Chapter 58 – Matthew 18: Unforgiving Acts

Debt

I saw a man who was holding the hand that had fired a gun at his heart / Oh, will we live to forgive? / I saw the eyes and the look of surprise as he left an indelible mark / Oh, will we live to forgive? / Come, find release / Go, make your peace / Follow His lead – let the madness recede – as He shatters the cycle of pain…” – Steve Taylor, To Forgive, from the 1986 album “On the Fritz”

The above song was inspired, according to Steve Taylor, by the incredible photo of Pope John Paul II sitting in a prison cell with the man who tried to assassinate him. I can’t honestly say I would have done the same in the Holy Father’s place. But I like to think I might.

Jesus is hammering away on the subjects of sin and forgiveness in this chapter of Matthew’s gospel. And since He had so much to say, I would hazard a guess that perhaps they were of some importance to Him. Maybe we should pay careful attention.

He makes an interesting statement in verse 18 that I suspect gets misinterpreted quite a lot. “I tell you the truth, whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven”. It follows the instructions of the church being an  authority during conflict. “This forbidding and permitting refers to the decisions of the church…Among believers…ideally the church’s decisions should be God-guided and based on discernment of His word [because] handling problem’s God’s way will have an impact now and for eternity” (Study Bible, p. 1581). The problem is when the church starts legislating rules and doctrine that’s not in Scripture and that God, if they knew Him, would never authorize. It happens. A recent example is the splitting of the United Methodist Church after holding a vote to exclude members and clergy who identify as LGBTQ+. My suspicion, from what I know of Jesus so far, is that excluding anyone for any reason is not His idea.

But I digress. Jesus then goes on to tell a parable about an unforgiving debtor. Basically, a man owes a king millions of dollars, which he can’t repay, and he begs the king to forgive him. The king takes pity on the man and agrees not to throw him in prison. The man promises to pay the king back and he goes on his way. Somewhere between the castle and his home, the man runs into someone who owes him a few thousand dollars. He grabs the man by the throat and demands instant payment. The debtor’s pleas for more time fall on deaf ears and the first man has the second man arrested and thrown in prison.

Now, you can imagine how well this went over with the king – who immediately calls the first man before him and reams him out. “You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ (v. 32b-33). The end result? “The angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt” (v. 34).

What’s the point? You and I stand before God with an enormous debt of sin we can never in our wildest dreams hope to repay with enough good deeds. On this side of the cross, our debt has been forgiven in Jesus. God cancels our debt when we ask Him to. Why should we then walk around on this planet berating each other to pay the debts we owe which are small potatoes in comparison?

It all goes back to something I wrote earlier, we shouldn’t hold grudges against each other because someone sins differently than us in light of how much God has forgiven us. But we do. And this world suffers for it. The Kingdom suffers for it. God suffers for it.

I may never have to forgive someone for trying to assassinate me, but I need to be more mindful of my reactions to how people drive around me. I tend to get frustrated with them at best and downright angry at worst. I need to be more patient with people at work who call but don’t know what they want to order. I need to be more forgiving of people who attack my beliefs on social media. And so on…

Steve Taylor ends his song by asking if we will live to forgive. Since I see that as the primary reason for Jesus walking the planet as a man, I should make it my mission too. The greatest thing about practicing that throughout my life is that I will find a prisoner (me) is set free each time.

Chapter 57 – Matthew 18: Believers and Sin

sin

Life is very short and there’s no time

For fussing and fighting, my friend

I have always thought that it’s a crime
So I will ask you once again…

Only time will tell if I am right or I am wrong
While you see it your way
There’s a chance that we might fall apart before too long

We can work it out (2x)

  • The Beatles, We Can Work It Out, from the 1966 album “Yesterday and Today”

The Christ follows up his mini-sermon on sinning against others with a few choice words on how we are to handle fellow believers who sin against us (v. 15-17). These instructions are for God’s people only and not meant for the world in general. However, the big ideas of what Jesus has to say about conflict resolution can still be broadly applied.  The Beatles may have it right. (Notice what Jesus doesn’t say, as well as what He does).

To be sure, when someone has wronged us – whether they belong to His church or not – it may be our human reaction of turning away from that person or seeking revenge which can come into play. We may gossip about that person behind their back or enlist a group of friends to begin a campaign of hate. We may even seek to do the very same thing in return that was done to us. It’s part of our fallen nature. And it’s also against everything the Christ lays out.

