Today is going to be a shorter message because it is the first Sunday of the month when we observe the Lord’s Supper. Actually, today is going to be part sermon and part testimony. Because God has been shifting my paradigm all this week. Let’s start by reading the first 13 verses of Matthew 17, which was the section preceding the verses that were read earlier.
Read Matt 17:11-13.
This chapter begins with the Transfiguration and ends with a healing of a demon possessed boy. The mount of Transfiguration is a place on a mountaintop where Jesus took his three closest disciples. He had something special to reveal to them. They experienced something supernatural. Completely out of this world.
You know in the movie Thor, there is that portal that Loki and eventually Thor enter through to move from the realm of the gods to planet earth, remember that? The mount of Transfiguration is similar. It represents kind of a gateway between the earth and heaven, between this life and the life to come. God pulled back the curtain and gave Peter, James and John a backstage view into the spiritual realm. For a moment, they got to see Jesus in full glory, his face shining like the sun. Glowing radiantly. Jesus was a man, but the disciples got a sneak peek at the glory of God in the face of Christ. He was more than a man. He was the Son of God. Fully human and fully divine.
Not only was Jesus there glowing like a halogen lamp, but Moses and Elijah also appeared. Moses who represents the Law. Elijah who represents the Prophets. And in their midst, there was the man Jesus. THE Son of Man, Jesus. Moses, Elijah and Jesus. Why these three? Because Jesus is the culmination of the Law and the Prophets. He is the culmination of the entire Bible. He is the goal of human history. He’s the finish line. Everything in Scripture leads to, points to, ends with Jesus Christ. He is the bridge between this earthly kingdom, what we can see and touch right now, and the kingdom of heaven. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. And everything in between.
Starting in v14, the very next section is about a demon possessed boy. It’s not always the case, but this demon possession was linked to a physical illness. Epilepsy. This boy had seizures and suffered greatly because a seizure would come without warning and he would fall into a fire or into water. Physical ailment, epilepsy, which to this day has no known cure. But also, in this particular case, the physical ailment had demonic origins.
What is the link between these two accounts? The Transfiguration followed by the healing of the demon possessed boy. How are these connected?
I used to think this way. Upon seeing Moses, Elijah and Jesus, Peter responds by wanting to build a shelter. I can fully identify with him. There were times when I was an undergrad and I was on atop a mountain. A retreat. Where you go away for a couple of days and listen to a bunch of messages And I heard the voice of God and witnessed a glimpse of God’s glory. And I didn’t want to come down from the mountaintop experience.
But as we read in other gospel accounts, the VERY NEXT day after the Transfiguration, they had to come down the mountain. And as soon as they reached the bottom, seemingly not even long enough to catch their breath and fully process what they had just witnessed, they were immediately greeted by a crowd and demon possessed boy. The very next day.
When I read this passage before, esp. now that I am a pastor, I connected the two accounts a certain way. I used to think, we can’t stay on the mountain, we can’t stay in God’s presence for long. Why? Because there is a world that’s dying. Who is going to save them? It’s our job. It’s our responsibility. We need to go out and tell the world about Jesus. This interpretation has some truth to it. We are surrounded by broken people who are lost without Jesus. And God does use His people to save the lost. God does mobilize us to be his hands and feet so that we would go and make disciples of all nations. These are true statements.
But let’s take a closer look at the text. v16–
16 I brought him to your disciples, but they COULD NOT heal him.
The disciples encounter the demon possessed boy, a ministry opportunity, a person in need, but they COULD NOT heal him. That’s significant. Why is this significant? To get at the answer, we need to read on.
17 “O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.”
Who was Jesus referring to when he said, unbelieving and perverse? The entire generation. The generation that included the religious leaders, the crowds, the masses that constantly asked for more signs. Jesus gave plenty of signs. He performed plenty of miracles. Not even his own resurrection would be a convincing enough sign for them to believe. They won’t believe because they’ve made up their minds. They can’t see because they don’t want to see. They can’t believe because they don’t want to believe.
But as we read v18-20, I think you will be able to see that part of Jesus’ frustration was directed toward his own disciples.
18 Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment. 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” 20 He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
The disciples had little faith. All the disciples. Jesus doesn’t divide up the disciples into 2 camps–those who went up the mountain and those who stayed behind. All the disciples. Even Peter, James and John who had just come down from the mount of Transfiguration, even they were lumped in with the rest of the disciples. And how does Jesus refer to his disciples? He describes them as having little faith. They lacked faith.
Now let’s connect the dots. Great spiritual experience. A mountaintop experience. They saw Jesus glorified. They saw a glimpse into heaven. Moses, Elijah, everything pointing to Christ. They heard the thunderous voice of God from heaven, saying, this is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.
You would think, that image, that voice must have been permanently etched into their memory. Right? That’s a reasonable assumption. How long did that memory last? Surprisingly, not very long. On the mountaintop, Peter, James and John must have been so full of faith in Jesus. They must have been saturated by his presence, his love, his glory. Their hearts must have been filled up to overflowing. They heard God’s voice audibly and they fell facedown in worship. Which is the only proper response when you witness God’s glory. You fall to your face in worship. With fear and trembling. What an awesome experience! What a faith building time that must have been.
How long did it last? Less than 24 hours. It doesn’t make sense. An experience like that should last, right? It should change us permanently, right? But it was as if every step they took down that mountain, faith was leaking out of them. So that by the time they got down to the bottom of the mountain, they were emptied of faith. Even Peter, James and John were no different from the other 9 who did not go up the mountain.
The Transfiguration didn’t permanently change Peter, James and John. It was glorious but it was a fading glory. Full of faith on the mountaintop but the faith quickly started fading the moment they began the descent from the mountaintop.
They reached the bottom and real life began. It’s like Sunday. We have our mountaintop experience, hopefully. Then, Monday morning rolls around and then life begins. The disciples encountered crowds and a demon possessed boy. Likewise, we encounter LA traffic and broken people all around us with needs. Do you see the parallel? There is absolutely no difference between Peter, James and John descending the mountain the very next day and our typical Monday morning. Same crowds, same brokenness, same people with needs.