The Nature of Faith

Matthew 17:14-23

8/30/2009

Most people do not know what faith is. Not true faith in the living God. They believe that they can say that simple belief is what faith is. And people stress so much how powerful our faith ought to be. If something doesn’t happen right, then they will say that our faith just wasn’t strong enough. And it is but a short step from there to saying that the size of our faith is determined entirely by what goes on inside of us. Now, we do not want to downplay the fact that faith can be more or less in a person. Jesus plainly tells us right here that there are degrees of faith. However, we must remember the true nature of faith in order to answer these questions.

This passage is not primarily about the healing of a boy with a demon. Rather, the healing of a boy with a demon is a test case in a larger discussion related to the nature of faith. Once we realize this, then we can begin to see that there are lessons here for us. After all, there aren’t many people here I know of who have epileptic seizures due to demonic possession. But the lessons of faith this passage can teach us are profound and far-reaching.

The story starts with a man being concerned for his son. Maybe “concerned” is a bit of an understatement. He is actually desperate. There is nowhere else to turn. He has even gone to the disciples, but the disciples were unable to cast out this demon. Sometimes Jesus allows His servants to fail, in order that people will come straight to the source, which is Himself. He is jealous of His own glory and honor, and will not share it with another. And so he often reminds us that He alone is sufficient. We need then to keep on coming back to the source of all blessings.

The problem with this man’s son was that he was demon-possessed. The demon afflicted him with what is probably epilepsy. Literally, the word is “moon-struck.” He was a crazy boy, doing many weird things all throughout his life. He would jump into fire and water and suffer harm as a result. In the parallel account in Mark, we learn that the demon made him mute as well. The man had brought his son to the disciples, but the disciples were unable to help him.

Jesus’ answer to this is something of a puzzle. Why would Jesus call this generation unbelieving and perverse? Why would the entire generation be seemingly responsible for this one man’s problem? And isn’t the trouble related to the disciples’ lack of faith? Well, the answers to these questions get us to an important place in our examination of this passage. Jesus is here expressing frustration over the lack of faith in the current generation. It seems to be a fairly comprehensive statement that includes just about everyone. The people in the crowd are unbelieving and perverse. Certainly the epileptic son is unbelieving and perverse. Certainly the disciples are struggling with a lack of faith in God’s power. Now, the disciples did believe in Jesus. But they did not always believe in their commission. You might remember that Jesus commissioned them to cast out evil demons. He gave them the power to do that. In chapter 10, Jesus sent out His disciples with power to cast out demons. However, because that power is there does not mean that the connection to that power is always present. Maybe there is a short in the line somewhere. The disciples found this out when they could not do what the man had requested. Fixing the short in the line means that we realize the true nature of faith. True faith has its power not from something inside us, but rather from the power of God. Let me say that again. True faith has its power not from something inside us, but rather from the power of God. Faith is not powerful because we believe better and harder than someone else. True faith is rather an unhindered access to our all-powerful God. The power of faith comes from the power of God in which our faith rests.

Here is a helpful way of thinking about faith. Imagine that you are canning some fruit. You have your jars in the boiling water so that when you take them out, the lids will seal. You can’t just reach in your hand to the boiling water to get them out, or you will scald your hand badly. You need something like a pair of tongs. I know that they make these special tongs that can grab hold of a jar. You use these tongs to lay hold of the jar and bring out the jar from the boiling water. Similarly, our faith is like a pair of tongs that lay hold of God Himself. We cannot touch God in and of ourselves, for God is holy and we are not. However, we can lay hold of Christ by faith. Faith, then is not where the power resides. Faith rather lays hold of our God, which is where the power resides.

It should be evident by now that the greatness of our faith is not quite as important as the greatness of our God. A small faith that is true to God can still access that great power. However, there is truth in saying that some people have more faith than other people have. What we mean by that, however, is not so much that the power comes from within the person. Rather, what we mean, and what we should mean, is that a person with great faith has fewer obstacles in the way to his access to the power of God. This is evident from what Jesus says about little faith. He describes faith the size of a mustard seed. You might remember from Jesus’ parable about the mustard seed and the kingdom of God that mustard seed is a very tiny seed. Nevertheless, faith even as small as that can move mountains when it is a true faith in the living God. God is the one who does the heavy lifting. So, when Jesus says that the reason the disciples could not cast out the demon was their little faith, what he means is that the faith of the disciples is faulty. There is a short in the line somewhere. The faith is not functioning properly. Probably, the problem was that the disciples forgot where the power actually lay. They thought that the power of God somehow transferred over to them. They probably forgot that the only way to do what God calls us to do is to rely on the power of God, and to trust that Jesus will do what is best for us.