The first step is to go to the person who has wronged us, which is sometimes the hardest part of all. You may think, “They’re the one who caused the problem – why should I initiate contact?” The purpose of what Jesus has to say is reconciliation. He wants His family to be strongly bound together; not bitter and broken. Sometimes it is possible to sin against someone unknowingly. By going to the person and laying out our concerns, we may be brining something to their attention that they are unaware of. But even if the offender IS aware, He doesn’t want the wound to fester. He even set the example for us by being the one to engage mankind when we had sinned against Him and God the Father.

The second thing He wants us to do is to forgive that person. Say what? Yes, no matter how bad the sin is – no matter how much pain and hurt it causes – forgive them. Let it go. Note: He’s not saying to forget. There’s a big difference between letting go of the hurt and pain, and automatically trusting someone again. THAT, can only come with time and with a noticeable change in behavior.

What’s more – Jesus says we are to forgive someone for the same sin so many times we don’t keep track of how many times we forgive someone. There’s no point in keeping score. It only leads to bitterness and divisiveness in the family.

Finally, He says that if the person won’t listen to you and refuses to change their behavior, to go back again – this time with witnesses. Objective, third party individuals who are also members of the church are required. The purpose is so that everything can be confirmed to be true. If the person who has sinned against you refuses to listen and change, Jesus then says to take the case to the church. Let the members of the body of Christ decide the matter. If that person still refuses to listen and change, the final act is to walk away and treat that person as if they were an outsider, rather than a fellow believer.

Note: This doesn’t let us off the hook from forgiving them. What it does do is remove the problem from the church so that healing can take place within the body. This is kind of why a chunk of this format will not work outside the church. Non-believers are not going to be interested in what the church has to say about their behavior or attitude. Depending upon what the “sin” is – only manmade remedies such as involving law enforcement may be what is needed. However, there are times when the offender is  of the church and going to the governing authorities may be the only course of action that can be taken (for example, sexual assault).

It’s not ideal to be sure. Ideally, Jesus would directly intervene and discipline the offending body. But sometimes He doesn’t do this and the only way to get justice here and now is to involve secular tactics. It’s part of why God establishes our government in the first place (Romans 13). Now, there will be times when the secular government infringes upon our beliefs, such as when one race is exalted above all others. Our great nation had had that problem since it’s inception but the matter was only legally rectified in 1964 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act and in 1965 with the Voting Rights Act. It is a fact that white supremacy continues to be battled today in our society and it is our obligation to combat it at every turn using the tactics of peaceful protest.

The key is realizing that although our Constitution is a well-fashioned document, it is still only written by man and will always be imperfect. Our goal should be to live our beliefs in such as way so that all human beings are drawn to us, rather than to shut our doors and insist certain laws (such as gay marriage and abortion) are so immoral we reject the people they involve. Our job, our only job while we are living on this planet, is to bear witness of Him AND draw people TO Him. We don’t do that by constantly calling them sinners and telling them they are damned to hell no matter what. Our message has to change because it is not Jesus’ message of redemption for all.

I believe all of what the Christ shares in this passage is possible because none of us is perfect. And therefore, none of us should ever think we are better than anybody else, even non-believers. How do I know it’s possible? Because Jesus set the example for us. He lived and died and forgave us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). If the perfect man who never sinned can forgive us all of our sins, it is possible for us imperfect people to forgive each other if we are imitating Him. Therefore, to shut our doors or turn on backs on people because they sin differently than we do is wrong of us. It, in fact, is sin and it is not Christ-like.

So let’s work on working it out together, even with people who are not members of the body. Let’s set the tone. Let’s be the example. Let’s draw people into the greatest family dynamic to ever exist. Let’s make being a member of the body so desireable, that it draws people out of the darkness and into the Light of Life.

Chapter 56 – Matthew 18: Stepping Into Purpose

steps

“Sometimes you feel nothing / Sometimes you feel it all / Sometimes you gotta bear down / Stand up, walk on, strong and tall / Keep on walking in steps of faith…” – Margaret Becker, Steps of Faith, from the 1991 album “Simple House”

Jesus has just finished explaining that childlike faith and innocence are key to holding a spot in heaven, when He quickly switches tactics and hands out a couple of warnings: first about tempting others to sin, and second, about neglecting or demeaning them. He even tells a short story about a shepherd who leaves the large flock of ninety-nine to go look for the one lost sheep who has wandered away. It’s basically a mini-seminar on the importance of people to Jesus – the ultimate example of what it means to be “pro-life”.

