We find ourselves today in the seventeenth chapter of Matthew. Our scene is set-up by the previous chapter, the sixteenth chapter of Matthew. For in that chapter, Jesus gives the disciples a little quiz. There are only two questions. This is the first question: who do people say that I am? They give a variety of impressive answers. Then, he asks the disciples the second question: Who do you say I am? Only Simon Peter’s answer is recorded for the ages. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” That answer means the disciples are making spiritual progress. To show his approval, Jesus takes three of the disciples, Peter, James and John, to the top a mountain. The Mountain was probably Mount Hermon, which raises 9,000 feet above sea level. The inner circle must have believed they were going to receive some special instruction from the Master, but they received so much more. According to the text, verse 2, Jesus was transfigured. We are not exactly sure what that means. It will have to suffice to say, Jesus was glorified. His face began to shine like the sun and his clothes became as bright as light, itself. It was an amazing scene, then the scene grows more complex. Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared. They are endorsing Jesus’s ministry. The disciples are rattled, but then the truly miraculous happens. God, himself, suddenly appears. He identifies Jesus, so there can be on further question. Verse five quotes God. The Almighty says, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” The scene is suddenly over. It is a great scene in the Bible, but what does it mean?
Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an American pastor, Bible teacher, theologian and and author. He said there are four things about the transfiguration of Jesus that should never be forgotten. Consider them with me. They have merit.
The glory of His person – The transfiguration of Jesus came from his inside. It was not something that happened to Jesus, like a spotlight. It was something that came from within Jesus. His glory was permitted to shine. (Hebrews 1:3)
The glory of His kingdom – Moses and Elijah represented the Old Testament law and the Old Testament prophets. As great as they were, they are inferior to Jesus. Everything in the Old Testament pointed to Jesus and his ministry. Jesus was the final piece of God’s plan of salvation for the world. (Hebrews 1:1)
The glory of His cross – The transfiguration reminds us that suffering, and glory go hand in hand. In time, the transfigured, glorified Jesus would be nailed to the cross and die. (1 Peter 1:6-8)
The glory of His submission – In many ways, the transfiguration is the beginning of the end. Jesus did not go to the cross because he wanted to go. Jesus went to the cross because it was part of God’s plan of salvation. Jesus submitted to God’s will.
God said it clearly. We should listen to Jesus!
If the transfiguration of Jesus teaches us nothing else, it teaches us about the supremacy of Jesus. In the life of the church, if we don’t have Jesus, then we have nothing at all. That is one of my favorite themes. I have pounded that point countless times for many years. You have heard me. In the local church, I see it regularly. We get so involved maintaining our building, fundraising for a good cause and helping the needy, we forget about Jesus. That is why worship is so important. We are not a service club or a community action group. We are the church of Jesus Christ. Without Jesus, we have nothing at all. That is why we must keep Jesus the focal point of our ministry. If it is true in local congregations, then it is true of entire denominations. We must recognize the supremacy of Jesus and keep him the focal point of our ministry.
In 2014, the World Council of Churches reported there were 12 million United Methodists in the world. That means we are the second largest denomination in the world, behind Southern Baptist Convention. Many believe that will change in the next two months. Our denomination is ready to divide over one issue, sexuality. A 2017 Gallup poll reported 4.5% of American adults identified as LGBTQ. Many believe that figure is much lower. They say the research was faulty. The entertainment industry seems to believe the figure is much higher. The conflict will come to a head in Minneapolis, Minnesota between May 5-15. That is where and when the next General Conference, the largest administrative body in United Methodism, will gather. No one has uttered the word compromise. No one is permitted to be neutral. Everyone must choose a side. The sides are clear. On the one side, there are those who are opposed to ordaining homosexuals and officiating at gay marriages. They quote various Bible verses to support their stance. On the other side, there are those who think we should ordain the gay and officiate at gay weddings. They say the faith should include everyone. No one should be excluded.
