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Matthew 17 - Coming Down From the Mountaintop

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Not just about the mountaintop, but ministry is to come down and serve

Notes & Transcripts
Feb. 26, 2017 - FPC Caldwell
Welcome and announcements:
What’s going on in life? Prayer requests for later: Brooxy’s daughter (in-law?) with cancer, George’s surgery
PRELUDE - Let us use this time to center ourselves for worship
CALL TO WORSHIP AND OPENING PRAYER
This is the day the Lord has made,
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Let us Pray: Holy God, our petition is that we would experience your grace and love. May this time of worship be a time when we set aside our own understandings, our own agendas, our own preconceptions, our own assumptions, our own pursuits, and even our own troubles, that we may embrace the opportunity before us. We offer our hearts to you in worship that may we indeed experience your grace and love. Amen.
HYMN: Come thou Fount of Every Blessing 356
Prayer of Confession: Eternal God, in whom we live and move and have our being, whose face is hidden from us by our sins, and whose mercy we forget in the blindness of our hearts: Cleanse us from all our offenses, and deliver us from proud thoughts and vain desires, that with reverent and humble hearts we may draw near to you, confessing our faults, confiding in your grace, and finding in you our refuge and strength; through Jesus Christ your Son.
Eternal God, in whom we live and move and have our being, whose face is hidden from us by our sins, and whose mercy we forget in the blindness of our hearts: Cleanse us from all our offenses, and deliver us from proud thoughts and vain desires, that with reverent and humble hearts we may draw near to you, confessing our faults, confiding in your grace, and finding in you our refuge and strength; through Jesus Christ your Son.
RECEIVING GOD’S HEALING IN BAPTISM AND FORGIVENESS Friends, let us proclaim the Good News: In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven! Amen.
Friends, let us proclaim the Good News: In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven! Amen.
* GLORIA PATRI: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be World without end. Amen. Amen.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be World without end. Amen. Amen.
Exodus 24:12–18 ESV
12 The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” 13 So Moses rose with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14 And he said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we return to you. And behold, Aaron and Hur are with you. Whoever has a dispute, let him go to them.” 15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18 Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.”
Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.
Prayer for illumination: God, your Word is a lamp unto our feet, a light unto our path. The gospel of John tells us that Jesus came as a light to the darkness, the Word made flesh to dwell among us. Help us so to hear your holy Word that we may truly understand; that, understanding, we may believe, and, believing, we may follow in all faithfulness and obedience, seeking your honor and glory in all that we do; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God, your Word is a lamp unto our feet, a light unto our path. The gospel of John tells us that Jesus came as a light to the darkness, the Word made flesh to dwell among us. Help us so to hear your holy Word that we may truly understand; that, understanding, we may believe, and, believing, we may follow in all faithfulness and obedience, seeking your honor and glory in all that we do; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Our gospel text today is the Transfiguration passage of the book of Matthew.
But before I jump right into the gospel text this morning allow me to set a little context. (**Map on the back of your bulletin today**) At the end of chapter 15, Jesus is at the Sea of Galilee and feeds a crowd of 4,000 hungry men and then women and children as well. In chapter 16, Jesus travels from the Sea of Galilee further North to Caesarea Philippi and it is here that Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” () …
And then it’s after this that the gospel of Matthew says, “21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” ()
It’s here where Peter rebukes Jesus, yes Peter rebukes Jesus, saying that that will never happen to you Jesus!
Do y’all remember how Jesus responded to Peter? “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
And then the end of chapter 16 says: “24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” ().
I think that is significant because in our gospel text we have a fairly rare occurrence of an exact reference to the passing of time… 6 days. 6 days after what I just read the Transfiguration happens. So in doing this I think Matthew acknowledges a little passing of time, while also remaining in the same train of thought. I think this is because for Matthew there is a correlation between the context I’ve just given and the Transfiguration text, which we tend to separate. We tend to look at the Transfiguration by itself, standing alone.
Matthew 17:1–9 ESV
1 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. 3 And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5 He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” 8 And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. 9 And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
The Word of the Lord.
Jesus goes up on a mountain with three disciples: Peter, James, and Jesus’ brother - John. And while they are on the mountain, something crazy happens. Actually, its not just one crazy thing, it’s three crazy things! And let’s pretend like we haven’t heard this story two hundred times or more and place ourselves in Peter’s shoes - or sandals.