He says it would be better to have a very heavy stone tied around your neck right before you are shoved off a very tall bridge than to ever cause a “child” to fall into sin. He admits that the world is full of temptation and will someday be judged for it. But He says it would be better to cut off physical body parts that cause us to sin rather than to try and enter heaven as a whole person. And He warns us not to look down on others because the angels watching over them are constantly in the presence of the Father above. Note: Jesus is especially concerned about those who are new or “young” in the faith, hence the reference to children or “little ones”. But really, nowadays, He could be talking about any one of us – physically young or old – who is exhibiting the innocence He desires.

You see, people are the reason that God became a man and walked the earth. The disciple John writes in his gospel that Jesus came to seek and save the lost (John 10:10). And while His primary mission was to the people of Israel, He ultimately made a point of reaching out to all human kind regardless of ancestry (2 Peter 3:9). Which begs the question: who are we to act any differently?

I know people can, at times, be trying. Some can be annoying or rude. Some can even be downright demeaning towards others. There are adults who passively and actively teach the younger generation to think of others as inferior because of their skin color or who they chose to love or even who they choose to worship. There are adults who preach words of hate against others who are different. They willingly promote fear of others. We have a man currently sitting in the Oval Office who makes a point each day of doing all these things and more. And some people choose to follow his example.

Yes, some of these people even consider themselves to be followers of Jesus. They sit in a pew on Sundays and sing. They attend bible study during the week. They tithe on a regular basis. They may even work in a church or as some part of a ministry team. But in their hearts, and by their words and actions, they not only demean others but encourage such sin in others. The Christ is saying: “Don’t be like them. Be like Me, instead”.

Notice how Jesus welcomed everybody, even the religious hypocrites who hated Him. Notice how He NEVER forced anyone to believe in Him. Notice how He places an emphasis upon going after the “one” who has strayed – to the point of there being much rejoicing in heaven over the return of this one over all the others who never strayed. Notice the extreme euphemism He  uses to explain how we are to avoid stumbling blocks of all kinds at all costs even if it means cutting the experience out of our lives altogether.

That last little bit is the reason I don’t go to church anymore. You see, going to church became a stumbling block for me. In the footnotes of this part of the chapter, my study bible states that for the individual “any relationship, practice, or activity that leads to sin should be stopped” (p. 1580). What was my sin? Inferiority. I felt judged every time I drove into the parking lot. And it made me angry. Who were these people to judge me? After all, we are all sinners. There’s no sin greater than any of the others. And yet, I was told I was immoral, unwelcome, and damned to hell.

But what about the command in Hebrews to keep meeting together? I can assure you when that book was written there were no mega-churches on the Jerusalem street corners. I still have contact with believers. I interact with them and learn from them and am challenged by them. Just not in a church setting. I tell you, I study the word more now than I ever did while sitting in a pew. And a lot of the music I listen to reflects the values of my Savior whether I’m walking into work or driving around town running errands.

But I don’t bury myself in religion anymore. Instead, I opt for relationship with my heavenly Father in how I interact with others, especially those who are very different from me.  Different in the way they act. Different in the way they think. Different in the way they worship. And it’s all made me appreciate people more; maybe even see them more as God sees them.

Now I’m not recommending to anybody else that you stop going to church and follow my example. Uh-uh. All I’m saying is that you have to find what works for you. And what works for you may be sitting in a pew seven days a week. Maybe what works for you is making time to volunteer on a regular basis in some ministry opportunity outside of the church. Maybe it’s learning to be less material by giving some of your hard earned cash to a cause you believe in that benefits humanity as a whole. There’s no cookie-cutter here. We’re all individuals. We all have our strengths to play to – and from what I’ve studied in scripture, that is what God is asking us to do. To step out and step up into the purpose for which we were created in Him.

You’re going to have to find your own path. Mine is taken. At the very least, let’s heed the words of the Christ and resist the temptation to sin, or cause others to sin, with everything we have. Let’s keep encouraging each other to do the same. Let’s take His warnings seriously – because we are living in the world of consequences right now. And it ain’t pretty.

