Jesus says, "Some standing here shall not taste death until they see the kingdom of God." What did He mean by that? It's no coincidence that of the three gospels that record these words, every one of them is immediately followed by the account of the transfiguration of Jesus Christ - that blessed event where Jesus took His three closest disciples to the top of Mt. Hermon and allowed them to see Him transfigured - to see Him in His glory.
Years later, while writing his second epistle, Peter will speak of the transfiguration, saying that up on the mountaintop that night, they were "eyewitnesses of His majesty". They got a glimpse into the kingdom of God. They saw Him in His glory. We read about it in the next few verses:
Jesus, along with Peter, James and John, climbed up Mt. Herman - which is a pretty steep. They went up to pray. But by the time they got to the top, the disciples were bushed, exhausted. They were too tired to pray and promptly passed out.
But it's good to see how the disciples later matured over the course of Jesus' ministry. 12 or 13 chapters from now, we will see Jesus take these same three disciples with Him to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. This time, the Scriptures say:
Mark 14:40 And again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy...
They were sleeping again! We can laugh at, be disappointed in, or be angry toward the disciples, but most of us have had the same thing happen to us. Sleep and slumber overtakes us during our supplications. Prayer and petition results in passing out.
What is it about prayer that makes us sleepy? You know, I'm ashamed to admit it, but I've never fallen asleep in the middle of a conversation with anyone else - why do we do that with God? I believe the reason we pass out during prayer is that we don't fully comprehend the reality of what we are doing when we pray.
We are talking to God Himself! The Person that created everything in the universe is giving us His undivided attention. Can you imagine getting to meet with someone as famous and influential as Bill Clinton or the Pope, and then falling asleep in the middle of your conversation? It wouldn't happen. And yet we do that with God.
But in all fairness, mankind has always had problems with his perceptions of prayer. Paul wrote in Romans that:
Rom. 8:26 ...we do not know how to pray as we should...
How then, should we pray? The Scriptures give us a lot of instruction regarding prayer. Among these instructions are:
1) We should be devoted to prayer (Rom 12:12; Col 4:2)
2) We should be praying always, without ceasing (Eph 6:18; 1Thes 5:17)
3) We should not use meaningless repetition (Mat 6:7)
But if you have a problem of passing out while praying - sleeping during supplication, here's the best instruction I can give you from the Scriptures: Many great men of God - Solomon, Daniel, Paul, and others, knelt when they prayed. In addition, Paul said in 1Timothy 2...
1Tim. 2:8 Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands
As we kneel, we show that we are submissive to God. As we lift our hands, we show that we are surrendered to God. And you know, I've never seen anyone fall asleep while kneeling with their hands in the air...
The gospels of Matthew and Mark tell us that Jesus was transfigured. "Metamorpheo" in the Greek. He underwent a metamorphosis - our Messiah was Morphed! Like a caterpillar's metamorphosis - turning from a slug-looking thing into a beautiful butterfly, so Jesus was physically and mysteriously transformed.
This picture of Christ in the Kingdom of God is also a picture of what happens to us when the Kingdom of God comes to us with power. Because we are morphed here on earth. Twice in the Scriptures, the word metamorpheo is spoken of us.
2Cor. 3:18 But we all... are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory...
Rom. 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind...
We are slowly but surely being transformed to the image of Christ. How? By the renewing of our minds. The Bible tells us that:
2Cor. 5:17 ...If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
We have become and are continually becoming new creatures in Christ. So Jesus' transfiguration is a picture of our transfiguration. What exactly was Jesus morphed into? Matthew tells us...
Matt. 17:2 His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light.
Mark 9:3 ...His garments became radiant & exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them.
And Luke writes:
Luke 9:29 ...The appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming.
His clothes were whiter than anyone on earth could make them, and His face was shining and different. Remember, this is a picture of our transfiguration on earth.
So how do our clothes turn brilliant white? The Bible speaks of our character as our clothes. What we are characteristically is what we wear spiritually.
Eph. 4:22-24 Lay aside the old self... be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
Just as Jesus' garments were dirty from the dust of the road, our garments were stained with the soil of sin. But now, we've been washed clean - As the Lord said in Isaiah:
Isa. 1:18 "...Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool."
No launderer on earth - no book, seminar, church, or program, is able to wash your character, your clothing, like Jesus. He "gets your whites their whitest!"
The other thing that was affected at Jesus' transfiguration was His face - it was shining and different. As we walk victoriously with Christ, our faces also become shining and different - they take on a new shape! Scowls turn to smiles. Frowns turn upside down! Our faces are transfigured as we spend years in the peace and joy of the Holy Spirit.
The disciples were snoozing, but now they wake up to see Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah. Moses - the great giver of the law, and Elijah - the first and greatest of the prophets.
But when Moses and Elijah turn to go, Peter stand up and says, "Master, it is good for us to be here. Let's make three tents - one for each of you". Mark tells us he said this because:
Mark 9:6 ...he did not know what to answer...
There are two kinds of people in this world - those who have something to say, and those who have to say something. People, as en expert in this field, take it from me - if you don't know what to say, keep your mouth closed. Solomon said:
Pro 10:19 When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise.
When we speak without thinking (and as I said, I am the chief of that group), we are likely to say something compulsive, offensive, combative, or divisive. In the multitude of words, sin is not lacking. Jesus said:
Matt. 12:36 "And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment.
Now what was wrong with what Peter had said? Moses and Elijah were good godly guys, right? Our clue is in how the Father rebuked him. The Lord said,
Luke 9:35 "This is My Son... listen to Him!"
You see, Peter had put Jesus, Moses, and Elijah on the same plane. "Let's make tents for all three of you!" But Jesus is not a contemporary of Moses and Elijah - He is the Creator of Moses and Elijah! Moses - the lawgiver of God, and Elijah - the prophet of God, are not equal to Jesus, the Son of God.
Again, this gives us a picture of ourselves. We've come to the mountain, where we see the glory of Jesus. But up here are also Moses and Elijah. When Moses and Elijah turn to leave, we say, "Wait! It's good for all of us to be here!"
Why do we want Moses here? Moses is here representing the Law. Many of us have decided that we don't just need to be on this mountaintop with Jesus, we need Moses there too. We want the Law - we insist on the Mosaic ordinance, and legalistic observance, because it seems to help us with our outward appearance.
We give ourselves rigid requirements. We practice repeated rituals.We think that this will make us "better" Christians, "closer" to Christ. But the law is a picture of perfection. Perfection which we will never attain to, and to believe that we're coming closer to the righteousness of Christ by observing it is to blaspheme the completeness of Christ's cross. Relying on the Law is a catch-22. If we do it sucessfully, we become self-righteous, not needing to rely on the Lord. If we fail, we are self-defeated, and are afraid to come to the Lord.
So you don't get both Jesus and Moses - you get either or. Which do you want - the requirements of perfection from Mt. Sinai? Or the fulfillment of perfection on Mt. Calvary?
Why do we want Elijah here? Elijah is here representing the prophets. What is the office of the Old Testament prophet? To rebuke and reprove the people of God when they are out of the will of God. Many of us have decided that we don't just need to be on this mountaintop with Jesus, we need Elijah there too. We want the Prophets - people who can speak to us from the Lord. Instead of a personal relationship with Christ, we want someone who can be a mediator. Someone who can tell us right from wrong, someone who will speak to us the Word of God so we won't have to read it ourselves. But relying on prophets robs us of our relationship with the Redeemer. Jesus has given you His Holy Spirit and His Word - to speak to you directly.
So you don't get both Jesus and Elijah - you get either or. Which do you want - to vicariously experience a second-hand relationship with God, or victoriously experience a first-hand relationship with Him yourself?
In saying what he did, Peter was implying that it was better to be with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, than is was to be with Jesus only. The church has been saying "it is good for us to be here" for centuries. Some want Jesus and the Law - the legalistic rigidity of rules and regulations. Some want Jesus and the prophets - mediating between us and the Lord. Many want a combination of all three.
But there's no need for Moses - in Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law. There's no need for Elijah - in Jesus is the Spirit and the Word which speak to us directly. "It is better to see Moses and Elijah in Christ, than to see Moses and Elijah with Christ." (Spurgeon)
Finally, we end this morning with a reminder. When we are misdirected, we are mistaken. When we are misguided, we are missing out. We must be told again and again - Jesus only. Jesus only. Jesus said He would build His church on the statement: "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!" I don't want to have a church whose foundation is focusing on the Father. A church like that is not Jesus' church, for the Father says:
Luke 9:35 "This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!"
I don't want to have a church that's main mission is to magnify Mary, the Mother of our Messiah. A church like that is not Jesus' church, for Mary said in John 2:
John 2:5 "Whatever He says to you, do it."
I don't want to have a church standing on the spectacular signs of the Spirit. A church like that is not Jesus' church, for He said of the Spirit:
John 14:26 "...The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you."
Jesus only. That is what He builds His church on. Jesus only.When Moses and Elijah were gone from the mountaintop of the transfiguration, when the smoke cleared,
Matt. 17:7-8 ...Jesus came to them and touched them and said, "Arise, and do not be afraid." And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one, except Jesus Himself alone.