You Will Be Transformed

March 22, 2009
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Matthew 17:1-13

1. The passage from the gospel that was read for today is frequently called "The Mount of The Transfiguration," or "The Metamorphosis On The Mountain Top." A curious thing is written in the text. It is the story of when Jesus' figure is transformed while on a mountain. Peter, James, and John are the three persons who eye-witnessed it. We could also say that it was a unique mystical personal experience given only to restricted persons. However, the reason that this quite unique experience is being passed on and recorded in the scriptures is probably because it had great meaning for the other disciples as well, [though] they did not have the same firsthand personal experience. Also, it must be because there is an important message in it for the later church, and even for us who are in this place. What does the event recorded in this text mean for us? As we ponder this, let's look at today's passage.

With Moses And Elijah

2. The first thing that catches our attention is that it wasn't only the figure of Jesus being transformed which they had eye-witnessed. All of a sudden two personages materialize in that place. One is Moses. The other is Elijah. As distinguished personalities, Moses represents the law and Elijah represents the prophets. We could also say that these two represent the entire corpus of the Old Testament scriptures. Peter and those with him see these two men appear and converse with Jesus.

3. The spectacle they witness is decisively important to their later walk. I say that because they will soon witness the figure of Jesus undergoing the passion and being affixed to the cross. They, who were following him saying, "You are the messiah, the son of the living God," will soon witness that messiah's being done over like a tattered rag and being nailed onto a cross. However, God let these same men, these very men such as they are, see this spectacle ahead of time. It is the spectacle in which Jesus is standing with Moses and Elijah.

4. Jesus is standing with Moses and Elijah. That is, the scriptures are standing with Jesus. It means that the events that take place with Jesus are not unrelated to the scriptures. It does not mean Jesus was disastrously murdered without fulfilling his life's purpose. It has already been declared in the scriptures as something that is supposed to happen. Put another way, it means that it happened in complete accordance with God's will, it happened according to the divine plan.

5. [The text] has that "Moses and Elijah appeared and were conversing with Jesus." I wonder what they were talking about to each other? It is not given here in the text, but in The Gospel According To Luke it is recorded as follows. "When they looked, two men were speaking with Jesus. It was Moses and Elijah. The two appeared wrapped in glory, they were speaking about the time of Jesus' death which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem," (Luke 9:30-31). That's right, "The time of Jesus' death which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem" -- his last moments in life, when he would be murdered by crucifixion, via a cross, this was already being discussed with Moses and Elijah as the will of God.

6. If that is true, then, his suffering is not supposed to end in sheer suffering. It will not end as a mere disastrous event. [His] death on the cross will not end as just a wretched death. Since this comes from God, there should be a future after it. And so the Bible announces to us that there had in fact been a future after that. It is the resurrection of Christ from the dead.

7. The scripture says that Christ's face shone like the sun. It says that [his] clothing turned white like the light. It was truly the radiance of the kingdom of heaven and the radiance of the resurrection which Peter and the others with him were catching a glimpse of on that mountain. Just as the light of the sun shines in through a crack in the rain clouds, they got to see ahead of time the light of the resurrection shining into a scene in the life of Jesus. The three men, Peter and those with him, got to see that the suffering that will befall Him will not end with suffering, that there is a resurrection in the future after that.

8. Of course, they didn't understand what it meant at the time. They could not find out the true meaning of what they had experienced until the resurrection of Christ. They could not properly tell it to anyone [till then]. That's the disciples. Jesus knew this too. Therefore, Jesus forbade them to say anything; for, at that time they still did not understand. "When the group of them descended the mountain, Jesus commanded the disciples, 'Until the son of man rises from the dead, you must not speak of what you just saw to anyone," (verse nine).

9. But before too long, on a later day, they, who were told not to speak [yet], would began to relate it. Upon encountering the resurrection of Christ and discovering the meaning of the event, they would begin to relate it. They would begin to relate how that before the suffering of Christ they had already gotten a glimpse of the light of the resurrection. As a result, we are reading this event now in this way.

The Metamorphosis Of Christ

10. Thus, in a mystical experience while on the mountain the three disciples had seen an event that shows forth the resurrection of the Christ that will take place shortly. [They saw] the figure of the Christ shining with the life of the resurrection. However, we must consider why this text is written here in the first place, "The figure of Jesus 'changed' right before their eyes." The church has not been simply relating the fact that Peter and the other [two] guys have seen the Christ shinning with glory. It has been relating the fact that Christ "was transformed" right before the eyes of Peter, James, and John. In a certain sense, we could make the case that the emphasis is on the transformation. So, this passage is frequently described as "The Mount Of The Transfiguration."

