There’s a dog breeder in East LIverpool, “Yeager’s Poodles and Doodles.” It happens to be the place where my dog “Beau” was bred. The owners have had this business since around 2004 if I understand things correctly, and they are nearing retirement age and are looking to wrap up their business. They’re selling the last of their litters this year, and as the litters go they are selling off the adult breeder dogs as well, and so in the course of the next 1-2 years their business will simply go away in time.
They haven’t lost their love for their animals- they are nearing retirement age and are moving into a new phase in their lives. It’s a matter of the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.
Some of you know what I’m talking about. You’ve put in your life’s work, and have retired or are nearing retirement, or one day will near retirement age- and you will lay down your hammer and nails or wrenches or whatever and move into a new phase of your life.
As I go on in time, I recognize my own limitations. Age, energy, health. I go to the annual retirement seminar the conference puts on because I need retire one day.
But there’s a difference between retiring from ministry or our job and losing energy for our faith.
Maybe that last sentence hopped in there a little too soon. But some of you here today know what I’m talking about. You once served Jesus with a lot of energy and zeal- but it’s not that way anymore. And you may be living in an illusion that it’s because you’ve gotten older, and perhaps to some extent that’s true, but there’s another part of that that needs exploring.
What happens when over time we lose our vision, our mission, our love for Christ that moves us to do things for Him?
Matthew 17:1 ESV
1 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
I want you to place yourselves in Peter, James and John’s shoes for a minute. They’ve been travelling with this caravan of disciples for a few years now. Jesus has led them, taught them, corrected them, and encouraged them. They’ve learned about the poor, the rich, the down and the out, the up and the in. In the presence of the master teacher, there is a lot to be learned.
And on this particular day, Jesus tells them to come with him up on a mountain . Just the three of them. Yes, we all know Peter was special to jesus… James was Jesus’ brother, you always have to bring family. and of course, John was the disciple that jesus loved. So we should not be caught off guard by the fact that Jesus has taken them alone up on this mountain.
Matthew 17:2 ESV
2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.
And here they are and in the blinking of an eye Jesus is changed. He begins to shine in a glorious fashoin. Bright as the sun. And his clothes and very being began to seem to change.
Matthew 17:3 ESV
3 And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.
And as they looked, Moses and Elijah appeard with Jesus. This was miraculous. First that Jesus was somehow changed. Second that Moses and Elijah appeared. But finally, even that they recognized them as Moses and Elijah having never met them before.
As Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus, can you imagine what is going through Peter and James and John’s head? I mean, it doesn't say that they understood or even heard the conversation- but they observed it. Have you ever been in one of those times when someone’s speaking and you’re just uncomfortably close enough that you wonder if you should listen or not?
I often speak on a speakerphone, and I will just lay my phone down on a desk and talk as I do other things. Sometimes, and it’s happened more than once, because I have to reach, pick up the phone and then hit the hang up button… sometimes, the other party will hang up before me but they won’t.. The line will still be open and I can hear what they say after they hang up. And you know, I feel guilty, because I feel like I’m eaves dropping but technically they called me. So I don’t know whether to continue to listen or just hang up?
There’s Peter, James, and John, and they are listening or trying to listen in on Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.
Matthew 17:4 ESV
4 And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
And Peter, in that uncomfortable feel we all can get from time to time… Peter, just has to say something. And the first thing that came to mind was to recognize how important this moment was. I mean, he’s in the presence of two legends.
Moses. I mean, he played Charlton Heston in the movie. Moses. Up the mountain to get the stone tablets. Moses. Let my people go. Moses, raise his arms the water parts. I mean, in a good Jews mind… this was near Hebrew royalty. And I can assure you no one peter,james, and john knew were afforded this opportunity before.
Elijah. The chariots of fire. The prophetic voice.
Elijabh. The chariots of fire. The prophetic voice.
This was a big deal.