When Jesus says that true but little faith can move mountains, what He means is that true faith can things (by the power of God, not by the power of itself) that might seem impossible. The last phrase confirms this when it says “nothing will be impossible for you.”

When I think of the great heroes of the faith who had this kind of faith, with no obstacles in the way of faith, the figure that comes to mind most strongly was George Muller. He ran an orphanage asylum in England. He often did not have daily food for the children in his care. Things were always tight. They lived on a shoestring budget. In such an environment, Muller’s faith grew by reading the Scriptures and by prayer. One day there was no food. There was simply nothing to eat. The children and the workers all called out miserably in despair, not knowing where the food would come from. Muller calmed them down, and told them that they should pray. When Muller prayed, he thanked the Lord for the food that was coming and that was already on its way toward their house. No sooner had he finished the prayer when there was a knock on the door. A milkman was there. His horse had gotten a lame foot, and so he could not deliver the milk to the people of his route. Rather than see the milk go to waste, he wondered whether Muller could use it for his orphans. Muller recognized, you see, that the milk was coming because of the power of God, not because of the power of his faith. Because he recognized that, his faith was functioning properly.

The disciples’ faith was still not functioning properly in the last part of this passage when they hear for the second time that Jesus had to be delivered into the hands of men and be crucified. Now, their reaction was one step better than Peter’s reaction in chapter 16, which was to reproach Jesus for His obviously bad theology! They believe that what Jesus says is true. But they do not yet know that this had to happen for them to be saved from their sin! The reason that they were distressed was that it seemed to them a prophecy of the end of what they believed. But as Jesus told the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus’ death and resurrection were written in large letters all over the pages of the Old Testament. They should have known, and were slow to believe all that the prophets had spoken! Their faith believed Jesus’ words, but did not yet realize all the implications of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The faith believed, but did not trust fully yet.

In the Reformed faith, we have always said that faith has three parts to it. The first part is belief. This is the content of faith. What doctrine do we hold to? What do we know about God? That is what we believe. It is a vitally important part of faith. But it is not all of what constitutes faith. The second part of faith is that we agree with what we know. We call this “assent.” We assent or agree with what we believe. We can know something, and yet not agree with it. We might know someone else’s opinion on something, for instance, and yet not agree with it. The third part of faith is trust. This is the part that actually connects ourselves with the power of God. It is trust. As James tells us, even demons, even the very demon that possessed the boy believed that Jesus is the Son of God. That demon might even have assented to this truth. But that demon would never entrust himself to Jesus. This is in many ways the key aspects of faith. Again, to back to our image of the wire, knowledge is the substance of the wire, maybe copper. Assent is like the outer coating of the wire. After all, we know that exposed wires are dangerous, and so we cover them with something. But if that wire is not connected to the power source, if there is no trust, then the wire is useless. So the actual connection with the power source, that is like trust. A good thing to meditate on. I know that a lot of us can do electrical wiring. Think of this the next time you wire something. Think of the nature of faith, and ask whether you trust Jesus, whether your faith is actually connected to Jesus.

In practical ways, we can see the importance of this. Faith means that we won’t hold back when an opportunity for evangelism presents itself. For we know that the One to whom we are connected has all the power. True faith means that we will not despair in difficult circumstances, for we will trust our God that He knows what He is putting us through, and that He only designs to consume our dross and refine our gold, as the hymn has it. True faith believes great things and hopes great things from God, knowing that He can do far more than all we ask or imagine. Let us not be part of that faithless and perverse generation of which Jesus spoke. Let us instead be part of a generation like George Muller, knowing that all the power comes from God, and so we can do what God requires of us, not because of our faith, but because of the object of our faith.

Upcoming Debate on the Relationship of Exegesis to Systematics

This book looks to be a very interesting contribution to the discussion on how we move from exegesis to systematic theology, practical theology, etc. Obviously, a book closely related to my thesis topic.

