There was still beheading ahead of James, a life of proclaiming Jesus ahead of Peter and John, a crucifixion for Peter and a long imprisonment for John. Quite literally, they had to leave the mountain and return to the valley. But don’t miss the good news: Jesus came down the mountain with them. He hid his full glory once more, but he did not abandon them. His presence was still with them, even if it was diminished from their previous experience.



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Matthew #58 . Matthew 17:1-13

Jesus ends his discussion about taking up the cross by promising this:

I assure you: There are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” (Matt 16:28, HCSB)

I personally believe that Matthew 17:1-13 records the fulfillment of this promise. In short, about six days after Jesus finished talking about taking up the cross, and receiving rewards, he allowed Peter, James and John to catch a glimpse of him in his glory.

The appearance of Jesus was changed. Matthew records that his face began to shine with an intense brightness, and his clothes became bright also with a white light. The description given here is similar to the visions of some of the prophets of the Old Testament.

There was a form with the appearance of a human on the throne high above. From what seemed to be His waist up, I saw a gleam like amber, with what looked like fire enclosing it all around. From what seemed to be His waist down, I also saw what looked like fire. There was a brilliant light all around Him. The appearance of the brilliant light all around was like that of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day. This was the appearance of the form of the LORD’s glory. When I saw it, I fell facedown and heard a voice speaking. (Ezek 1:26-28, HCSB)

“As I kept watching, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took His seat. His clothing was white like snow, and the hair of His head like whitest wool. His throne was flaming fire; its wheels were blazing fire. (Dan 7:9, HCSB)

His body was like topaz, his face like the brilliance of lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and feet like the gleam of polished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a multitude. (Dan 10:6, HCSB)

This business of light appears to be significant. Both the old and new Testaments describe a God who is “filled with light.”

Now this is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in Him. (1John 1:5, HCSB)

He wraps Himself in light as if it were a robe, spreading out the sky like a canopy, (Ps 104:2, HCSB)

So the revelation not only shows Jesus in glory, but also shows him as Divine in nature.

In a very special way, Peter, James and John were witnesses to the hidden glory of Jesus. The law of Moses require that all facts must be established by two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). Paul quotes this in a number of places, as does Jesus and the apostle John. This was an important part of Jewish culture by the time of Jesus. And so Jesus here has three witnesses to the unveiling of his glory. John does not describe this event specifically but I think he is referring to it when he writes this:

The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, HCSB)

The glory that John saw was never more fully revealed on earth than on that mountaintop. Peter refers to this event also, considering it extremely important:

For we did not follow cleverly contrived myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; instead, we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, a voice came to Him from the Majestic Glory: This is My beloved Son. I take delight in Him! And we heard this voice when it came from heaven while we were with Him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic word strongly confirmed. You will do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dismal place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2Pet 1:16-19, HCSB)

I am quite sure that Peter was thinking of this incredible transformation when he wrote that. And I think this is the first reason why Jesus did this. Some people complain that it would have been a lot simpler if Jesus simply let people truly see who he was as God-the-Son. Of course, if Jesus had done that, people would not be truly free to either choose or reject him – his glory was too overwhelming to deny. I’ve talked about this in past messages. The Lord wants our love for him to be real, and that means we have to be able to reject him if we choose. He says, “Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe,” (John 20:29). But at this point, Peter had already made his confession about Jesus, and James and John, along with Peter, appeared to be the disciples with the most complete faith in him. In other words, they had already freely made their choice of faith, and so it was “safe” to let them catch a glimpse of his glory – it would not force them to love Jesus, since they had already chosen Him.

We see this idea of special witnesses throughout Scripture. God does not usually show himself to the whole world at the same time, or even often a large number of people at once. Instead, he chooses people who will be witnesses to his glory and to his truth, and who will speak his word. So he chose one nation, Israel to be a witness to his reality and truth. He chose 12 apostles. And in this case he chose just three of the 12 to witness the incredible reality of his true nature, even before his resurrection. So, although he did not show himself this way to everyone, the fact was established “by two or three witnesses.”

So this is the revelation of who Jesus truly is. For a brief moment the curtain between this world and God’s eternal presence was pulled back, and Peter, James and John got to see a reality that is deeper and more true than our own.

Actually, there were two additional witnesses to the glory and divine nature of Jesus: Moses and Elijah. The appearance of these two is fascinating in many respects, and I have often use this incident to speculate about life after death in the period before the new heavens and new earth are created. However, you have to read one of my other sermons for that. Instead, here I want to talk about the significance of these two individuals appearing with Jesus as he is transformed.

