Does God Perform Miracles? Matthew 17.1-9

NKJ Matthew 17:1 Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; 2 and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. 4 Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." 5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!" 6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. 7 But Jesus came and touched them and said, "Arise, and do not be afraid." 8 When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. 9 Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, "Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead."

This Sunday brings us to the end of the Epiphany season. Next Wednesday we will begin the season of Lent and our preparations for the celebration of Easter. But I want to emphasize that our celebration of Transfiguration today is very special. It shows us a lot about God, about our salvation and our hope.

A group of psychology students were performing an experiment on lab rats. They placed the rats in a large tank of water in a room that was completely dark. With special video equipment they observed the rats to see how long they could stay swimming. After six hours the rats were about ready to drown and had to be rescued. Next they took another group of rats, and placed them in the same tank. This time, however, they allowed for a very small light to shine in the room. These rats were able to stay alive for 17 hours! Their conclusion was that the little bit of light made all the difference for the animals. There was hope. (1)

I. The Miracle of the Transfiguration

Take a look at our text again in Matthew seventeen. Notice that in chapter sixteen Peter makes his bold confession that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus commends Peter for this true confession of faith. But saying something and living it are not always the same thing. In chapter seventeen Jesus gives Peter, James and John a boost of assurance. He takes them up a high mountain. There He is changed. He becomes brilliantly white. Jesus appears talking with Moses and Elijah, who both remind us of close encounters with God. Moses met with God on Mt. Sinai, and Elijah was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot. No Jewish person could miss the significance of the bright light and the cloud that overshadowed them. God showed His presence to the ancient Israelites in the form of a bright pillar of fire that appeared over the Tabernacle.

Then there is the voice that speaks: "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased, listen to Him." Note two things about this. Jesus is the Son in whom He (the Father) is well-pleased. There isnít too much about this world that pleases God, and when there is, it has something to do with Jesus. Jesus is the one God sent to save this world through His own death and resurrection. God directs His disciples to focus their attention on Jesus and His words, "Listen to Him." Peter would later say that in this miracle the "prophetic word was made more sure." (2) John, his Gospel, would write, "We beheld His glory, glory of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth." (3) The Transfiguration was a miracle that drew their attention to Jesus.

II. The Nature of God

Now I have to ask a tough question. Did this miracle actually happen? Did Jesusí appearance change to flashing white light? Did He really appear with Moses and Elijah? And did the voice from heaven really speak? Does God perform miracles like this? Turn with me to Job 9.10. In this chapter Job is proclaiming the greatness of God. In verse ten in particular He says that God is the one, "who does great things beyond searching out, and marvelous things beyond number." Notice those words "beyond searching out." That is a good definition of a miracle. And He does so many that they are beyond number. One of the very clearest characteristics of God is that He performs miracles.

But that is not what a lot of people think today. We are regularly hit with magazine articles and TV documentaries that go to great lengths to explain away all the miracles of Christmas or of Easter. The miracles, these people say, are things that people have imagined about God. Many people think that since they havenít seen a miracle, then there must not be any miracles. If that is true, then I have to ask, "What kind of God do you have? What kind of God does not perform miracles?"

Eta Linneman grew up in Germany learning about the Bible. Unfortunately her early training didnít stir her to faith. Religion was like other subjects in school. However she did like studying the Bible. In fact she when on to earn a PhD in the study of the New Testament, she recalled in one class how the professor directed all the students to underline all the miraculous statements of the Bible and then told them to dismiss them. She, herself, would dutifully tell all her students the same basic idea year after year. Gradually she grew tired of doing this, and began to realize that this didnít make sense. How can a Bible writer be so clear and concrete and then suddenly speak ridiculous fables? She realized that the miracles were meant to stay, and her eyes were opened to realize that God is a God of miracles.

The Miracle of Salvation and the Transformation of Life

Everybody has the opportunity to experience at least two miracles. The first miracle that everyone has is the miracle of life itself. When we are sick, and when we recover (sometimes against all odds) we say that it was a miracle. Yet, every day of life is a miracle of sorts. The fact that our hearts are beating right now is the miracle of God. We donít make that happen. It is a wonder beyond searching out. I was powerfully reminded of that on Saturday when I gave blood. The nurse took me through that long list of questions: "Have you had jaundice, hepatitis B or C, malaria, cancer, leukemia, auto immune disease, diabetes, or Creutzfeld-Jacob disease?" (4) After a while I told the nurse, "Thatís quite a litany!" I thought I should start answering, "No, thank the Lord; No, thank the Lord, No, thank the Lord, etc., etc." Think of the miracles we experience every day when we donít have to struggle with these diseases. Life itself is a gift that comes from God.

There is another great miracle of God. It is the gift of salvation. About the only characteristic left to God by people who deny the miracles of God is that God is all-knowing. This He would have to be so that God could keep track of their good works. You see a God who does not do miracles would have to be a God who would leave salvation up to you. Salvation is a miracle. Itís Godís greatest miracle.

Turn with me to Colossians 2.8ff. "See that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ." Here Paul is saying, "Donít buy into the idea that all there is to this life is what we see." Thereís more to this life. Christ is a miracle. "For in Him the fullness of deity dwells bodily." Now skip down to verse 12-13. "Having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses." Not only is Christ a miracle, God in the flesh, salvation is the miracle of God. Just as Christ rose from the dead, so God raises us from the death of our sin to the life of faith.

When Godís word comes into our life, the light turns on. We see the way we really are Ė lost sinners. And we see Godís great love for us in Jesus. This life is not just the same old thing over and over until we die. Thereís more to it, much more! John said, "In Him was the light and the light was the life of men." (5)

The darkness does not give up. It wants back in your life. What seemingly hopeless problems are you facing? Are you struggling with selfishness, laziness, or bitterness? Is immorality or some other addiction destroying your life? Jesus came to give you a miracle Ė forgiveness and faith. Thatís a miracle that can change things. An alcoholic once experienced this miracle of faith. But one problem only created another. At work he used to get teased about believing in Jesus. One man asked him in a very sarcastic way, "Do you really believe that Jesus turned water into wine?" The man thought for a moment and said, "Yes. I believe it, because in my house Jesus turned whiskey into furniture." (6)

I believe in the miracles of the Bible because I believe in the miracles of my life and my faith. Some of you have seen additional miracles. God doesnít promise special miracles to everyone. But He certainly offers to you and every one the miracle of forgiveness. That makes the difference. The Cherub Choir sang a beautiful number this morning about this miracle on the Mount of Transfiguration. "The disciples went up on the Mountain to see, they went up on the Mountain to hear. They went down to the valley because it was their home. They went down to the valley to serve." As we leave the Mount of Transfiguration today, having again experience the miracle of Christís salvation, we go back home, we go back to work, and we go as different people Ė we go to share the light and life of Jesus. Amen.

Notes

1. Illustration from SermonCentral.com       (2) 2 Peter 2.19       (3) John 1.14       (4) A typical list of these questions can be found at http://www.health.gov.mt/nbts/question.htm        (5) John 1. 4      (6) This illustration has been attributed to Ray Stedman

Pastor Michael P. Walther
Transfiguration Sunday, February 6, 2005
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 1300 Belt Line Road, Collinsville, Illinois, 62234
618-344-3151 / fax 618-344-3378
michaelpwalther@netscape.net
www.goodshepherdcollinsville.org

Michael P. Walther, Copyright, 2005

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