The Ultimate Mountaintop Experience (Matthew Sermon 80 of 151)
November 16, 2008 | Andrew Davis
Glory of God, Incarnation, Christ's Exaltation, Deity of Christ
I'll never forget my intensely mixed feelings as I sat there on the top of a mountain in Acadia National Park at the end of a long weekend. I had slipped away from my regular work as an engineer and had a weekend - this is before I was married and I used to go there. It was a good long drive from Massachusetts, but it was well worth it, still one of the prettiest places I've seen on God's earth. I think it was the combination of the rocky low mountains right on the coastline of Maine that just made such an impression.
And I've seen some impressive mountains since then. More dramatic I think than that, but still, the beauty of the place was just ravishing to my heart. And I remember sitting there and just seeing sail boats in the harbor down way below me and seeing a hawk circling below me, just riding the thermals, and feeling the wind on my face and that smell, that fall smell of leaves, wet leaves on the ground. And seeing the sunset, and the colors changing, so dramatic. And I didn't wanna leave because I knew that in a few minutes, I'd have to go and get in my car and drive five hours, and the next morning I'd be at work again and I'd be depressed and I'd be discouraged and I didn't wanna go back 'cause I'd had a wonderful time in prayer and in the word and it was a true mountain top experience.
And it was very refreshing to me, and I think it's good in life to have mountaintop experiences, isn't it? To be able to be there, to get away, to see the power and the beauty of God in creation. The hard thing about them is that they come to an end. And that we can't live there forever.
Now, I say to you that those mountaintop experiences are essential to the Christian life. We need them, we need to get away, we need to retreat 'cause there's still miles to travel, there's still suffering we have to go through, there's still sanctification battles we have to fight with our indwelling sin. There's still the effort of bringing lost people to faith in Christ, and they don't wanna come when you first meet them. Eventually they'll thank you for your sacrificial efforts in reaching out to them with the gospel, but there's still some hard things we have to go through.
And so we need those mountain top experiences, those retreats to give us a glimpse of the future world that awaits us and how ravishing it is and how beautiful. And what kind of peace and happiness will be waiting for us there in heaven. John Bunyan, I really think, understood this very well and in his classic on the Christian life, The Pilgrim's Progress, he weaves in masterfully, I think, the rhythm of the Christian pilgrimage from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City.
Extremely difficult trials face Christian, but they're also mixed with places of refuge and refreshment. Very wise, Bunyan sees the need for that in the Christian journey. Now, the sweetest of these moments of rest was a vision that Christian and Hopeful had from the Delectable Mountains. There they were in the Delectable Mountains and on a particular mountain called Clear, they were able to look through a special telescope to see the very gates of heaven.
Well that's what I was hoping would happen for us today. That you could look through the clear text of Scripture and see the very gates of heaven, the glory that awaits us. I really think this is why Jesus did it. Why he showed a glimpse of his celestial glory to those three apostles, Peter, John and James that they would have a glimpse and I think it's why he moved Matthew to write it down. But I tell you no mountaintop experience that I've ever had in life is like that one. What would you have given to be there, to see Jesus in some of his heavenly glory, an experience that would transform your life, and to hear the voice of Almighty God speaking out of a bright cloud? Oh, you would never forget it. And say these words: “This is my Son, my only Son whom I love, with him I am well pleased, listen to him.”
Oh how much they longed to stay there. Oh, how much they yearned to set up something permanent there, and not have to go down off that mountain, but they could not. And by the end of the account, they're walking down the mountain side talking about Jesus' impending death. And in the very next account, it's the apostles pretty much at their faithless worst. And there's just miles to travel, miles of suffering.
But my yearning for you today is before you travel your own miles this week, whatever suffering awaits you that you pull apart just now, and that you gaze into the face of Jesus by faith in the text and see there the glory that awaits you. That you will someday see him in his full resurrection glory. And that you yourself will be glorious, and you'll be free from death, and mourning, and crying, and pain. Just as last week, we had a glimpse into Hell when Jesus said, “What would it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” This week we have a glimpse into Heaven when we see the transformed face of Jesus Christ, the transfiguration of Christ.
