Matthew 17:1-9
Rise Up, Don't Be Afraid

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1.  Every Sunday evening I head out for Sasayama in the prefecture of Hyougo, yet driving my car while checking out the different scenes of the four seasons has become one of my great pleasures.  I have seen at times the light of the evening sunlight shine in from the cracks in the thick clouds covering the mountains and [the light] shine beautifully into all sorts of tints against the feet of the mountains.  This is a beautiful spectacle which doesn't seem to belong to this world.

2.  If I compared the narrative of the biblical passage which we read today to [that] scene, I suppose it might look like it somewhat.  While a thick cloud was hanging over and even though it seemed the sun has disappeared, nonetheless, the sun had not.  When the light shone in from a crack in the cloud, the light of the sun, which sun was surely and solemnly present [as ever], illuminated the earth's darkness.  Similarly, in this setting a ray of light is shining in from the kingdom of God.  The light of salvation is shining into a world of sin and the light of the resurrection life is shining into a world under the control of death.  The glory of the kingdom of God which would come to be revealed in the resurrection of Christ was shining into the dark itinerary of the Lord as he headed in the direction of the cross.

3.  At the very end of the passage we read today the following is recorded: "When those present with him went down the mountain, Jesus commanded his disciples, 'Don't tell what you have just seen to anyone until the son of man raises up from the dead,'" (verse nine).

4.  While on the mountain the disciples had one of their mysterious experiences.  A person with a special experience tends to want to tell somebody else about it.  However the Lord told his disciples not to talk about it.  Until when?  [They were not to talk about it] until the son of man, namely Christ came back to life.  Why mustn't they talk about it?  Because unless the disciples viewed it from the event of the resurrection of Christ, they could not understand their own experience.  Because when mysterious experiences are just spoken of as [some] mysterious experience and a person goes at it on his or her own, misunderstandings concerning Christ are generated and the gospel starts to get twisted and turned.

5.  We are now reading here what they were not supposed to say until Christ had been resurrected.  Because after the resurrection of Christ, the disciples did relate the event on the mountain.  So, naturally, the story was told in light of the resurrection of Christ.  The Christ who was standing on the mountain was a Christ who was heading and progressing on the path of his sufferings toward the cross.  Yet, the figure of the Christ of the resurrection is overlapped by the figure of this Christ.  Because we have understood that the figure of glory which was revealed shortly on that mountain was a figure of the glory which would soon be perfectly revealed in the resurrection of Christ.

6.  Therefore, the one depicted here is not simply just a Christ who was in that place with James, John, and Peter.  It is also [a depiction of] the Christ who was with the disciples after he resurrected.  It is the Christ who said, "I am with you always even to the end of the world," (28:20).  The one depicted here is also the figure of the Christ who is with us today in this worship service.

The Transfiguration Of The Lord Jesus

7.  So then, let's read verses one and two.  "After six days Jesus took Peter and besides him only James and his brother John and ascended up a high mountain.  The figure of Jesus was changed right before their eyes and his face shone as the sun and his clothes became white as light," (verses one through two).

8.  While on the mountain Jesus' figure was changed right before their eyes. A special feature of The Gospel According To Matthew is this emphasizing of the light and of the radiance concerning his person.  It is the light of the resurrection which is radiating here and it is the radiance of the deity of Christ revealed in the resurrection.  It is the radiance of God's life.

9.  Of course, the person of Jesus, even as a solitary human being, must have been a fascinating individual for Peter and John and such.  The words and actions of Jesus must have had sufficient power to draw the disciples from their places of their daily lives and cause them to follow [him].  Even still today there are many people amazed by the man Jesus.  There is even a large number of people endeavoring to imitate his way of living.  But, what they had seen on the mountain was the glory of God completely different in dimension from human fascination.  What they had seen there was not some figure who should just be honored, admired, respected, or desired.  That is not what they had seen, rather they had seen a figure worthy of worship.  (However, it wasn't until after the resurrection that they had fully perceived this.)

10.  The picture of the figure of Christ in this place is directly linked to the figure of the risen Christ illustrated in The Apocalypse Of John [The Book Of Revelation].  There it says, "[His] face was as the sun shining intensely bright," (Revelation 1:16).  This brilliant radiance must have come to mind immediately whenever the early Christians thought of the risen Christ.  Our living under the leadership of the risen Christ is nothing other than living in the light of the resurrection life.

11.  The opposite of light is darkness.  This world is truly a world of darkness.  The black clouds which darken this world are human sin and death.  We can't do anything for the sins of this world or our own sins.  Neither can we do anything about the rule of death which won't let go but holds us and the world tight in a chain of destruction.  However, our being with Christ is to be with the radiance of his face.  His radiance is [like] the light of the sun radiating in from the other side of this world of darkness, a radiance of life imported from the world of the resurrection.  The light seen so curiously and secretively for just a spell on the mountain became in the resurrection of Christ a light that will be with us for eternity.

Rise Up, Don't Be Afraid

12.  So then, let's read the next part that follows.  "As they looked, Moses and Elijah appeared and were speaking with Jesus.  Peter broke in and said to Jesus. 'O Lord, it is really wonderful for us to be here.  If you would like, I will build three booths.  [It'll] be one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.'  While Peter was thus speaking, a bright shining cloud covered them.  Thereupon, a voice was audible from the midst of the cloud that said, 'This is my beloved son, the one suited to my will.  Listen to him.'  As the disciples heard this they laid down prostrate and were very afraid.  Jesus drew near and touching them with his hand said, 'Please get up [rise up].  You don't have to be afraid.' As they lifted their faces and looked, there was no one else but Jesus," (verses three through eight).

