preaching study: matthew 17:1-9, pt 1

In “preaching study” posts, I’m really interested in a “community” approach to study and prep for the sermon, so please interact as much as you like. All Scripture quotes are from the NRSV unless otherwise noted. Thanks!
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I’m preaching in the contemporary service this week at my church and the text is Matthew 17:1-9. This Sunday is “Transfiguration Sunday,” which immediately precedes Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent. I’m preaching the Ash Wednesday service as well, but that will be for another post.

I’m still doing initial study on this passage, but I’ll go ahead and offer a few beginning observations and thoughts.

1. This is, I think, the strangest passage in the Gospels. I mean, what does “transfigured” mean anyway? Sounds like something you could get in trouble for. The only clues we have are in verse 2: “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.” Oh, okay, thanks for clearing that up. Still, I’m sure there are clues here that we’ll unearth with a little more careful reading of the text. One possibility is that this is an echo of a description of Moses after his encounters with God on the mountaintop. After all, we are on a mountaintop here (v1 – “led them up a high mountain”) and Moses does show up just a little later.

2. Peter’s typical enthusiams and penchant for riding the moment shows up here as in many other places.

3. The voice from the clouds repeats basically the same words spoken over Jesus at his baptism: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased” with the notable addition, “listen to him!” That is fantastic. Not that it’s just a touch of humor, but it is a little touch of humor, don’t you think? Of course, at Jesus’ baptism, these words spoke to his identity and his Father’s affirmation of his Son’s ministry. A key moment at the beginning of Jesus’ public career in ministry. Again we find a key moment in Jesus’ public ministry career in which Jesus experiences a profound physical religious experience and hears the words of the Father affirming his identity and ministry. Having been correctly recognized by Peter and the disciples as “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (16:16), Jesus is now fixing his path on the suffering and death he will face in Jerusalem en route to his resurrection (16:21). But this time, curiously, those word from the Father are not spoken to Jesus, but to his disciples, Peter, James, and John.

There is much to dig into here. I’ll try and offer more soon. Thoughts so far?

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3 thoughts on “preaching study: matthew 17:1-9, pt 1

  1. 1) It is a “Holy Moment” something that God did that disrupted the normal expectations of life.
    2) I think it does have to do with Moses
    3) Obviously a “Mountain Top” moment
    4) The context points out that this was a “defining moment” for the identity of Christ.
    5) Always found it odd that this did not have much of a lasting impact on the disciples…they still end up leaving Jesus to suffer the cross alone.

  2. Two quick comments, as I am pressed for time.

    My Bible’s study notes reference the “transfiguration” as a revelation of his future glory.

    The study notes also mention that the appearance of Moses and Elijah may represent the Law and the Prophets. Kind of ties the birth of Christianity with the history of Judeism – showing the three are meant to be together.

    Perhaps I will delve into the notes of my Bible more later – 33 cross references – may take a while!

    JAy.

  3. Thanks, Rick. The “holy disruption” point is a good one. I’ll say more about that in the next post on this preaching study. I also agree with you on the “defining moment” for Christ’s identity. And you would think that it would make more of a lasting impression on the disciples, especially given that they are the ones being addressed by the Voice from the cloud!

    Thanks, Jay. Yep, I agree with your study bible that Moses and Elijah represent the “Law and the Prophets,” which for Matthew is a way of making the point that Christ is himself the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.

    You know, on the transfiguration as a “revelation of his future glory,” I can go with that and suspect that is a very plausable explanation, but it fails to paint the scene for us with any more detail than the scant detail already in the text. Certainly that speaks to its potential significance for the disciples (which is a theme in the grammar of the text).

    I want something that neither Matthew nor the Holy Spirit saw fit to do, which is to explain what it looks like and consists of to say that someone was “transfigured.” To break it down, “trans-” refers to changing in appearance or in quality and “figured” seems to refer to either the physical presence or natural properties. That’s the point of my curiosity. I’m trying to picture the scene and Matthew, God bless him, just tells me that his face lit up and that his clothes looked like they got laundered in some divinely high-quality detergent. Maybe none of the eyewitnesses could really tell what had happened exactly and these scant description is all that came out of it. Who knows? I’m running down a curiosity that’s not really all that important to interpreting the text, but that’s a curiosity I always have when I read this text!

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