The Transfigured Face of Christ (vs. 1-2)
Now some have called Jesus in his incarnation “God Incognito,” God in disguise. People, I think, have always delighted in stories in which some great personage, some king or emperor takes off his kingly robes and comes down and mingles with the people in disguise, and they don't know who he is, and he hears things said, and learns some things like the Prince and the Pauper, something like that.
Now I think no story in literature of any royalty coming and mingling is anything like the incarnation for the infinite journey that Jesus traveled. As you heard in Landis' prayer, he who is rich became poor for our sakes, he left the throne of glory and came down to dwell with us. Charles Wesley put it in his Christmas hymn, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” This is what he said, “Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see, hail the incarnate deity.” “Veiled” means somewhat in disguise. You needed faith to see him, he looked like any other man. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him. Wesley says, “Mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die.”
Now for Christ to be glorious was his normal state from eternity past. The strange thing was that he chose to lay that outward visible glory aside when he came to earth. But this was essential to his plan of salvation for the human race. It had to be. For he had to appear as a normal human being in order that his enemies might kill him. They would never have killed him if they had known who he was. If he had been in bright radiant glory all the time, they'd be terrified on their faces in front of him at every moment and he never would have died. I mean look what happened the night that they arrested him. All they had to do was just say, “Who are you looking for?” “Jesus of Nazareth.” And he says, “I am,” and they're on the ground in front of him. That's just him saying his name, how much more than some of his heavenly glory. So it was essential to his plan. He came to lay down his life as a ransom for many and so he would never have been killed if he had not laid aside that outward visible glory.
Furthermore, it was essential to our salvation. We had to believe in the word of God, we had to see him just as a man and trust that what he said was true, what Scripture said about him was true. And the Scripture had to be sufficient to lead those apostles to faith in Christ and to any that saw him. Who learned, as the apostle Paul later said, from now on, we don't know Jesus in a fleshly way just by the eye, but we once knew him that way. We don't know him that way any longer. But we've come to believe by the Scripture that Jesus is the Son of God. By direct revelation from the heavenly father, that's how we're going to be saved.
And furthermore, there'd be no living people left on the face of the earth if Jesus had shown his full glory because he said to Moses, no one can see me and live. It wasn't Jesus' purpose to come in and kill everyone, that everyone would be slain by his glory. For it says in 1 Timothy 6:16, that God alone is immortal and lives in unapproachable light, And so Jesus had to turn off his glory entirely, and even here on the Mount of Transfiguration, he doesn't show everything. They couldn't handle it.
Some Glory Recovered
And so Christ came into the world as God incognito, God in disguise, but for one unforgettable occasion, he reclaimed some of his heavenly glory to show to a select group of his disciples, his apostles, a taste of his greatness. Look at verses 1 and 2, “After six days, Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them, his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light.”
So some of his heavenly glory reclaimed just for a brief time. Now Christ was always glorious even the day before this display. It was a glory of the mind, a glory you had to see by faith. As I said, in Isiah, he had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him. That wasn't the attraction, that wasn't the glory. It was the glory you had to see by faith, with eyes of faith. And so the apostle John writes in John 1:14, “The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only who came from the father, full of grace and truth.” Now, this is a glory of the mind, a glory of faith, not a glory of the eye. He looked like any other man, really.
There was glory in Jesus' miracles. After Jesus changed the water into wine, which really isn't a visually spectacular miracle. You just had to kinda know the context. You had to be with the right people. If you were just one of the guests you would have just said, “Boy, this guy is kind of a dunce. He gives the bad wine first, and then later comes the good wine.” I mean, that's all you would have thought. It wasn't dramatic glory, but Jesus showed his glory to those who knew. And so it says in John 2:11, “This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.” So in his miracles, there was glory.
There would of course be the greatest display of this kind of glory ever, and that's in the cross. There was no bright radiant shining light at the cross, But there, in full display all the attributes of God in the person of his dying Son. The wrath of God, the love of God, the righteousness of God, the glory of God. And so Jesus often spoke of his being lifted up, his death as his glorification, when the Son of Man is glorified, that's at the cross. But again, no bright radiant shining light like the angel had when he announced that today in the city of David, a Savior is born, Jesus Christ the Lord. There was a radiant shining bright light around that angel. Jesus had turned that off.
