Cross-centered Living (Matthew 17:1-9)


  • When I go to a restaurant, I seldom order an appetizer.
    • Added cost… even worse when someone else is paying bc you don’t want to appear greedy.
    • Added confusion. When does it arrive (before/with meal)? Is it shareable (depends!)? Match meal?
    • Added calories. Certain foods and certain restaurants – their calories don’t count 😊
    • Yet, when I’m home it seems appropriate – even necessary – to “graze” before the meal; especially over big meals over holidays! Any Amens?!?!

Today’s passage provides us an appetizer of a glorious feast. The transfiguration of Jesus is a preview of the moment when God’s glory will return to earth and among His people in a permanent manner. Jesus was on earth for 33 years, but there’s coming a day when our faith will transform into sight and we will be with Him forever to see His glory and experience His good and pleasing feast in Heaven. Specifically, this passage will reveal 3 realities about a faith that reflects the glory of God.

EXAMINE           Matthew 17:1-9 / faith that reflects the glory of God

Jesus invites great failures to experience glorious growth.

The transfiguration narrative is recorded in all three synoptic Gospels, though not in John, perhaps because the fourth Gospel writer’s theme reflects the glory of God everywhere in the life of Jesus![1] 

In the life of the believer, the glory of God is to be preeminent. The old Westminster Catechism of Faith (1648) first question asks, “Q: What is the chief end of man? A: To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Yet, when we read the Gospels, we see the disciples failing more than flourishing, and grieving Jesus more than glorifying God.

For example, in this passage we see Jesus taking Peter, James, and John with him up the mountain. Why these three?

  • Favorites? They were part of Jesus’s inner circle for unique events (Mt 17:1 transfiguration; 26:37 prayer in Gethsemane; Mk 5:37 healing Jairus’s daughter; 13:3 discussing signs of end of age). Further, we see Peter’s self-appointed statements and his role as the apostles’ spokesperson; and James was the first martyr of the church; and John self-identified as the one whom Christ loved. 
  • Failures? While these three stand out for good, they also stand out negatively. Peter has several failures (see last week’s message[2]); James & John are brothers are competing and conflicting with one another – even get their mom to mediate with Jesus for her sons to sit at right & left of Jesus’s throne (Mt 20:21). Another instance these brothers want to call down fire against a village who were not interested in their message, and Jesus has to correct their tone and intentions (Lk 9:54-55).
  • Perhaps Jesus’s intent for frequently singling out these three disciples isn’t their competency but their teachability. This situation seems like the parent who knows certain children cannot be left alone, so they must stay by their side to be supervised and hopefully learn (“you 3 boys can’t be trusted, come with me!”). Peter, James, and John stumble their way into spiritual growth, and thankfully, Jesus calls us to do the same.

Reflecting how three stumbling disciples became spiritual leaders gives us significant hope. Jesus invites us all on the journey of sanctification (spiritual growth).

Some places Jesus may invite you…

  • Engage with new spiritual disciplines: prayer & reading/study… what about fasting, meditation, memorization, journaling, gratitude, evangelism, hospitality, generosity, stewardship/serving, among many others. See Donald Whitney, Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, David Mathis.
  • Join a Bible Group. Current 9:30am and after Easter studying apologetics – questions/reasons why people do not believe in Christianity. This is a growth invitation for Christians.
  • Start a Small Group. Previously we had 2Gather Groups where you selected two other families to join your group for food & fellowship. We’re aiming to take these groups to a next level where each family in those type of groups invite one other family (3 + 3 = 6 / or approximate 5-7 families each group) to fulfill our 3 purposes of loving God (gospel), living Jesus to others (community), and leading generations (mission). We want our small groups to become a mini-church for the good of God’s people and the glory of God through Severna Park and beyond.

Jesus embodies the glory of God, as the Son of God.

Matthew indicates this event takes places “after six days” of the previous events. The context is Peter confessing Jesus as the Messiah (“Who do you say that I am?”), but also protesting Jesus’s aim to die on the cross and then rise from the dead. The time reference indicates the isolation Jesus felt from the disciples not understanding His mission.

You may or not realize this, but in a community of Jesus-followers, when one or more persons protest the mission of Jesus, you should expect a bit of tension and dissention. If you have individuals/groups protesting Jesus and contrasting God’s word and there’s no conflict or confrontation, then you are not part of a church, you are in a cult – get out quickly! Thankfully, in this case, Jesus was unafraid to confront Peter’s protest. And seemingly, we should be thankful Peter was humble enough to repent of his rebellion as he was invited to continue a next journey with Jesus. 