Moses, of course, is responsible for the first five books of the Bible which are known collectively as the Law, or the Torah. The rest of the Old Testament is usually referred to by the Jews as “the Prophets.” So, “the Law and the Prophets” refers to the entire Old Testament. Moses, standing here with Jesus revealed in his full glory, shows us that the Law (the Torah) is a witness to the true and divine identity of Jesus. Elijah of course, was one of the prophets. He stands as a witness for the “Prophets” part of the Old Testament. In other words, Peter, James and John would get the message that not only are they witnesses to the glory of Jesus, but also the entire Old Testament (Moses and the Prophets) is a witness to Jesus. Now back up a little bit further. Peter, James and John are representatives of the apostles. Today, we have the New Testament which is made up of the writings of the apostles. So then, we have the Law, the Prophets and the Apostles as our “two or three” reliable witnesses of the identity of Jesus. Under Jewish law, this makes his identity as the glorious son of God an established fact.

If that was all a little complex for you, let me make it very simple: the entire Bible establishes that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, Savior of the world, the only way to be reconciled to God, the only path to eternal life. He is worthy of our praise, honor and worship.

Quite naturally, Peter and the others were thrilled and awed to be in the presence of the full glory of Jesus. Peter’s suggestion that he make tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah might have been motivated by a desire to prolong the experience, to stay there in glory. Unfortunately for them, the revelation and experience of glory was temporary. Regretfully, that is always true on this earth. This world is not our home and so eternal joy will not be ours until we are done with it. C.S. Lewis once made a brilliant observation about this:

“The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and pose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.”

— CS Lewis, the Problem of Pain

In the case of Peter, James and John, there was still the cross ahead of them. There was still beheading ahead of James, a life of proclaiming Jesus ahead of Peter and John, a crucifixion for Peter and a long imprisonment for John. In a very short time, it was time for them to come down from the mountain again. Quite literally, they had to leave the mountain and return to the valley. But don’t miss the good news: Jesus came down the mountain with them. He hid his full glory once more, but he did not abandon them. His presence was still with them, even if it was diminished from their previous experience.

And there is another sense of promise here, too. Moses spent forty years in the wilderness alone, and then another forty as shepherd to the recalcitrant sheep of Israel. He struggled and sometimes failed. Elijah had his victories, but also his great defeats, and one of the significant events of his life was a deep depression. But their struggles ended long before, and two-thousand years ago there they were, with all that behind them, sharing in the glory of Jesus. The struggles of Peter, James and John eventually ended also. Now they too are permanently living in the joy and glory of Jesus and the full power of his presence.

We may experience moments of great joy, and even moments of great closeness to the Lord. We may also have struggles ahead of us yet. However, if we are in Jesus, one day, we too will share in that never-ending experience of glory and joy with Him. In the meantime, it should help us to remember that Jesus goes with us. We don’t experience the full glory and power of his presence, yet he is here with us through the Holy Spirit, and he does not abandon us.

Let the Holy spirit speak to you today about the glory of Jesus, about the reliability of those who witnessed it, and about the continuing grace and presence of Jesus when we walk through the valleys of this world.

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We don’t have to argue people into following Jesus. We don’t have to be great theologians, with all the answers. We simply have to bear witness to what we do know, what we believe to be true, and what we have experienced with Jesus.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

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Experiencing Life Together #8.

Acts 2:47 – “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

We have been looking at the early church, and some of the things that characterized it. We’ve been seeking to apply those things to our own walk with Jesus, and, for those in the house church/cell church context, we’ve been trying to apply them to how we function in our churches. We see that when they focused on the bible, the fellowship, prayer, and the breaking of bread, the result was that God worked wonderfully among them to do miracles; he led them to be generous stewards of the resources he had give them; and here, we see that another result was that more people became disciples of Jesus.

We’ve mentioned this in the last few weeks, but it bears repeating. Jesus does not simply call us to “get saved.” He calls us to be disciples and to make disciples. That is our mission as individual Christians, and it is our mission as a church. Here’s how Jesus put it at the beginning of the book of Acts:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, HCSB)

And Mark records this:

Later, He appeared to the Eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table. He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who saw Him after He had been resurrected. Then He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:14-16, HCSB)

The essential thing to remember is this: we are called to be witnesses. It is our job to tell people what we have seen and experienced and come to know about Jesus. It is our job to let others see how our lives are different because of Jesus. We need to let Jesus work in us and through us to impact the lives of others however he wants.

Now, I want you to pay attention to what I just said, and how I worded it. It is not our job to convince other people. It is not our job to make them change their minds. In court, a witness tells, to the best of his ability, what he knows. He responds to questions as truthfully as possible. The job of the witness is to explain what he experienced, and what he believes to be true. The conclusions are up to the jury. A witness presents the information so that other people can make an informed choice.

This is important when it comes to Christians reaching out to those who do not know Jesus yet. We don’t have to argue them into discipleship. We don’t have to be great theologians, with all the answers. We simply have to bear witness to what we do know, what we believe to be true, and what we have experienced with Jesus.

