Today’s Gospel (Matthew 17 1-7) tells the story of the Transfiguration
Like many of the key events in Matthew’s narrative the events take place on a mountain. Others include:
– The Temptation Matthew 4.8 “The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour”
– Sermon on the Mount Matthew ch 5-8
The Transfiguration Matthew 17 – today’s subject
The mount of Olives features heavily in the events leading up to the crucifixion
– Matthew 21 – As they approached Jerusalem they came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, to get a donkey and a colt for his entry into Jerusalem
– Garden of Gethsemane on Mount of Olives in Mat 26:30 that Jesus spends his last night on earth before his crucifixion at Golgotha – which may or may not have been a hill – interestingly the Gospels are silent on the point!
Finally,The great Commission Matthew 28 “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.”
So throughout Matthew’s Gospel, whenever something important happens – especially around Christ’s relationship with God – it happens on a mountain – and for the transfiguration it is a high mountain so it must be really special event!
A second major theme running through Matthew is to demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one, the holy one of God.
– the genealogy with which the Gospel begins
– the divine conception of the nativity
– the miracles of healing, the feeding of the 5,000 and walking on water
– in the appearance of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove at the baptism saying in words almost identical to the ones here – “This is my son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased”
The third major theme in Matthew is of Jesus not refuting but rather fulfilling the promises and prophesies of the Old Testament and Matthew goes to great pains to point this out.
So in January, we had the story of the holy family travelling to Egypt in fulfilment of the prophesy from Hosea “Out of Egypt I called My Son”
We had John the Baptist who was foretold in Isaiah 40.3 which is quoted verbatim by Matthew:
A voice of one calling
In the wilderness “prepare
the way for the LORD;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God”.
But also there is the later prophesy of Malachi 3.1 “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,”
We learn much from Malachi – a 5th century prophet – the last book of the Old testament – the link to Matthew the first book of the new
So what does Malachi say about this man from God, this Messiah?
“But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.
Wonderful language of the coming of the Messiah
Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LORD Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the LORD Almighty.
Then he mentions Moses
“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.
Then he mentions Elijah
“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. 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.”
So this is the prophesy of Malachi – first came the law of Moses, then will come Elijah and then the chosen one, the Messiah
Jesus face changes as Moses face changed when he received the 10 commandments – in case we were in any doubt that we are seeing a parallel of the great events of Exodus, not only does God appear as a cloud as on Sinai but then Peter offers to make a tent for each, a tabernacle like then one used to keep the Arc of the Covenant
So Matthew is saying that Jesus is in company with Moses who brought the law and Elijah who reformed the people of Israel when they had got distant from God
But above all Jesus is the Messiah, the Holy one of God – this is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him
Well all this is very interesting – or actually you may think this is all very boring – I don’t know – but what is the relevance to us – to Christians not Jew – living in 21st century Britain – where for 2,000 years there has been no burning up of the unrighteous like stubble and there appears no prospect of there being
Have you ever seen anyone transfigured?
Well I have been thinking about this all week – and I think I have and quite often
You know that moment when you recognise that someone has more to offer than you thought – you look at them again and see them differently, “in a new light”, not through a glass darkly but face to face to face. The way you look at a loved one and their face glows as they reciprocate your love.
When Jesus was transfigured the disciples saw him as he really was, as special, as from God and the glory of God was reflected on his face
When we recognise hidden qualities in people, we see in them a reflection of the special, the divine and that quality, brothers and sisters, is what lights up the world and makes it special
Let us pray:
O lord, we give you thanks for the reflections of your glory which we see in the faces of those whom we love. Help us to recognise the good that lies in others, the richness of their talents and experience and the value of their lives and work. Bring us every day closer to your presence that our words and deeds may reflect that glorious example bequeathed unto mankind in Christ Jesu our Lord
In the words of the priestly Blessing which the Lord taught to Moses after he had received the 10 commandments:
May the Lord bless us , and keep us;
The Lord make His face shine on us,
And be gracious to us;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon us,
And give us his peace.
sermon delivered by Chris Hancock, St Mary’s Headley, March 6, 2011