So your on the mountain with Jesus then suddenly, three mind-boggling, mind-blowing, jaw-dropping, astounding, incredibly amazingly extraordinary things happen:
Jesus is “transfigured” Then Moses and Elijah appear out of thin air And then, if that weren’t enough, a mysterious cloud envelopes them all and God audibly speaks
Now there is something to say about each of these things:
Jesus is transfigured… the greek: μετεμορφώθη (metamorphothe) metamorphosed, before their very eyes. Jesus, the guy that you have traveled around with listening to his teachings, and witnessed do some amazing miracles and such, but now “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.” Moses, if you recall in , after he had gone up Mt. Sinai to get the 2nd set of Tablets, when he came down from the mountain had to cover his face with a vail because his face was shining as if it had radioactively absorbed some of God’s energy, because he had been talking with God. Now in Jesus’ case, it wasn’t that he seemed to absorb some of God’s energy that made his face radiate like Moses, but that he did so by the very nature of himself alone.
Speaking of Moses, he and Elijah appear. What is the significance of Moses and Elijah? First, these two monumental people of the Jewish tradition - I mean especially Moses, REALLY MOSES APPEARS! Moses is the Torah and the Torah is life to the Jews - it still is to this day! And you would think if Moses visibly showed up that he would draw ALL the attention, I mean it’s Moses for crying out loud, right!! But Moses and Elijah, as awesome a sight as they are, aren’t the main character. Jesus is still the main character. Jesus is the center of attention and Moses and Elijah appear to merely serve as a testimony to the majesty of Jesus. It’s as if they are there to ultimately there to endorse Jesus as the Christ. And why Moses and Elijah specifically? Well between the three - Jesus, Moses and Elijah - there are a number of interesting connections: They are the only three named as having fasting 40 days. All three could be considered prophets. And the all ascend a mountain and experience the presence of God, which for Jesus is happening in realtime. But what I like to point out is that Moses represents the Torah (the Law) and Elijah represents the prophets - and in the infamous word of Jesus from his Sermon on the Mount, “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” (). So, Jesus doesn’t add a third component that is on par with Moses and Elijah, Jesus comes as the fulfillment of them and their role, and it’s as if they submit to that.
Lastly, a cloud, like on the mountain with Moses, envelopes the mountain and God audibly speaks. Here God repeats what is said in , “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased”; but then adding to it: “listen to him!” Jesus has the authority of the Law and the prophets and the very beloved Son of God… Listen to him!!
Every one of these things: Jesus’ self-radiating transfiguration, the appearance of the supporting cast of Moses and Elijah, and the voice of God very illicitly come together to point to Jesus’ authority, his sovereignty, his very deity, the exaltation of Jesus. Jesus in this sense is wholly other - He is transcendent.
And what I want to draw our attention to is, in the midst of all this going on, we can’t forget about the 3 disciples with Jesus: Peter, James, and John. And specifically, Peter. After Moses and Elijah appear Peter involves himself in the moment. Peter, no doubt out of reverence, wanted to build shelters or in other words places for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah to dwell. He must have felt that in this awe-inspiring moment that this is what was proper for them.
But it’s unclear what exactly was going on in Peter’s mind. Was he thinking that “oh we have honored guests, they should have a place to dwell”? Or was he thinking that maybe this was the moment marking the beginning of the Messiah taking control over the powers of the world and that now Almighty Jesus was going to now usher in the Kingdom of God? Or, was he just hoping to keep them there and comfortable so that the moment would last as long as it could? Did he think that one this mountain would be a special place of worship?
Or something else altogether… It’s really speculative and I have no idea really, but I would offer that Peter, out of piety and reverence, wanted to make a special dwelling place for Jesus. He wanted to make a place of sanctuary and protection. He wanted to make a comfortable place. Doing so would essentially make Jesus stationary. It would figuratively and literally box Jesus in. Make Jesus more inaccessible.
And it was right at the moment when Peter suggests building shelters that the mysterious cloud envelopes them on the mountain and God Almighty speaks…. This drives the disciples facedown to the ground. The answer to Peter’s question is ultimately no.
