October 17th, 1976 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-17-76 7:30 p.m.
It is an incomparable joy and gladness for us to share this service of praise and Bible exposition with you who are listening on radio KRLD and radio KCBI. This is the pastor expounding a passage in the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Matthew. I pray God will help me. This is one of the profoundest passages that the pastor could ever preach from. We are going to read out loud together the first eight verses of the seventeenth chapter of the First Gospel. And if you are sharing the hour with us on radio, get your Bible and read it with us out loud, Matthew, chapter 17, the first eight verses. Now let us read it out loud together:
And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart,
And was transfigured before them: and His face did shine as the sun, and His raiment was white as the light.
And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elijah talking with Him.
Then answered Peter, and said unto 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 Elijah.
While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice came out of the cloud, which said, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him.
And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.
And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise and be not afraid.
And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only
And we are preaching on the metamorphosis, the transfiguration of our Lord. And on the top of that high mountain, He was metamorphosized before them; He was transfigured before them. There is a Greek word that we have taken bodily into the English language, metamorphoō is the verbal form; meta means “to change,” meta. The Latin is trans, transfer, translate, translucent, transparent, trans it is in Latin; meta it is in Greek. Morphē is the Greek word for “form,” for “shape.” So metamorphoō is “to change the form of”; metamorphosis in English; a thing that is “changed in its form”; metamorphoō in the verbal form; metamorphoō in our verbal English form—transfigured, metamorphosized, changed.
That is one of the most fascinating studies in nature; how a thing can change its form and yet be of the same essential essence. For example, carbon, charcoal; common, ugly, dirty, black charcoal under tremendous pressure and heat, becomes a brilliant diamond. It is the same, the same essence—carbon in charcoal, carbon in diamond but metamorphasized. A hard piece of ice heated, and it will become liquid water; heat it again, it will become steam to drive an engine; heat it again, it becomes invisible and without limit in its power. Yet it is all water.
Take again sandstone, ordinary sandstone, quartz. Heat it. It will become a beautiful glass, some of it shaped into these gorgeous figures that you see advertised in our most exclusive shops. But it is all the same essence. Take again dirt, filthy dirt, dirty dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt. The dirtier it is, the filthier it is, the more the metamorphosis can be amazing. Put in a little seed, from which it has borrowed the life of the living God, and it will grow out of the dirt—same essence, molecule for molecule, but gloriously beautiful.
Take again a dirty-looking, crawly, hairy, multi-legged worm, ooh; and in its metamorphosis it becomes a beautiful, brilliant butterfly. Or, look into the nest of a little bird, and there you will see three little blue eggs; and after the warm incubation under the mother’s wings, three little things just chirping with their mouths wide open, waiting for a worm or a seed. Yet, the little bird is exactly the same essence, atom for atom and molecule for molecule, that was in that little blue egg. It is a fascinating thing, the metamorphosis that we find in nature.
But that is nothing, and a poor comparison, as we look at the metamorphosis in a human soul. There is no doubt about it. Simon Peter was a cursing, swearing, rough fisherman [Matthew 26:73-74], and became a preacher of the holiness of God [Acts 2:14-40]. Or, the persecuting Saul of Tarsus [Acts 9:1-2; 1 Corinthians 15:9], metamorphosized, having seen the Lord [Acts 9:3-6] becomes Paul [Acts 13:9], the apostle and emissary of heaven [Acts 13:9].
I think one of the most interesting stories I’ve ever heard in my life is about Jerry McCauley, who was as low in the gutter as any drunk ever descended. He was marvelously converted, and when they had a tremendous campaign in London, this great American preacher was assigned to that high-steepled church. And this American preacher was assigned to that great, illustrious congregation. And they put Jerry McCallie out in the park, in Hyde Park. And somebody came up to him and said, “Weren’t you insulted with all of these high-powered preachers from America assigned to these beautiful and elegant churches, and you were stuck out there in the park?” He said, “Not at all. Not at all.” He said, “You have to remember, when I was converted, I lost three-fourths of my vocabulary.” It is a marvelous thing and a wonderful thing, the metamorphosis that can come into the life of a man.
And our pattern of the glory of God in that thing is in the story before us tonight. And the Lord on that mountain, all night prayer meeting with those three inner friends and disciples, there transfigured before them; three unusual miracles accompanied it. The Lord’s face was shining bright, like the sun, and His raiment white, like the glistening snow [Matthew 17:2]. And there appeared to Him Moses and Elijah [Matthew 17:3]. And there came out of the luminous, shekinah presence of the garments and glory and raiment of God, and the voice of the Father, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him” [Matthew 17:5]. Now we are going to look at two things about it. Number one: the purpose was, first, to encourage our Lord; and the second purpose was to encourage the apostles, disciples, and, ultimately, us.
