Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 17:5f (Holman) “Listen to Him!”
Peter wanted to detain Moses and Elijah in order to hear them too, to listen to their teachings. God accented one individual. “Listen to Him!”—not them. Stressing the singular, God called attention away from Moses and Elijah.
Moses and Elijah had been God’s go-betweens with the nation of Israel. Jesus was the Father’s Mediator for the whole world. Moses and Elijah were great prophets, but at best only servants. Jesus is the Father’s only begotten Son.
God is pleased with Jesus, and with those who hear Him. “Listen to Him!” for at least three reasons. One, God demands it. Two, Jesus deserves to be heard. Three, for our own good; Jesus delights in what is best for us.
“Listen to Him!” In all the din of Earth’s rabble, hear Him. Listen. Heed what He says, remember it, relish it, proactively seek to understand it, act on it.
Matt. 17:6a When the disciples heard it, they fell facedown. . .
As a boy, I experienced firsthand the phenomenon of a crushing, powerful voice. My sister is 95% deaf. When young I could capture her attention only by touching her or by yelling “Eh!” as loud as I could. Her name was Esther; we abbreviated it to make it easier to yell. When Esther received her first hearing aid, I was clueless as to the difference it would make. I walked up behind her as I always had and yelled “Eh!” She immediately collapsed to the ground, crumpled in utter agony, and covering her ears. Scared me to death. I thought she had been shot or something, but the power was in my voice. This is what Peter, James, and John experienced. A voice hurled them to the ground.
Whose voice overcame them? The same voice Israel wanted to hear, but once they heard it, they were terrified, and asked to never hear it again. Some people today think they would like to hear God’s voice audibly. This may not be wise. Our best option is to rejoice in the way God has chosen to express His words to us. It is best for us that God chose to speak to us through the Bible.
Matt. 17:6b . . .and were terrified.
At one time we humans were comfortable with God’s voice and presence. In the Garden of Eden, Adam originally walked with God in the cool of the day. It was a beautiful picture of pleasant interaction. But ever since sin entered our existence, the extraordinary presence of God has terrified us. An overload of the Lord’s presence can cause terror among even God’s dearest saints.
Peter, James, and John were for sure terrified. Luke said they feared when they saw Moses and Elijah. Mark said fear prompted Peter’s words. Matthew said they feared at the voice of God. Which is true? All three.
They were in fear throughout the Transfiguration. This terror was not all bad, for at least three reasons. One, fear helped them remember the details of this event. Peter for sure never forgot it and wrote vividly about it years later.
Fear can aid memory. I remember in minute detail when I was told Ruth was in danger of dying in childbirth, when my five-year-old son was lost at an inner-city church, when I was told my daughter broke her neck in a car wreck.
Two, fear helped increase their dependence on God. When our own faculties refuse to respond to our own bidding, when experiences steal from us our ability to do the simplest functions, it can make us dependent on God.
The missions revival at Second began on a mountain in China in 1997. I was as scared as I’ve ever been, having spent the previous night in a communist compound. It’s an understatement to say I was totally traumatized. I had zero faith. I later asked Randy Sprinkle, prayer coordinator for the International Mission Board, “Why did God send the revival into my heart when my faith was at the lowest ebb it had ever been?” He answered immediately, “It was the first time in your life you were forced to be totally dependent on God.” I sensed he was right. When I knew I had no other recourse God filled my inner vacuum.
Wesley, in a song, said he was weak, but confident in self-despair. We talk of yielding our strengths to the Lord; have we also yielded our weaknesses?
Three, fear helped them be willing to be corrected. God’s thunderous words were given to discipline Peter, to catch his undivided attention in order to change him. Poor Peter. He seemed to go from trouble to trouble. Due to his explosive temperament, we beat him up often in our preaching and teaching.
But one trait of Peter we need to praise him for. He handled correction well. Jesus had rebuked Peter (MT 16:23). In our text, the Father corrected Peter. Peter corrected himself (LK 22:62). Paul corrected Peter (GL 2:14).
Despite his gaffs, Peter was the unchallenged leader of early believers. This teaches a vital truth about Peter. He handled correction well. If rebuked, he did not chafe. He submitted. How well do you and I handle correction?
Matt. 17:7a Then came Jesus up, . . .
Jesus approached them. Distance from loved ones is painful when a heart is afraid. The scene in our text is precious. Thankfully, Jesus still comes to us. How many widows in their loneliest evening hours have at their lowest ebbs suddenly sensed inside themselves the Presence of Another who comes?
Matt. 17:7b . . . touched them, . . .
Jesus continues to touch us in ways no one else can. He often touched to heal–lepers, blind men, Jairus’ daughter. His healing touches receive a lot of attention. But wait! He also used the touch to comfort, encourage, strengthen, and reassure, as when He touched Daniel (8:18; 10:18) and John (RV 1:17).
I appreciate this truth. My love language is touching. I implore you, when you pass me, shake my hand, hug me, or touch me on the arm, back, or shoulder. Touch matters. And the best touch of all comes from Jesus. The touch of Jesus felt by faith still comforts us when we are afraid or lonely.
Matt. 17:7c . . . and said, “Get up; don’t be afraid.”
What a gracious God we serve. He comes near us, touches us, and then commands us not to fear. The Bible, God’s Word, helps us be courageous. Many have died at peace quoting the Lord’s Prayer or the twenty-third Psalm.
Our Heavenly Father wants us to be at ease in and with His Presence. Should we have reverent fear for God? Yes. Should we have a terrifying fear? No. One of the main sadnesses of my life is that I lean too far toward the latter.
I accept His majesty. I wish I could enjoy grace more. I receive His Lordship. I would like to enjoy Him more as Friend. I am glad to report to you that in recent days a Pastor from Arkansas has been helping me immensely in this area of my life. He is helping me learn what it means to rest in the Lord.
This resting in Him is what faith, at its deepest level, is. The root meaning of the word faith is union. Faith entails personally bonding with God.
Faith is about an interactive, ever-growing relationship with one Supreme Person. Christianity, if nothing else, is personal, a centering of life around the living God. This is a helpful, precious doctrine. No systematic belief system can fully satisfy human beings. “Ism’s” and “ology’s” help, but are secondary.
Only personal love and interaction with the beloved can satisfy a Person’s heart. This is why solitary confinement is an effective punishment.
God created us to love and live in relationship because He Himself has always been this way. He has forever loved and related. Three in One, One in Three, a loving relationship always characterized the living God. God created us in order that we might share with Him this eternal loving relationship.
God, being triune, has forever been in a loving relationship. Within the Trinity, the three have always indwelt one another, sharing unbroken fellowship together. Early believers called this interaction perichoresis, the dance of God.
If God had ever been one in only one Person, rather than one in three, relationship would not have been inherent in His nature. An absolute God has no inherent need to stoop to touch us or comfort us. Relationship would not be in His nature. But because the living God has always been three in one, He has always been about relationship. Thus He earnestly desires to relate to us.