The results are not up to us. Remember, the verse we started with says that the Lord added to their number. The church (meaning “all believers”) has a role to play, but the ultimate work belongs to God. Nothing we do can make someone put their trust in Jesus. No matter how appealing we make it, other people still have to decide for themselves whether to respond to our invitations to visit church or to receive Jesus. That is one of the reasons prayer is so important – only God can really influence the outcome of our efforts.

Some of the greatest mistakes in Christian history came about because Christians tried to force other people to follow Jesus. They thought the result was up to them. The Spanish Inquisition was a result of that sort of thing. Today, though no one is using the power of the law or government to force Christian faith on others, there are some people who turn others off because they feel like they must “get a conversion,” like it is somehow up to them to make it happen.

However, these days, the other mistake is far too common. Most of us stay in our own shells when we are “out in the world,” and we stay in our Christian bubbles the rest of the time, and we don’t even serve as witnesses, for fear of “offending” someone.

In Ezekiel 3:16-21, the Lord tells Ezekiel that he must speak to the people of Israel whatever the Lord gives him to say. The Lord says that the people may not listen to Ezekiel. If Ezekiel tells them what God says, and they ignore him, then they will suffer the consequences, but Ezekiel will be blameless. If however, Ezekiel fails to share what the Lord has showed him, then he will share in the blame for death of the person who does not follow God. Ezekiel was not responsible for the results, but he was responsible to say what he knew.

That is what it means to be a witness.

Jesus called Philip to follow him. Philip knew almost nothing about Jesus, but he followed him. He told his friend Nathanael about it. Nathanael was skeptical. He posed a theological question, and question that Philip could not answer. All Philip said was, “Come and see for yourself.” Both of them eventually became part of the group of the twelve original apostles (John 1:43-46). Philip just told Nathanael what he knew, which wasn’t much. Nathanael didn’t follow Jesus because Philip convinced him. Jesus himself convinced Nathanael. And Jesus himself will convince our friends, family and co-workers, if we simply tell what little we know.

Throughout the years we Christians have designed many intriguing ways to try to reach people for Jesus. Most of the innovations tend to relieve individual believers of their responsibilities to reach those who don’t know Jesus, and instead, make it the responsibility of an organization, program, or individual. Evangelistic crusades, for instance, take the pressure off most Christians, and place it on the evangelist. Church programs take the pressure off of the “common man” and put it on the pastor, or the church organization. But the truth is, the most effective means of bringing people to Jesus, is one-on-one relational interaction. Consider these facts. In a survey of over 14,000 lay people in churches, the question was asked: “What or who was responsible for your coming to Christ and the church?” The percentage of answers was as follows:

A special need 1-2%

Walked in to church 2-3%

Pastor 5-6%

Visitation 1-2%

Sunday School 4-5%

Evangelistic Crusade 0.5%

Church Program 2-3%

A friend or Relative 75-90%

You will notice that of all the paths to meeting Jesus, friends and relatives are the most frequent determining factor. None of the other “methods” even approach 10% at their most optimistic levels. Most churches concentrate on the least-effective methods. House-church ministry does not usually include a separate “evangelism program” – but we all have people who are friends and relatives to other people who don’t know Jesus. Even when tools like the Alpha Course (which has elements of “program” in it) are used, it is up to house-church members to invite people to attend it, and it is our relational sharing that will ultimately invite them to receive Jesus. Even the Alpha course will not work if we are not inviting others and praying for them. The “how” of bringing people to Jesus is not complex – in fact it is very simple. Love people, spend time with them, pray for them, and invite them, share what you know and have experienced. It is true that sometimes this is hard to do, but it is not complicated.

Acts 2:47 belongs with the verses which go before it. In other words, churches are most effective in reaching those who don’t know Jesus when they follow the underlying pattern of Acts 2:42-46. When churches are devoted to God’s word, fellowship, the Lord’s Supper and prayer; and when they allow and seek the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit; and when they also live as stewards with a single purpose – then more and more people meet Jesus. God still does the work, but in these verses He has shown us how to live in such a way that His work through us is most effective.

Should you behave differently when those who aren’t believers come to a house-church meeting? No. People are convinced by the Holy Spirit when they see Christians naturally living out their lives and “doing church” as described in Acts 2:42-47. It is a trap of modern thinking to assume that we must somehow “shield” non-believers from true Christianity lest they be turned off. As a pastor with years of experience in house church, I assure you that when people see you genuinely trying (and sometimes even failing) to live out God’s pattern for the church, they will be touched and excited. Don’t forget the statistics shown above! The Holy Spirit shows them the real thing, and trying to manipulate a church meeting to be “more sensitive” to unbelievers usually backfires. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be personally sensitive to those who don’t know Jesus; it just means you should do what you normally do as a church while including the visitor in as much of it as he or she likes.

We are called to be witnesses. We don’t have to be theologians.We don’t have to have all the answers. We are not responsible for the results. But we are responsible to telling others what we believe and know, and inviting them. The results are between them and the Holy Spirit.