How ugly is the situation? A group of influential United Methodist leaders, both lay and clergy, both liberal and conservative, have come up with an exit plan. Under that plan, entire Jurisdictions will be permitted to leave the United Methodist Church. (We are in the North Central Jurisdiction, which covers the Midwest.) Under that plan, entire Annual Conferences will be permitted to leave the United Methodist Church. (We are in the East Ohio Annual Conference.) Under that plan, entire churches will be permitted to leave the United Methodist Church. With means, under this plan, we will have to decide if we are going to leave the United Methodist Church and help for a new denomination. That means, we will lose people because people hate change. If the United Methodist Church begins to ordain gays and officiates at gay weddings, would you vote to leave the United Methodist Church or stay within the United Methodist Church? Everyone will be forced to make a choice.
The transfiguration is important because it reminds us of the supremacy of Jesus! Do you know what Jesus said about sexuality? Jesus said nothing at all. That means sexuality is a secondary issue. It is human beings who have made it a primary issue. I wish the Master would have said one thing, but he didn’t. It would have made the whole matter easier. However, Jesus did say to love everyone. (John 13:34) Jesus did say to judge no one. (Matthew 7:1) Can I be honest with you? The whole topic exhausts me. I have listened to both sides of the issue, those who support ordaining and marrying the gay and others who are against ordaining and marrying the gay. They are so passionate about the issue they have forgotten about Jesus. We have a shortage of love and a surplus of judgment. The one side is calling the other side homophobic. The other side is called the other side non-Biblical and compromising. Both sides seem to be using the issue. Those who want to accept the change, see it as a marketing tool. They seem to believe the entire LGBTQ will suddenly join the United Methodist Church. (I don’t see that happening.) Those who don’t want to see the change, are using the issue to begin their own denomination. They seem to have some ax to grind. May God have mercy on us, because in the end no one wins. In the end, the United Methodist Church, once one of the greatest evangelistic churches in the world, will be crippled. In the end, the only one who will win is Satan. The transfiguration is important because it reminds of the supremacy of Jesus.
When I was in seminary, I served a small membership church between Danville and Lancaster, Kentucky. It was called the Pleasant Grove Christian Church. It is still there. I have nothing negative to say about those people. They were kind to me at a time when I needed some kindness. In the three years, I served that church, I got to know other churches in that community. One of those churches was the Mount Olivet Baptist Church. In Kentucky, at that time, every church was Baptist, regardless of the sign. Their theology leaned to the right. It was named after the Mount of Olives. Since I left that area, the Mount Olivet Baptist Church closed. The reason is sad. The church simply shattered over a series of differences of opinions. It all began when the Board of Elders held an emergency meeting. They were upset the pastor and his wife had filed for divorce. Being Baptist, they believed in the Bible and the Bible teaches against divorce. They decided to let that preacher go. The problem was the church was divided over the dismissal. Everyone who had suffered through a divorced, or had a family member who had been divorced, was upset. A large portion of that congregation left and swore they would never return. People from Kentucky are true to their word. They never returned. A search committee was formed to find a new pastor to fix the mess. They collected a few names. One of the names was a woman. She was by far the most qualified. She had an excellent education, could preach up a storm and was effective in every church she served. There was only one problem. She was a woman and you know what the Bible says about women preachers. For that reason, she didn’t get the call. They called an inferior man. Everything was supposed to be done confidentially, but the word leaked out. Once again, the church was in an uproar. Everyone seemed to know a gifted and effective female pastor. From that moment on, the Mount Olivet Baptist Church splintered. Each side quoted Bible verses and each side claimed they were right. In the end, the once healthy church struggled paying basic bills. In time, the church building and property was sold to a local brewpub. It wasn’t all a loss. I hear both the food and the beer are great. Can I ask you a question?
Why do you think the Mount Olivet Baptist Church closed? Was it a lack of Bible? Was it a lack of love? What it a surplus of a judgmental attitudes. I believe that church closed because they forget about the supremacy of Jesus. Do you remember what God said? He once said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”