One of the best ways we help our children appreciate what they have is to take something away for a time only to restore it later. In a similar way, one of the best ways for us to appreciate what we have in Jesus Christ is to think about what Adam took away from us by his disobedience. He took away true knowledge of God. Now we are born blinded by sin. He took away fellowship with God. Now we are born at enmity with God. He took away delight in serving God. Now we are born unable to serve him. But Jesus Christ restores these lost aspects of our relationship with God. As a priest he removes our enmity with God, as a king he removes our inability to serve the Lord, and as a prophet he removes the blindness of sin.
It’s this prophetic office of Christ that we read about in Matthew 17:1–13. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the great prophet who “reveal[s] to the church, in all ages, by his Spirit and Word, in divers ways of administration, the whole will of God, in all things concerning their edification and salvation” (WLC, Q&A 43). This passage describes what we call the “transfiguration,” that is, Jesus’ outward change or transformation as his face and clothes were transformed into heavenly glory before the disciples. The beautiful thing about Jesus is that he also inwardly transforms us by the renewing of our minds into his image (Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:18). What is most important for us in terms of his prophetic office is the heavenly Father’s word concerning his Son: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” In the traditional language of the Geneva Bible (1599) and King James Bible (1611), we are to “Hear him” (Matt. 17:5).
Him Whom We Are to Hear
Why is it so important to know the “him” whom we are to hear? Imagine your favorite cable news show, talk radio show, or even a group conversation you’ve been involved in recently. There were lots of voices, weren’t there? And when a host has two or three other guests at the same time, there is that phenomenon of them all speaking and sounding like a buzz of sound, with no distinguishable voice. Now, realize that this is the same thing that we have in the world. There are so many noises and voices, so many ideologies and philosophies, so many self-proclaimed gurus and prophets all vying for our attention. Jesus himself warned that this would be the case in the world (Matt. 24:23–26).
Because of this we need to be able to discern his voice so that we can hear him amid all the chatter of ideology, philosophy, and religion. We can do this by discerning his dignity. He is the Son of God: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 17:5). We can do this by discerning his dearness to the Father: “My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” We can do this by discerning his distinctness from all other prophets. Jesus is the culmination of all that the law and the prophets spoke. On the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus were Moses—the giver of the law—and Elijah—the great prophet of Israel. And on the testimony of two or three witnesses everything was established. Here are two testimonies while the third is added for final confirmation—the voice of the Father himself.
So if Jesus is the eternally beloved Son and the culmination of the prophets, what did he say that is so urgent for us to hear? Hear him speak in his Word the truth about how sinners like you are saved from the wrath of Almighty God and brought into his everlasting kingdom. Hear him speak in his Word the truth about how you as a member of his kingdom are to be edified. Hear him.
Hearing Him Who Speaks
The Father’s words in Matthew 17:5 also teach us to hear him who speaks. Thomas Manton once illustrated this when he said there is a distinction between mere hearing of the sounds of Jesus’ words in the ear, which the animal kingdoms can do, understanding the meaning of Jesus’ words, which human beings can do, and finally assenting to what Jesus’ words mean, which is what his disciples alone do. The Father wants us to hear his Son, our great prophet, in this way as his disciples, not mere animals; as friends, not his enemies.
But where can we go to hear him when he is now at the right hand of God in heaven? We hear him in his Word written but especially in his Word preached. In Hebrews 2:1–3 the writer speaks as a second generation Christian, as one who knew the voice of our great prophet through his apostles but also that same voice through the proclamation of his words. Thus he says, “we must pay closer attention to what we have heard” through the means of ministers of the gospel. Hence Paul could say in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.”
We need to hear with urgency, as the imperative mood implies: “Hear him!” Recall what Paul said to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4. We know the famous line, “Preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2), but we do not know what he goes on to say: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3–4). In the midst of the chatter and noise in our time we need to urgently gather to ourselves not teachers to tickle our ears, but teachers to tell us the truth.
And how are we to hear our great prophet’s words? We need to hear with devotion, as Peter and the disciples did. After Jesus asked them, “Do you want to go away as well?” Peter said on their behalf, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:67–68). And this devoted hearing of him must lead to obeying him: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (Jas. 1:22).
Yet our Bibles gather dust. Yet our minds are filled with the images and self-gratification of the Internet, Facebook, and Twitter. Yet more time is spend in front of video games than in front of the face of the Lord. Yet our attention is so easily grabbed by the Super Bowl, by birthday parties, by weddings, by social events, by the lure of money in working on the Lord’s Day. How quickly we hear the world’s words and believe. How easily we are seduced by the devil. How weakly we put up a fight with our sin natures.
Rev. Daniel R. Hyde
Pastor, Oceanside United Reformed Church
Manton, Works 1:395.