Now after Jesus' death and resurrection, he would return to heaven, and he would receive back all of his rightful glory and his place at the right hand of Almighty God. The very thing he prayed for in John 17:5, he asked his Father, “And now Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” Oh, what a bold prayer that would be if Jesus wasn't the son of God. For it says in Isaiah, “Almighty God said, ‘I give my glory to no one, I share my glory with no one.’” Oh but he shares it with his son, because the son is God. And so Jesus asked for the glory back.
Transfigured, Not Transformed
But now here for this brief moment on this Mount of Transfiguration, he lets some of his glory shine. Now again, this is a transfiguration not a transformation. Jesus never changes. We've already heard that this morning, he's the same yesterday and today and forever. He never changes, he doesn't improve, he doesn't get worse. He's no more glorious when he shows that visible glory than before, a moment before, when he hadn't shown it.
Now Christians who have come to faith in Christ. Now we're different, we're being transformed from glory into glory, 2 Corinthians 3, we're being transformed in ever increasing glory and Romans 12 says we're transformed by the renewing of our mind, that's us, we're looking for a transformation. We were dead in our transgressions and sins and we're hoping to spend eternity with God, glorious in his presence, now, that's a transformation.
This isn't a transformation, this is merely a transfiguration. And the account focuses on Jesus' face and on his clothing, just what you could see of him. And so his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light. A picture of transcendent supernatural glory. Now they knew that Christ was great. By this time, Peter had already made his confession that he was the Son of God. But they didn't know it like they needed to. The knowledge was shallow; it was superficial, they had to get deep and rich.
So they knew he was great because of his miracles, his teaching, his personhood, they knew that he was unlike any man they'd ever met. And that's why they were willing to leave their fishing nets and follow him, change their whole life. They knew that, but they didn't know him. That's why the apostle Paul who had already revealed so much, the apostle of the Gentiles said, “I wanna know Christ. There's more to know, there's more about Jesus I wanna know.” There's more about Jesus, I want you to know. That's why I'm preaching today that you would know him better. There's more to know. And so they didn't fully know him, they had therefore on the Mount of Transfiguration, a physical view of his supernatural glory, his transcendent greatness.
The Chosen Witnesses, Both Old and New
Now. There were some chosen witnesses up there on the mountain. Don't you wish you'd been one of them? We'll get to that later, you weren't, neither was I. That's okay, It's all right that we weren't. But there were these chosen witnesses.
Three Chosen Apostles
First, we have these three chosen apostles. Now out of all of the mass of Christ's followers, out of all of his disciples, he chose 12 men to be his apostles, that should be with him and preach the gospel and learn from him. One of them was a devil, Judas, chosen for a specific purpose and the plan of God, but these were the chosen apostles. But out of those 12, he chose these three, Peter, James, and John, to go with him up the mountain. Very few therefore are chosen for this intense privilege.
Now, someone asked me this week, we were talking about it and said, “Why do you think he just chose those three?” And I think he chose three out of the 12 to show personal intimacy to each one of them. Personal intimacy. They had an experience that no one else got. And so there was a personal intimacy with it with them. Matthew wrote it down so that we would all universally recognize that personal intimacy is waiting for us in heaven. So the account is for all of us. The experience was just for them, you see, and we're going to have our own experiences in heaven. Oh, how much I'm looking forward to that. Personal time with Christ. Oh, there'll be plenty of time. How about eternity? We'll have plenty of time. Somebody said to me. Well, there's this huge multitude of people from every tribe and language and people and nation. Yes, but it's still a finite number, infinite time. There'll be enough time. You and Jesus, alright, to have time. So there's this intimacy there on the Mount.