Sproul is Writing a New Commentary on Romans

It’s huge (two volumes and about 1000 pages). It is an expository commentary. This will certainly be one to check out when it is published. It seems to be part of a new commentary series called the St. Andrews Expositional Commentary. So, the series looks to be Dr. Sproul’s sermons that he preaches from that pulpit. This will certainly be one for preachers to purchase.

The Way Down

Matthew 17:10-13

8/16/2009

After a great spiritual high often comes a spiritual low. We read about Elijah in our call to worship, in his marvelous encounter with all the prophets of Baal, and how the Lord delivered Israel from false worship. In the very next chapter, Elijah is off the mountain and fleeing for his very life. Paul also talks about a surpassing spiritual vision that caught him up into the third heaven. He was not permitted to speak of it, and, to keep him from being too puffed up, the Lord gave him a thorn in his side. Well, in our text here tonight, we see a very similar pattern. After the incredible experience of seeing the majesty of Jesus revealed in its true colors, the disciples now have to be brought down a notch again. That is why Jesus here tells His disciples once again about the true nature of discipleship.

The Transfiguration is still very important for our understanding of the passage. Moses and Elijah had appeared to Jesus on the mountain. We saw that that meant that all the law and prophets tell us about Jesus, and point us to Him. The appearance of Elijah must have sparked some questions in the minds of the disciples. See, the disciples all believed that Jesus was the Messiah. However, they also knew their Old Testament. The very last part of the Old Testament is the book of Malachi, and the very last prophecy in that book is that the Lord would send Elijah BEFORE the Messiah. It would be a very public event, because it would result in turning the hearts of the children towards their fathers and the hearts of the fathers towards the children. Otherwise the land would be struck with a curse. Elijah hadn’t appeared, at least not to the vision of the disciples. So then, how could Jesus be the Messiah if Elijah the forerunner had not come yet?

The Jews also believed that Elijah would come back. Remember that Elijah did not die. He was one of two people in the Old Testament (the other being Enoch) who did not taste death. Elijah went up to heaven in the chariot. So he could easily come back, and the Old Testament said that he would. Well, turning the hearts of the fathers to the children and vice versa was a good thing, but it was only a start, thought the Jews. The Jews eventually expanded the prophecy to say that Elijah would restore all things before the Messiah came. Of course, that didn’t leave much for the Messiah to do! And the Jews were going beyond what the text of Malachi was predicting. Malachi did not say that the return of Elijah would bring a restoration of all things, but that the return of the Messiah would bring the restoration of all things.

This is why Jesus then says that Elijah has already come. The Jews didn’t recognize him, because they had a completely different set of expectations concerning him. They thought he would restore the fortunes of the people of Israel in the land of Israel. Some people still think that that is the point of the nation of Israel today. But the project of the Elijah that Jesus is talking about was quite different from the Jewish expectation. It was a much more global, much deeper issue that this Elijah addressed. The problem is that of sin. This new Elijah proclaimed the gospel of the coming kingdom of God, which was a kingdom not limited to one particular people group, but one that would eventually extend over the entire globe. It was a kingdom based on repentance and the forgiveness of sins because of what the One coming after him would do.

Here we can see, incidentally, just how dangerous one’s theology can be. All that happened was that the Jews started adding a little bit to God’s Word. They added more to what Elijah would do. And they forgot that the passage in Malachi might not actually be fulfilled literally with the return of the literal Elijah. They forgot that it might be the idea of a forerunner, just as Elijah was the forerunner of Elisha, so also someone who could be called an Elijah might come before the Messiah. Because of these fairly small changes in their theology, they missed the coming of Elijah completely. When Elijah came, they filtered him through the eyes of their altered reading of God’s Word, and thus they missed him. It is indeed perilous to tamper with God’s Word. They wound up killing the forerunner because of their theology!

Of course, what is even more dangerous is that their rejection of the forerunner also meant that they would not accept the real Messiah either. Like forerunner, like Messiah. If the forerunner was concerned about a spiritual kingdom wherein repentance was the rule, the Messiah would be concerned about the same thing. All throughout Matthew we have seen that John the Baptist (for that is the Elijah here meant) and Jesus preached exactly the same thing. They both preached “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, or has approached.”

