Kingdom Preview (2): Pre-Eminence On Display
Intro – John Newton, the slave trader turned pastor and writer of “Amazing Grace”, in his old age used to lose his train of thought – sometimes mid-sermon. Then he would say, “I have lost my train of thought, but this I know. I know what a great sinner I am; and I know what a great Savior He is.” Nothing’s more important to know in life than the greatness of Jesus.
I. Purpose for the Preview
Last week we saw this strange event is actually a preview of the next age breaking into this. God pulling back the curtains for a glimpse of the future. He does this to encourage the disciples as well as Jesus that the hard times coming would be worth the reward. Following Christ is costly but so worth it.
II. Person of the Preview
A. Supremacy of His Person
In April 1995 San Francisco hosted a retirement party for Joe Montana after 16 years in pro football. John Madden said, “This is the greatest quarterback who ever played the game." A fan yelled, “We love you, Joe.” But Bill Walsh, Montana’s coach had a long memory. He responded, “You weren’t saying that in 1979. Then you were saying, 'Where did you get this guy who looks like a Swedish placekicker?’” In ’79, Montana hardly looked like the greatest quarterback ever. But in Walsh’s West Coast offense, Montana’s quick step, cool demeanor, and precision accuracy turned the 49ers into the dominant team of the 80’s. In one Super Bowl, down by 6 with under 2 minutes to play, Montana huddled his offense, pointed to the stands and said, “Hey, isn’t that John Candy over there?” Then he led his team 92 yards to the winning touchdown – one of 4 Super Bowls wins highlighting his greatness.
But true greatness only resides one place – Jesus Christ. For 33 years earth hosted the Supreme Being who has ever lived. Like Montana, He didn’t look like much. Isa 53:2: “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” You wouldn’t have looked at Jesus and said, “There’s goes the greatest man that ever lived.” But he was all of that and more. Pre-eminent in Manhood, Majesty and Message.
1. Pre-eminent in His Manhood
The disciples knew Jesus was a man. They had seen Him walk, talk, sleep, sweat, eat, drink, tire and tan. They had seen Him bleed, blister, laugh and weep. Max Lucado writes, “He felt weak. He grew weary. He was afraid of failure. He was susceptible to wooing women. He got colds, burped, and suffered. His feelings got hurt. His feet got tired. And his head ached. To think of Jesus in such a light is—well, it seems almost irreverent, doesn’t it? It is much easier to keep the humanity out of the incarnation. Pretend he never snored or blew his nose or hit his thumb with a hammer. There is something about keeping him divine that keeps him distant, packaged, predictable. But don’t do it. don’t. Let him be as human as he intended to be. For only if we let him in can he pull us out.” He was as human as it gets.
But normal? Normal men don’t take their disciples up on a mountaintop and then light up like a Christmas tree. He was anything but normal! And look who He hangs with! V. 30, “And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah.” We’re not told how the disciples recognized them. But there sits Jesus conversing with two of the greatest men in Jewish history – Moses the Deliver and Lawgiver and Elijah the great prophet. Like going to a retreat in Estes only to find Abe Lincoln and George Washington on hand. Incredible.
Why are they there? They certainly affirm that when Jesus was talking about the kingdom of God, He wasn’t kidding! But why these two? Why not Daniel and Joseph or Abraham and David? First, both had unusual exits from this world. After Moses died at age 120 when “His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated” (Deut 34:7), God buried him. Elijah never died at all but during an outing with Elisha, “behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (II Kings 2:11). This contrasts sharply with the “departure” which Jesus was about to accomplish at Jerusalem – a reference to the cross that awaited Him.
Second, Moses and Elijah represent the two great divisions of the OT. The Law came thru Moses and Elijah was a great prophet. Together they represent the OT that Jesus came to fulfill. Mt 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.” The disciples are seeing living proof of that intent. What began with Moses and Elijah, Jesus will finish. He’s the fulfillment of the whole thing.
But there is more. Moses led Israel’s exodus from Egypt, the greatest picture of salvation in the Bible. Moses is a backward look at how we enter the kingdom of God. Elijah points us forward. In the next to last v in the OT, Mal 4:5: “I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.” Elijah’s presence points to the kingdom in its fullness at Christ’s 2nd Coming. Now look at Rev 11 where God sends two great witnesses to earth during the Tribulation just prior to Jesus’ 2nd Coming. Rev 11:3, “And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” He describes their miraculous protection. Then v. 6, “They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying (sounds a lot like Elijah during Ahab’s time), and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire (exactly like Moses in Egypt).” They are eventually killed and lie in the streets for 3-1/2 days to the joy of the earthly crowds. But in a final appeal, God raises them. They are never named, but the patterns suggest they may be Moses and Elijah. And they’re here at the kingdom preview! They are witnesses here and witnesses later. They are great men.
AND YET, as great as these men are, they are not even close to the greatest person on this mountain. Glory emanates from Jesus, not Moses and Elijah. They are talking in v. 31 “of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” not about their great exploits. They are from heaven on credit with no ability to pay the penalty for their own sins. They need Jesus. And later, v. 36, “And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.” As the night ends, Jesus stands alone, the One on whom all depends. The Lawgiver and the prophet are gone. Only Jesus can fulfill all that they represent.
This is why it’s so sad that a great man like Mahatma Gandhi, attracted to Christianity while working in South Africa as a young lawyer could write in 1894, "I could accept Jesus as a martyr, and the embodiment of sacrifice, and the divine teacher, but not as the most perfect man ever born. His death on the cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything like a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it, my heart could not accept." How could he have missed the greatness of Jesus? I hope he changed his mind in the 50 years he had left. J. C. Ryle says, “Moses and Elijah were the King’s servants, but Jesus was the King’s Son. Moses and Elijah were planets, but Jesus is the sun. They were witnesses, but He is the truth.” It was Jesus’ pre-eminence as a man that qualified Him to take away the sin of the world.