Chapter 55 – Matthew 18: Who is the G.O.A.T.?

small child goat

Yeah, you could be the greatest
You can be the best
You can be the King Kong banging on your chest

You could beat the world
You could beat the war
You could talk to God, go banging on his door

You can throw your hands up
You can beat the clock
You can move a mountain
You can break rocks
You can be a master
Don’t wait for luck
Dedicate yourself and you can find yourself

Standing in the hall of fame…
You could go the distance
You could run the mile
You could walk straight through hell with a smile

You could be the hero
You could get the gold
Breaking all the records they thought never could be broke

… And the world’s gonna know your name
‘Cause you burn with the brightest flame
And the world’s gonna know your name
And you’ll be on the walls of the hall of fame

  • The Script, Hall of Fame, from the 2012 album “#3”

The above tune is catchy. I find myself humming along to it whenever it comes up on my playlist. But let’s face it, it’s completely a worldly perspective. The only person this song, in its entirety, could ever truly apply to lived over 2,000 years ago – and you can bet the world knows His name today.

Back then, not so much. I mean, He had a following. Enough to get Him into trouble with the religious leaders of His day to the point where they wanted to kill Him. No one else can walk straight through hell with a smile, that’s for sure. But today, I don’t want to talk about Him. No, today I want to talk about His disciples.

As Matthew opens what we call the 18th chapter of his gospel, he focuses upon a discussion that the disciple are having about who is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven. One of them even asks Jesus: Who is the Greatest Of All Time (G.O.A.T.)? And Jesus does something out of the ordinary again.

Rather than get into a conversation and hash out the pros and cons of various individuals who are living or who have ever lived, He pulls aside a small child and states that anyone seeking greatness must first become as humble as a child to even get into Heaven.

What He’s saying to His disciples is something He undoubtedly said many times over. He’s referring to the least of these. You see, in those days, children had no power, no authority, no true asset value. They could hardly earn a living. They couldn’t take care of themselves let alone anyone else. They were very easily seen as a burden: a mouth to feed and a body to clothe. And if they were a girl – the best a father could hope for was that someday a large dowry might be paid by the person arranged to marry her. The sad truth is – it’s still like this in some parts of the world even today.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that children are worthless. They often bring joy and a keen insight into human personality. They can be the very reason that drives mom and dad to strive harder and reach for more. They can even remind us of the innocence we used to possess ourselves. And the bible says a man is blessed to have lots of them (Psalms 127:3-5).

Jesus is saying, indirectly, that the “disciples had become so preoccupied with the organization of Jesus’ earthly kingdom that they had lost sight of its divine purpose. Instead of seeking a place of service, they sought positions of advantage” (Study Bible, p. 1580). Which begs the question: what’s my motivation for doing the things I do? Am I seeking status? Financial solvency? To influence others?

The disciples have lost their eternal perspective and Jesus gently reminds them of the need to identify with “children” – people who are often weak and dependent upon others. Period. That’s it. That’s the key.

So while the rest of the world may fight and sway to be the G.O.A.T. (and there’s certainly nothing wrong with striving for excellence) – it’s not the end all, be all of man’s existence. Nor should it be. For me, I plan to be the best version of myself that I can be but I’m not going to waste time trying to get anyone else to think of me the same way. I can die in obscurity and as long as I am living in innocence and trusting God – I will be in His Hall of Fame.

Chapter 54 – Matthew 17: Death and Taxes

death and taxes

I’ve questioned my reasons
This life that I’m living
I’ve questioned my ability
To judge wrong from right
I’ve questioned all the things that I’ve ever called certain
My race, my religion, my country, my mind

But the one thing I don’t question is you
You really love me like you say you do” – Paul Colman, The One Thing, from the 2005 album “Let It Go”

There’s an old saying that goes something like, “The only certain things in life are death and taxes”. It’s not exactly true if you follow the Christ, but they are topics covered by Him in today’s chapter. Jesus starts off by predicting His coming death at the hands of the Jewish religious leaders and ends by paying the required temple tax in an unusual and unique manner.

Life is uncertain. One thing that’s not: we’re all going to die someday. That’s a given. No one makes it out alive. So the fact that the very human Jesus is going to also die should not be surprising in the least. What is surprising is that in verse 23 He states that He will be raised from the dead on the third day AND the disciples were still filled with grief. It’s almost like they stopped listening after He said He would be killed and never heard the part that came afterwards. To me, that’s the most amazing part. People just don’t come back from the dead (unless you’re a zombie – but let’s be realistic here). How are the disciples sad about this news? I mean, yes, it’s unheard of but the whole time they’ve been with the Christ He’s been doing the impossible. So why stop believing now?

It wouldn’t be until Pentecost (Acts 2) that the disciples understood only His death and subsequent resurrection would usher in His kingdom. One problem is that right now, pre-crucifixion, they are still expecting an earthly kingdom to be established.  They just don’t understand Jesus, which means we should be gentle with ourselves when it comes to our own understanding of Him. “After all, His disciples spent years with Him, saw His miracles, heard His words, and still had difficulty understanding” (Study Bible, p. 1579).

