Part IV: Implication #4—The Necessity of the Word of God in Worship
A voice came out of the cloud, proclaiming, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35). Matthew expresses the message of the voice a little differently, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt 17:5). Both phrases— “Chosen One” and “in whom I am well pleased,” indicate favor bestowed upon Christ that no other has ever possessed. It is not the disciples who are pleasing to God. In fact, it is more likely that when they heard the command to “listen to him” in the manifest presence of a holy God, every instance of not having listened to him likely flooded their minds and grieved their hearts. This may be the explanation of the terror that came next as the penetrating light of God’s presence pierced their darkness. The compulsive human response to the holiness of God is well described by Isaiah’s experience of the exalted Lord in Isaiah 6: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isa 6:5). While Peter indicated that it was good for them to be there at the beginning of this episode, this quickly changed. When the cloud overshadowed them and the voice spoke from the cloud, Matthew explains, “they fell on their faces and were terrified” (Matt 17:6). It no longer seemed good to be there and there was no more desire to build tabernacles. Now the problem of worship became real and the need for Christ’s finished work was made plain.
The centrality of Jesus’ role as mediator in this experience and indeed in all of worship is poignantly portrayed in the next verse: “But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’ And when they lifted their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.”
Moses and Elijah had disappeared and there only remained Christ. This singular focus upon Christ in this narrative serves in an allegorical fashion to demonstrate a theological imperative. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5). Bob Kauflin undergirds this point in his book Worship Matters, “Worship itself cannot lead us into God’s presence. Only Jesus himself can bring us into God’s presence, and he has done it through a single sacrifice that will never be repeated—only joyfully recounted and trusted in.”
There is only one primary means by which worshipers may listen to Christ, as the disciples were instructed to do and later instructed the church to do as well. It is the word of God. In Ephesians 1:17 Paul prays for the church at Ephesus, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him.” The unveiling of our hearts accomplished by the gospel includes the related imagery of the ability of them to see (2 Cor 4:4). “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” It is in the words of scripture that worshipers see Christ. They are the means by which worship’s mediator and object are revealed and understood so that worshipers may “listen to him.”
Implication #5—The Transforming Power of Worship
When the disciples made their way back down the mountain, Jesus was able to explain things to them that they had not previously understood. There had been questions about who Jesus was and when Elijah would come and Jesus’ proclamation of the necessity of his death and resurrection. While their comprehension was not perfect, Matthew writes that after this experience “the disciples understood.” When Peter wrote of this event later in his second letter, he revealed some of this comprehension Jesus gave them:
We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain (2 Pet 1:16–18).
The experience of the revelation of the glory of Christ had opened their eyes to new understanding, encouraged their faith in the face of opposition, and permanently changed the course of their lives. Peter, James and John were not perfect, but they went on to be instrumental to the advance of the kingdom of God that they had just seen revealed. Their preaching of the gospel expanded the kingdom into new areas of the world and helped many become worshipers. More than anything else, they became followers of Christ. This experience and many others in the presence of Christ would continually transform them into his image and empower them to be like him as they became a part of his body.
Webber concludes, the transfiguration of Christ, together with his resurrection, embodies the promise of a corresponding transformation for those who are his. The same Greek word used for Jesus’ transfiguration is used by Paul for the transformation of the life of the believer (Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:18) and John promises that “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
It is not the experience alone that causes such transformation; at least not on the surface. An experience without meaning has little value, but an experience with meaning and significance is a transforming event. This is not the first time that they have encountered the information that Jesus was God’s Son. In fact, Peter had already confessed this belief the previous week. However, this is the first time that they have seen the evidence of his deity in such a profound manner linked to their understanding. The miracles were amazing, but many saw the miracles and turned away later. Jesus taught as one having authority, but many could not understand the teaching or came to conclude that the teaching required a change of life for which they did not possess the faith to implement.
While the miracles and the teaching were necessary components of Jesus’ ministry, what changed on that mountain was the degree of faith in the disciples as they beheld the manifestation of the teaching in the deity of Christ.
The miracles and the teaching were signs and words to point back to the person of Christ and who he truly is. The disciples experienced the person of Christ in a manner that changed them. It could be said that this was the incarnation of Christ in their worship experience. Christ being glorified before their eyes served to reveal his deity and Lordship in their lives. This produces the glorious byproduct of worship—it infuses faith and transforms its participants, as “Word becomes flesh!” It is in this manner that religious affections are at work in worship. The Spirit operates upon the affections to reveal the person of Christ to the unveiled heart of the worshiper.
This is part four of a five part series. Come back next week for part five and read parts one through three by clicking here.
Dr. Scott Connell is Assistant Professor of Music and Worship Leadership; Program Coordinator, Worship and Music Studies at Boyce College in Louisville, KY.