But notice how Matthew says that Jesus regains their attention, it says, “When the disciples heard this [the voice of God], they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them.”
What has been an account of Jesus’ transcendence, his holy otherness, suddenly becomes about Jesus’ immanence. Jesus has drawn close and with a seemingly compassionate touch gathers his disciples’ attention. Jesus is not just some idea or abstract deity. Jesus draws near. And the words he reassuringly encourages his disciples with, telling them to: “Get up and do not be afraid.”
Jesus, the Word made flesh, who did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped but emptied himself, and humbled himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (). Jesus wasn’t about power, fame, or privilege, Jesus was about ministry, he was about service, he was about love.
But you know, we can’t really fault Peter’s silly idea to construct shelters. Because we have a natural tendency to do the same thing. Peter was having a literal mountain-top religious experience and he wanted to preserve it. In Luke’s version, Peter makes his suggestion only as Moses and Elijah appear to be departing. When we have a mountaintop religious experience or any kind of experience, or a “golden age” of life, we have a tendency to lock into those moments and judge all other experiences to them. We are a culture so preoccupied and focused on preserving. Preserving our way of life and what is comfortable for us, preserving our valuables and what give us security, preserving our moments with photographs, videos, trying to relive experiences…
When we do this we lose sight of the future. We lose sight of hoping for the unexpected. We limit ourselves of possibilities and opportunities. We becomes inwardly focuses, we become more anxious and worried. As a church are we seeking to preserve or even to bring back what once was? Or are we surrendered to God and is our ministry open to the possibilities that lie ahead? New things? Things that could be different? Things that could be uncomfortable?
So often we look for what is comfortable. If we can avoid discomfort we do. If it’s hot outside, we crank up the A/C, if it’s cold outside we fire up the heater, which in Texas, can happen in the same day. We drive instead of walk, we avoid instead of confront. We look to sit in the same seats and not just in church - I’m guilty of that even in my classes - even if different classes but in the same room. It’s also more comfortable for us to keep our faith quiet, it’s more comfortable for us to keep Jesus inside the church, it’s more comfortable for us to only want the Spirit to work if it conforms to our plans. That is to say that we don’t really want the Spirit to interfere with our lives.
It requires bending, letting go and letting God. And Jesus could have sought the comfort of a mountaintop refuge in which to dwell, untouched by the stresses and evils of the world. But instead he told his disciples not to worry, he descended the mountain and he headed toward Jerusalem - he went to the cross.
Jesus enters our world, he engages the world, draws us into relationship with the Father. Jesus enters into our pain and suffering, Jesus heals our wounds, forgives our sins, . And too, Jesus interferes with our lives. Jesus enters the temple of our lives that we have created and overturns the tables on our pride, greed, and selfishness.
Where the world says look out for number one, Jesus says the first will be last and the last shall be first and greater love has no one than this that they lay down their life for another. To follow Jesus is to flip our lives upside down. What the world tells us is valuable, Jesus says is worthless in the sight of God. To follow Jesus is to surrender the things we treasure. To follow Jesus is to let go of our own control, our own security, our own comfort, and our own assumptions of how things ought to be.
In , Peter answers Jesus, “you are the Christ”, but then rebukes Jesus because of Peter’s own notions of what the Christ is and that the Christ does not suffer but should be safe, secure, and comfortable, but he was wrong. At the end of , days before the Transfiguration, in the same line of thought Matthew writes these words of Jesus: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” ()
Sisters and brothers, the Kingdom of God is moving ever forward. Yes, be in awe of God, even tremble before God. But I also encourage you to leave the mountaintop, leave the quest for the comfortable, the familiar, and the safe, and follow Jesus into the muck of the world in order that a light may shine in the darkness and that all people would know of God’s love.
HYMN: Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee 464
AFFIRMATION OF FAITH: Let us confess the faith as one church with the words of the Apostles’ Creed: I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.
Let us confess the faith as one church with the words of the Apostles’ Creed:
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.
OFFERTORY
* DOXOLOGY: Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow; Praise Him, all creatures here below; Praise Him above, ye Heavenly Host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow; Praise Him, all creatures here below; Praise Him above, ye Heavenly Host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
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