And so, Peter speaks up, breaking the silence. Lord, this is really so special. And we are so glad we are here. Lord, if you’re willing, I’d like to build three special tabernacles to commemorate this place and this situation. Lord, could I build them… to honor the three of you?
And Jesus never answers the question.
If Jesus answers this question, the entire story changes. Have you ever thought of that? If Jesus answers yes, he’s a prideful arrogant narcissist. He wants the tabernacle and the applause. It wrecks his entire ministry.
If Jesus says no, he’s falsely humble, or worse… he won’t let Moses and Elijah have their due.
His father does. God answers the question.
Matthew 17:5 ESV
5 He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
The text says that as Peter was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them and a voice from the cloud spoke… this is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased. listen to him.
Matthew 17:6 ESV
6 When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.
And the disciples fell on their faces… terrified.
Why were they afraid? Was it just this voice, or was it something more? I understand this was an awesome and new experience, but they fell to the ground on their faces. What caused this reaction?
Was it just the voice from nowhere.? Did they recognize it, somehow, that it was God’s voice? Did they just know?
Or was the message, “This is my Son… listen to him,” was there something about that message that convicted them? You all know what I mean… is it possible that they weren’t listening to Him prior to this?
Or did they just realize, that, in the presence of Elijah and Moses, they were looking at Jesus in a different way than before?
I want to stop for a moment and take a little road trip. And the reason for the road trip is that God has interjected Himself into this story, hasn’t he? You may have been surprised to see Moses and Elijah show up-they’ve been gone for a few thousand years, and here they are miraculously back in the picture. But then God speaks… you didn’t see that one coming, did you? Why does God speak right here? And why is his message, Listen to Jesus, so placed and prominent in this passage?
If you just go back to the chapter before this one, chapter 16, there’s a little information that might be important in Matthew’s story.
Disciples cross the sea of Galilee and realize they brought no bread. Jesus tells them to beware of the leaven of the pharisees and sadducees. And he’s talking about their teaching.
Please note the Pharisees and Saduccees are often mentioned together, but they had different beliefs or teachings. The pharisees emphasized the Torah to the point that their teaching and commitment to it blinded them to who Jesus was. Their religious zeal in preserving the Torah closed their eyes to the new thing God was doing in Jesus Christ.
And the Saduccees not only didn’t believe in a resurrection… they didn’t believe that we are eternal beings. We die and it’s over.
So the message of Christ really wouldn’t matter.
And here is the first man to prove that there is a resurrection, and that he was going to his afterlife, and they don’t know it yet but his reality will fly in the face of both groups’ teachings.
Next in Matthew 16, there’s this conversation with Peter and the disciples. Read Matt 16:13-20… the disciples say that Jesus just might be John the Baptist, Elijah, or Jeremiah or one of the Prophets. But Peter says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus goes on this saying that Peter is blessed, God has revealed this to him and ho man taught it to him. And Jesus was going to give him the keys to the kingdom of heaven and he would have great authority in forgiveness… and the very gates of hell could not prevail against him...
And in Chapter 17 Peter elevates Elijah and Moses to the same level as Jesus as he offers to build tabernacles to everybody… when the only one there with any real authority was Jesus himself.
And still in Matthew 16:21-23, Jesus reveals his own death and resurrection, and gives details on how it will happen, and Peter rebukes him. Far be it from you, Lord. And Jesus rebukes him.
And all of this goes to show us that while Jesus is speaking, and God is speaking through Jesus, but no one is listening.
No wonder God shows up on the Mount of Transfiguration to say, Listen to what Jesus says!!!
Matthew 17:7 ESV
7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.”
But Jesus now speaks. Stand up. Have no fear.
Moses didn’t touch them. Elijah didnt touch them. Jesus came, and touched them. And he tells them to have no fear.
And I think for possibly the first time, if not the first time the first time in a long time, they listened to Jesus. Simply. plainly. They heard him say stand up. they stood up. They heard him say, “have no fear” so they lost their fears…
And you have to love what Matthew writes next....
