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.
Those who choose to follow Jesus must be sure they understand who He is. While it is not uncommon for some people to say they are “Jesus followers” rather than “Christians,” they most often say that in order to avoid any negative stigma that may be associated with the label “Christian.” But many who say they are “Jesus followers” do so because they remain focused on Jesus’ earthly ministry, trying to imitate Jesus in word and deed, trying to live out “Love thy neighbor” in their own lives. Being loving and caring for others is commendable, and it is one hallmark of Jesus’ character, but anyone can live out a life of caring for others. Nonbelievers do such things every day. Being a “Jesus follower” of that sort is little more than simply being a nice person. Such behavior does little to distinguish the Jesus follower from the Muslim or the Jew or the Buddhist or the pagan or even the atheist. In fact, because the Jesus follower seems to be doing the same work as his or her non-Christian counterparts, it is often the Jesus follower who buys into the worldly philosophy that “all paths lead to God.”
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
No, if we are to truly follow Christ, we must acknowledge that He is the one way to peace with God. We must bear the cross that He bore, and we must know who He truly is: the beloved Son of God.
In today’s verses from the gospel of Matthew, Jesus takes three disciples with Him to the top of a mountain, and there they witness Jesus’ transfiguration. One would think that after walking with Jesus for a couple of years and getting used to how He looks as a man, when they saw Him metamorphosed into a shining Being, then they would understand that He is much more than they ever thought. Simon Peter had even said that He understood that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16) And yet, when the disciples saw the bright and shining Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah–whom we must assume they recognized by faith rather than by sight–they offered to make three tents, as if Jesus, Moses, and Elijah were equals, all deserving of individual abodes. No sooner do those words leave Peter’s mouth than a cloud appears and rings forth with the voice of God, who then clarifies who Jesus really is: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (v.5b English Standard Version)
•Jesus is God’s Son. He is not simply another prophet, not a reincarnation of one of the patriarchs. He is the only Son of God.
•God loves Jesus the same way He and Jesus love us: “agape” love, love that transcends all worldly barriers and desires, love that is selfless in its humility and boundless in its might.
•God the Father is well-pleased with His Son. While the rest of the world–especially many Jews–have reviled and begun persecuting Jesus, God Himself literally “thinks well”–ευδοκεω (“eudokeo”)–of what Jesus has been doing.
But the most important part of this statement is the last part: “Hear Him” or “Listen to him.”
47 “And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.
48 “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him–the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.
49 “For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.
50 “And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak.”
The words of Moses were not heeded in his own time, and even though he set down all that the Lord told him, those words were ignored whenever the Hebrews saw fit to follow their own ways and their own idols. Elijah was persecuted in his lifetime, hunted by the very people he came to bring back to the Lord their God. We might ignore the words of Moses and Elijah, but the words of Jesus are the last chance we are to get. Because Jesus is the beloved Son of God, His words carry absolute authority, absolute truth, absolute judgment–and, of course, eternal life. (John 6:68)
“Hear Him” is a command, not just a suggestion. And if we are to hear Jesus and heed His words, there are a few things we must therefore remember:
40 “Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age.
41 “The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness,
42 “and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”
8 “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire.
9 “And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire.”
And of course…
16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
17 “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
You see, following Jesus’ earthly ministry is nice and it may make a good name for Jesus and oneself, but to truly follow Jesus as one of His disciples means that we heed His words and share the gospel of the kingdom of God–and that includes the parts about what will happen if people DON’T believe in Jesus. We must seek the righteousness of God and cling to Jesus as the Christ who was sent to bring us eternal life. All the good works are nice, but they must come as the fruit of faith in Jesus as the only begotten Son of God. Belief in Jesus is not just belief in His earthly existence two thousand years ago but belief in His eternal existence as the Christ, as the Savior and Lord of our lives, as THE way, THE truth, and THE life that brings us back to God our Father. We must not equate Jesus with just any other wise man or prophet, must not try to build homes in our hearts for Him alongside the places we have for patriarchs and theologians and reformers of old. Jesus must be preeminent, the One exalted above all other gods or men in our lives. It is His words we must absolutely hear and heed, His words that bring eternal life.
The response of the disciples Peter, James, and John is entirely appropriate: they fell on their faces and feared God, and when they looked up again, only Jesus remained. We must not get into the habit of thinking we are equal to Christ in word and deed, for He alone is the Son of God, He alone brings eternal life, and He alone will judge the quick and the dead. (Acts 10:42) Yes, in Jesus’ name we have continued doing greater and more works than He was able to do in His short earthly life (John 14:12), but let us not forget that it is His Spirit who performs those works through us. (1 Corinthians 12:7-11) For all the fruit we may bear, He alone is the true vine and we are just the branches. (John 15:5) For all our faith, He alone is the Author and Finisher of our faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Therefore, let us not simply follow Jesus and try to imitate His earthly ministry. Let us follow Him as true disciples, in certain knowledge of Him as the only begotten Son of God, One who is beloved of God and in whom God is well pleased. Let us know these things, know who Jesus truly is–Christ, Messiah, Emmanuel, Lamb of God, Word made flesh. Let us know who He is and truly HEAR HIM, and heed His words–both the loving and caring words AND the warnings of condemnation and hell fire. For He came to save us from eternal damnation, not simply to lead us in living nice lives. He came to bring us to eternal life, not simply to show us how to live a better life now. And most importantly, He came to die upon a cross for our sins and satisfy the righteous requirements of our loving and merciful God. If we would follow Jesus, then, like the apostles, we must see Him transfigured from a worldly healer and prophet into who he truly is: the beloved Son of God.
Lord Jesus, I love You not simply for what You have done in my life–leading me to repentance, giving me faith and hope, redeeming my life from death into Your glory–but also for what You have given me to do. I praise Your name among my brethren, and I exalt You above all other gods and men in my life. You alone deserve a tabernacle in my life, a place to reside and speak truth in my heart. You are not simply “Jesus” but Jesus Christ: Jesus the Anointed One who saves, the Lamb of God who is humble and powerful, the Beginning and the End. Dear Lord, be transfigured in my heart and mind, and help me to show others who You truly are: the beloved Son of God. Amen.