesy, “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.” Because of this passage, most Jewish scholars believed that Elijah (who never died) would physically return and prepare the way for the Messiah. But they missed that the very words used by Malachi were given to Zacharias by the angel Gabriel when he told him that he would have a son. Luke 1: 17 says “It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children.’” John the Baptist fulfilled the prophecy of the spirit of Elijah coming before Jesus the Savior.
This was not what Peter, James, and John would have been taught and expected. This is partly why Jesus took them up on the mountain, to show them that His ways and His plan were the ones to trust. In verse 12 Jesus again reminds them that He would suffer at the hands of the same people who mistreated John the Baptist, encouraging them to trust no matter what would happen.
The second question we must ask is will you trust God when His promise is different than your experience? As they come down from the mountain, a large crowd meets them where a father with his demon-possessed boy cry out for Jesus’ help. He brought the boy to the rest of Jesus disciples (who had specifically been given the power to cast out all demons) but they had no power over the boy. This an embarrassment to the disciples and a discouragement for the boy’s father. Weren’t these supposed to be the ones who could help him when no one else could? They were, but they lacked faith in a specific command of Jesus. This is instructive for what kind of faith we ought to have. Not faith in faith. Not faith in our own beliefs or desires. But faith in what God has said and in following His commands. Everyone has faith in something, the key is placing it in something that is worth believing in.
There is a common phrase that goes “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” This is good as far as it goes, but a better way to live is “God said it. That settles it. I believe it.” Let this passage challenge us to trust in God when He has different plans for us than we do, and when He promises us things that may not fit with our current experience.