2. Per-eminent in His Majesty
He is man, yes, but He is also God. This is the heart of this passage. Jesus is much, much more than humble humanity. He is God in the flesh. Fully man –But at the same time, “Very God of Very God.” V. 29, “And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.” Imagine the astonishment of this scene! Mt says, “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (17:2). Mark 9:2 reports, “his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.” In the dark of night Jesus glows like an atomic reactor – Person and clothing. Matt and Mark say that He was “transfigured” -- μεταμορφόω, from which we get “metamorphosis” – the change from caterpillar to butterfly as the true nature of the creature is established. That is precisely what happens here. Jesus divine nature breaks through in a blazing display of glory.
In Exod 34:29, “Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.” But that was reflected glory resulting from God’s glory shining on him from without. Jesus shines with a glory that comes from within. It’s His own glory dramatically demonstrating His deity. That glory has been veiled behind His humanity as he divested Himself of divine prerogatives for a time “by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:7). That veil is briefly lifted to reveal the divine nature that lies dormant beneath His human existence. But it is the infinite nature of that deity which will allow Him to pay the penalty for not just one person’s sin, but for all who will believe. Thus, for a moment, He is revealed in an explosion of glory as the God-man – supreme in the universe & history.
After this short preview, His glory is once again veiled. But not for long. Turn to John 17:4-5 and Jesus’ prayer, “ I glorified you [His Father] on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” The glory that Peter, James and John saw wasn’t new. It has existed from before time began. It had no beginning and it has no end. It was put under wraps for 33 years, but that is long over with. The glory is back! And what the disciples saw that night – we’re going to see as well. Rev 21:23, “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” Who is the lamb? It is Jesus, of course, and His glory will light heaven forever. Isn’t that something?
That’s what makes the comments of TV evangelist Creflo Dollar so damning. “Somebody said, well, Jesus came as God! Well, how many of you know the Bible says God never sleeps nor slumbers? And we see Jesus asleep in the back of a boat. This ain’t no heresy. I am not some false prophet. If he [Jesus] came as God and he got tired – he says he sat down by the well because he was tired – boy, we’re in trouble." He refuses to see Jesus lived with man’s limitations. How else could He die? But that did not for one moment erase His deity. And belief in Jesus’ deity is the heart of saving faith. John says in I John 4:2-3, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.”
The gospel is this: Jesus is both fully God and fully man. To deny that is not to be Christian, but antichrist. In Jesus Christ Superstar, Mary Magdalene sings, "He's a man, he's just a man." Well, He is a man, but not just a man. Far from it. Jesus is the man who is also God, and that is the way we must accept Him – or reject Him. C. S. Lewis wrote, "The doctrine of Christ's divinity seems to me not something stuck on which you can unstick, but something that peeps out at every point, so that you would have to unravel the whole web to get rid of it." Salvation hinges on taking all of Jesus.
3. Pre-eminent in His Message
V. 32: “Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep (this seems to be a nighttime event), but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.” Isn’t this so like Peter? Moses and Elijah are taking their leave. But Peter wants the kingdom now! “Let’s make it permanent! We’ll build a tabernacle for each of you – just stick around.” Of course, it’s total nonsense. Who would stick around in a tent when you’re heading back to heaven? Peter doesn’t know what he’s saying. But he sure got a response!
V. 34, “ As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” The cloud is God. It’s the OT Shekina glory. Fear overcomes everyone. Then comes the voice, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” “Peter, stuff it! You’re in the presence of My Son! Listen to Him.” Remember who else is there. Moses – the human author of the first five books – the Torah. He’s there! And Elijah who defeated and killed 400 prophets of Baal. But with all that human firepower readily available, the Father says, “Listen to Jesus.”
At one point in His ministry, the chief priests and Pharisees sent out a delegation to detain Jesus. John 7:44, “Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. 45 The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” 46 The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” Want to know why? John 7:16, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. 17 If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.” No wonder the Father said, “Listen to Him.” He was speaking God’s words. No one ever spoke like Jesus.
Think of going up against the greatest minds in your world constantly. Sooner or later, they’re going to trap you, right? Have you noticed that that never happened to Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth? Not once! Someone has said, “No one has ever yet discovered a word that Jesus ought to have said.” Read the accounts. You come up with better lines! If someone just made this up we would be sitting here having the discussion, “Who is this incredible person who made this up? Who could possibly be this wise and discerning – all the time – on the spur of the moment?” Jesus is one of a kind. Listen to Him.
When Jesus hit a crisis in His ministry, we read in John 6:66, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” They got the message. Have we? Know why listening to Him is critical? John 12:48: “48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” It comes down to this. Jesus was pre-eminent in His message because He spoke the words of God. We either accept and get eternal life, or we reject them and will be judged by them. The Father will ask, “Were you there that Sunday – July 27, 2014? Then did you accept the words of my Son?”
Conc –In 1973 a man named Gary Kildall built the first operating system for personal computers, named CP/M. IBM approached Kildall in 1980 about developing the operating system for IBM PCs. But Kildall snubbed IBM officials at a crucial meeting, choosing to go fly his new airplane. So, the frustrated IBM execs turned instead to another young developer – a college dropout named Bill Gates and contracted for his MS-DOS operating system. 14 years later Bill Gates was worth more than $8 billion. And no one knows how much today. Author Paul Carol says of Kildall, "He was a smart guy who did not realize how big the operating system market would become." In a similar way, people often don't realize how big God's kingdom will someday become. God comes calling with the offer of a lifetime, created for us by the greatest person who ever lived, and we find other things to do. Don’t blow Him off, Beloved. There is no one like Jesus. Let’s pray.