So also in church history, very few have been chosen by God to have special glimpses of the glory of Christ. God showed them some things that he doesn't show us. Reading an account some time ago about Jonathan Edwards, and he used to go out regularly walking in the woods to meditate and to pray and to seek the face of God. But there was one particular time in 1737, and this is what he said, “As I rode out into the woods for my health, in 1737, having alighted from my horse in a retired place as my manner commonly has been, to walk for divine contemplation and prayer, I had a view that was for me extraordinary, of the glory of the son of God, as mediator between God and man, and his wonderful, great, full, pure, and sweet grace and love and meek and gentle condescension. This grace that appeared so calm and sweet, appeared also great above the heavens. The person of Christ appeared ineffably excellent, with an excellency great enough to swallow up all thoughts and conceptions which continued as near as I can judge about an hour, such as to keep me a greater part of the time in a flood of tears and weeping aloud. I felt an ardency of soul to be, what I know not otherwise how to express, emptied and annihilated; to lie in the dust, and to be full of Christ alone; to love him with a holy and pure love; to trust in him; to live upon him; to serve him, and to be perfectly satisfied in him and sanctified and made pure, with a heavenly purity.”
Oh, for an hour like that. Have you ever had something like that happen to you? 'Cause I never have. I've had some good prayer times, I've had some touches from God but nothing like that. Laying on the ground for an hour annihilated by the presence of Christ. Just a select few were chosen for that kind of blessing. But you know it's a foretaste for all of us, we're all gonna get it, we're gonna get far better than Edwards got out in the woods in 1737.
Spurgeon longed for it, which encourages me 'cause here’s a great man of God. He said, “I never had anything like that happen to me.” This is what Spurgeon said he said, “I must confess, I envy some saints whose biographies I have read who have seen the Lord far better than I have, and I aspire, I hunger, I thirst to see as much of him as can be seen on this side of the river of death. Why should not we all do so? Eyes are meant to see light, and spiritual eyes are meant to see Christ.”
That's why he opened up that site within your heart that you could see Jesus. “Mark this, then you huge crowd of church goers,” said Spurgeon, “Out of 12 apostles only three saw the transfiguration.” Well, Spurgeon gives us some advice there. Seek it anyway. You never know, who knows God might be gracious to you and show you something that'll lay you on the ground for an hour, but in any case, you ought to seek it, that you might know him better.
Now, we could guess perhaps at why Peter, James and John were chosen. “Peter was chosen because he loved his Master so much,” some have said, it's just a theory. “John was chosen because his Master loved him so much, and James because he would be the first of all the apostles to be martyred,” so goes the theory, I don't know. Does Peter love Jesus more than John does? Does Jesus love John more than he loves Peter? Who can say. All I know is those are the three that Jesus chose. He is the king, he can do what he wants, and so he chose those three.
And the three would stand together as in effect legal witnesses. Every matter is established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. And so, they were witnesses, eyewitnesses of the glory of Christ. And you ought not to wish to have been there too much. Don't focus too much on that. You're really not at any great loss. You might be surprised by those words, but that's what Peter told you.
In 2 Peter chapter 1, this is what he says. 2 Peter 1:16-19, he says, “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty, for we received honor and glory from God, the Father, when the voice came to him from the majestic glory saying, ‘This is my Son whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.” But listen to this. “And we have the word of the prophets made more certain. And you will do well to pay attention to it as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your heart.”
What is he saying? It's better to have Scripture than to have that experience, experience fades. You're trying to remember what happened, what really happened up there on the mountain, even if you'd been there. It's better to have the Bible, it's better to have the indwelling Spirit teach you the glory of Christ from the pages of Scripture. It's better. Besides which, you're gonna get better than that in heaven anyway. So don't be too jealous of Peter, John and James that they got to see it. That's the purpose of God, that they would be eyewitnesses of his glory.
A Place of Retreat
Now this was a place of retreat, a place like no other, I think, a place of retreat. Matthew tells us, it was a high mountain, and that they were there by themselves. Peter calls it a sacred mountain. In any case, it was a place of sweet retreat away from the maddening crowd and the duties and responsibilities of life. Jesus couldn't or wouldn't have done this in front of the huge crowd. This was a personal, private thing, an intimate thing.