First, the encouragement to our Lord; when there appeared unto Him, Luke says, “In the excellent glory,” Moses and Elijah “and spake of His exodus.” [Luke 9:30-31] That is the Greek word, translated “decease,” His death, exodus. That is an unusual word because in any part of Greek literature it will be very rare that the word exodus is ever used for death. “Moses and Elijah, spoke unto Him about His exodus which He should,” and the English translates “accomplish,” pleroō, “which He should fulfill in Jerusalem” [Luke 9:30-31]. Well, we must look at this for a minute. It has a profound significance. And with your heart, listen now. So Moses and Elijah are there on that mountaintop, in the transfiguration, in the metamorphosis of our Lord, speaking to Him about His “exodus,” which He should pleroō, “fulfill in Jerusalem” [Luke 9:30-31].
And the meaning is apparent. You see, the Lord was facing death by crucifixion, and His soul trembled before it, cringed before such awesome shame, ignominy, suffering, and death [Luke 22:42-44], all because of a commitment He made in heaven. You see, Satan came before the Lord and said, “The glory of these kingdoms of the earth, I will give it to You, if You will just bow down and worship me” [Matthew 4:8-9]. But the Lord said no [Matthew 4:10]; for to have accepted the gift of Satan—the glory of all the kingdoms of the world—and not to go to the cross, would have been to violate the promise that He made in heaven [Hebrews 10:5-14]. And Moses and Elijah come and speak to our Lord about that “exodus” [Luke 9:31] and about that “fulfillment” of a promise, made in heaven, in Jerusalem. And I can listen to them talk; and do not think I am blasphemous when I place in the mouths of these men what I think they said to the Lord Jesus.
Moses, as he talks to the Lord, and Moses says, “Lord, the reason I am in heaven is because of Your promise to die; and every sacrifice of the Mosaic system [Leviticus 17:11], every offering of the legislation of the old covenant was posited upon the shedding of Your blood and Your dying for me and for us on the cross [Hebrews 10:8-10]. And Lord, if You do not die, and if You do not pay the debt of my sins, I will not remain in heaven. Lord, my eternal life depends upon Your death.”
And I can listen to Elijah as he says to the Lord, Elijah says, representing the prophets: “Dear God, all of the prophets speak about You. One of our number wrote, ‘All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Thee the iniquity of us all’ [Isaiah 53:6]. By Thy stripes we are healed [Isaiah 53:5], and in Thy blood and atonement, we are saved [Hebrews 10:14]. Dear God, You must die for my sins, or I will not have a place in heaven.”
And they talked to Him about “His exodus He was to fulfill in Jerusalem” [Luke 9:31]. What an amazing thing, the finger that wrote the laws [Exodus 31:18], and the hand that smote the Jordan that day [Exodus 14:15-16, 21-22], point to the “Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world” [John 1:29]. The voice that spoke the Ten Commandments [Deuteronomy 5:7-22], and the stern and heavy judgmental voice of the prophet Elijah [1 Kings 17:1], make appeal to the Son of God to die for their sins [Luke 9:30-31], without which death, there is no forgiveness and no heaven for the saints of the Lord [1 Corinthians 15:13-19]. So, first, the encouragement was to Christ, taking that road to Calvary to die for the sins of the world [Luke 9:30-31].
I turn now to the second tremendous encouragement, that of the apostles and of us. You see, the Bible presents an unusual thing here about the metamorphosis, the transfiguration of our Lord [Luke 9:30-31], and God does it in a way that is sometimes unusual for us to realize. You see, this scene made a profound impression upon the apostles. John speaks of it in the first chapter of his Gospel and the fourteenth verse [John 1:14]. Simon Peter speaks of it in the first chapter of his second letter, verses 16 to 18 [2 Peter 1:16-18]. James never had an opportunity to speak of it because he was beheaded by Herod Agrippa II [Acts 12:1-2]. But they never got over that; and its meaning to them became more profound as the years passed, and they dwelt upon the glory of God they had seen in the face of Jesus Christ [2 Corinthians 4:6]. Now, you look at it.
The sixteenth chapter closes, the sixteenth chapter of Matthew closes with this verse before the story of the transfiguration: “Truly I say unto you, There be some standing here, who shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” [Matthew 16:28]. Then, of course, in our Bible, we have a chapter heading, but there was no chapter heading when Matthew was inspired to write that. Chapter sixteen closes with the verse, “There will be some of you standing here, who shall not taste of death, till you see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” [Matthew 16:28].
Now I want you to look at how Simon Peter describes that. He says, in the first chapter of his Second Epistle:
Before I die, I will endeavor that ye may have these things in remembrance.
For we have not cunningly followed after the fables, when we made known unto you the power and the parousia of the Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.
For He received from God the Father honor 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.
