The story of Jesus’ transfiguration is told by Mathew in chapter 17, verse 1-9. You might recall that Peter, James, and John are taken up a mountain where Jesus’ appearance is transformed and the Bible tells us that his face shown like the sun, while his clothes were as white as light. Two visitors also appear with Jesus; Moses and Elijah, and they have some sort of conversation with him. Obviously this scene is a lot to take in for the three disciples and at one point a voice calls out from the cloud, they hide their faces. God speaks a blessing on Jesus and then the three disciples look up…and the text says the following:
17:8 And then they looked up, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus.
Now, it should be noted that throughout the book of Matthew, Jesus is seen as a lawgiver, a type of Moses, and a prophet, a type of Elijah. The New Testament writers relied heavily on typology to show how this person and this set of events are connected to the larger story of God’s relationship with His people. Therefore, we see Jesus teaching on mountains, interpreting the law, feeding people in the wilderness area like Moses. Additionally, we see Jesus raising the dead, healing the sick, and pronouncing God’s wrath on the unfaithful religious establishment. Therefore, Matthew is making a case that Jesus stands in line of the greatest leaders in Jewish history (not to mention the connections with David as well)
But Jesus is a type and he is more than a type. Right? Sure, Jesus stands in the holiness (that is law abiding) tradition of Moses and leads the people to respect and obedience of the law. Sure, Jesus stands in the prophetic tradition of Elijah and calls the people back to the aspects of the heart and mind that truly matter…not the outward appearance of worship rituals. But Jesus is beyond both of these leaders, and Jesus’ calling is superior and greater in every aspect than the careers of both Elijah and Moses.
It is highly appropriate for the text to remind us that when all of these people and when all of the magnificent sights disappeared, there still remained Jesus. I’m not sure what brought you to Jesus, or even who helped bring you to Jesus. I’m not sure how you make sense of the story, or the resurrection, or the claim that Jesus is seated in victory at the right hand of God. But this I know…when all else fades away into the blackness of memory and knowledge, there standing before us is Jesus and we must take him for exactly who he is. However we get to him, it is only him that we need to really see and believe.
Recently I have felt a call to be in prayer for those around us who need to experience a victory. I have heard stories of families with a child fighting cancer. I have become more aware of families missing persons, especially with the disappearance of Sierra Shields from NYC. Our neighbors around us are fighting illnesses, disorders, anxieties, depression, addictions, and a whole list of other enemies.
So often, when we think of “loving our neighbors” we think of physical service to them, but in times of desperation and in times that require more than our abilities to serve…we must be a people who are tuned into prayer. And when we pray for our neighbors, we want them to know that we are fighting these enemies with them. Prayer not only connects us to the trust we have in God to act, but it also connects us to those we pray for in a tangible way. We are invested in what happens to them; and it is within this space that we come to understand and experience the investment God has made. God is invested!
So who needs a victory today? Pray Psalm 20 over someone you know needs it. Just a note: you may want to replace the word king with the name of your neighbor, friend, family…
1 In times of trouble, may the Lord answer your cry.
May the name of the God of Jacob keep you safe from all harm.
2 May he send you help from his sanctuary
and strengthen you from Jerusalem.
3 May he remember all your gifts
and look favorably on your burnt offerings. (Selah)
4 May he grant your heart’s desires
and make all your plans succeed.
5 May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory
and raise a victory banner in the name of our God.
May the Lord answer all your prayers.
6 Now I know that the Lord rescues his anointed king.
He will answer him from his holy heaven
and rescue him by his great power.
7 Some nations boast of their chariots and horses,
but we boast in the name of the Lord our God.
8 Those nations will fall down and collapse,
but we will rise up and stand firm.
9 Give victory to our king, O Lord!
Answer our cry for help.
Since we focused on the words of Jesus to Peter in Matthew 14 concerning “little faith,” it seems proper to put Jesus’ words to the woman in Matthew 15 in perspective as well. The narrative starts in verse 21 and Matthew reports that the woman is a Gentile caught in a terrible situation. Her daughter is tormented by a demon and she pleads to the Lord for help in freeing her daughter.
The actions of Jesus are off-putting to most contemporary readers, mostly because it appears that he disrespects the woman and, at first, won’t even respond to her…ignoring her. Even the disciples urge Jesus to send her away because they consider her begging to be bothersome. Yet, she persists. So finally Jesus talks to her, but basically claims that she isn’t from the right family line for him to help. Again, it seems harsh. However, she asks for help again. In verse 26 Jesus basically calls the woman a dog, which was a common derogatory term used by Jews against Gentiles, and again the woman is not shaken by the conversation. She asserts that even dogs receive some of the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.