So often I think we miss times of sweet fellowship with Christ because of the busyness of life. I actually think American Christians are proud of their busyness. Corrie Ten Boom said, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” Barren means empty of fruit. And so we don't take the time to get away, we're proud of our schedules. Proud of the frenzy of it all. And we don't take the time to get away, like Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, and just listening to his teachings. We're more like Martha bustling around, and thinking, Jesus doesn't care about us. “Don't you care that I'm doing all the work here and here she is just sitting at your feet?”
We should be more like Mary and sit at Jesus' feet more frequently. In Mark 6:31-32 it says this, “Because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat. He said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ So, they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.”
Do you ever do that? I don't just mean your morning quiet time, you go into your room and close the door and pray to your Father, that's important day after day, very important, but I mean get away. Walk through the woods, as Edwards did. I'm not promising what Edwards said happened to him, in 1737, but just that you would walk through the woods, and pray, and seek His face. Go to a mountain, go to the ocean, go somewhere beautiful and focus on Christ. This is an application point right in the middle of the sermon. Get away and have a spiritual retreat. Perhaps fast, focus on Christ, be renewed, be refreshed as they did. This was a time of retreat.
Now, of course, Peter wanted to build some permanent structures up there. Okay, he wanted to build those little shelters. We'll start with just three, we'll get to that in a minute. But I think he just wanted to be there, and that's a good thing to just wanna be there, but you know you really just need to come down off that mountain at some point.
So two lessons: Mountaintop experiences, I think, are essential to spiritual health. You need to have them regularly. But secondly, mountain top experiences must end at some point, so we can finish our work here on earth. So I would say that to you.
Two Other Witnesses
Now, there were two other witnesses up there on the mountain, they were heavenly witnesses, but they were there. Peter, James and John were not the only ones. Suddenly two other witnesses appeared, verse 3, and began speaking with Jesus, “And behold there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.”
And Luke tells us more about them, their appearance, and their conversation, in Luke 9, 30, and 31, “And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”
Now they're called men, no different from us except that they were dead and now glorified in their appearance. That's to testify to the resurrection of the dead, they are absent from the body, but present with the Lord. Matthew 22:32, Jesus said he is not the God of the dead but of the living. Now, I want to say something. I believe that neither one of these men had their resurrection bodies. I think that happens at the end when Jesus comes in glory and at that point everybody gets the resurrection body at the same time. At the last trumpet the dead will be raised, imperishable. But there they are, they are spirits of righteous men made perfect, it says in Hebrews 12. And so, they're talking with Jesus, Moses and Elijah.
Now, what was the topic of their conversation? What were they talking? Again, it's Luke that tells us. It says literally in the Greek they were talking about Christ's “exodus,” NIV translates it “departure,” and that's a right way to translate that word. When I was in Greece, I saw the word “Exodus,” like we call it “exit” which is just the Latin form of it. But exodus, I think there it is, the exodus, just a kind of a glowing sign in the dark. So it's just the departure. But I have a feeling it was more than just that, don't you think?
I think they're talking about Jesus' Exodus, the fulfillment of the Exodus. He is the fulfillment of Moses. He's the one that comes and takes his people out of bondage to sin and death and leads us to the promised land, of heaven, the Exodus that he's about to accomplish in Jerusalem through his death and his resurrection. That was the topic of their conversation. We're not gonna waste time with trivial topics in heaven and so Moses and Elijah give us a good example of some good fellowship. Let's talk about something really meaty, Jesus's Exodus that he accomplished in Jerusalem. Oh, there's a topic.
Why Moses and Elijah, why not Abraham, why not Isaac, or Jacob or Joseph? Why not Daniel or Job or any of the others, why Moses and Elijah? Well, some commentators think it has to do with the Old Testament's testimony to Christ because Moses represents the Law, and Elijah was the head of the prophets. He was the leader of the school of the prophets and perhaps, in his own personage and the impact he had, the greatest of all the prophets.
And both of them talking to Jesus about his crucifixion and resurrection gives us, I think, a symbolic picture of the Old Testament's testimony to Christ. Jesus said in Matthew 5: 17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. I came to fulfill Moses, I came to fulfill Elijah.” Romans 3:21-22, speaking of the righteousness that saves us, the gospel message, it says, “But now, a righteousness from God apart from law has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ.” There is no difference for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace. The Law and the Prophets testified to Jesus.