The reference to six days and going up a mountain would also call attention to Matthew’s Jewish readers. This was the same amount of time Moses prepared in meeting with the Lord on Mt Sinai to confirm His covenant and instruct the nation on its laws and creating a tabernacle for worship (cf. Ex 24:16, ff). From the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, he has sought to relay how Jesus is the greater Moses[3]

  • Like Moses, Jesus was chosen to lead God’s people out of oppression and slavery (Mt 1:21).
  • Like Moses, Jesus was hidden in Egypt as a child before becoming a public figure and servant of the Lord (Mt 2).
  • Like Moses, Jesus fasted forty days before teaching the wisdom of God (Mt 5-7).
  • Like Moses selected twelve spies to a land of conquest, Jesus chose twelve disciples and sent them into the world (Mt 4/10/28).
  • Like Moses, Jesus ascended the mountain and the glory of God was revealed (Mt 17).
  • When Moses descended the mountain, he found Israelites worshiping a false god and the Lord instructed capital punishment and “about three thousand men fell dead that day” (Ex 32:27-28). When Jesus descended Mount Golgotha,[4] after three days “He presented Himself alive to the disciples after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). Jesus commissioned the disciples to be witnesses to His resurrection life, and when they did, “those who received the word were baptized, and there were added about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41).

In this instance, Jesus goes up the mountain and “He was transfigured before them and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Mt 17:2).

Transfiguration [μεταμορφόω] implies a radical change. Two features describe this unique alteration:

“face shone like the sun”

  • Text Box: “Moses had asked God to show him his glory, and 1,500 years later his prayer was still being answered, as he gazed on the One who is ‘the radiance of God’s glory and the exact imprint of his nature’ (Heb 1:3).” 
– Justin Dillehay
This type of glory is shared by none other than God Almighty.
    – Ex 33:18-23 God reveals His glory to Moses but cannot be seen face-to-face.
    – Isa 42:8 “I am the LORD; that is my name, my glory I give to no other”
    – Jn 1:14 “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth”
    – Rev 1:6 “to Jesus belongs glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

“clothes became white as light”

  • When Moses returned from Mt. Sinai with the tablets, the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God (Ex 34:29–30). Paul points out that this “glory” was fading, and he contrasts it with the glory of the new covenant (2Cor 3:7, 11).
  • Peter, in Mark’s Gospel, describes Jesus’s clothes as radiant [στίλβω: gleam like stars, or flashing like polished metal], and as intensely white, as no one [γναφεύς: cloth dresser] on earth could bleach them (Mk 9:3). The implication is Jesus revealing Himself to be the glorious Ancient of Days and prophesied Son of Man.
    • Psalm 104:1-3 “O Lord my God… You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot”
    • Daniel 7:9-13 “As I looked, ‘thrones were set in place and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow, the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated and the books were opened.”
    • Revelation 1:13-17 “and among the lampstands was someone ‘like a son of man,’ dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.”
    • Revelation 21:23-24 “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.”

Further revealing Jesus as the Son of God is the unique assembly that arrives on the scene (Mt 17:3).

  • As mentioned, Moses and Elijah had mountaintop experiences with God (Ex 24-34; 1Ki 19).  
    • How did Peter know it was Moses & Elijah? Perhaps there was an introduction, or something one said to identify themselves. Maybe they had a church directory… ! Or, greater speculation, but not without possibility, is one’s identity is fully revealed when they stand in God’s glory – that, in heaven we will know others bc the glory of God will unveil perfect community.
    • Consider this was Moses’s first visit to the Holy Land, as he was not allowed to enter previously.
  • We know the storyline of Scripture is depicted with Moses (Law), Elijah (Prophets), Jesus (gospel). Each proclaiming we cannot become what we desire apart from the glory of God revealed in Christ and the grace of God provided through the cross and resurrection. 

Even further revealing Jesus as the Son of God is the unique announcement.

  • “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased (Mt 17:5).” This is a repeat announcement from the baptism of Jesus (Mt 3:17). God the Father and Jesus the Son, along with the Holy Spirit, have a profound and perfect unity that is the ideal for all relationships. Their love is sacrificial in serving one another that brings ultimate satisfaction.

When we consider Jesus as the Son of God, embodying the glory of God in this unique alteration, assembly, and announcement, we might ask what is our response? So what!?!

