The Transfiguration of Christ, and the Power of Prayer (Matthew 17)

Scripture reading – Matthew 17

Today’s Scripture reading brings us to within six months of Christ’s appointment with the cross. The crowds following Jesus are growing, and the fear of His enemies is inflamed. Some of the people are aware the Pharisees, Sadducees, and High Priest have plotted Christ’s arrest, even as His disciples debate among themselves who would be the greatest in His earthly kingdom. Matthew 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9 record the transfiguration of Christ.

The Transfiguration: A Vision of Christ’s Heavenly Glory (17:1-13)

Words and imagination fail me to describe the transformative moment when Peter, James, and his brother John witnessed Christ’s transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9:1-13). Jesus invited those disciples, identified by believers as His inner circle, to go “up into an high mountain apart” (apart from the other disciples, 17:1). Suddenly, the LORD “was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light” (17:2). As the disciples looked on, Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus, and “talking with Him” (17:3). Why those two great men of the Old Testament? Many have suggested, and I believe the same, that Moses was representative of the Law and Elijah the prophets.

Peter, never at a loss for words, interrupted the moment (can you imagine interrupting a private conversation between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah) and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias [i.e. Elijah]” (17:4). Even as the words were leaving his lips, Peter was interrupted by an overshadowing cloud and a voice that struck fear in him and the other two disciples when they heard, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. 6And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid” (Matthew 17:5–6).

With a touch of compassion (17:7), Jesus bade Peter, James, and John to rise, and challenged them to tell no man what they had seen, “until the Son of man be risen again from the dead” (17:9). Peter would write later of his experience on the mount, “[We] were eyewitnesses of his [Christ’s] majesty. 17For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. 18And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him [Christ] in the holy mount” (2 Peter 1:16–18).

A Father’s Love, A Savior’s Compassion (17:14-21)

Descending the mount after His transfiguration, Jesus found His other disciples in the midst of a crowd and “the scribes questioning with them” (Mark 9:14). In His absence, the disciples became embroiled in a controversy with the scribes (experts in the Law of Moses), who were mocking their failure to cast a demon out of a father’s son (Mark 9:14; Matthew 17:14-16). Rebuking His disciples for their lack of faith (Matthew 17:17), Jesus commanded the demon to depart from the son, “and the child was cured from that very hour” (17:18). The disciples, embarrassed by their failure and humbled by Jesus’ rebuke (Mark 9:19), later questioned, “Why could not we cast him out?” (17:19; Mark 9:28)

Revealing the power and necessity of faith, prayer, and fasting, “Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. 21Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29; Matthew 17:20-21).

Closing thoughts – Jesus, having delivered the father’s son of the evil spirit, had a profound effect on those who witnessed it, for “they were all amazed at the mighty power of God” (Luke 9:43). The disciples had failed to cast the demon out of the boy because they faltered in both their faith and prayer.

Jesus taught, even a small amount of faith can grow and overcome obstacles as great as a mountain (I believe the idea of moving a mountain was figurative or symbolic of great obstacles, and not literal mountains). To overcome a great obstacle, like that of the possession and influence of a demon, required both faith (believing “nothing shall be impossible” – Matthew 17:20) and “prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21; Mark 9:29).

Remember, “without faith it is impossible to please [God]: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Are you facing obstacles that seem to tower over you like mountains? Are you struggling to believe and trust God? Set your heart to seek the LORD in prayer, and desire Him more than you crave food!

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Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

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