The Overwhelming Voice of God
But then comes the greatest witness of all, Almighty God. And he's gonna speak some words here. Oh, what would it be like to hear the voice of God speaking? The overwhelming voice of God? Look at verses 4 through 6.
Peter Speaks When He Should Listen
It begins with Peter's statement. I find this remarkable, isn't Peter encouraging for us? Peter, Peter, what were you thinking? In verse 4, “Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it's good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters - one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
Peter in all of his bumbling genuineness, he represents us sinners in the presence of majesty and greatness. I love what it says in Mark 9:6, “He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.” Now, there are two different categories of people. Some people who don't, when they don't know what to say, they don't say anything. And then there are other people who when they don't know what to say something, okay? Peter's in that other category. He didn't know what to say, and he went ahead and said something.
“Lord it's good to be here, if you wish, I'll put up three tabernacles - one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah.” He didn't know what to say. So there it is, this is one of the great, great moments in redemptive history. This is the incarnate Son of God. He is showing his heavenly glory on earth in advance of his second coming, and there are Moses and Elijah who had left the earth, a long time ago, and they're up there in heavenly glory and they're talking and here are the three elect apostles, and they're there and Peter has something he wants to say. That's so encouraging, isn't it?
Ecclesiastes 5 says this, “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God, go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth so let your words be few. Much dreaming in many words are vanity. Therefore stand in awe of God.” I think often of that, Ecclesiastes 5. In other words, be careful before you speak to God, don't go flippantly into his presence, think about who you're about to speak to, and be careful what you say.
Well, Peter's message is, “Let's stay here a while.” The booths, I think, he wanted to make were reminiscent to the Feast of Tabernacles. Peter however, I think betrays perhaps a bit of a false understanding. He'd already testified that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, but I don't think he really understands what that means. And so he's gonna make three booths, one for Moses, one for Elijah, one for Jesus, three kind of equal booths. They are no way equal personages as Moses and Elijah would readily tell you.
Jesus is infinitely above them in glory and greatness and splendor and power. He is God in the flesh. And so I think Peter still has some understanding about who Jesus really is, don't we all? That's the purpose of my whole sermon that you would see the greatness of Jesus, how great he is, above, infinitely above Moses or Elijah or any representative we would choose to put up next to Jesus. He's the greatest man that ever lived. And God wants them to know that.
The Terrifying Voice of Almighty God
And so he comes in this cloud, this bright cloud envelops them. Verse 5-6, “While they were still speaking a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son whom I love, with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’ When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground terrified.”
The clear message of the cloud, the bright cloud is this, the deity of Christ. Jesus is bright and radiant. The cloud is bright and radiant. The voice comes out of the cloud speaking, “This is my Son.” He is God the Son, the deity of Christ.
And we see also the delight that God has in his only begotten Son, “This is my Son, my only Son, whom I love,” it is the greatest love there is in the universe, the love of God the Father for God the son. One of the most important lessons of the Bible, and we have to get this one down. God is happy. He's a happy being. He's a delighted being.
1 Timothy 1:11, John Piper gives us a beautiful translation of that, NIV says, “The glorious gospel of the blessed God,” that's good, I like this translation better: “The good news of the glory of the happy God.” That's what “blessed” means. He's happy. Don't you wanna spend eternity with a happy God, not a grumpy irritable God? He's a happy being, and a large part of his happiness consists in eternal fellowship with Jesus. He really loves Jesus, he loves to spend time, Jesus makes him happy. He brings him delight.
In his book, The Pleasures of God, John Piper writes this, “A great part of God's glory is his happiness, and it is a glorious thing for God to be as happy as he is. God's glory consists much in the fact that he is happy beyond our wildest imagination.” And he argues, Piper does, that the happiness of God is first and foremost the happiness in his Son. From eternity past, God the Father has had the joy of staring into the face of his only begotten Son and seeing a perfect reflection of his own glory there. He loves Jesus, he loves him.
