Week of May 3

The Gain in the Pain

Read: 2 Samuel 6; 1 Chronicles 13; Psalm 68; Matthew 17

“And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.”
Matthew 17:2, ESV


We all could use a miracle about now! People have begun counting the number of days that they have been under stay-at-home orders, recounting former care-free days by posting numerous pictures on social media from high school graduations to family vacations, and wondering openly whether this current plague will ever end! Have you ever wished for some bright ray of sunlight in an otherwise cloudy period of your life? Have you wondered what greater purpose there may be to such experiences? Matthew’s account of Jesus’ transfiguration provides us with bright hope in difficult days.

A Biblical Lens

If we reach back to the previous section, then we will understand the context that Matthew has established. Christ spoke of his second coming in 16:27-28 which would be foreshadowed by his transfiguration that takes place in Matthew 17:1-13. The declaration was embedded in a context of the call to serious discipleship. His followers accept the fact that present suffering precedes future glory even when the former seems scandalous. We may not all suffer for the faith to the same degree, but emphasizing physical and material blessings, or evading persecution as a Christ-follower, upends Jesus’ clear teaching. You may think, “Really? Who believes this sort of thing anymore?” Well, Jesus does. He has a good reason. Read on.

Jesus has taken three “inner circle” disciples with him and leaves the remainder of the group farther down the mountainside. There are various suggestions for which mountain it was, but we really do not know (cf. NAC). The focus should be that Jesus was “transfigured,” meaning “transformed.” His appearance is changed. The changes to his skin and clothes suggest “glory, sovereignty, and purity” (17:2; NAC). His divinity was on full display in that moment. Keep this in mind because we will return to it in a bit.

The appearance of Moses and Elijah may represent a number of possibilities. It may have to do with their roles as key representatives of the law and prophets, the belief that they would be key messianic forerunners who were expected to appear before the advent of Messiah, and these two people lived in two major periods of Old Testament miracles (17:3; Blomberg, NAC). We may definitely conclude that Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament.

Ponder also the hardships and sufferings of Moses and Elijah, then recognize the joy that was theirs! Regardless of the exact nature of their appearance on the mountain, we may definitely conclude that they were still awaiting their final resurrection and that hope was bound up in Jesus, the Messiah. You and I may find encouragement in their example.

We also may find encouragement in God’s affirmation from the cloud (cf. Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Corinthians 3:7-18; & Exodus 40:34; NAC). God repeats His exact words that He spoke at Jesus' baptism (Matthew 3:17). He had endorsed Jesus as the “royal Messiah and Suffering Servant” prior to the opening of the main phase of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He now validates Jesus' road to the cross!

God says, “Listen to Him!” (17:5; Deuteronomy 18:15b; NAC; EBC). Jesus is the end-times Prophet patterned on Moses as a type. He is the promised One who guides us to the Father. This begs the question. Are we listening to Him? God expects disciples in every age to follow and obey him, even as he travels the road of suffering. You and I may certainly endure our present hardships and suffering for our faith, if it should occur, since we have Christ as our Leader and such a clear path to ultimate victory!

A Moral Pathway

My physical therapist calmly encouraged me last week by telling me that she knew to ease off a bit whenever I began to wince from the pain. I thanked her! The aim of therapy is to “do good,” and hurtful pain may cause further injury. Furthermore, the unstated medical-ethical principle was “to do no harm.” Even so, we both understand that some discomfort will be necessary to reach the goal of healing, so I am to trust the therapist and to follow her instructions. Hmm.

Matthew situates the transfiguration mountain-top account between two “valley-like” passages where Jesus announces his upcoming sufferings (cf. Matthew 16:21-23; 17:22-23). The landscape of Messiah’s call necessarily included both! He calls his disciples to follow his lead (16:24-28). We will face ups and downs in the Christian walk, so we are to expect them. His transfiguration, which includes God’s confirmation of his Son, serves to remind us to trust and follow him when we hurt as Christ-followers. Christ knows what is good and right and vital for saving His people (17:23, “will be raised on the third day”).

For Your Journaling

1. The “stay-at-home” discomfort that we may face during pandemic pales in comparison to the sufferings of Christ. There are ways that we may benefit from the circumstances. First, we should thank God for His sufferings in our behalf. Secondly, we certainly do not want to minimize the challenges that this crisis has brought to many; however, we may use our hardships to call to mind the suffering saints around the globe and pray for them in their “hour of suffering” for Christ. See, for example, Voice of the Martyrs.

2. There have been examples of government overreach into the church during the current pandemic. There may well be hints of “harassment” in some of those instances. Christ has reminded us to be prepared for these things, so put them into perspective. Christ invites us to view these hardships through the lens of His victory on the cross and to give witness to His glory in our Christ-like response (Hebrews 10:32-39; 1 Peter 2:20b-21).

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock