Seeing Things As They Are - Matthew 17

Think of a time when you were sure, in your heart and mind, that you were seeing a situation the right way. You were certain that you understood. But then, you came to find out that you were wrong. There was something that you didn’t previously know or understand. It happens in our personal relationships and circumstances, and also as we observe happenings in the world around us - very often, we fail to see things as they truly are.In fact, it’s common to say that you were “blind” to what was going on.

 
Seeing Things As They Are - Matthew 17
 

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, there were things that those around him (even his closest and most devoted followers) could not see because of their own human limitations. They were blind, so to speak. The difference between them and a person with physical blindness is that unlike a blind person, those around Jesus thought that they could see.

But one thing we notice about Jesus as we read the gospels is that he always sees things as they truly are. This is part of why he was able to be a sufficient Savior. And now, seated at the right hand of God the Father, Jesus still sees things the right way. Some of you might remember the song from some years back by Brandon Heath titled, “Give Me Your Eyes.” The idea of the song is “Jesus, help me to see as You see.” The OT prophet Isaiah wrote that among the tasks given to God’s chosen servant, the Christ, was to “open the eyes that are blind.” Many with physical blindness would receive sight to demonstrate that Jesus has the power to restore sight not only to blind eyes, but to blind hearts and minds.

Jesus does just that. To use the words of Paul, Jesus “enlightens the eyes of our hearts.” And so, we should look to Jesus to help us see things as they truly are. But what kinds of things does Jesus help us see? On pages 6 and 7 in the worship guide there are three things listed: Himself, faith, and ourselves. Rather than living with the truth hidden from our sight, we can view these things as Jesus sees them. So let’s look at each of these.

This first event is known as the “Transfiguration” of Jesus. Jesus was visibly transformed in his appearance. There is an OT precursor to this. Something remarkably similar happened in the life of Moses. The book of Exodus describes Moses going up on Mount Sinai, where God would give him the laws that would make Israel into a cohesive nation. Just as with Jesus, Moses goes up on the mountain with three close companions. Moses takes three priests: Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu. Just as with Jesus, Moses is overshadowed by a great cloud, which in OT Israel signified the presence of God.

And just as with Jesus, Moses hears the voice of God, and his interaction with God leaves him with a physical glow that reflected God’s glory. But there are differences between the two events. For instance, when Moses went to the place where the cloud of God rested, he went alone. His companions did not go that far with him. When Jesus is transfigured, three apostles are close by. Also, God’s words are different. With Jesus, God does not give additional law, but rather, he confirms the identity of Jesus as His Son. And interestingly, Moses appears here along with another great prophet: Elijah. But what does it mean?

Well, it’s about seeing Jesus as He truly is. Why the parallel to the life of Moses? Moses went up on Mount Sinai to meet with God because he was the mediator between God and the people of Israel. The people could not approach God in all his holiness and power because they were sinful and afraid. Moses stood between them.

But Moses was not a perfect mediator. He was a sinful man. However, there is a better, perfect mediator. The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” The ministry of Moses foreshadowed and helps us understand the mission of Jesus. This factors into what we mean when we say that the OT is primarily about Jesus. Luke says in his gospel account that after Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus appeared to two disciples who are devastated that Jesus has died.

But Jesus explains to them that the entire OT pointed to his death and resurrection. Luke writes,

“beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he (Jesus) interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Primarily, the OT is about Jesus and what he does, not about us and what we do. The transfiguration reveals and makes visible what is already true about Jesus:that he is the true and better Moses. He is the One to whom people should listen.

He is the One through whom God comes near to man.

Elijah is present as a representative of the OT prophets. He was certainly one of the greatest. Moses was a prophet too, but also Moses was the lawgiver. So, both the Law and the Prophets, the whole OT, testify to who Jesus is. These two men appear in this supernatural vision as an affirmation of Jesus as the prophesied Messiah: the eternal king in Daniel, the suffering servant in Isaiah, the spotless lamb of atonement in Exodus, and the list goes on.

God affirms, before Peter and two other witnesses, that Jesus is the Christ. Witnesses were important in OT law. They confirm a testimony. This comes up next week in Matthew 18, verse 20, which is perhaps one of the most misquoted and misinterpreted verses in Scripture: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Why were witnesses essential at the Transfiguration of Jesus? They could testify to who Jesus is. Which, in summary, is what the apostles were called to do. Why would these men suffer and give their entire lives for the proclamation of the gospel? Well, think about what they had seen.

Now notice Peter’s suggestion in verse 4 that he can build tents. In Mark’s gospel, he says Peter spoke out of fear, and Luke’s gospel says that Peter saw them leaving and didn’t know what to say. Peter was interrupted by the bright cloud and the voice of the Father. And the Father says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” Peter puts Jesus alongside Moses and Elijah, but with all due respect to those men, they are not on Jesus’ level. Jesus is unique, and he is infinitely above the previous mediator and prophets. Only Jesus is the beloved Son of God.

And notice verse 9, “And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” Why does he say this? Because the spreading of the news would speed up Jesus’ path to the cross. It would increase the fervor to crown Jesus. We’ve seen throughout Matthew that the people had political expectations of Jesus. They wanted him to rise up and crush the Roman empire. They were disappointed that this was not his plan. And so Jesus tells these three men to wait until after the resurrection to tell this, at a time when the political expectations would be erased.

But the disciples follow up with an interesting question, verse [10] And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” This is a reference to the prophet Malachi, ch. 4, [5] “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.” Elijah was expected to restore justice and true worship,and then the Messiah would come. These disciples were convinced that Jesus is the Messiah. Think about it: if Elijah is going to restore everything, and then Jesus is going to take his throne and reign over everything, then why would Jesus die?

But notice what Jesus says, verse [11] He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. [12] But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” [13] Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist. If they killed John the Baptist for what he said and did, what will do to Jesus?

Maybe the disciples thought Jesus could simply strike down his opponents and take over.

But he had to give his life for his people. He had to fulfill God’s covenant with Abraham. God agreed to keep both his side of the covenant and the side of his people. He must give his own life to do so. The disciples would eventually see this. Do you see it? Do you see Jesus as he truly is? Can you see his uniqueness and his glory?

These next verses are a more familiar scene. A man asks Jesus to heal his son. But this is a chance for Jesus to help his disciples see something about faith. Notice verse [16], the man says, “And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” [17] And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” Jesus heals the boy, but he reprimands the disciples for failing to do it. And verse 19, “Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” Jesus has called them, along with their entire generation, “unbelieving” and “corrupt”. And those two things affected the apostles’ ability to heal in the name of Jesus.

Look at verse [20] He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you. “Moving mountains” was a metaphor often used for overcoming great difficulties. The disciples had been given the authority to heal by Jesus. They only needed to supply a small amount of faith (a mustard seed), but they didn’t have it. They said the right words. Why didn’t the words work?

Well, the power given to them by Jesus was not magic. You know how in the movies, magic is controlled by special words that have to be stated just right. Just saying the words is not enough. True faith is required. What is true faith? Notice verse [21] But this kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting.” Jesus is helping them see that true faith is rooted in dependence upon and submission to the living God. There is, in true faith, the element of self-denial, of turning from the things of this world and setting our hearts and minds on things above. The disciples have unbelieving and corrupt hearts that hinder true faith. So do we.

Do you view faith as currency that can buy us what we want? Or do you view faith as a ticket to do whatever we want? Or, do you treat faith as a way to control God? That is what comes naturally to all of us. But if we would allow Jesus to help us see faith the right way, we must deny ourselves and look to him. But we need to know ourselves, and see ourselves as we truly are.

And in these last verses there is something that Jesus helps us see about ourselves. Again, Jesus tells them that he will be arrested, put to death, and rise from the dead. “They were greatly distressed.” The NIV translation says “filled with grief.” They just couldn’t see, and they make their way back to Peter’s hometown, Capernaum. Most likely, they were staying at Peter’s home. And Peter is approached by “the collectors of the two-drachma tax.” And they “went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” This was a tax mandated in Exodus 30 in the OT.

If you understand the origin of the tax, I think you will understand Jesus’ response. The LORD told Moses that whenever a census was taken (when the people were counted), each man twenty years old and older must give half a shekel which would raise money for the building and support of the tabernacle of worship. The LORD explicitly says that the tax is the same for everyone, whether they are rich or poor. So every Israelite had an equal share in God’s tabernacle. And the tax is described as a ransom for their lives paid to God.

This comes right after God’s words about blood sacrifices for atonement. But how is this money offering related to the taking away of their guilt before God? Well, it was a physical act, requiring each man to give something that would help him remember his utter dependence on God for redemption. It was a small contribution toward their physical place of worship. And whether a man was rich or poor or somewhere in between, when he gave this offering he would be reminded that we’re all the same before God: poor, needy, and desperate for redemption.

They were still receiving this tax in the first century A.D. Two-drachmas in Jesus’ day was the equivalent of a half a shekel. After being asked about it, Peter enters the house, and before he can say anything, Jesus brings it up. About halfway in verse 25, “Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” Peter replies, “From others.”

The point is that kings don’t tax their own family. Verse [26] And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free.” The sons of the king are free from the king’s tax. We saw earlier in the chapter that Jesus is the Son of God. This tax is a tax mandated by God. Therefore, Jesus doesn’t have to pay. Does Jesus need to pay a small ransom to be reminded that it is God who takes away sin? Absolutely not! Jesus himself is the permanent, true, and eternal ransom for sins! Blood sacrifices and other offerings only pointed to what he would accomplish on the cross.

But Jesus responds with another humble answer, with another supernatural miracle, and with another glimpse at who we truly are in Him. Verse 27, Jesus doesn’t have to pay, but he says, “However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. The tax is half a shekel. Peter will find enough to pay for two people. Notice what Jesus says: “Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”

Jesus is the Son of the one true God. The disciples could not understand why he had to die. But they would soon see that the Son had to die so they could become sons too. If you receive him by faith, you are a son of the living God as well. Next week we will read Galatians 3 in worship, and Paul writes, [26] for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith...[28] There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

If you are born again, if you are saved by grace through faith in Jesus, do you see yourself as you truly are in the eyes of God? Do you see yourself as God sees you? We are blind to so many things in life, but none greater that our blindness to the renewed identity bestowed on us by Jesus. He paid a king’s ransom for that identity. He paid with his life. And who you truly are in Jesus Christ outweighs what the world thinks about you and even what you think about yourself. Paul wrote, “I died and my life is hidden with Christ in God.” When God looks at a believer, he sees the righteousness of Jesus. He sees a son. This is how we are all sons.

We are sons in Christ. As we go to the table today, we eat the bread and drink the cup to remember this. Do you see Jesus? Have you received him by faith, and trusted in him alone to make you right before the Father? You must trust in the payment that only Jesus could miraculously provide.

Let’s pray together.