And what's so mind blowing for me is that's where I find my salvation, in the love relationship between the Father and Son. We, through faith in Christ, get united with Jesus and then he loves us as much as he loved Jesus. Can you even believe that? Listen to what Jesus prayed in John 17:26, “I have made you known to them, Father, and I will continue to make you known in order that,” listen, “The love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
Oh, we're heading to a place where God the Father is going to love you and accept you and welcome you as much as he loves and accepts and welcomes his own Son, if you have faith in Jesus. That's mind-blowing, incredible thought that the key to all that is simple, you have to hear Jesus speak now by faith, you have to hear his word, you have to hear him speaking and believe it's him speaking to you, and if you don't, you'll never get there. Spoke of that last week, you will lose your soul, but if you can hear Jesus speak you'll be saved. And so the cloud, the bright cloud speaks, “Listen to him,” listen to him.
It says in Romans 10:17, “Now faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ, if you hear the word of Christ, you will be saved.” Jesus put it this way in John 10:27-28, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me, I give them eternal life and they shall never perish.” So, basically, with all due respect, stop talking, Peter. Listen to Jesus, listen to his word. Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”
The Effect of God’s Voice: FEAR
Now as God speaks to them out of this bright cloud, the effect is the same as it was back in Mount Sinai when God descended there in a cloud and spoke to them: Fear. They're on their face, trembling. They're terrified of Almighty God. They said at that time at Sinai in Deuteronomy 5, 25, “We will die if we hear the voice of our Lord our God any longer.” He is eternal, we are temporal. He is infinite, we are finite. He is Almighty, we are weak. He is creator, we are creature. He is holy, we are sinful. He is God, we are human. And so they're on their face before God trembling.
Hearing Only Jesus, Seeing Only Jesus
The Compassion of Jesus
But then Jesus comes, verse 7-8, and touches them, “‘Get up,’ he said, ‘Don't be afraid.’” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. Hearing only Jesus at that moment, seeing only Jesus. We see the compassion of Jesus. I prayed for this, that you would feel Christ touching you today.
That's what he does, he comes over and he just touches 'em, drives away the fear. Perfect love drives out fear, he just comes and touches them, and speaks gently to them and they don't need to be afraid anymore. And he gives his most common command - 14 times in the gospel is this command - “Fear not,” “don't be afraid. Again and again, he says this. And so when they look up they see only Jesus.
Seeing Only Jesus
Charles Spurgeon wrote a whole sermon on this text entitled “Jesus Only.” They look up and there's only Jesus. Jesus only, Moses is gone, the Law has been fulfilled in Christ, Christ is the end of the Law. Elijah's gone, why? Because the spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus and so his work is done. All you have left now is Jesus, the embodiment of the Law and the Prophets. We have Christ, and he's all we need. Even the cloud is gone, because Jesus says in John 14, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” Even the bright cloud is gone, don't need that either. Just have Jesus. Jesus only.
Is that enough for you today? Is Jesus only enough for you? I speak to Christian and non-Christian alike. To the non-Christian is Jesus alone enough for you, his blood shed on the cross for you, that you might have forgiveness of sins, is that enough for you? His resurrection is that enough for you to cling to him, and trust in him, Jesus only, your righteousness, your Savior, only Jesus, not your own good works, not religion, not anything else, just Jesus, Jesus only. And I speak to you Christians is Jesus only enough for you? You have him, what else do you need? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up, how will he not give us all things? Jesus is greater than all things, is he enough for you?
God Means us to Focus on Christ
The Father means for us to realize that Jesus' voice speaking by the spirit from the Scripture is sufficient for life and godliness, everything we need in Jesus' voice. The Father means for us to understand that Christ's righteousness is all we need. Jesus only, it's enough for you. The Father means for us to focus our minds in Christ and Christ alone. He'll never be jealous of his Son, never, he wants you to focus on Jesus. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Jesus is the door for the sheep, Jesus is the good shepherd, Jesus is the bread of life, and the spring of living water, inside you. Jesus only, enough for you.
The Christ-Centered Life
And so, I'm advocating here the Christ-centered life. Hebrews 12:2, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” focus on him and hear his voice.