I accepted Jesus as my savior at four years old. I’ve been hearing about Him my entire life. And still, every time I open the gospels I learn something new about this man claiming to be God. And even if I live to be a hundred, I’ll still need an eternity to more fully grasp who He is and what He’s really like; how He works and why He does things the way He does.

Next, Matthew – the former tax collector – recounts a story not found in the other gospels about Jesus being approached to pay the Temple tax imposed upon all Jewish males. It’s from the old testament Mosaic law (Exodus 30:11-6) and the money is used for the temple upkeep. As the King of kings, technically, Jesus owed no taxes so Peter’s answer is correct: Kings tax the people they have conquered, not their own people. Yet Jesus pays the tax anyway.

He sends Peter (a former fisherman) to collect the tax money from the first fish he catches. Why does Jesus give in and why does He send Peter to do the work? In Romans 13, the apostle Paul states that we are to submit to the governing authorities. Jesus is just following protocol. He’s leaving us an example of how we are to maneuver this world. As His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) while we really belong to His heavenly kingdom, we are to also follow the rules and laws of this world in order to be a solid representative of His. Peter is sent because he is the one who gave the answer. But to keep from offending those who didn’t understand Jesus’ kingship, he is recruited to perform a previously familiar task: fish.

Jesus tells him to take the large silver coin he will find in the mouth of the fish and to “pay the tax for both of us” (v. 27b). While Jesus requires us to represent Him faithfully in this world, He will often ask us to do so in a manner that fits within our given skill set AND He will provide enough grace to cover us as well. We’re not told how this segment ends. Matthew doesn’t record Peter’s reaction or if he carried out Jesus’ instructions. The whole ending is implied. But can you imagine being Peter? Really Lord, I’m going to find enough money inside a random fish to pay the tax for both of us?

It’s a tremendous act of faith. How many fish had Peter caught in his life to know that you don’t find money inside of them? Like ever?

What is Jesus asking me to step out in faith and do that doesn’t make sense? Whether it’s believe that He’ll come back from the dead, or provide a silver coin to pay a tax – with Him it doesn’t have to follow mortal reasoning. I just have to do it – and be willing to watch Him work.

Chapter 53 – Matthew 17: Seeds and Mountains

sequoia-seed-on-fingertipsequoia tree

Grace that is ever mindful of the mind which can’t believe / It held back Abraham’s hand / Burned the altar down / And it can only work it out if we believe – Satellite Soul, Equal to the Fall, from the 1997 self-titled debut album

Jesus, Peter, John, and James have just descended the mountain after the transfiguration, when they are met by a large crowd, which has been waiting for them. One man in particular steps forward and addresses Jesus, saying that his son needs help but the disciples left behind couldn’t do anything for him (v. 15-16). Isn’t that strange since Jesus had fully equipped His followers (10:5-42) to handle matters such as these? And He might sound exasperated, to say the least, if you look at His words:

“You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me” (v. 17).

So the boy is brought before Jesus and He casts out the demon that has been torturing him. Later, His disciples ask privately why they couldn’t cast the demon out. Jesus’ answer? They didn’t have enough faith. He’s not chastising them. He’s encouraging them to increase their faith because they’re going to need it in their future ministry. And we can learn a lesson from this story.

If we follow the Christ, we’ve been empowered as well – just like the disciples – to do magnificent things in His name. But it requires faith, which is a funny thing. It’s not a blind belief as some people might think. It’s not even a passing desire as in, “I believe I’ll have another beer.” It’s stronger than that. Faith is rooted deeply in the trust that something is true, such as “God is bigger and more powerful than my problems”.  And Jesus explains to His disciples that it can be very tiny, like a mustard seed – the smallest known particle at that point in human history – and it is effective enough to move mountains.

Not literal mountains, mind you. But issues in your life that are significant enough to become a monumental problem.  Maybe it’s addiction. Maybe it’s a loss of income. Maybe it’s a medical issue or a relationship issue. Maybe it’s even a crisis of faith itself. None of us are immune from that.