So, just as they preached the same message, so also would their reception be the same: utter rejection. Just as John was executed by those who rejected his message, so also would Jesus be executed by those rejecting His message. This is what made the disciples finally realize who was the “Elijah” about whom Jesus had been speaking. It was John the Baptist. John the Baptist is like Elijah. How?

Malachi holds the key link for us. The Lord will send Elijah before the great and awesome day of the Lord. The great and awesome day of the Lord will put all to rights. The wicked will be punished and the righteous will be restored to all the glory that they should have as God’s people reflecting the glory of God. But then that raises the very important question, “If Jesus has come, why didn’t the great and awesome day of the Lord also come?” The answer to that is to remember that Christ is coming again. The reality is, you see, that Christ’s first coming and His second coming are really part 1 and part 2 of the same coming. The Day of the Lord has begun, and yet it has not yet finished in its entire work. Certainly, we see some of the things the Old Testament prophesied coming to pass now. For instance, we see that wherever the Gospel is preached, the hearts of the children are turned to their fathers, both their earthly, and their heavenly fathers, and likewise with the fathers’ hearts turning towards their children’s hearts. However, the final judgment has not yet come. There is still something that remains with regard to judgment. So, it is not as if God’s Word has failed. Far from it. However, God’s plan for the fulfillment of His Word surprises us rather a lot, because it splits the coming of Christ into two comings, thus creating an “in-between” time, the time in which we now live. And so we wait for that time when all will be made right.

We must learn from this passage that God’s Word will always find people to add to it or flat out reject it. People rejected the message that Jesus Himself gave out! That should be encouraging to us. Whether someone responds to the gospel or not has to with whether the Holy Spirit is working in that person’s heart. It does not have to do with how well or poorly we share the Gospel. They rejected Jesus, and they will reject us also. We should not be either surprised or discouraged by that fact. We should rather expect that we, being Jesus’ disciples, should not expect different treatment than the Master. We’ll be treated the same way. We should do what Jesus did anyway, however, because that is what He has commanded. Remember that the passage immediately before the Transfiguration passage is the place where Jesus told us that we must take up our cross and follow Jesus.

We must also learn to take great care with God’s Word. God’s Word has many things in it that are clear. Indeed, we say that when it comes to matters concerning salvation, God’s Word is very clear. However, there are still many places where it is possible to go wrong. We must not add to Scripture, we must not take anything away from Scripture, we must not distort Scripture, and we must not change Scripture. The Word of God is the Word of God, and He does not want it altered in any way. We must not lessen the force of God’s commands in order to justify what we want to do. We must not use our experience to twist the words of Scripture in order to justify our own experience. The Scripture is the judge of our experience rather than the other way around. We also must not allow modern culture to change what Scripture says. There are lots of people, for instance, in the feminist and homosexual groups who will reinterpret Scripture based on their cultural stance. Then they allow the Bible to say whatever they want it to say. We must rather be humble. For we know that the Scripture rules us. And yet, when the truth is on the line, we must not compromise with any untruth just because it might be convenient.

Whose Lens Are You Using?

Many people feel somewhat uncomfortable with the idea that the confessions of the church are a lens through which we view Scripture. To them, it smacks too much of putting the confessions on a par with Scripture. There is always danger in elevating man’s words to the level of Scripture. However, is there another way in which we can understand this relationship?

Let’s put it this way: everyone has lenses of some sort when they come to Scripture. No one can interpret Scripture from a completely clean slate. Let me repeat this: everyone has lenses through which they read the Scriptures. The question, then, has been racketing about in the wrong quadrant for a lot of people. The question is not whether one will have a lens through which to interpret Scripture, but rather which lens is the correct lens?

The reason this becomes important is that there are really only two alternatives. Either one takes the lens of a church’s confession, in which case one is entering into the collegiality of the church’s reading of Scripture, or one is inventing one’s own lens that will be on a par with the standards of the church, yet separate from it. At the very least, it could be said to be bordering on arrogance to think that one’s own lens has the same kind of authority as what the church has said.