11. It is the word "to change" but actually it is like the word that expresses a transformation, for example, like that of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. It is the metamorphosis of when the caterpillar becomes a butterfly and flaps its wings. Please try to imagine it. What's more, this text does not say "to change," but it is written in the passive that "The figure of Jesus 'was changed'." The nuance between "to change" and "to be changed" is different. While Jesus is the son of God, he had been placing himself on the side with humanity and not the divine side, and so the text says, "he was changed." He "was changed" to a figure of glory as a human being.

12. Therefore, what Peter saw did not just stand for the resurrection of Christ. It is an event that stands for our own resurrection. It is also an event that shows how the saved human beings will ultimately be changed by God. The Lord has let us get a glimpse of a "transformed" figure as a human being. He has let us get a glimpse of the figure of the kingdom of God. He did that to give us the hope of "being transformed." -- The hope that we will "be transformed." Don't we absolutely need [that hope]!?

13. Please look at the next part just ahead. Peter had seen the figure of Christ being changed and conversing with Moses and Elijah, and he said to Jesus, "Oh Lord, our being here in this place is wonderful. If you'd like, I will build three booths here. It will be one for you, one for Moses, and another for Elijah," (verse four). What he says is obviously strange; because even though it would have been a plain tent, this kind of tent was not something that you would expect to be built all of a sudden. So, in another gospel, the explanation is added that "Peter did not understand what he was saying," (Luke 9:33). But, we understand his feelings. He probably wanted to remain there for good. [I] want to remain with Christ shinning with glory, and Moses and Elijah as they appear covered in that glory. [I] want to stay, even if for a while longer, in that sweet ecstatic feeling of being touched by the glory of heaven. He meant something like that.

14. But, Peter and the others with him were not invited to remain on the mountain. Therefore, Peter's proposal went rejected. A glittering cloud appeared and covered them, a voice from within the cloud spoke out. God himself said to Peter and them, "This is my beloved son. He is the one who is in accordance with my will. Listen to this one!" "Listen" has the meaning, "Obey!"

15. God the Father certainly did say regarding Jesus that "This is my beloved son." But, "the beloved son" of this God is not staying on the mystical mountain. He is heading down the mountain. He is heading to the sinful human world. Because [Jesus] loves God the Father and he loves people, he is heading to Jerusalem and to the cross. If [the disciples] are listening to Him, how will it turn out? The disciples cannot remain on the mountain either.

16. Thus, the Christian faith is not for escaping to a place like the mountain top, to [some] extraordinary mysterious world. The Christian faith is not for running from reality. Not hardly, rather the faith is given so that we can steadfastly come face to face with reality.

17. When we are trying to live obediently to Christ, loving God and loving people, while down the mountain, while in this world of reality, we first see our own sinfulness in a true sense. We understand how lacking we are in love, how self-centered we are, what ugly egoists we are. At that time our prayers, seeking for God's forgiveness, become serious. And another thing -- we come to understand deep down inside to the core that we must have [God] transform us. Those who discover their ugliness and shame will desire to be changed. Those who find out that they have the figure of a caterpillar will earnestly wish to be transformed. That's how it is.

18. At that time, this event on the mountain will have decisively great significance for us. The figure of Christ was transformed. Pointing to that figure God says to us: "You will be transformed as well. You will not always stay a caterpillar. You will turn into a butterfly. You will become the same figure as the Christ shinning in glory."

19. There was one person who found this out later. It was Paul. He wrote to the followers at Corinth as follows. "We all will have the covering over our faces removed, and while reflecting the glory of the Lord like a mirror, we will be re-formed from glory to glory into the same figure as the Lord. This will come from the working of the spirit of the Lord," (Second Corinthians 3:18).The word "be re-formed" is the same word "be transformed" which was used by Jesus just ago. We too will "be transformed." Into the same figure as the Lord. This "into the same figure as the Lord" means the figure of the glory of the resurrection, of which Peter and the others had gotten a glimpse.

20. Thus, something amazing takes place in us. We materialize in the kingdom of heaven. The caterpillar does not always stay a caterpillar. We will not always stay a caterpillar. We will soon be transformed into the figure of the glory of the resurrection. And it has already begun in our faith lives by the working of the spirit of the Lord. In our faith lives, you could say, we have been allowed to have a sampling of the kingdom of heaven. In this way then, we are made to hope for sure. So we will not despair. Without despairing we can come face to face with reality. Without despairing we can come face to face with our own sinfulness. Even though there are times when we repeatedly trip and fall, we can stand up again and walk on forward because we have already been shown the figure of ourselves which the Lord is perfecting in the kingdom of heaven.