Matthew 17:8 ESV
8 And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
When Jesus tells them to have no fear, they look up. They find the ability to overcome their fears, and they find something has changed. Moses is gone. Elijah is gone. The presence and cloud are gone. And all that is left is Jesus. All that they see is Jesus.
Moses was important. He represented all of the Jewish law. He represented God’s deliverance. He represented God’s justice for his people.
Elijah represented the prophets. God speaking into injustice, calling his people back to himself.
Moses and Elijah were important. But they weren’t the messiah.
Only Jesus could fulfil that role. And in that sense, with Christ close enough that he could touch Peter, James, and John, Moses and Elijah were side shows… collateral information… technicalities…majoring on the minors. What ever you wish to call them, they weren’t the Messiah.
I don’t mean to make light of Moses or Elijah, or their importance in Biblical, Jewish, or prophetic history. But in the presence of Jesus Christ, they fade in importance. They should.
Jesus is everything- they are but a portion of it.
The old hymn, Turn your eyes upon Jesus, deserves a line or two here.
Turn you eyes upon Jesus Look full in His wonderful face And the things of earth will grow strangely dim In the light of His glory and grace
And you know, some of us have done what Peter did. You’ve been in the presence of some pretty awesome stuff or people- you’ve had the opportunity to participate in very good things. There are parts of your walk with Christ where you have experienced great fulfilment and real joy in serving Christ. But you do or did it at the expense of the best.
Hear me on this. You’ve been involved in some ministry or something that you personally do as your gift to Christ or the church or God… and you do it at the expense of the best- Jesus.
When Christ is The Attraction You’ll Have No Room For Distractions
the problem comes when we make our distractions as big as the main attraction.
I’ve been in formal ministry now since 1985. I’ve been a part of some pretty good ministries… helped start a few, maintain a lot, and sadly have been a part of some dying an honest death. And I’ve learned something.
I’ve seen some ministries begin and they are Christ-centered and Mission focused and beautiful. But you give them a little time or a lot of time, and they tend to lose their focus. What once was a way to reach people with and for Christ can become a social program or a weekly meeting or club or worst yet it can revolve around the personality or preferences of one person or group’s felt need to feel good… and it has little to do with Jesus.
We start an outreach whose purpose is to present the gospel and in few years it has no purpose and its outreach is meant to fulfil the need in its leaders heart to do something nice instead of something Christ-centered. And so we do something “good” at the expense of something “great”. We focus on our Moses instead of on Jesus in that process.
Or we begin a new Bible study, whose goal is to teach about the Bible and learn about Jesus., and it moves from that to a social gathering where we discuss everything but the Bible… and we pray before we eat and it makes it “Christian”, but for the remainder of the time we just socialize or discuss politics or whatever- and we keep our “Christian” perspective, but it’s not about Jesus at all- that’s when we’re building tabernacles to Moses and Elijah- and bringing Jesus down to their level, or worst- ours.
You see, when we elevate the good, we detract from the best. When we make second best our goal, we drag the best down. Or we ignore the best.
And some of us here today, and I’m going to guess a lot of us, have started off with a desire to serve Jesus. He was the main attraction when you started what ever it was you were involved with.
Some of us had the gift to sing or play so you joined the choir or the brass or the bells to serve Jesus. But in time it became your social group instead of your spiritual gift, it became your club instead of your ministry- and the focus fell off of Jesus and you settled for less than the best.
Some of us had a knack for children- and you jumped in with both feet. Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, Kids club- you wanted to reach children for Christ. But in time instead of a ministry it became a babysitting job- in the work of preparation and planning you forgot it was to bring Jesus to kids and it became a job with a drag… and it drug Jesus out of you! And now you’ve lost your focus and you see a lot of good in some of it, but no Jesus in any of it. And you’ve settled for less than the best and what once was freeing has become a noose around your neck and it is sucking the lifeblood out of you.