  • The disciples saw Jesus for who He really was, and who He really will be in the future. If many of us could get a glimpse of our appearance in the future, we would likely choose not to see it or not have it happen. Age and life experiences have a way of shaping and producing our bodies to not look very attractive. Yet, for Jesus, His human body concealed His beauty. In fact, isn’t the real miracle that for 33-years the glory of God was concealed in the body of Jesus? How did so many miss it, and how do we miss the glory of God today?
  • Do you know the glory and grace of Jesus?
    • Glory fuels people and motivates mission. 
      • MJ, Tom Brady, Michael Phelps – always want one more win. 
      • Organizations market for wide audience attention and pursue glory with quality products.
      • What drives your daily life?
      • What fuels your focus amid life’s struggles and storms?
      • What motivates the management of your time, talent, and treasure?

Illus[5]: A man was in auto accident and suffered severe injuries. The man was still coherent and kept arguing with the police officers and paramedics that he did not want to go to the hospital. He kept saying, “I’ve got to stay with my Lamborghini , my Lamborghini.” The ERT kept saying, “Sir, it’s just a car” and finally they said, “Sir, we’ve got to rush you to the hospital bc your arm is severed.” He changed his priorities but not as you would expect. His next argument was “I’ve got to find my Rolex, my Rolex.”

Life on earth makes it easy to misunderstand and misplace glory, but as the hymn writer says,
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim. In the light of His glory and grace.”  
“But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed/transfigured into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2Cor 3:17-18)

Jesus invites us to savor mountaintop moments and survive mountain descents.

Peter wants to freeze-frame the moment. He never wants to come down off the mountain high experience. Peter offers to build three tents (σκηνή: word for tabernacle, or the temporary place built for God’s dwelling in the OT.).[6] While Peter was speaking [impulsively] the divine announcement interrupted to identify Jesus as the Son of God… and an added instruction: “listen to him.” These words to the disciples were two-fold: 1) a fulfillment of prophecy from Moses (Deut 18:15), and 2) a vital heirloom for followers of Jesus.

When Peter reflects back on this event, he says, “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 the prophetic word more fully confirmed, 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, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:16-21).  

Sometimes Christians can be like Peter – never wanting to leave the glorious presence of God and sweet fellowship among the gathered body of believers. These are moments to savor. We should cherish our church family – especially in a year when we’ve been told church is not essential and the opportunity to gather is not easily provided.

  • Let us not take mountaintop experiences for granted. Let us move beyond grazing the table food or infrequent glancing at Jesus to gazing at the wonder and glory of His grace. Our life experiences should compel great depths of delight and devotion to Jesus, understanding that “they who are forgiven much, loves much” (Lk 7:47).
  • Let us remember that mountains are made for motivation, but valleys are made for living. We cannot freeze frame past experiences with the glory of God. We must continue walking with God to have future and ongoing experiences with the glory of God.
    • I remember I met God when… ___ was pastor, when we sang ___ songs, at youth camp we worshiped this way…, or with this church we did ___, etc. By all means, value these experiences but don’t let past milestones with God hinder a vision for future ministry for others to know God with their own encounters.
    • Also, lasting fruit seldom grows on top of the mountain but a seed’s roots are planted deep in valleys where there is much opportunity for fruit to grow.

When the disciples heard the divine announcement, they fell on their faces in fear. The glory of God is intimidating and never to be treated casually. Yet, Jesus mediated and “touched them saying, ‘Rise and have no fear” (Mt 17:7). Afterwards, Jesus descended the mountain with them and instructed them to learn the meaning of the cross and resurrection before they shared this experience to others. The idea is glory can only be understood through the perspective of pain; heaven is only attained through Jesus experiencing hell in our place.

  • As Christ followers, we share the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings by enduring hardship and suffering in this life, so that we can experience the unfading joy and eternal hope of the next life. Christian, take heart, this life is as close to hell as you’ll ever get. BUT, unbeliever, take warning, apart from Christ, this life is as close to heaven as you’ll ever get.
  • God calls us to descend the mountain and make disciples, not of a couch but a cross. We have work to do…


Jesus… glory unattainable but grace unimaginable. Let His love mediate our fears to instill faith, hope, and joy.

[1] Leon Morris, Pillar Commentary: Matthew 17. 


[3] Some thoughts inspired from Robby Gallaty, The Forgotten Jesus, pp.56, ff.

[4] A.K.A. “place of the skull / skull hill.” We also describe this place as Mount Calvary, which is the Latin word for “skull.”

[5] Adapted from Tony Evans Book of Illustrations: priorities.

[6] Nolland, J. NIGNTC Gospel of Matthew, p.702.

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