I can hear the objection already: “You sound Roman Catholic.” On the contrary, for I assume the difference between Scripture as the norming norm, and the confessions as the normed norm. Therefore, the confessions are not infallible and may be changed (as they were when they came across the Atlantic into America in the 18th century). The problem here is that anything other than a biblicistic understanding of Scriptural understanding is often taken to be Roman Catholic. This is simply not the case. The Reformers loved the church and highly respected her opinions. They respected her opinions above their own, in fact. And this is really the point. In submitting to the confessions, we acknowledge that the church is our mother. The irony of all this is that there are some today who claim that confessionalists are not being very courteous to the church. As a matter of fact, it is the non-confessionalists who are being discourteous to the church’s opinion.

Special Introductory Price

on this newest addition to the Reformed Expository Commentary series. I have never seen an introductory price on a comparable volume so low. It’s only for 48 hours, so make your purchase soon.

Self-Awareness

Why is it so hard for us to be self-aware?

I am always amazed sometimes at how ignorant we all are when it comes to pointing the finger at ourselves. If you believed us, there’s really no sin in any of us. It’s always someone else’s fault. Either that, or the circumstances in which we find ourselves are at fault. It’s no longer “the world, the flesh, and the devil,” but “the devil, the others around me, and my circumstances” that completely accounts for my “failures” (heaven forbid we should use the word “sin”).

I see this blinkered existence in countless people, especially when they’re called on something that they’ve done wrong. What is always the reaction? “You’re unloving,” “If you hadn’t done this first, then I wouldn’t have responded this way,” “God made these circumstances the way they are, and I couldn’t help myself,” etc. Blame-shifting. Never mind the fact that no one and nothing outside of ourselves can force us to do any sinful act. The most that can be said is that other people and/or our circumstances provide the opportunity for temptation. The sin comes ONLY from our own hearts.

But we are born casuists. A casuist is another name for someone who is spectacularly good at finding loopholes. It was said of W.C. Fields while on his deathbed that he was frantically reading the Bible. One of his friends asked him what he was doing, and he replied, “Looking for loopholes.” Well, I’m here to say that the law of God doesn’t have any loopholes. It skewers us no matter how hard we try to squirm out of its grip. The only answer is to acknowledge our skeweredness and put our trust and confidence in the One Who was skewered for us (literally).

But what I really want to address is our attitude towards our own sin, and what our reaction is to when it is uncovered. Usually, our reaction is plainly due to the fact that we were found out, and that our mask was stripped off of us. No more. We usually aren’t that sorry for the actual sin committed. We aren’t sorry that we’ve offended God. We’re like the kid who was caught with his hand in the cookie jar and who says “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry” desperately, in order to avoid the punishment. He isn’t sorry at all that his hand was in the cookie jar. He was sorry he got caught. He (and we also) want sin without sin’s consequences. But when our sin is exposed, we need to be thankful. There is that joy that comes from the relief of not having the guilt of that sin rotting away in our bones. There is a relief of purity. If only we could think of that when we are confronted. I am convinced sanctification could be a bit easier if we take that attitude, rather than be offended when our hypocrisy is revealed for all to see.

An Opportunity

I am announcing officially the ordination service of my great friend Luke Herche. It will be held at Faith Presbyterian Church, located in the Grand Cities Mall, 1726 Washington St. S., Grand Forks, North Dakota. The date of ordination is Friday, August 28, and the time is 7 PM. The Rev. Dr. Phillip Graham Ryken (senior minister of historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in downtown Philadelphia) is delivering the ordination sermon, the Rev. Jonathan Olsen (also of Tenth Presbyterian Church), is delivering the charge to the ordinand, and I am giving the charge to the congregation. Please let me know in the comments or by email if you would like to come.

Listen to Him

Matthew 17:1-9

8/9/2009

People love to talk about mountain-top experiences. They want nothing more than that spiritually uplifting experience, because then they think they will know all that they need. And certainly, we do not want to downplay what many people experience every now and then, when it comes to a glorious transcendent experience of God’s goodness. Of course, we have to be careful, because Satan is very good at counterfeiting these experiences. And it seems that the more Satan is active, the more certain people are that their experience is from God. However, when it comes to the Transfiguration, we can undoubtedly say that it was a mountain-top spiritual experience for the disciples, and that it confirmed them mightily in their faith.

