Jesus in the Spotlight

The story of the Mount of Transfiguration involves Jesus, and His three closest disciples: Peter, James and John. They accompanied Him up the mountain, leaving the rest of the disciples behind in what was to be a life-changing encounter.

It was six days after Peter had received a profound revelation of Jesus’ divine identity from God in heaven that the group of four ascended the mountain. Peter had gloriously discovered that Jesus was no ordinary man, but that he was indeed the Christ or Messiah – the anointed one (Matthew 16:13-20). This revelation has been the foundation upon which Jesus has built His church throughout modern history.

On the Mount Jesus was transfigured or ‘transformed into another form’ before their very eyes. The glory of God was so strong upon Him that everything was different.

This amazing manifestation of God’s glory on Jesus along with the miraculous appearance of Moses and Elijah so impressed Peter that he felt obliged to say something. He was not asked to contribute at this point, yet he did so anyway. Perhaps he was nervous, and it just came out. Whatever the case, what he said and did was completely inappropriate. Perhaps we can learn a lesson: to keep silent when God is moving is a good thing. No need to fill up space!

In effect Peter placed Jesus on the same level as Moses, who represents the Law, and Elijah who represents the Prophets of the Old Testament. So significant was Peter’s presumption that God the Father had to rebuke (correct in love) him and focus his attention on the preeminence of Jesus over these undoubtedly venerable Old Testament characters. He repeated the powerful fact that He was ‘well pleased’ with Jesus His Son, and that they (Peter, James and John) were to ‘hear Him’! They were not to lose their focus on Jesus, the one that God had chosen to speak to man in these last days (Hebrews 1:1-2 – our opening scripture in this chapter).

We know that Moses and Elijah both pointed the way to Jesus through their lives and ministries as well as their prophecies. This was good and always God’s intent. Peter’s ill-considered suggestion effectively detracted from Jesus’ supremacy and this got God’s attention in a dramatic way.

Jesus had invited them to follow Him (and Him alone), so the disciples were to keep their eyes on His glory, not the lesser and faded glory of these Old Testament representatives.

Matthew 17:4-9
4 Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” 6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. 7 But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” 8 When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

Notably, Jesus came to the now fearful disciples lying flat on their faces, touched and encouraged them to arise and not be fearful. When they arose they saw Jesus only. This is significant. Moses and Elijah had retreated leaving Jesus in His rightful place of preeminence. They had just learned a great life-changing lesson.

I believe this still holds true for us today. When we read the Bible or listen to any sermon or teaching on TV or study a book we should be looking for the centrality of Jesus’ person and work. God has spoken in these times through His Son and if we are taken up with so called revelations that detract from Jesus in any way either by design or default, we are missing God’s emphasis.

Only in Jesus are found all the treasures of divine wisdom (Colossians 1:3) – why would you want to look anywhere else?

In my experience much so called ‘Gospel’ preaching and writing is significantly devoid of the centrality of Jesus. It appears to have degenerated into mostly ‘principled centered’ motivational talks about the good life. I understand and appreciate that Jesus came to bring us ‘abundant life’ (John 10:10) but when we neglect to keep our eyes on the author of this good life, we are in danger of perpetuating a ‘Christian version’ of self-centeredness. The emphasis in this preaching is more on what we have to do, than on what Jesus has already done. It is ‘performance’ based and not ‘grace’ focused.

This is not to say that the Old Testament does not have many enlightening stories to help us today, (1 Corinthians 10:11) but they only serve their purpose when they point to Jesus in all His glory. The ‘spirit’ or essence of any Old Testament account is that it points to Christ and His finished work. Jesus is the center and pinnacle of all things.

The following scripture repeats the words ‘all things’ no less than five times (five is God’s number of grace).

Colossians 1:16-18
16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. (Emphasis added).

When God began to refocus my attention on Jesus, I had to go over my teaching and preaching material to see how much I had drifted from the centrality of a vital relationship with Christ into a religious set ‘Christian’ do’s and don’ts, principles and strategies.

Incidentally, there is an interesting insight gained from the meaning of the three disciples’ names who accompanied Jesus up the mountain that day. In the original languages and usage it was understood that John means ‘grace’, James means ‘he who supplants’ and Peter means ‘rock’ or stone. Put together we see that God’s grace in Jesus (John) supplants (James) the stony or rock like (Peter), unbending and ultimately condemning requirements of the Law (the law was engraved on stone on Mt Sinai). Hidden in the choice of the three disciples that day is God’s plan to ‘exalt’ Jesus above the Law, which the Jews were so preoccupied with.

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