Tuesday 24th January 2023

MATTHEW 17

The final verse of chapter 16 is said almost as an afterthought: “Truly, I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (16:28).  What did it mean?  Perhaps we should ask Peter again!  In his second letter he says: “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.  He received honour and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’.  We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain” (2 Peter 1:16-18).

So that ‘afterthought’ statement is probably looking only a few days forward to the Transfiguration of Christ on a high mountain in Northern Galilee.  The very next chapter in Matthew (today’s reading) also covers this event.  Meeting at the top of that mountain were five men (Moses, Elijah, Peter, James and John) along with Jesus, and God the Father himself.  The purpose of the exercise was to show who was Boss!

Jesus revealed his true glory in a dazzlingly pure whiteness and received the praise from his Father in Heaven.  It was an ‘unreal’ scene – with Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah about his own ‘Exodus’ (see Luke 9:30) that would reach its fulfilment in Jerusalem shortly.  Peter was so scared that he wanted to embark upon a small building project, just to take his mind off things!  He probably thought that he was really honouring Jesus by equating him with Moses and Elijah – but God the Father had bigger ideas: the clouds came down, whisked Moses and Elijah away, and the disciples were told to listen to the Son only from that point onwards.  For the days of Moses and Elijah had ended, but Jesus’ work was still to be finished.

Some have drawn the conclusion that part of the reason for the disciples being permitted to witness this scene was the concept of ‘succession’:  Moses was succeeded by Joshua, Elijah by Elisha; but who would succeed Jesus?  “You shall do greater things than me”, he told his disciples in John 14:12.  And the Book of Acts is the account of the things that Jesus continued to do and to preach (see Acts 1:1).

But perhaps the most important reason was simply that they should see his glory, and that their lives would never be the same again.  When we truly catch a glimpse of the Anointed One in our lives, we can be sure that we will be changed and that the things of this world will start to become fainter and dimmer.  The journey will have begun, and the healing will have started.  The world will already have become a better place as a result!  We are called to look to him until we see him, to listen until we hear and to obey until his priorities become ours.

“We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

GENESIS 47 and 48

Joseph’s career continued to flourish and during the famine years, he took the opportunity to amass vast wealth on behalf of Pharaoh, essentially making all Egypt into Pharaoh’s slaves.  This is somewhat ironic, given that later, his own people would be the ones in slavery!  Israel, in Joseph’s time, were therefore the only free men in the land, which must have been a strong source of resentment amongst the locals.  Israel grew wealthy and grew numerically as a people, their mere presence starting to become a threat to the Egyptian national interest (and more about that in the Book of Exodus!).

Seventeen years later, Jacob (aged 147) was dying and called for Joseph to get him to promise that he would bury him back in the Promised Land alongside his wife and his fathers.  Chapter 47:30 is very interesting: the phrase: “…when I rest with my fathers…” clearly indicates that Jacob had an expectation of an immediate afterlife in heaven, since he makes a distinction between that and how he wants his dead body dealt with.

Hebrews 11:21 refers to Jacob worshiping God whilst leaning on top of his staff.  The ever-presence of the Lord in our lives is living proof that wherever we are in the world, we are at home, in reality!

If you are a genuine believer in the Lord, and in his Messiah, then death holds no fear for you; you are already in possession of eternal life, and so death is simply a birth canal into the full extent of the wonderful inheritance that God the Saviour has already purchased and reserved for you.  We read in Genesis chapters 48 – 50 that Jacob, having walked for 147 years with the Lord, and becoming older and frailer with each passing month, was now completely prepared for this journey, for the glorious moment when he saw his Master face to face, when he re-entered the joyful company of his fathers, and rested forever from his labours – free of pain, tears, sorrow and death.

It is those further back in the journey who are filled with sorrow, those whose work is not yet done, and who must say goodbye for a short while.  Joseph, having been separated from his dad for twenty years, was grateful for their recent time together, but wanted more.  Bringing his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim with him, he went expecting to receive the sonship blessing from Jacob; but the old prophet was not dead yet and he had a surprise from the Lord: a generation would be skipped, and Manasseh and Ephraim would each inherit a full share of Jacob’s wealth and, later, the land of Israel.  More surprises, when short-sighted Jacob reached out first and knowingly gave Ephraim – the younger – the principal blessing of the firstborn, ahead of Manasseh (much to Joseph’s initial displeasure).  This event was in marked contrast to the blind and confused Isaac, who unknowingly blessed Jacob instead of Esau (although both patriarchs did accomplish God’s purpose and choosing).

We know that four and half centuries later, the tribe of Levi would have no land inheritance in Israel, since they served God as priests and tabernacle servants; the splitting of the tribe of Joseph into Ephraim and Manasseh was therefore God’s way of still arriving at twelve occupying tribes in the land.  Ephraim, as the true firstborn, became the largest and most powerful tribe, the leader of what was to become the Northern Kingdom.

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