The Transfiguration, however, is difficult to understand. One of the main reasons for this is that this story is absolutely drowning in references to the Old Testament. And, as we shall see, we have to look at other parts of the New Testament as well, in order to understand. At the most basic level, however, we have to look at the immediately preceding context in order to know why the passage is here. We must note that the chapter divisions of the Bible are not part of the original manuscripts. They were added a lot later. Some chapter divisions make more sense than others. This chapter division is understandable in one sense, but we must be able to connect the two chapters together. We have seen that suffering and death is in store for Jesus, and for the disciples, who are commanded to take up their cross and follow Jesus. That kind of language is very discouraging to the disciples, since they really cannot see through Jesus’ death to the other side of resurrection glory. Jesus knows this about His disciples, and so He gives them a taste of that glory, telling them in effect that the suffering and death are not the end of the story. And that is the main message: we should listen to Jesus, for He is the end of the story. And the end of Jesus’ story is not the cross, or even the empty tomb, but rather the glory of being exalted to the right hand of God. I hope to communicate something of the excitement that this passage is supposed to bring up in us. And if we are not moved by this account, then there is something wrong with us.

The passage starts with something significant, but easy to miss. It says “after six days.” In Exodus 24:16, we hear this: “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.” And then also we are reminded of the creation week: six days of labor and one day of rest. Both of these passages are in the background to this time marker.

Jesus took three disciples with Him (Peter, James and John), and took them up on a high mountain. This is a mountain-top experience indeed! For Isaiah 40:9 says (which we providentially just read!), “Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’” The disciples are the heralds of this news, although they cannot bear these tidings to anyone just yet. Not until the resurrection happens, to which this Transfiguration points.

Verse 2 tells us that Jesus was transfigured. You maybe have heard the word “metamorphosis.” It means a change in form. That is the Greek word here used. He was transformed into a different form, a glorious form. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes were radiant, since the glory of the Lord shone right through the clothes and made them radiantly white. What is this form in which Jesus now appears? It is the form of glory. Jesus had glory before he came to earth, and He has glory now, after He was raised from the dead. Jesus revealed a hint of that glory here and now.

When it says that His face shown like the sun, we are certainly to be reminded of the passage we read as a call to worship, that when Moses came down off the mountain, his face was shining. Jesus, however, is the new and better Moses, for Moses had to put a veil over his face. Jesus here is unveiled.

Speaking of Moses, there he is, right in the passage! In fact, Moses and Elijah both appear to Jesus. As an interesting and comforting side-note, this passage proves that people do not lose their identity in heaven. We don’t know how the disciples knew it was Moses and Elijah, since they had never seen them. But Jesus probably told them about who they were. But they were Moses and Elijah, clearly recognizable as such. Our loved ones in heaven will be recognizable by us as those people. Only they will be better, for they will have much greater glory. Of course, even the glory they have now will be as nothing compared to the glory they will have at the Resurrection. For here, Moses and Elijah are temporarily given bodies that look exactly like the resurrection bodies we will all receive. Jesus wants us to know that this is the true end of the road.

And that end is not just for Moses and Elijah. It is for all who believe in Jesus Christ. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” The word for “transformed” in 2 Corinthians is exactly the same word used here. But Paul says that we are even now being transformed. How is that? For we cannot see this transformation in our bodies. Paul explains this in Romans 12:2 by means of a command: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” You see, it is our inner being that is being transformed by the Word of God. Paul says that we should not be forced into the mold of the world, but rather that we should be put into a new mold, that of Jesus Christ.

Peter is so excited that he gets ahead of the program in verse 4. Peter is not being stupid, as many suppose. It was standard courtesy to build a place of relaxation for important people who came your way. There may also be a reference here to the feast of Tabernacles, where people built booths in which the lived for a short time. We could also think of the Tabernacle, built as the temporary residence of God Almighty. But Peter’s error here is two-fold. Firstly, he had the timing wrong. This was a fleeting moment, wherein just a glimpse of the heavenly world was revealed to Peter and the others. It was not a moment that could last, for Jesus still had to suffer and die. Peter wanted to prolong the moment, but that could not happen. The other error he makes is that he puts Moses, Elijah, and Jesus all on the same level by his offer of making a tent for each of them. It says clearly in Hebrews 3 that Moses was a faithful servant in the house of God, but that Jesus is the Son who rules over the house. Jesus is Lord of Moses and Elijah. This we find out clearly, when the voice comes out of the cloud and tells the disciples to listen to the well-beloved Son. Notice that the voice from the clouds actually interrupts Peter. Peter was still talking. This is somewhat humorous. God cannot wisely wait for Peter to finish what he is saying before the much more important words of the Father come out of the cloud. Listen to Jesus, fix your eyes on Jesus. He is the only ultimate voice to which we can listen. It is as if the Father is saying, “From now on, I refer all knowledge of Me to the Son. He will tell you all you need to know.”