Finally in verse 28, Jesus says this, “Dear woman, your faith is great. Your request is granted.” It must have been a jaw dropping moment for the disciples to see this Gentile woman continuing to beg Jesus and he finally respond with such complimentary language. She goes from dog to “dear woman.” And as mentioned above, her “faith is great” which stands in contrast to those whose faith is little. So, what are we to make of this?
Well, in the last post we made a distinction between trust and belief. And while this Gentile woman might have had pagan roots and has no unfolding narrative of lifelong faith in God…it is her trust in the moment of great distress that makes Jesus take notice. Her trust in Jesus allows her ego to be insulted without affecting her resolve. It is her trust in Jesus as the one who has the ability to remove the demon from her daughter that compels her to keep begging no matter what response she receives. After all, if you know that he holds the cure to your child’s affliction, then his reactions don’t change your resolve. It is this resolve that shows great faith, and so this Gentile woman shows utmost trust in Jesus, and she returns home to a healed daughter.
What we receive from Matthew is a snapshot of this woman, and we would like to now her future but we don’t get that. The lesson is in this snapshot—she trusted Jesus and her story challenges us to have great faith in the moment.
In the story where Peter gets out of the boat and walks to Jesus on top of the water…well, at least for a little while…the text in Matthew 14 reports that Peter saw the wind and the waves became afraid. It was around 3:00 am and the disciples thought they had seen a ghost, and Peter’s challenge to Jesus was, “If you're not a ghost then tell me to come to you.” So, when Peter begins to sink, Jesus saves him and says, “You have so little faith.”
Many times I wonder about stories in the Bible that point to people having “little faith;” like this story of Peter and others. In fact, the phrase “little faith” is used five times in Matthew (6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8; 17:20). The thing is, this phrase “little faith” refers to a specific event rather than referring to an ongoing, perpetual problem that could be described as not having the proper amount of faith. You see, if a person is in a constant state of not trusting Jesus and not wanting to learn more about his ways, this is called “unbelief” in the Bible. However, those persons charged with “little faith” are experiencing a knowledge problem or a trust problem within a certain situation or particular incident. These are failures to act consistent with the purpose given by Jesus, rather than having a record of no faith at all.
We need to understand that the term “faith” invokes two notions: first, faith is trust in that a person is reliant upon God and second, faith is belief which is the proclamation and acceptance of truths. When Matthew talks about a person having “little faith” he is not challenging what they believe, but how much they trust.
Jesus doesn’t just want us to accept the truths about him, but he wants us to grow in our trust that His way and His purpose are exactly what we need, and obviously there is a correlation between how much we trust and our willingness to obey. Thus we can say like those in the Bible, “Increase my faith,” without forfeiting our salvation or questioning if we really believe.
I was reading in Genesis 42 where the ten sons of Jacob travel to Egypt to buy grain from Pharaoh. We as readers know that the brothers are about to encounter Joseph, but they obviously do not know it. Joseph is harsh with them, but I will admit that he is purposefully harsh because he wants to see his younger brother Benjamin and wants to see his father again. So Joseph tells them to go back and get Benjamin and return, if they don’t then Simeon would stay in prison and they wouldn’t be able to get more food. However, it’s what keeps coming up in the passage that I find interesting…
The circumstances of buying grain in Egypt have confused the brothers, and it has become harder than they thought it was going to be. As the narrative twists and turns, the brothers keep coming back to one thing: God is punishing us! Yes, God in his power and holiness was trying to discipline the brothers for what they had done to Joseph…really? Is that true? Or could it be that the dreams given by God have come true and the brothers still don’t believe them, get them, or recognize them? Could it be that what they are facing is not the retribution of God, but the consequences of not following God and turning to their own way of taking care of things?
They knew Joseph wasn’t dead, they sold him. While they had no idea where he would go or what he would do, did they still pay no heed to the dreams and did they still operate out of loathing and jealousy? It seems like it, does it not? What the brothers received from Joseph was actually kind compared to what he could have done given his power. What they saw as God’s punishment was actually the brothers coming face-to-face with the way they rebelled in the past, it was the consequences of their choices that stood in front of them.
So often we hear a person blaming God for punishing them. Maybe a person won’t come to church because the walls might cave in. Maybe a person can’t be around a certain individual or even a group. When we are in the narrative, we see it as God getting back at us, but if we take a step back and remove ourselves from the unfolding drama of life; perhaps we can see it as a confrontation of our past choices. You see the Bible believes in consequences, and they are not to be avoided, but faced. Once faced the story can proceed… and you might recall that Joseph loves his brothers and is reconnected with his entire family. So God actually saved Joseph’s brothers, just like God said would happen so long ago.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.