[2 Peter 1:15-17]
Describing the transfiguration of our Lord; and look at the word he uses there, “When we made known unto you, when we told you the story of that glorious metamorphosis and transfiguration, when made known unto you the parousia” [2 Peter 1:16]. And that parousia always refers to the second coming of Christ; parousia, the second coming of the Lord, and that is what the Lord meant when He said in the sixteenth chapter of Matthew, “Verily I say unto you, There be some of you standing here, who shall not taste of death, until you see the parousia, the coming of the Lord” [Matthew 16:28]. How is that metamorphosis, that transfiguration, the parousia, the coming of the Lord? It is such in adoration and in earnest and in likeness; it is a harbinger of that ultimate and final and great consummation of the day, the coming, the parousia, of Jesus, for there the disciples looked upon Moses and Elijah [Matthew 17:3].
How did they know them? Moses had been dead a thousand, four hundred years; Elijah had been dead nine hundred years. How did they know them? By spiritual intuition; there is a knowledge that comes from God. You do not learn it. You are never taught it. It comes from heaven. Could I illustrate that in a sorry, poor, and anatomical way? I am going to swallow. How did I learn to do that? That is one of the most intricate mechanisms known to medical science, swallow. I do not know how I; I do not even know what I am doing. I know by intuitive knowledge. It is taught of the Lord. So it is with so much of what we are going to know in heaven. You never learn it. You are never taught it. Intuitively, you know it, and that is exactly how they knew Moses and Elijah; intuitively, they knew who they were.
Now in this parousia of the Lord, they represent the two great classes that shall be raptured away when Jesus comes. Moses died and was buried [Deuteronomy 34:5-6]. He represents those who shall be raised from among the dead. And they cry, “O grave, where is thy victory?” [1 Corinthians 15:55]. And rising from the dust of the ground, they meet our coming Lord in the air [1 Thessalonians 4:17]. And Elijah [2 Kings 2:11] is a representative, a harbinger of those who will never taste of death, who will be alive in this world when Jesus comes, who are translated, transfigured, immortalized in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. And they cry, as they rise to meet the Lord, “O Death, where is thy sting?” [1 Corinthians 15:55]. The harbingers of the great day of the parousia, the coming of Jesus.
Now one other thing, and we must close. There overshadowed them the shekinah, the glory of God; the raiment of the Lord, the dress of the mighty and heavenly God [Matthew 17:2, 5]. Always it looks to be a luminous cloud, the garments of glory. In the wilderness, it looked like a cloud by day and a fire by night [Exodus 13:21], and it hovered over the Holy of Holies [Exodus 40:35-38], the presence of God. And out of that presence came that awesome voice of the Father [Matthew 17:5], and it was too much for the disciples. The awesome voice of Majesty, the bright and luminous cloud [Matthew 17:5], the presence of Moses and Elijah [Matthew 17:3], and the transfigured face and raiment of Jesus Christ [Matthew 17:2]; it was too much for them, and they fell down as dead [Matthew 17:6].
And the Lord spoke to them, and they lifted up their eyes, and there was just the lowly and gentle Jesus [Matthew 17:7-8]. Does that remind you of another like transfiguration? In the first chapter of the Apocalypse, when the apostle John turns to the see the voice that spake to Him, and he saw the glorified Christ, “His face was like the sun, and His feet like burnished brass, and around His breast, a golden girdle. And when John saw Him, he fell at His feet as dead; and the Lord put His hands upon him and said, Fear not; I am He that was dead and behold I am alive forevermore, and I hold the keys of Hell and of Death” [Revelation 1:12-18]. What does that mean? He is the same Jesus over there in glory as we knew and loved Him in the days of His flesh in the earth. His figure metamorphasizes; His physical frame is transfigured, but His heart is just the same.
Isn’t that unbelievable? Too good to be true, that the great, mighty Lord, who sits on the heavenly throne [Hebrews 1:3], is the same blessed Jesus who died for our sins? [1 Corinthians 15:3]. The hand that holds the seven stars has prints of nails in the palm, and the great Judge of the universe has a scar in His side. He is the same Lord Jesus. Isn’t that what we read? “And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one, save Jesus” [Matthew 17:8].
And that is the Lord to which we invite you to give your heart tonight; the great God of the universe [Titus 2:13], the lowly and gentle Lord Jesus [2 Corinthians 10:1]; dying for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3], suffering for our iniquities [Isaiah 53:5], bearing our transgressions [1 Peter 2:24], reigning in heaven with hands outstretched to us today [1 Corinthians 15:25]. With the sweetest invitation that ever fell from human lips, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” [Matthew 11:28]. While we sing this hymn of appeal, to answer that invitation with your life, will you come and stand by me? In the balcony round, you; on this lower floor, you; down a stairway, down an aisle, “Here I am, pastor, and here I come. I make it tonight. I decide for God tonight [Romans 10:8-13], and here I come.” Make that decision in your heart now, and when we stand up, stand up coming down that aisle. God bless you, angels attend you in the way, while you come; while we stand and while we sing.