All the Scriptures breathe of him. That is part of the significance of having Moses and Elijah there. They stand for all the law and the prophets. The law and the prophets all point to Jesus. They all mean that we should listen to Jesus. And that means not only that we hear what Jesus says. The word “listen” here means what it so often means in Scripture: hear and obey, hear and believe. To understand this fully, we have to go back to the OT once more to hear Moses speaking to us in Deuteronomy 18:
“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers–it is to him you shall listen– just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ Here at the Transfiguration, the Father is saying, “Here is the Prophet Moses promised to you. Listen to Him.” Jesus is like Moses. Both go up on the mountain to receive the Word of the Lord, the only difference being that Jesus had the Word inside Himself.

The last point for understanding is that we need to notice the presence of God here. Just as the Lord descended in fire and cloud upon Mount Sinai, and upon the tabernacle, and upon the temple, so also the cloud descends here upon the mountain. That symbolized God’s presence. It is from that cloud that the voice came. When the disciples heard that voice, they fell down and were terrified. While I’m sure the experience was thrilling, that’s not all it was. Being in the presence of the Lord while being a sinner is a terrifying experience. But the Lord Jesus is with us to touch us, and to let us know that our sin problem can be erased through His Person and work. That Moses and Elijah vanish, and it is only Jesus remaining teaches us that only Jesus can fix our sin problem. He tells us to believe. The Father tells us to believe what Jesus says.

While this moment may have lasted only for a short time, the resurrection lasts forever. We need, therefore, to fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. And we need to live this from the perspective of someone who is raised from the dead. Spiritually, if we believe in Christ, we have the new resurrection soul. And we have the promise of the resurrection body. This is true. It is going to happen. Peter uses this Transfiguration account to prove to his readers that what he says is in line with what Jesus says:
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:16-19)
The question is whether we believe and worship Jesus.
For a final application, I can do no better than to quote one of my very favorite hymns, “For All the Saints.”

For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed, thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed. You were their rock, their fortress, and their might: you, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight; you, in the darkness drear, the one true Light. O may your soldiers, faithful, true, and bold, fight as the saints who nobly fought of old, and win, with them, the victor’s crown of gold. O blest communion, fellowship divine! We feebly struggle, they in glory shine; yet all are one in you, for all are thine. And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long, then steals on the ear the distant triumph song, and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong. The golden evening brightens in the west; soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest; sweet is the calm of paradise the blest. But lo! There breaks a yet more glorious day; the saints triumphant rise in bright array; the King of glory passes on His way. From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast, through gates of pearl streams in the countless host, singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Interesting Article on Marriage and Intimacy

This article was interesting to me, and was shocking to me in many ways, this paragraph in particular:

Statistics show that few Americans wait. More than 93 percent of adults 18 to 23 who are in romantic relationships are having sex, according to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. For conservative Protestants in relationships and active in their faith, it’s almost 80 percent.

We certainly live in a sex-crazed culture. They quote the assistant pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church (Michael Lawrence) as saying that we are sending mixed messages to young people, telling them on the one hand to wait for sex until marriage, but then turning around and saying that they shouldn’t get married until later. It sets them up to fail, he says. I couldn’t agree more. When Paul says that it is better to marry than to burn, there is a keen realism there that understands the sexual drives of young people. People who are struggling with this issue, then, need to get married. Paul is not saying that marriage is bad, far from it. But the struggle means that the person is not called to be single. It is amazing to me how difficult it is for some people to grasp this concept.

The article also makes mention of the “eharmony philosophy” that the perfect person is going to be dumped into our lap at some point. I prefer Voddie Baucham’s approach. While it is important to see certain things in place, it is also true to say that marriages grow into something wonderful. They rarely start there.

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