13.  Moses and Elijah were the ones talking with Jesus in his changed figure.  Both Moses and Elijah are representative characters in the Old Testament.  Moses symbolizes the book of the law.  Elijah symbolizes the book of the prophets.  Putting the two together we should see them as pointing to the entire Old Testament.  The fact that these two men were talking with Jesus means that the Old Testament has something to do with this one called Jesus.

14.  However, it says in the text that after the voice was heard from the shining cloud saying, 'This is my beloved son, the one suited to my will.  Listen to him,' it was only Jesus who was ultimately left there.  This expresses the relationship between the Old Testament and Christ.  It is about the fact that the Old Testament is neither just some closed out and done with message from God nor a completed revelation from God.  While as long as it shows forth Jesus Christ, it is the Word of God.  Therefore, as we pick out individual messages and sections unrelated to Christ, we cannot absolutize them as the Word of God.  For example, if we pick out a section of an Old Testament record and it affirms Holy War or forbids blood transfusions that would be something we would find problematic.  The perfect, complete, and final word of God is Jesus Christ himself.  The other parts have been superceded.  Thus, Christ remains and God says "Listen to him."

15.  While the one who was meant to remain and the two who went on to vanish were talking with each other, Peter interrupted, 'If you would like, I will build three booths.  [It'll] be one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.'"  This was Peter's proposal.  "If you would like; if it's your will."  From what we read in the developments to follow it doesn't seem to be what Jesus "would like."  No, it doesn't seem to be what this One who cast his voice through the shining cloud would have willed either.  Why didn't Peter's proposal suit the will of God?  Where was it problematic?

16.  As we consider from the words of God to follow, what we notice first is the problem of when he said "Let's build three" booths.  Because God said only in regard to Christ that [he is] "my beloved son, the one who suits my will."  As I mentioned previously, the three persons were not equivalent.

17.  However, the really big problem is when Peter was wanting to stay with Christ on the mountain.  Because Christ was not supposed to stay on that mountain, but had to descend from the mountain and proceed on the way to the cross.  In order to accomplish redemption of sin, he had to head for the cross.  Because if sin were to remain untaken away, the disciples in such a state could not be with Christ shining in [his] resurrection glory.  I said before, to live with Christ is to live with the light of the resurrection life shining in from the other side.  But, when you think about it, it just isn't as simple as that.  Because a sinner cannot live in the light staying as he or she is.

18.  Peter said, "O Lord, it is really wonderful for us to be here."  Would it truly be wonderful to live with Christ shining so brightly?  Would such a thing be happy [for us]?  Actually, probably not, as is made clear in the part that follows right after.  What did they do when they were covered by a brightly shining cloud and heard the message, "This is my beloved son?"  Were they happy in God's presence?  No, not hardly.  The Bible says, "As the disciples heard this they laid down prostrate and were very afraid."  They weren't just surprised at the irregular and unusual event.  "They were afraid."  The phrase "they were afraid" is often used in cases of a divine manifestation.  When a human meets God, he or she can't help but be afraid.  When divine light shines forth, one can't avoid being afraid.  Because sin is in man [and woman].  Because to be a sinful person with God means judgment and destruction.

19.  The late Professor Kiyoshi Sakon, a respected teacher of mine, often said about praying to God that "It was dying in God's presence."  "Prayer is standing in the presence of God and it is standing before Him whom the sinner is not allowed to stand.  It is nothing but death.  But, the person who had to die stands forgiven.  What was indeed so impossible and could never happen is allowed to take place and one is forgiven.  That is the experience of prayer," so I recall the figure of the one who so passionately said [these words] to his students.

20.  The disciples fell down when they were in the presence of God.  It was not something joyous.   It was frightening.  When Christ was with [them] with the glory of the son of God it was truly frightening.  It was surely nothing but [that] dying if I could put it in the words of [my] teacher [Professor] Sakon.

21.  Nevertheless, for these particular disciples, Christ drew near and touching them with his hand said, 'Please get up [or rise up].  You don't have to be afraid."  Christ himself, the son of God, drew near and stretched out his hand.  He did not stretch out his hand as a sovereign judge, but as a sovereign savior.  And he said, "Get up."  This word "to get up, to rise up" is a word that also expresses the resurrection of a dead person.  The person worthy of death in the presence of God's judgment is made to get back up once again and made to live again.  The person unable to live is given strength to get up.  That indeed is nothing other than the grace of the forgiveness of sin.  We can stand in the presence of God without any more fear because of the very fact Christ said, "You don't have to be afraid."

22.  This event that happened to the disciples on the mountain was truly something that pointed to the salvation which was fulfilled in the cross and the resurrection of Christ.  The Lord went for the cross in order to raise up sinners who could not help but die [when they stood] before the judgment of God.  The risen Lord who accomplished the redemption of sin is drawing near coming to us today too and is saying, "Rise up.  Don't be afraid."  And so, after such a [process] indeed the Lord is making us as people who live together with the light of the resurrection shining brightly in the face of the Lord.

23.  It seems there is great significance in the biblical passage given on this second week of the Lenten season.  If I recall correctly, this season is a time we are lead unto repentance as we remember the sufferings of Christ.  But, that doesn't mean an empty and vain inner examination of one's self.  We should not forget that the resurrection light is already coming in to the journey of the passion of Christ.  True repentance is rightly done under the grace of God indeed.  We should remember the Lord who headed for the cross is at the same time coming near to us, touching us sinners, and is saying "Rise up; Don't be afraid."

 
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