The Ominous Warning of Future Suffering
Well, the account ends ominously, verses 9-13: “As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, ‘Don't tell anyone what you have seen until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’ And the disciples asked him, ‘Why then do the teachers of the Law say that Elijah must come first?; And Jesus replied, ‘To be sure, Elijah comes, and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. And in the same way, the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.’ Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.”
Mountaintop Experience Over
Well, it's over now. The mountaintop experience is done. They're coming down the mountain. Mount of Transfiguration was temporary. The shelters that Peter wanted to have built would have been temporary. Jesus means something better, he wants you to have a lasting eternal place, “In my Father's house are many rooms. I'm going there to prepare a place for you.” But you know what he has to do? To prepare a permanent place for you in the presence of the glory of God, he's got to pay for it, he's gotta pay the price, he's got to shed his blood on the cross, he's gotta pay for your sins and mine, and the price is infinite.
Puzzled by a Phrase
And so he's gotta get down off that mountain, gotta come down and he's gotta die, and he's talking about that with his disciples as they come down. He says, don't tell anyone what you've seen until after he rises from the dead. And now other disciples don't know what he's talking about. They're puzzled about rising from the dead. It says in another Scripture, “It's hidden from them,” they don't understand it, they can't fathom why Jesus would die and rise again. It was hidden from them.
Question About John the Baptist
And so they focused instead on a theological question. There's Elijah, he's still up in heaven, looks like. But according to Malachi, according to the scribes and Pharisees anyway, Elijah comes first, and then comes Jesus, and we never saw Elijah. So what happened with that? We're just curious about that one text.
Well they're referring to Malachi, the very last verses in our Old Testament. It says, “Behold I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord, and he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers; or else I'll come and strike the land with a curse.” Even today, at the Passover, many Jews keep an empty chair for Elijah, waiting for Elijah to come. But he's still up there, in heavenly glory. So what's going on with that? They wondered about it.
Elijah HAS Come… a Picture of My Impending Suffering
So Jesus says, Elijah has come. He already came. “It's true that Elijah will come and restores all things, but he's already come.” It says in Luke 1: 17, this is the angel speaking to Zechariah, John the Baptist's father, “He will go on before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, and to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Now, before Elijah went up to Heaven, Elisha his helper asked for a double portion of his spirit, and the cloak fell down. And it represented a transfer of the spirit from Elijah to Elisha and then he went on and struck the river with that cloak and the miracle working power was with him, you see. That same spirit then, not miracles, but the spirit of Elijah was with John, John the Baptist. And so in that sense, Elijah had come back. And he was a picture of the suffering that Jesus would undergo. They have done to him everything, they wished, they put him to death and in the same way, the Son of Man is gonna suffer at their hands.
Christ is God’s Glorious Son
So what application can we take from this? Well, first and foremost, just know, your thoughts of Christ are too small. Labor on that. Meditate on that. Just say, “Jesus show me yourself. I wanna know you better.” Get away, I've already given you an application. Have a retreat, get into a beautiful quiet place, and let Jesus minister himself to you.
Christ Promises Us a Glorious Future
Meditate secondly, on the glorious future that Christ promised all of us, no matter what experiences you have here on earth. If you are a believer in Christ, you're heading to a place where you will see glory, and be glory, both, that's where you're heading. And let that drive out any of the worries and concerns that you came into this place with today. They are small compared to the future glory that God promises us.
Earthly Mountaintop Experiences are Temporary
Thirdly, know that earthly mountain top experiences, however pleasant, are temporary. Seek them, yearn for them, but just don't try to live in them.
Suffering Awaits at the Bottom of the Mountain
We've got sufferings still to go through. Our infinite journeys, both of them are journeys of suffering, personal holiness is a journey of suffering. You wanna put sin to death, you will suffer, if you wanna try to lead people to Christ and plant churches, you'll suffer, okay, that's what he has for us, we've gotta get down off the mountain and do the work that God has for us, to do. But as often as he gives you a chance, go back up on the mountain and be refreshed, and let the Lord show you his glory again. Close with me if you would in prayer.