Some of us wanted to start that social program to do what Jesus said to do- take care of the poor. And you did it. But now it’s changed- it’s a lot of work and little reward- you see hungry faces and you’ve become cynical about whether the need is real or not- you’re questioning the motives of those you serve and you see them as a number instead of a human- and when you used to look in their face and see Jesus all you see now is a beggar who won’t get job and is lazy-and Jesus is nowhere to be found.
Some of you had a special gift that you wanted to use for Christ- and you did. But something happened in time. That gift that you used for Christ has become a talent that you use for yourself. You’ve become so good at what God gifted you with that you forgot it was about him and it became about you and your ability- and Jesus is nowhere to be found because in your pursuit to be the best at what you do you’ve settled for less than the best- you’ve elevated yourself, unwittingly, to a place above Jesus and He’s disappeared off of that mountaintop and let you have that dimming, unfulfilling spotlight rest on you and you alone.
If that’s you this morning, I’ve got an answer.
Close your eyes for a moment, and I want you to see yourself looking at Jesus. Look at him closely. Now place that ministry or that gift or that thing you once did for him right there with him. Put it right next to him. Whatever represents that ministry that once was so fulfilling, set it right there next to him. Now drop in some clouds and some really bright light. And a voice. God’s voice. Can you hear what it’s saying?
This is my Son. Listen to Him.
Put Him first. Focus on Him. Listen to Him. Let him have your best time, your best of everything. He is the only one worthy of it. Not you, not your friends, not your bible study group, not your choir. Him. He is the only one worthy of your time talent and treasure.
Refocus, and be revived and renewed.
There’s a passage in Isaiah 29 that is worthy of our attention this morning.
Isaiah 29:13 ESV
13 And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
The entire nation of Israel had slipped. they said the right thing and possibly even did the right thing- but their hearts were far from God- they were doing good out of a long lost great motive- God.
These were the same people who celebrated God with th elikes of Exodus 15:11.
Exodus 15:11 ESV
11 “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
The author actually penned the words of Isaiah 9:6
Isaiah 9:6 ESV
6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
But by Isaiah 29, a lot of time has passed and a lot of things have changed- most notably Israels’ heart towards their God.
Jesus, in Matthew’s gospel speaks about and to the Pharisees. See Matthew 15.8
Matthew 15:8 ESV
8 “ ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;
I know that some of you today will say that , “You know, Joel, Jesus was speaking to Pharisees and sadduccees in this passage. What has that have to do with us?
And if that would be you , you’re getting my point. It has everything to do with us.
You give anything enough time, and it will transform itself.
The most perfect individual that ever lived was transfigured before the eyes of Peter, James, and John. And they saw his glory.
But most things, given enough time will change as well. And because of our sinful nature, they don’t transfigure to the glorious- they transform to the worst.
The Pharisees had the Moses and the Elijah piece right. They just allowed it over time to be transformed into something it was never intended to become. The commandments and teachings of Elijah had been transformed to be what they wanted instead of what God wanted.... they became the commandments of men instead of the commandments of God.
And on that mountaintop in Matthew’s gospel, God pointed out a very important piece for Peter, James, and JOhn.... and us.
No matter how much other noise is in the room, Listen to Jesus.
When Christ is The Attraction You’ll Have No Room For Distractions
No matter how much other noise is in the room, Listen to Jesus.
Peter, you’ve lost focus. Listen to Jesus. It’s not about the pharisees, or bread, or real keys to a physical kingdom. It’s about Jesus. Listen to Him.
It’s not about Moses and the laws- though they are important. It’s not about Elijah and the Prophets- though he is important.
It’s about Jesus. Listen to Him.
It’s about putting Jesus back at the center of why we do what we do.
Church, put Jesus back at the center of what you are to be about. If you do that, you will not have room for anything less than him. And do the things necessary to keep him in that perspective, to not let him diminish in your purpose, your life, and your ministry. Put Jesus First.
Listen to Him.