“If you are facing a problem that seems as big and immoveable as a mountain, turn your eyes from the mountain and look to Christ for more faith. Only then will you be able to overcome the obstacles that may stand in your way” (Study Bible, p. 1579). Here’s the super important part: it’s a quality thing, not a quantity thing. I like that. I don’t have to do it on my own and I don’t have to be a superhero of the faith to overcome. He is aware of my hang ups. I simply have to be willing to believe. It’s a small shred of faith the size of an atomic particle in today’s world. Or the size of a giant sequoia seed (see images above).

The thing about sequoia trees is that their seeds are only released from the pine cones by a heat source, such as a forest fire. Imagine that. The very seed needed to grow one of the largest trees on the planet is born of adversity.

What’s standing in our way of having an open, thriving relationship with the creator of the universe? What is weighing us down? What mountains exist in our lives that need to be overcome and moved? Next time we need help, let us remember that often the largest plants come from the smallest seeds – and then let’s believe and get to work.

Chapter Fifty Two – Matthew 17: A Transfigured Moment

stormy-seas

It is He, the Messiah / Miracle man, part of the plan / It is He, the Messiah / Life in His hand / I understand it is He – Michael W. Smith,  Could He Be the Messiah, from the 1983 album “Project”

We come to the end of our first year on this blog and find ourselves at a curious point in Matthew’s gospel where he is not physically present for the story that begins chapter seventeen. The narrative found here (and also in Mark 9 and Luke 9) specifically points to only three disciples being privy to the events which are commonly known as the Transfiguration of Jesus (v. 1-2), and Matthew is not one of them. Moreover, Jesus specifically commands Peter, James and John (the three who were present) NOT to talk about what they experienced until AFTER He had been raised from the dead (v. 9).

Several things supposedly happen: 1) Jesus’ appearance changes greatly (v. 2); 2) suddenly Moses and Elijah appear (v. 3); 3) Peter sticks his foot in his mouth again (v. 4); and 4) God the Father speaks to the group, terrifying the disciples (v. 5).

I don’t know about you but I have lots of questions. If Peter, James, John and Jesus are the only ones on that mountain top, and nobody talks about it until much later, when and how does Matthew find out about what happens up there? Why does he choose to include an event he was not present for? Don’t other people find that suspicious? Maybe that’s not such a big deal since Matthew records the birth of Jesus and he wasn’t there for that either.

More questions: How did they recognize Moses and Elijah? Both men lived hundreds of years apart and no one present (save Jesus, if He is God) was alive when either of them walked the earth. Does Jesus make introductions? If so, what was that moment like?

It’s a very odd story. Matthew records that Jesus gets deep into conversation with Moses and Elijah (v. 3). It’s a relationship matter and one we should value more in our current society of only staring at our cell phones. The footnotes of my Study Bible mention that in “God’s world, interactions count highly…Good conversations act as training for eternity” (p. 1578).

In any event, we’re not told what they were talking about nor why only these two great old testament figures show up. Why not King David? Or Daniel? Or Ruth? The footnotes also state that “Moses and Elijah were the two greatest prophets in the Old Testament. Moses represents the law, or the old covenant. He wrote the Pentateuch…Elijah represents the prophets who foretold the coming Messiah…Moses’ and Elijah’s presence with Jesus confirmed Jesus’ messianic mission: to fulfill God’s law and the words of God’s prophets” (p. 1578). So there’s that.

Maybe the focus should be on Peter, the only disciple recorded as having spoken up during this whole event. He probably should be worshipping the Christ, instead he’s making useless suggestions for building temporary tabernacles – one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. In a sense, he’s trying to make the moment more permanent. And aren’t we all like that? We want to keep our mountaintop experiences going and set up residence. Can you imagine if he had been allowed to build his monuments? What an archeological find that would be for later.

But still, Peter wrongly suggests memorializing the moment. God the Father interrupts and refocuses the disciples. He speaks in order to give authority to the words of Jesus much like He did on Mount Sinai when Moses was given the law (Exodus 19:9). As a result, all three of the disciples fall face down (hey, they are worshipping after all!) and when they look up again, Elijah and Moses are gone. It’s just Jesus, touching them; reassuring them that everything is ok. And isn’t that just like Him?

All in all, I’m not quite sure what can be gleaned from this strange narrative other than this Jesus guy is one unique Being. I don’t know of anybody else in human history who glows, talks with physical manifestations of dead people, and gets props from a bodiless voice in the heavens. He almost sounds like He should be a Shakespearean character. But He’s not. And this story is just one more piece of evidence to add to the growing pile that He is who He claims to be.  Maybe that’s why Matthew includes it. He’s building an airtight case for a Messiah with his Jewish audience.

As if Jesus could be someone else.